Saturday, September 30, 2006

Each Little Bit Helps

I spent most of today (8:00 am to 3:00 pm) helping my brother-in-law move. I have done this kind of thing quite often in my life and I have noticed something worth mentioning. When there are lots of people around to help the moves go much easier. (This would be a good time for every reader to say "duh!")

In the evening I went to the priesthood session of general conference at a local church building. When the session was over there were hundreds of folding chairs that needed to be put away. It occurred to me that if ever person in attendance folded one chair the work would be done in 30 seconds. Some might argue that only the people on the folding chairs should have to help. If that were the case it would be two chairs per person and the work would be done in less than one minute. Reality is that 75% or more of those in attendance leave without thinking about the chairs and many only pick up one or two chairs so those who try to clean up all the chairs have to take 6 or 8 chairs each and the work takes 5 minutes.

I am not trying to complain about those who do not pick up chairs. As I have shown, it is a small job even with most of the people not participating. What struck me was that there is another attitude which could make a long task out of cleaning up the chairs. If the chair cleanup were assigned to a group of perhaps 5 people, instead of a large-scale volunteer effort, the chair cleanup would require each person to pick up at least 40 chairs and the cleanup would likely take half an hour to accomplish.

As I watched the chairs disappear almost magically this evening I began to contemplate how much of the work in our lives really works best if each person would just contribute a small effort rather than having each major job assigned to a small group of specialists.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Need to Work

I have been busy trying to land a job this week. I've had interviews and lunch meetings. I've had phone calls and applications. I just have not had work yet. I had been hoping something would happen and I could post it, but not so far.

Today I just had to work. I have been working at helping my brother-in-law move. He and his family are going to New Zealand so they have to get rid of almost everything. They gave us almost all of their food storage. When we brought it to our house on Wednesday night we just stacked it without organizing it. Steve said he expected that it would just stay there for two years - untouched. What he didn't count on was that I have lots of time on my hands right now. What he couldn't have counted on was that I would get a bug today to do some serious work.

I organized all the boxes, labeled all the cans and moved everything around the garage so that we could store as much as possible (which was only 2/3 of what they had to give us - we have to give the rest to another sibling). By the time I was done today I felt tired, but much better. I realized that people have more reasons to work than just to earn money - it also helps them to avoid going crazy. Now I just need to find a job to keep me gainfully employed so that I don't have to make up my own work around the house.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

What is "America"?

I have been listening to the debate about how we define torture and what we allow in the treatment of prisoners in the war on terror. I have heard at least one listener call in to an NPR program on the subject a few days ago and say that how we treat prisoners is a reflection on us as a nation rather than a reflection on them as individuals. That is one of the forgotten keys in the official debate on this subject. As I thought about that sentiment it sent me back to the Declaration of Independence. The second paragraph starts by saying:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Is this the same America that is torturing prisoners, in any degree? If we truly believe that all men are created equal and that all men posses certain inalienable rights including - but not limited to - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness then we should, in all our official conduct, treat all men as if they are equal and as if they posses those inalienable rights. We should, in all our conduct as a nation, do what we can to protect and promote those rights for all people, not just citizens of our nation.

When our nation takes a stand on anything it should be done in a way that upholds the fundamental values of our nation, such as the idea that all men are created equal and posses certain rights. Our soldiers should treat prisoners in a way that acknowledges their equal standing as human beings. Torture is terrorism on an individual scale. Therefore when we practice any degree of torture we become terrorists. If there is one thing we should know about fighting terrorists it should be that we cannot beat them if we join them.

Men of faith (any faith) - as our sitting president claims to be - who recognize a controlling power in the world superior to the United States (I'm not talking about the UN here), should believe that their supreme being will assist the side of righteousness in any conflict between good and evil with the condition that there must be some way to tell the good side from the evil side. So long as we condone any degree of torture - and this may go beyond the Geneva Conventions - we blur the lines between who is good and who is bad in this conflict - no matter how clear the title "War on Terror" sounds.

Update 10/4/2006: I just stumbled upon this discussion from September 25th on NPR: Talk of the Nation. It was very interesting to listen to the perspective of Mr. Dorfman.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Mutual Dependence

I found it very interesting to read the news story in Reuters about the whole Hugo Chavez address to the UN. What really got me thinking was this snippet:

Despite accusing the United States of seeking to oust him, Chavez has never stopped Venezuela's supply of crude to the United States, its biggest customer.

It seems obvious that we are dependent on Venezuelan oil and if they stopped selling to the U.S. our economy would suffer. I then wondered what would happen if we just stopped buying from Venezuela. The answer is - their economy would suffer, probably worse than ours. So while President Chavez can make all the inflammatory remarks he wants, the fact is that he probably could not afford to stop the flow of oil to the U.S.

Even if President Bush wished to stop buying from Venezuela, the fact is that it is not the government that is buying all that oil, it is a wide range of U.S. businesses who operate independently. They have a stake in the nation, but sadly their greatest concern is making money for investors so they don't care who is the devil and who isn't so long as the well does not run dry.

That's what happens in an interconnected world run by impersonal business interests. There must be a better solution.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


I have been wanting to write about this for a while but never got around to it - while listening to The World on NPR, which is produced in part by the BBC, I have noticed British reporters refer to the democrats as "the opposition party." Many democratic governments around the world are structured differently than ours. They refer to the party in power as the ruling party and the largest party to challenge them is called the opposition party. The reason for this is that the parties come and go more than ours and the ruling party often cannot rule by themselves, but must build a coalition with other parties to rule.

As I was noticing this, I began to think about the significance of the fact that we do not consider the Democrats to be the opposition party even though the Republicans have controlled all branches of government for multiple election cycles now. So long as we consider both parties to be legitimate voices in politics then I have hope for this country. As soon as one party starts to act like "the opposition party" by standing for "whatever the ruling party is against" I think our political dialog goes downhill and we quit making progress as a country.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Media Monster

I have been listening to the political coverage on NPR today and I recognized that as individual political races were being covered from around the country, the message by the national media suggested that the overall makeup of the Senate and the House, in other words which party was in control of each chamber, was more important than who won the individual races. Admittedly there are probably a lot of people who view politics that way, but in reality, the way the system should work is that I only worry about Senator Clinton being re-elected if I am from New York (whether I back her or oppose her). If I am from North Dakota I should not care if Jim Talent is re-elected - because he is from Missouri. The way things are supposed to work is that the people in Florida elect their representatives and then those representatives promote things that are in the best interests of the people of Florida. Each state is represented and regardless of which party is in the majority the interests of each state are weighed in all matters. If all the elected representatives felt that way it would not matter how the voters selected their representatives, but too many of those who are elected seem to bend to their party more than they bend to their constituents.

I have said previously that:

What I am sure of is that between the presidency and the two houses of congress each of the major parties should be in control of at least one of the bodies - thus forcing the various governmental bodies to compromise in order to make things happen.

With that in mind I began to wonder what would happen if every voter followed a simple pattern to ensure that each party controlled one house of congress. The formul for doing this would be simple. Every voter would vote for the candidate of one party for the house and vote for the candidate of the other party for the senate. I would suggest that you vote for the candidate representing whichever party you thought should be in power in the House and then vote for the opposite party candidate in the Senate. With this formula, the party with the most support across the nation would control the house and the party with less national support would control the Senate. I chose this method because the members of the House face re-election every two years. The Senate would have a mix of the national sentiment from the previous three voting cycles and the House would represent the prevailing national mood form the last election cycle. People could choose the President any way they wanted with the assurance that the president would rarely, and for only short durations, ever have his party control both houses of congress.

Does anybody wish to give this a shot?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A New Senator for a New Century

I have been very interested in the senate race in Utah where Senator Hatch is running for his sixth term in the US Senate. I spent a lot of time last year hoping that some of the challengers in the Republican party would be able to unseat Senator Hatch in the Republican primary vote. Sadly, these challengers had basically fallen away before the primary even arrived and Hatch is still the Republican nominee.

I think my position with regard to Senator Hatch are fairly plain. I think I should explain why. While I agree with some of what the senator has done over his three decades in office, I do not believe that he is doing a good job of representing Utah in the last few years. His votes seem to be driven more by his party affiliation than his state affiliation. He appears to have a lack of understanding with regard to some legislation regarding intellectual property and emerging technologies. I honestly doubt that his views and votes are based on a lack of understanding as much as they are based on voting in favor of whoever has money tied up in the issue. In addition to all of that, Senator Hatch has continued to waste time and energy on a flag burning amendment that is no longer relevant. Perhaps when he began pushing this legislation, early in his 30 year tenure, it was an issue worth fighting, but the problem has proven to be a thing of the past. Even among protesters there is not enough flag burning taking place to warrant a constitutional amendment. Changing the constitution is a process which is difficult by design, but each time we make the attempt we run the risk of diminishing the original document. For that reason we should be very careful when deciding to amend our constitution.

In the other corner, the Democratic nominee for Hatch's seat is Pete Ashdown. Pete is a political newcomer, but he has a few things in his favor. Pete understands about technology and will not be fooled by money or terminology with regard to those types of legislation. Pete understands that the old way of running politics by the money should be a thing of the past. We have the ability to increase communication, transparency, and accountability in our nation by making use of technology. Pete is doing that in his campaign. His status as a Democrat has more to do with necessity than ideology. In fact he complains about the lack of transparency among Democrats as much as he does among Republicans. I believe that Pete will strive to represent anyone who cares to communicate with him rather than representing anyone who can out-pay the competition. Whether Pete wins this race or not, I hope that his ideas will catch on throughout our political system and change how our political leaders represent, interact with, and answer to their constituents.

To learn a little more about Pete, visit his website at You can also listen to his interview on RadioWest. I will post links to Senator Hatch's website and interview with RadioWest after that interview takes place (not sure when that will be).

Monday, September 18, 2006

My Interviewing Weakness

As I face the task of finding a new job, I have been thinking about the process and thinking about how I do in that process. I have come to some conclusions which are not surprising, but which have been enlightening as I approach this.

Because of my personality I have an uncanny knack for escaping the notice of other people. I know this "skill" would be bothersome for many people but it works for me. I have no internal need to be noticed by others. While I was talking to Laura about the process of getting a job she articulated the problem I face by going unnoticed when looking for a job. When it comes time to interview I am apt to leave no impression on the people who interview me.

The problem is that an interview can only give a very small snapshot of a person. It also happens to be a time when every potential candidate is trying to show themselves at their best. I'm like every other candidate in that regard, but I seem to be unable to put on a face that leaves a noticeable impression.

Those people who have the chance to get to know me are able to see that I am capable and dependable etc. (Many of the same things that a potential employer would like to know.) Unfortunately, an interview seems completely insufficient to let an employer see that I do posses the qualities they would like to have in an employee. Instead they are likely to barely remember that they did, in fact, interview a "David Miller" for the position. They will not remember me for having made a bad impression, but they will not remember a good impression either. After the interview they are left with the same impression of me that they had before the interview, which impression is based entirely upon a resume which has only one year of experience outside of work I did as a student.

Functionally, the problem of leaving no impression during an interview translates into me having little chance of landing anything better than a mediocre job. As I said when I posted what I wanted, I am looking for a job that challenges me and gives me the chance to make a positive impact. I doubt that any mediacre job would offer that kind of a situation.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Undoing Past Progress

I read two articles today in the New York Times today that got me thinking about how we are undoing the benefits that first made our country the place it was when I was growing up. The first article was about the increase in people in my age group without health insurance. I understand firsthand what they were talking about - not because I do not have health insurance, but because I had to spend more than 10% of my pretax paycheck to pay my portion of the company sponsored health plan. To put that in perspective - I was making something close to the national median income (if I remember correctly what that figure was).

The second article was about why college educations are no longer affordable and what changes have caused that problem. I have long had strong feelings about this problem. I think that the fundamental problem here is that we have lost sight, as a society, of what we were trying to accomplish with tuition assistance and other forms of federal education assistance in the first place. From the article:

By subsidizing public universities to keep tuition low, and providing federal tuition aid to poor and working-class students, this country vaulted tens of millions of people into the middle class while building the best-educated work force in the world.

Another article at CNN elaborated on this by saying the following:

"There's been a sea change in the last decade-and-a-half over how (colleges) spend their money," said National Center president Patrick Callan. "It used to be about giving students opportunities they wouldn't otherwise have. Now it's about giving them money to go to one college instead of another."

At first these programs were designed so that there would be money for students to go to college, now the money is being used for students to go to "the right college." We seem to have lost sight of the fact that the goal was to educate large volumes of people, not to make education one more field for competition in our society.

Some startling statistics to back this up from the CNN article:

The report card finds colleges awarded grants to 36 percent of their students from families earning $20,000 per year or less. Those grants averaged $4,700. But wealthier students received comparable attention.

The colleges gave grant aid to 29 percent from families earning $100,000 or more. And those grants were even higher on average: $6,200.

Let me make that clear - slightly over 1/3 of students from families living in poverty (or very close depending on where the poverty line falls) are getting under $5000 a year to help them go to school. Almost 2/3 of students from those poverty situations are going to school without grant money. At the same time nearly 1/3 of students from families among the top 5% of wage earners are getting over $6000 a year - we can assume this is to lure them to "better" schools.

I do not mean to argue that all schools are equal, but we would probably be better off as a nation if we thought of them that way.

If my experience and the experience of other people I know is any indicator, there is another problem that also plagues our nation with regards to higher education. The degrees that we are paying so dearly to get are often being underused once we graduate and try to use them. Many jobs I have seen require a degree for work that could easily be done without a degree. What is worse, many jobs in which a degree is useful are more interested in experience than in the degree. I have known many people who choose to work and gain experience rather than finish a degree and they end up with better jobs because they have more experience.

If experience is the best teacher - and I believe that it generally is - then our college degrees should be designed to provide marketable experience. If they did, perhaps companies could eliminate the requirement to have a degree as a prerequisite for jobs that do not actually require the training that comes with a degree.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Wanted: A Chance to Make an Impact

If I were taking out an advertisement seeking my ideal job it would have a title similar to this. I have often thought about how to articulate what I am seeking in a job and I thought I would make some attempt here. Let's see how this works.

I am looking for a job where I can make a positive impact. This would require that I be in a position to share ideas, because if I have learned anything about myself over the course of my life it is that I will have ideas to share about how to improve something. It may be an improvement in a product, it may be an improvement in the way we approach a problem, or it may be an improvement in the world around us that we as a company are able to make. If I am in a job where I am expected to do - while others do the thinking - I will not be comfortable. If I am in a position where I am allowed/expected/required to think but only within certain predefined domains then I will likely start to feel constrained.

If I were asked to put that more concisely I would say that "I need a job where I work with the company, not for the company." That probably does not sound right without explanation, but it is the best I can do right now at stating my position succinctly.

What I Love About Sports

I really enjoyed reading in the New York Times about one high school football team from a rich neighborhood helping raise money to save the football team of a nearby school in a poor neighborhood. This is what I love about sports. While I love the athleticism and the excitement of watching great plays on the field - no matter what kind of field we are talking about - the thing that I really love about sports is good sportsmanship.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


I wrote yesterday that I had taken my garden in early in the season. Little did I know that we would get hail today which would tear apart many of the plants that I had not already pulled.

Slow Way of Life

While running errands this afternoon I was listening to the radio and I heard about a movement that started in Italy in 1999 that really seems to embody the lifestyle I would like to create for myself. The movement is called Cittaslow and their philosophy is basically described as slowing down and not becoming caught up in the fast pace of our modern life.

It was very interesting to learn about this movement. They currently have 100 partner cities in 10 countries. I don't know that they have any partner cities in the United States, but the US probably has at least as great a need for some "slower" towns as any other country. I wonder how the principles of the phillosophy embodied by Cittaslow could be implemented by an individual or family. They are geared towards municipalities, but their must be an application on a smaller scale.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Gardening Problem

I face a little problem with my garden. Having extra time today, I finally got around to starting to clean out my garden. I know it's a bit early in the season right now, but the bugs have been getting to some of my plants and I need to make some changes in preparation for next year so I'm starting early.

I started by harvesting the carrots that had not been looking promising early in the season. Now the carrots have taken off so that in many places there is virtually no dirt between the carrots. They are big and beautiful and too numerous to eat all of them soon. I pulled out the broccoli plants since I already have more broccoli than I can eat. I pulled up the potatoes. I have been wondering about them all year since I could see that the plants grew, but I could only guess at how well the potatoes were coming on. I don't remember having much success with potatoes in our family garden when I was growing up so I was not sure what our chances would be. We got lots of potatoes - even if you don't count the ones that got sliced by the shovel as I dug up the dirt after removing the plants to find any potatoes I had missed. We also removed all our squash plants but there was little fruit left to harvest there because we had already taken most of it in. The squash plants had been the hardest hit by our bug problem.

So what's my gardening problem? I can't possibly eat everything I picked today unless I learn how to store things over the winter. I know it can be done because people have lived for centuries without refrigeration or global produce shipping. The problem is I am not exactly sure how to do it since we live in an age where most people live week to week between trips to the grocery store rather than working all summer to live over the winter on the produce you saved from your harvest.

You may ask why it matters since I can always go buy food at the store. The answer is that I have a goal to one day learn how to live entirely off my garden. I hope it never becomes necessary, but I would like to have that skill so that I can better understand and appreciate our modern lifestyle. Storing the produce of my garden over the winter is one step towards that goal.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Another Anniversary

I found it ironic to look at the title of my last post. Today marks the one year anniversary of when I started my job - or rather, my former job. Out of the blue today I was informed that I have been laid off because the company is not getting the contracts that they had been hoping to get. This should not have been surprising considering that 25% of the employees were working on overhead projects while waiting for some of the expected contracts to come through. I should have forseen this possibility, but I didn't.

Now that I am no longer employed there I guess I have free reign to rant about what a lousy company it was etc. Too bad there's so little to complain about. It was a good company that delivered exactly what they promised to me as an employee. They treated me well and generally took care of me while I worked there.

The only complaint I have is not with the company, but with the current nature of our economy. I am not talking about the unemployment rate or the GNP or anything like that. I am talking about how different things are now from when I was growing up. As a child I was introduced to a world where employees tended to stay with one company for years and companies tended to give their full-time employees benefits such as a contract stating that their job could not be terminated without some warning (unless they violated company policies or something). Employees, in turn, were required to give notice in order to quit their jobs. Today we live in a world where people rarely stay in one job for more than a couple of years - either by choice or because of downsizing. Employment contracts or more often "at will" so that nobody needs to give any notice before the employment is over. Such was the case today. I was told "Today is your last day. We have to let some people go and you are among them. Sorry. Good luck."

It was not that terse. They were as nice as they could be, considering that there is no nice way to say "sorry, you're out of a job." It's just sad that we live in a day where stability is the exception and not the rule.

Monday, September 11, 2006


I should have been able to predict long ago what today would be like. I knew before I started reading the news today that there would be stories of memorial services where they would rehash the events of five years ago. What I failed to expect was how easily my own memories of that day would surface or the need I would feel to capture those memories.

I remember walking into work that morning and wondering why everyone was openly staring at a television set (I came in from behind the set so I didn't see what was on). As soon as I got to my office and saw the headlines I was no longer surprised. I remember how nervous everyone was. I got jittery when the phone line went dead while talking to my wife that morning.

Nobody with a memory of that day would be surprised at the emotion tied to those events, but I still can't figure out what is personally different between four years and five years. Socially I understand it. Five years is our second major chronological milestone, after 1 year and before 10, 20, 25, 50 , and 100 years. It is an opportunity to look back and view events from an expanded perspective over the one we had in the heat of the moment. Personally I had expected that each anniversary would be a chance to reflect and that with each passing year the emotions would be a little less intense than they were the year before. Somehow I find that is not the case.

Last year, on September 11th, I was flying across the country on a plane. It was no big deal. I noted the significance of the date and remembered, somewhat mechanically, what had happened. I did not feel the closeness of memory that I have felt today. I find it interesting that five years distance has brought the memories closer to me than four years distance had done.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

From the Pope

The Pope has been visiting Germany and has had a few very interesting things to say. Here are a few little clips from an article about his visit where he says things with which I wholeheartedly agree.

He also stressed the role of faith in fighting AIDS "by realistically facing its deeper causes," indirectly confirming the Church view that pre-marital abstinence and fidelity in marriage are the way to combat sexually transmitted diseases.

It has always amazed me to hear people who think that sexual promiscuity is not the largest single factor in the spread of any STD and that eliminating promiscuity would not have a greater effect than all other aid money combined in combating these epidemic problems. I guess the truth is that they probably admit that eliminating promiscuity would have that kind of effect, but they want to solve the problem without making any social changes.

"Social issues and the Gospel are inseparable," said the Pope. "When we bring people only knowledge, ability, technical competence and tools, we bring them too little," he said, hammering away at his central concern that secularisation and materialism have replaced faith in Western thinking.

That is similar to the realizations that have led me to put less stock in the intrinsic value of new technology.

At the morning mass Benedict said that Western societies had become "hard of hearing" about God, saying: "There are too many other frequencies in our ears. What is said about God strikes us as pre-scientific, no longer suited for our age."

That sounds like he just identified the central and subtle problem in Western societies. If you were to ask a Muslim they would probably cite the same problem.

"People in Africa and Asia admire our scientific and technical prowess, but at the same time they are frightened by a form of rationality which totally excludes God from man's vision, as if this were the highest form of reason," he said.

They sensed a "contempt for God" in Western societies and "a cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom and hold up utility as the supreme moral criterion for the future of scientific research," he said.

Doubtless we should spiritually be much more like these developing nations in the way we view faith and technology. Utility is the very reason cited in support for stem-cell research. I do not intend to take a position on such research, but rather to suggest that we must base our decisions on more solid arguments than "I can find a way to make this useful."

More Good News

Here is some more good news within the GOP. Dick Cheney's word is no longer gospel. He seems to be going the way of Karl Rove. I only wish that this article could have been true three years ago.

Unexpected Benefits

You never know what unexpected benefits will arise from something which is good. Here is a good example related to Creative Commons licensing.

Nobody could have predicted when creating an open licensing option, or when using one in publishing a book, that it would change the entire atmosphere of a U.S. Navy ship from "the three B's" (beer, babes, and bodily functions) to an intellectual discussion of some openly licensed works of fiction, the license on those work of fiction, and even discussion about the state of our copyright law any how it should be changed.

Talk about a ripple effect.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Outing to the Park

We took the kids to This is the Place Heritage Park back in early June and they liked it so much then that we promised them a return visit. That return visit finally came today.

I was busy all morning so I was tired before we left and I didn't really want to go. Technically the park is closed after Labor Day. What this means is that there is no charge and you can't go into any of the buildings. Not only that, but there are no people wearing period clothing and telling visitors what life was like 150 years ago.

When we arrived at the park all of my worst fears were realized. It looked like a cross between a ghost town and a desolate wasteland. There were virtually no cars in the parking lot and we had not even come with cousins for the girls to play with - if we had I would have been optimistic (even in a wilderness) that the girls would have a good time.

I was worried that the girls would be bored and that they would be cranky since this cut across nap times. Two hours later, as we left, I had to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. The girls had behaved themselves perfectly while we walked in the nice weather. All they really wanted was to be together as a family. I didn't hurt that there were still oxen standing around staring back at us, but even without the oxen they acted as if walking across Nebraska would have been fun so long as we did it together.

I doubt they know how long Nebraska is.

Friday, September 08, 2006

For Sale: Senate Seat

Election season is upon us and that means I get to be entertained by campaign politics, which seems like regular politics on steroids. As I was looking at some of the close races being covered by the New York Times I stumbled upon one little blurb in one senate race that needs to be discussed. The article about this year's senate race in Rhode Island has this little fact at the end of the article:

All told, more than 80 percent of the money in this race comes from outside the state.

This is just wrong. The fact that money has a large influence in our political system is not news but there should be sharp limits on which money gets to have that influence. I think that at least 75% of all money in any campaign should come from those who fall within the jurisdiction being contested. In other words, for a statewide office such as senator or governor, at least 75% of the money in either campaign should come from within the state. For national offices - in other words the president - 25% or less of the money should come from international donors. For congressional seats 75% of the money should come from within the congressional district. The same should hold true for campaigns at all levels of government. In all these cases the 75% limit should probably be applied to every type of donor - individuals, businesses, and special interest groups.

I suspect that this particular problem is most pronounced in senate and congressional races. I would be very surprised to learn that 80% of the money in a presidential campaign came from a foreign country - just as I would be surprised to learn that the campaign for my local school board seat was being financed by a corporation in Kissimmee Florida. Regardless of where the problem is the worst, the rules should be the same at all levels of government.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Cost of Living with Technology

Years ago, I was in Missouri and I lived very close to a store run by Mennonites. One day while I was browsing in the store I found an ointment that is very soothing for sore noses and stuffy heads. Having those symptoms today, thanks to my allergies, I began looking for the ointment. When I could not find it I began remembering where I got it which finally led to the topic of this post. (How's that for an introduction?)

Thinking about the Mennonites, and their Amish offshoot, I began to wonder what the cost of living was for them compared to the people who lived near them. The way I figure it, they still have property taxes like the people around them, but they don't pay for telephones, or cable television. On the other hand, they have horses and other animals to feed and care for. They have carriages to maintain. They mostly grow their own food and make most of their own equipment. My best guess is that there are financial benefits and drawbacks to their lifestyle, but overall I would expect that their cost of living was lower than most people in this country.

I'll admit that money is not everything in this life, so the real relevant question is - are they any less happy than those of us who have all of our modern conveniences? I suspect that any pollster who was willing to go door-to-door to ask them that question would discover that they are at least as happy as the rest of us. It's something to consider next time your kid says he'll die if he doesn't get what he wants for his birthday.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Social Scripts

Everybody has been a part of this little dialog:

"How are you doing?"
"Fine, how are you?"
"I'm good, thanks."
"Glad to hear it."
And then both people go on about their day.

The question is - what happens when you don't follow the script? What if you are not fine? The script is not so much about checking in on each other as it is about acknowledging each other. Even if you are not fine, you expect to say "I'm fine."

Laura was telling me about talking to a friend who opened this script and for some reason Laura admitted that she was not fine. This was not one of her close friends, it was just someone. When she told me about it, I remembered an experience in high school where I had a good friend start this script, and I could not bring myself to mask the fact that I was not fine. Her response created one of my favorite memories from high school. It left me feeling like I was still okay even when I was not feeling okay.

Laura's experience was much the same. I would say that she is now better friends with this particular woman than she was previously - because of the wonderful response she got. She felt that she was understood, and that it was okay to not be "fine" all the time. It just reminds me, once again, that people are amazing, and they care even when we might not expect them to really care.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Bi-partisan Government

I read an article earlier today (can't find it now, but that's not important) stating that the likelihood of the House of Representatives coming under the control of the Democrats after the November elections has gone from being a long shot to being a distinct possibility. As that has simmered in the back of my brain I have begun to think of the merits of having the government not be controlled by a single party. I began to ask myself, "if I could choose which party would control the Senate and which party would control the House, what would I choose?" I'm not sure how I would answer that, but I think that I would probably choose to have them controlled by different parties.

What I am sure of is that between the presidency and the two houses of congress each of the major parties should be in control of at least one of the bodies - thus forcing the various governmental bodies to compromise in order to make things happen.

The next question I asked myself is, "would this administration be better if their party did not control both houses of congress?" Again, I have no answer, but I am beginning to think that I would like to see if that is the case. I am fairly confident that it would not be a major setback to the country (although it might be a major setback to the Republican party). Sadly, in our current environment I don't think we would see a real positive change if the House changed hands this fall. Since President Bush cannot run for another term, and since nobody is under any illusion that Dick Cheney will become President, the likely result of a Democrat-controlled House would not be working with the President, instead I would expect the Democrats to just wait out the next two years until we get a new President.

One other consideration is that at least those in the House have some incentive to do something because they will face re-election in another two years. If it were the Senate which changed hands, they might be even more willing to wait since their six year terms would guarantee that most of them would still be in office after the new President took over the White House.

If either the Senate or the House change hands I hope that it will force the Republicans to rethink their position and come back toward the center as a party. I think the Democrats have already been forced into such a position because of their repeated failure to gain control of any government body over the last few election cycles. If one of the houses does change hands, I hope we will see lively debate in Washington rather than stubborn bickering between the parties.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Cell-Phone Culture

Over the course of the last year I have become very aware of what I call our cell-phone culture. Let me preface my commentary by saying that I have nothing against cell phones. I used to have one, and the day may come when I have one again, but currently I do not have one.

After moving into a new house and a new neighborhood last year, I found it hard to contact anyone in my neighborhood. I have been working with the local Boy Scout troop and I had phone numbers for most of the people but whenever I tried to contact people I could never catch them. I also discovered that there were messages being sent to "everybody" that were not coming to me. Given time I was able to diagnose the cause of both those problems. The messages I was not getting were text messages on cell phones - a loop which could not include me since I have no cell. The problem with me trying to contact anyone else was that I had their home phone numbers which were virtually useless since they all rely on their cell phones for people to contact them.

Since that first identification of the influence of cell phones on society I have identified other effects of the cell-phone culture. I see people around me busily doing much more than people did when I was growing up. There are more soccer games (or any other sport), more music lessons, and dance classes. Families are split in more directions as both parents run separate errands and any older children are busy with their own agendas. The members of the family keep each other updated on their whereabouts with calls and messages from their phones without ever having to see each other. This was all driven home to me this weekend when my backyard neighbor was talking to us over the fence. She had her phone with her and while we were talking she got a message from her oldest daughter. The daughter had gone shopping for a prom dress with the stipulation that her mother had to approve anything she wanted to buy. The message was a picture of the prom-dress-of-choice. No need for mom to come along in order to secure her approval. In fact it was not even necessary to take a picture and show it to mom for approval before going back to purchase the dress. She could go shopping and get the required approval while Mom was outside talking to the neighbors.

Not all of this is bad, but I have concluded that if and when I have a cell phone again I will be conscious to avoid cluttering up my schedule just because I can stay in contact while driving myself crazy and back.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Good News for the G.O.P.

While I was just catching up on the news, I came across an article in the New York Times declaring that the rank and file memebers of the G.O.P. are not following the dictates of Karl Rove. I think that's great news. I have thought many times that the Democratic Party seemed to have lost its way. I felt that they had very little to contribute outside of a constant cry of "Republicans are bad, just look at what Kink George is doing." Lately I have begun to think that the Republican Party should lose their way since the way they seem to be leading the country is looking more and more like a path to self-destruction.

I am not talking about the war in Iraq, or the economy. I am talking about the "us vs. them" mentality. The Democrats seemed to be lacking an "us." From the Democrats it felt like a "them vs. not them" mentality. Thankfully that looks like it might be changing. I just hope that one or both parties can come to something along the lines of "us and not us" where there is no assumption that "anyone who does not agree with us is anti-American (or stupid, or evil, or any other slanderous generalization)." The parties should stand for something so that I can respect them even if I disagree with them.

With the issue of abortion, most people talk about "pro-life vs pro-choice". Both sides seem to be for something. Unfortunately, I have heard ardent supporters of each side of the debate talk about "pro-choice vs anti-choice" or "pro-life vs anti-life." Those are both "us righteous crusaders for truth, justice, and the American way vs those stupid, communist, fascist, devil worshiping, neo-something-or-other social lepers" types of mentalities. They are not constructive, but they are passionate. I don't mind passionate, but I would hope to have more constructive attitudes come to the forefront of both parties so that we can have some lively national debate on issues, and at the end of the day we still make things happen.

Friday, September 01, 2006


My one-year-old has the funniest little trick. We have been meaning to get a picture of it, or capture it on video, but it is possible that we may never succeed, so I decided that I would write it down, lest it be forgotten.

Somehow she learned to drink off of flat surfaces. She likes to dump drinks on the table and then stick her face in the drink to slurp it up. One time, at a barbecue with some friends, she found my root beer sitting on the patio and she knocked it over on purpose. She then planted her face on the concrete to slurp up what daddy was drinking. Like always, she came up smiling at what a great trick she had just performed. I, on the other hand, was hoping she would not repeat the trick on concrete in the future.