Friday, December 25, 2009

The Late, Late Show

The original War of the Worlds is on T.V. tonight. It's one of my favorite movies for a lot of reasons. It's good Sci-Fi, was well made and is considered a classic. I've been watching it at home with my wife, Wendy, and she keeps talking about how scary a movie it is.

She asked me when I first saw it and it reminded me of the primary reason it's one of my favorite movies.

It was 42 years ago when I was about seven years old. I was sound asleep and my father snuck into my room and woke me up. I didn't know what was going on but he told me to be very, very quiet so I didn't wake up my mother. I kept my mouth shut in great anticipation as we quietly went down the stairs. I didn't know what was so mysterious that I was roused in the middle of the night and had to skulk down the stairs behind my father but I was extremely curious.

I had no idea what was going on but when we got to the family room he pointed to the T.V. and told me that I was about to see a great movie. I had no idea what it was but I remember sitting on the sofa for the next couple of hours eating graham crackers and watching that movie with my dad.

I was supposed to be in bed asleep. I wasn't supposed to be eating graham crackers. I wasn't supposed to be watching late-night T.V. But, there I was sitting on the sofa with my dad in my pajamas watching a wonderfully terrifying story unfold on our old black and white television.

That experience made the original War of the Worlds one of my favorite movies.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Scientific Sanity

Despite my own contributions to global warming, I do, actually, care about the environment. I also care about the scientific method.

I was raised to question everyone and everything. I've always felt that having a robust, open discussion where all facts are available to all participants contributes to growing the overall knowledge of each of us. For some reason, though, there appears to be a strong desire to eliminate any critical thought process across many parts of our lives.

I think this is why people can get away with selling "snake oil" on television and why seemingly serious television shows about ghost hunting have large audiences.

I'm told, by our political leaders, that man-made global warming is settled science. If I question any of it I'm labeled an earth-hater or a right-wing, pro-oil, anti-people insensitive clod who is just unable to see what is plainly obvious to every other person on the planet.

This response to skepticism about global warming is anti-science and goes against the scientific method that has helped us progress as far as we have; though there are many who wish to end progress.

So here's a quick-and-dirty explanation of the climate change debate:
  • We are, by definition, still in an ice age that started about 2.6 million years ago.
  • We have been, for the last 11,000 or so years, warming up. We are in what's called an interglacial period that could last as long as 30,000 years.
  • There have been a number of things that have caused the earth to cool and warm over the past few billion years.
  • We are currently in a period of earth warming unrelated to the activity of people.
  • There is a current theory that man's industrial activity has contributed enough CO2 to accelerate the rate of warming of the earth.
  • There is a current theory that this accelerated warming is bad, or even that the naturally occurring warming cycle is bad - bad for the earth and bad for us.
Here's where I have a problem. No one wants to have a real scientific discussion about the last two theories. Our politicians want to end the debate and "fix" "global warming." Our politicians and most who follow them are idiots.

I believe that reducing green-house gas emissions, large-particle pollutants, smog, nasty water emissions and any other type of pollution is a good thing. Using pseudo-science to convince people to reduce pollution is dishonest.

The cooling and warming cycles of the earth span eons. Yet I hear good-meaning people claim that global warming is true based on, at best, multi-decade observations. I actually heard someone use as an example a lake near their house, "I used to ice-skate on that lake every year and it hasn't frozen over in the last 10 years. Of course global warming is true." I don't know whether to laugh or cry. How does someone make the leap of applying a 10-year observation to predict what happens over multi-million year cycles.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised at the ignorance of our politicians. I'm never disappointed at the capitalism demonstrated around fads - millions were made on pet rocks and Mr. Gore is expecting to make many multiples of that.

Let's get back to some facts and an open, honest scientific debate. Watching one more idiot politician create a movement based on nonsense is just too painful. Watching scientists attempt to stifle debate is dreadfully depressing.

It may be that we are accelerating, in a bad way, the current warming cycle. On the other hand, in earth history, we haven't been around for very long. It's hard for me to see the current hysteria as anything more than hyper-arrogance created from a sense that man is so important and powerful that we, in a span of 150 years, can destroy the natural earth cycles that have existed for billions of years. My gut tells me that even if we burned all the oil in existence we wouldn't be more than a tiny blip on the geological time-line of our planet. But then again, there are those who believe we humans are a lot more important than reality suggests.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Health Care Rationing

I get the flu shot every year and have done so for about the last decade. This year was no different and I got the seasonal flu shot a couple of months ago. But, then came H1N1 - the dreaded swine flu.

The U.S. government promised plenty of vaccines for everyone who needs one and everyone who wants one. Apparently, everything hasn't gone according to plan and rationing needs to occur so we have prioritized wait lists to determine who should get a shot when.

Every day there are news stories about the availability of vaccine and tales of shock, sadness and woe from the administration trying to explain away the shortages. It's particularly troublesome that one part of the government predicts that 60% of Americans will have been exposed by October 31st (a couple of weeks ago) and another part of our government says that we're on schedule to have the doses necessary no later than February.

It's actually quite disheartening to listen to what our government "leaders" really have to say.

On October, 31st, David Axelrod said that we would have ample supply of vaccine "in short order." Now, ample basically means more than we need. I guess the interviewer made the mistake of not pinning down an actual date rather than the wishy-washy "in short order" time-line. But, not to worry, now that we've been told that it's the manufacturer's fault and not the government's we can go about our happy-go-lucky lives.

I'd pretty much given up on getting the vaccination until I drove by a pharmacy advertising H1N1 vaccines "as long as supplies last." So I stopped and went in.

Pharmacy assistant (PA):"Can I help you?"
Me:"Yes, I'd like to know about H1N1 vaccines."
PA:"How old are you?"
PA:"Are you a health care worker?"
PA:"Do you have an infant under 6 months living in your home?"

Now, I saw where this was going. If I didn't fit into one of the approved groups I wasn't going to get a vaccine. I wasn't in the appropriate age group, I'm not a health care worker and I don't have any infants in my house and it was clear from my gender that I'm not pregnant.

PA:"Last question, do you have any chronic health conditions such as Asthma?"
PA:"What is it?"
PA:"I'm sorry, what was that?"
PA:"How do you spell that?"
PA:"That's not a chronic health condition."

I panicked and didn't know what to do so I ripped a mighty one.

PA:"Excuse me?"
Me:"No, excuse me."
PA:"I'm sorry sir, but you don't fit into one of the at-risk categories."

So, I ripped another one. After his eyes stopped watering he gave me the form, I paid my $18, got my shot and merrily drove off. As I drove down the road with a sore arm I listened to the news on the radio and heard about how the government was recalling 170,000 H1N1 doses because they could cause a deadly allergic reaction.

Next time I'll wait my turn.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Koala Bears? In San Carlos?

My wife, Wendy, goes on a lot of hikes with our dogs. Counting our daughter Lindsey's dog, Mummers, it becomes a pack of three dogs. Our dogs range in size from 8 pounds on up to almost 70. I've written about Sammy before. Sammy being a Pekingese, is the smallest of the group and is also the oldest, approaching 14 years of age. Sammy can't keep up with the rest and certainly can't go the distance the other dogs can go so Sammy gets to ride along in a pouch that Wendy wears.

In this photo, at a local pet supply store, Wendy can be seen carrying Sammy in his pouch and our largest, Buddy, is sitting at her feet.

I've heard before that the Star Wars ewoks were modeled on a combination of Pekingese dogs and koala bears but I have no idea if that's true or not.

Anyway, back to the story, Wendy hikes about town and some of the trails on an almost daily basis all the while carrying Sammy and keeping Buddy and Mummers under control.

During the past week she has been stopped at least a dozen times by people who wanted to see "the lady with the koala bear." A road construction crew stopped work completely in order to walk over and see the "bear", people have turned their cars around to have a good look as well.

The biggest problem with Sammy is that he is disarmingly cute. He doesn't like much of anyone, other than Wendy, or anything, other than cats. When people see his "cute, little face" they want to get close and that's a dangerous thing to do. You decide, Pekingese or Koala Bear?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

School bus stops

The last blog entry reminded me of my own misspent childhood and the ways that I would while away the time waiting for the school bus.

After the seventh grade my parents move to Arnold, Maryland. Because of the rapid growth in the area I had to go to a split-shift school for the eighth grade. The school split the day into two parts, a morning and an afternoon shift. I felt very fortunate to be able to go to the morning shift because it left the entire afternoon open for fun and games. The downside was that I had to catch the school bus at 5:30 in the morning. 5:30 in the morning in Maryland meant darkness and cold.

My friends and I, though, were very enterprising and would collect wood scraps from the then under-construction houses and build a small fire for warmth and, of course, for the fun of building a small fire. Sometimes it would be difficult to get the fire started so we would take some of the flammable floor glue to use as a starter.

One particularly cold and snowy day we collected our wood scraps and glue and started our fire. Just as we were starting to warm up the person who lived in the house nearest the school bus stop, someone we'll call Mr. Jones, came storming out of the house in his pajamas, robe and bedroom slippers yelling and screaming at us. "What do you think you're doing? Are you nuts? You're going to burn down the neighborhood. Put out that fire."

Before we could say or do anything he ran over and started to stomp on the fire in an attempt to put it out. Just then the school bus pulled up. We got on the bus.

As we pulled away I watched out the window at a site I will never forget. Apparently the glue starter stuck to Mr. Jones's slippers and there was Mr. Jones running around his front yard in the snow attempting to extinguish his flaming slippers.

The next week our school bus stop was moved a block away. You see, Mr. Jones had pull with the school system - he was the principal of the school. I never met Mr. Jones. I feel bad that his slippers caught on fire and I firmly recommend against using fire for warmth on a neighborhood street. But I can't help but smile every time I think of him running around his front yard with his robe flapping in the breeze and his slippers afire.

Insane government intrusion

Here's an article describing the latest in government insanity.

Here's the scenario: There's a school bus stop in front of Lisa Snyder's home. Some of Lisa's friends drop their children off at Lisa's house to wait for the school bus with Lisa's daughter. Lisa has received a letter from the state of Michigan telling her that she's breaking the law by running an un-licensed day-care facility.

Just how far do we want this nanny-state crap to go? How far do we want government intrusion into our lives?

Before you go too far with the "its-for-the-children" argument you should be aware that Lisa doesn't charge for her daughter's friends to wait with her. She just thought it would be a nice, neighborly thing to do.

We all have a responsibility to understand and exercise our rights, understand the limits on the rights of the government and to expose when the government is attempting to trample our rights.

This is one of those cases where a government numb-skull needs an education on the constitution. We have a right to assembly without government interference or even government knowledge of the assembly.

The government may have a right to regulate commerce but there is no commerce here. It's nice that such a story is getting an airing but unfortunate that there's not a more vocal reaction about the fundamental issue here - inappropriate government meddling in our daily lives.

For the love of sorbet

The last time I was in Louisiana, as I often do in Louisiana, I went out to dinner with Wendy's parents. I've had the pleasure of eating at some of the finest dining establishments in the state and highly recommend the food and, in my particular case, the company.

On occasion, though, we have some interesting interactions that make me wonder if I see things just a little differently. We were in a nice, local restaurant and had enjoyed a wonderful meal when it came time for dessert.

I noticed that the menu contained mango sorbet. Being one of my favorites I commented aloud that I thought I would have to indulge in the mango sorbet. My father-in-law informed me that he had had it once and it was horrifically bad. The comment caused me to pause for a few moments and I decided to go with some chocolate something-or-other rather than risk the horrendous experience that surely awaited me with the sorbet.

The waiter soon departed to gather our desserts and the following conversation ensued:

Me: "What was so bad about the mango sorbet?"
My father-in-law, Robert: "I don't like mango."
Me: blink-blink-pause-and-think-before-speaking-blink-some-more
Me: "If you don't like mango then why in the world would you order mango sorbet?"
Robert: "I thought my love of sorbet would outweigh my hatred of mango."

Now, this wasn't the first time I experienced this type of interaction. No, no, no. I was fully prepared by the very person who gave me life, my mother.

I don't like strawberries. I never have and probably never will. I remember when, as a child, my mother would bring home popsicles and my sisters and I would eagerly eat our dinner and wait for our luscious treats. My mother would go to the kitchen, open the freezer door and bring a single popsicle for each of us. I would reach out for my reward for being a dutiful son and as it got closer I would snap my hand back after realizing the wrapper said strawberry flavored.

We would typically have the following conversation:

My dear mother:"Don't you want your popsicle?"
Me:"I hate strawberry."
Mother:"But they don't taste like strawberry."

For years I wondered about that conversation with my mother. It wasn't until my experience with my father-in-law at the restaurant that I finally understood. My mother assumed that my love of popsicles would outweigh my hatred of strawberry.

There's only one possible conclusion that I can draw from these experiences: it's not everyone else, it's me. Apparently, creating a frozen treat out of a fruit changes its flavor.

I love both of them dearly but, from now on, I'll pick my own desserts, thank you very much.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Temporal Confusion

All relationships need time to mature and become entities unto themselves. The long-term nature of many marriages allows the participants the needed time to understand one another.

Many people who have been married a long time finish one another's sentences.

Other long-time married couples just seem to know what the other is thinking.

Early in my marriage, not long after we had moved into our new house, I had the opportunity to appreciate the efficiency of communication demonstrated by those who had been married much longer.

My lovely wife, Wendy, and I had finished watching T.V. and were heading upstairs to retire for the evening. I had made it a little farther down the hall than Wendy had and I turned back to her and asked, what I thought was a simple question. I knew she could answer it because of her physical location.

Me: "What time is it?"
Wendy: "You mean now?"
Me: "No, ten minutes from now; I'll do the math."

While I knew Wendy's physical location near the kitchen afforded her the ability to tell me the time I was unaware that Wendy had a different temporal location with which I was unfamiliar.

I thought my retort was quite clever but it still left me without knowing the time. There we were, in the hallway, staring at one another waiting to see who would make the first move. It was a scene out of a western with the gun-slingers eyeing each other trying to determine when to draw.

I now realized that Wendy had a different sense of time than I. It also didn't take long for me to realize that Wendy had a different sense of humor than I because she never did tell me the time, either then or 10 minutes from then.

We were both happy knowing that in only 10 or 20 years we would have much more efficient communications and a self-awareness that others would envy.

Fast-forward to this year, 10 years into our marriage and Wendy's parents are visiting. Wendy's father wanted to watch his beloved LSU play in the college baseball world series and he asked me, "What time does the game come on T.V.?"

Wendy's dad:"Local time?"

I had an innate sense that any reply other than "yes" would have been inappropriate and I replied thusly without any hesitation. But I couldn't help but add, "For future reference, any time coordinates I give will be local in nature unless otherwise specified."

Wendy's father, being an engineer, simply accepted my comment as a helpful fact regarding future discussions of time.

However, one of the important but difficult things in a successful relationship is knowing when to shut up. My added commentary about local time zones vs. any other frickin' time zone on the planet caused a little discussion and created an opportunity for yours truly to reflect on the nature of our temporal world. Wendy told me that the question, "local time?" did not seem at all unusual to her.

Ah-ha, there is, apparently, a genetic factor related to one's interpretation of time. Wendy and her father see time the same way, a way that was foreign to my thought process.

I've now come to accept life as continuously successive moments of now and no longer worry about the time of day. We're all happier now and will be ten minutes from now, local time or any other temporal location within which one resides.


This is something I wrote on September 13, 2001. It wasn't meant for anyone other than my wife, Wendy. My parents were visiting us in California on 9/11 and, like many others, we were stunned by what had happened just two days prior. I struggled to find a way of telling Wendy what I thought so I sat down and started writing.

I hadn't re-read the piece since I originally wrote it. Having re-read it today, it rekindled many of the thoughts, emotions and resolve of eight years ago.


I’m sitting in my office thinking of the events over the past few days. I find it difficult to continue working knowing the pain and horror that my fellow man is still experiencing. Those families who have lost loved ones, those heroic and feverish attempts to find survivors in New York City, those attempting to recover parts of our nation’s military headquarters and those forced to clean up the remains in Pennsylvania are constantly at the center of my thoughts. I believe this nation will survive, will become stronger and will persevere just as we have throughout our short history. Yet, the immediacy of the current suffering is impossible to fathom.

I’m surprised about that which makes me emotional. I’ve always felt strong in the face of adversity and have never felt that I was one to panic. I can detach myself and watch the surreal images of planes penetrating the World Trade Center buildings and think of the engineering stresses placed on both plane and building. I can intellectually analyze the steps necessary to dig through the rubble, recover and perhaps even rebuild. I can even watch with a detached curiosity the explanations as “talking heads” parade across the television screen with endless drivel and equally endless brilliant insight regarding these events.

But there’s something that causes tears to well up in my eyes and causes me to choke up. No matter how many times I see it. No matter how many different ways it is presented. I am unable to maintain my steadfast composure when I see how people pull together. When I read about individuals putting the safety of the group ahead of their own I get teary eyed. When I hear stories about people grouping together to overcome adversity I get choked up. When I see the endless ability for perfect strangers to band together and do what’s right I have to look away lest I completely lose all composure.

In “The American Crisis”, Thomas Paine eloquently captured a thought that applies today, “THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

These are the times that also try the soul of the nation. We will learn if this nation has the ability to withstand the external forces of evil that attempt to destroy civilization. Let there be no doubt that this is evil. Nothing short of pure evil could hatch and execute the monstrous plans that have destroyed so many lives. The people who perpetrated these crimes against humanity are not fighting for freedom – they are fighting to eliminate the freedom of others. They are fighting to eliminate our freedom – to take away from us what our forefathers worked so hard to give us.

This nation faces a test unlike any we’ve ever seen before. As a nation, we’ve fought against evil many times. However, this is the first time we’ve faced such a massive and cowardly enemy. An enemy that has to hide behind lies and deceit is cowardly. An enemy that can only lash out at unarmed, faceless civilians is cowardly. We cannot and must not allow such an evil coward to continue to exist on this planet.

There are many debates that we will face as we move forward. There are many emotions that we will feel in the days and weeks ahead. There will be many arguments against the swift sure actions we must take to ensure the safety of future generations in this country and around the world.

There are those that are concerned that our enemy is the small set of individuals that perpetrated this heinous crime. Our enemy is more than that. Our enemy consists of those individuals that acted, those individuals that aided and those nations that gave succor to these enemies. I have heard some argue that we can’t violate the rights of sovereign nations where these armies of terrorists may live and train. I argue that sovereignty entails much more than just the right to be free from outside influence; it also carries with it the responsibility to not allow attacks to emanate from within one’s own borders. Those nations that encourage, or simply allow terrorists to reside within their borders, to allow these bearers of evil to train for these attacks have failed to uphold their sovereign responsibility. They have abdicated their responsibilities to the community of nations that make up this planet and, therefore, can no longer expect to hide behind the “right of sovereignty”.

Some have argued that attacking countries that harbor these doers of evil will alienate and anger our allies in the mid-east. I argue, who cares? These “allies” have angered us by allowing their brethren nations in the region to continue to operate terrorist cells and training camps. Those who do not fight this evil with us are against us and are against civilization. If they are angered, so be it. If they are reluctant to join us, allow them to stand-alone, outside the community of nations that abhor evil. If they fight against us then they shall bear the brunt of our forces.

To those that argue for proportional response, whatever that may be, I argue that there is no longer room for “proportional response”. We must eliminate the tyranny of evil that poisons the well from which we all drink. To think that we are simply punishing a criminal for a single act is to ignore the reality of today’s situation.

I’ve read arguments that if Afghanistan turns over Osama bin Laden that we can then step down our military responsiveness. Again, this is not about a single individual who committed a single crime. This is about a web of evil that poisons the world. The Taliban had their opportunity to turn over bin Laden – they failed. The Taliban had their opportunity to reign in bin Laden – they failed. The Taliban could have done what was right – they failed. If Afghanistan is the center of bin Laden’s world then we must destroy that center as surely as we must destroy any cancer that invades us and threatens to end civilization.

Some have even argued that unless Osama bin Laden can be proven to be behind this evil act then we must leave him and Afghanistan alone. Hogwash – Osama bin Laden has already been proven to be behind multiple attacks against innocent people, including the first attack against the World Trade Center. Regardless of his complicity in the most current attack, he must be turned over now. We must not allow any of these bearers of evil to continue to operate.

To those that argue that we may be biting off more than we can chew and those that argue that we could end up in a long, messy war, I can only say that you are right. As Thomas Paine said, “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” Let there be no doubt that we are fighting hell itself.

To those that argue that innocent lives will be lost – I agree. I happen to believe that fewer innocent lives will be lost if we take this burden unto ourselves and eliminate this scourge before another day passes. We are charged with protecting the lives of tomorrow’s innocents as well as today’s. Let us vow to create a more innocent world for the generations that follow us.

It is not the time for compromise as one can never compromise with evil. Some say that evil begets evil and that war is evil. I say that evil begets evil and best to eliminate evil altogether. This is the good fight. This is what will either unite us or destroy us. I believe in America and that for which we stand. I believe that we will unite to destroy this evil. I believe we have no choice.

Now is the time to take our greatest asset, our definition as a nation of individuals and prove to the world what we have proven in the past – that we are a nation united, in purpose and deed. We value individual freedoms above all; now we must unite as individuals to fight this evil. It is time for us to do what past generations have done for us – sacrifice today so that future generations will be better off.

We have been lucky for the past thirty years as we were able to rely on small groups of Americans to sacrifice for all of us. It is now time for each and every one of us to shoulder this burden, for all of us to lead each other and for all of us to follow the righteous road that will allow us to eliminate this evil from our children’s world.

Many of us will falter along the way. Some of our leaders will falter as well. It is not the time to criticize and point out shortcomings. It is the time to aid those who falter, to stand with them shoulder to shoulder and lead with them. In times of crisis we want to look to someone who will have all the answers. No one has all the answers for today’s problems. We must find the answers together. We must stand united, we must keep our focus on the target, we must eliminate this evil – we have no choice.

We are at a turning point for our nation and for the world. We can allow this evil to continue to exist or we can choose freedom and civilization. We are at war. We have been attacked repeatedly. We didn’t choose to enter this war. We must not shrink from our duty to end this war.

I hope and pray that we will have the strength to enter into this conflict united and to have the endurance to see it to its end.


Today, on September 11, 2009, I fear that we do not "have the endurance to see it to its end."

I hope I am wrong. I will never forget.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Lost Again

I'm a big do-it-yourselfer at my house. I've done pretty much everything related to building or maintaining a house with the exclusion of laying bricks. I've built my own wiring closet with an independent cooling system. I've installed whole-house audio, video and networking systems. I find a lot of pleasure and relaxation in doing this work. It starts with not being afraid to screw it up.

One day I was running some wiring to one of the bedrooms upstairs in the house. This required fishing a couple of cat-5 and a coax cable up and between the walls from my downstairs wiring closet, up to the attic and then down between the walls in the target bedroom.

I successfully got the wires up to the attic and had to determine where, exactly, to drop the wires down to the bedroom.

It was quite hot in the attic, I was covered in insulation and just wanted to get out of there so I called on my lovely wife, Wendy, for help.

She was in the upstairs hallway next to the target bedroom and the following conversation really happened as I knocked on the ceiling drywall:

Me: "Do you hear me knocking?"
Wendy: "Yes."
Me: "Can you tell me where I am?"

This silence continued so I started knocking louder. Finally a response from Wendy, "You're in the attic."

Now it was my turn to be silent. Was she serious or just joking? I already knew the answer because I certainly recognized the different tones of voice that were uniquely Wendy's.

More silence from me as I tried to figure out just how to respond to the answer but it didn't last long as Wendy broke the silence, "Are you alright?"

Me: "Yes."
Wendy:"I thought you had a stroke because you didn't know where you were."

Me: silent

Me:"I know I'm in the attic, dear. Can you please use my knocking to help me determine where, exactly, I am in relation to the bedroom."
Wendy:"Oh," followed by giggling.

And my dear Wendy wonders why I won't ask anyone for directions. I'd just as soon not know where I am and stay lost.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bright Lights

There's a never-ending supply of disturbing tactics being uncovered every day in the health-care process. Remember, the original plan was to get a health-care bill passed by congress and signed by the president in only a few short weeks. There was considerable concern within the administration and the democratic party that if congress went into recess that they wouldn't be able to pass a bill.

Why? Because the American people would read the bill, unlike members of congress, see what the bill contained and rebel.

There was one particularly egregious action taken by members of congress and a news summary that shows what's been going on for the past two years. Both actions should give one pause and cause great consternation as to how these massive government programs get passed.

The first is coercion, pure and simple. Henry Waxman and Bart Stupak have sent a "demand" letter to the health insurance companies asking for two types of information. One type has already been provided to the government through regulatory filings. The other type of requested information is internal and is related to how the companies compensate and reward employees. The health insurance companies aren't against reform but have publicly opposed certain components of the proposed legislation. It is clear that this is an intimidation tactic designed to silence opposition. Silencing opposition is about as "un-American" as one can get. Our republic is based on honest, open debate. It should concern every one of us deeply whenever one side attempts to silence the other.

The other issue, outlined quite well in an article talks about the many proposals made by both democrats and republicans regarding health care going back two years. These are proposals that will never see the light of day because an individual chairperson has the power to prevent the proposals from ever being discussed in committee.

It's disturbing enough that two individuals control what gets discussed regarding health-care reform but it's beyond the pale that those same individuals claim that no other proposals have been made.

I, like most Americans, am not opposed to health-care reform. However, we deserve full disclosure and an open, honest debate of the merits. The folks wielding the power today are afraid of the bright light and don't want to have an honest debate. They wonder from where the anger originates. It is the process. We don't want to be told what's going to happen to us and that's it's going to be for our own good. We want to be part of the process and we want to have a say in how it happens.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Goal Setting

One of the most important steps towards success in any endeavor is to identify the goal. What is it that you want to achieve?

This is harder than it sounds and appears to be nearly impossible with regards to the current health-care debate. Both sides of the debate use this difficulty to distort the other side and to sell their side harder. "Pulling the plug on grandma" is a theme that is misused by both sides with apparent glee and faux displeasure and anger.

Apparently, you either want everyone to die or you want the government to have complete control over your daily life. There is no in-between in the debate. Therefore, there is no give-and-take.

But, wait a minute. How can this be in a civil society? Easy, that's how they want it. If we were actually told the end-goal and the proposed methods of getting there then we could actually have an intellectual debate about it. Instead, we're told the methods of getting there, wherever there is.

The president has said that we need health-care reform and the way to get health-care reform is for the government to enter the market and provide competition while establishing new rules on how everyone should be handled in the market.

But what's the goal in that? Health care reform? That's not a goal, that's a means.

How about a goal of decreasing the number of un-insured? Perhaps even setting a goal of having everyone insured while lowering the overall costs of buying insurance would be reasonable.

There are lots of ways of doing that. One study done in 2008 showed how to decrease the number of individuals who make less than $45,000/year who are un-insured by over 70%. It didn't involve creating a new government program. Instead it focused on getting the government out of the way.

The president talks about increasing competition by getting the government into the program. The way one creates competition is getting the government out of the way. Almost all of the "issues" with the marketplace of health insurance are created from government regulations, including the lack of interstate competition because of the McCarran-Ferguson Act.

I get very nervous when someone tries to sell me a solution or a means as a goal. I get extremely nervous when that someone is the government. The same government that brought us Medicare (bankrupt), Medicaid (bankrupt), Social Security (nearly insolvent), the US Postal Service (in debt and running a deficit), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (colossal failures) doesn't have a lot of credibility with me when it comes to fixing another problem by jumping in feet first.

Why are people angry? Because they don't know what they're being sold.

Whatever it is, I ain't buying it and they shouldn't be selling it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Logic Of It All

Years ago in a former life I was in a meeting that seemed to drag on forever. We were debating 'round and 'round without any end in sight. I finally had enough and spoke up, laying out in what I thought was a very logical argument on how to proceed.

There was one fellow in the group who disagreed with me quite strongly and pushed back rather vociferously.

We went back and forth for far too long as I patiently answered his concerns and convinced the rest of the group to back my position. But he was going to have the last word.

"It's not fair for you to use logic," he said.

I was stunned. I thought the entire point of an honest debate was to use logic. I didn't, no, couldn't see any other option. His argument relied on emotion and what would "feel right" and I was countering his arguments with logic. He was incensed and he stormed out of the room.

I've always felt that one should be willing and able to lay out their arguments regarding any particular issue and convince others, with logical reasoning, on why their position is the best. Of course, after that virtually everyone should agree and move forward.

I just read this headline, "Obama Rethinking Health Care Pitch - More emotional appeal may surface..."

I guess that logic isn't working for him. According to the article, Obama is "expected to present a more emotional appeal" regarding his health care proposal.

There must be something fundamentally wrong with a proposal if one has to muddy a debate with emotion rather than clear benefits and costs in order to win.

Where's Mr. Spock when you need him?

Monday, August 17, 2009

80/20 rules

I don't know why the 80/20 rule is specified for so many things. I'm not sure if it's just convenient or if it has some instinctive feel that rings true for us.

I used to have an 80/20 rule when I was working and used it extensively when working with the people who reported to me and was especially fervent in communicating the rule to the managers who worked for me. It was based on something that came up during a leadership/team-building exercise when someone asked a very simple question.

It was during a discussion on how to identify and promote the next set of leaders within the organization. Someone asked me, "Where do you spend 80% of your people time?"

At first I didn't comprehend the question. So the person asked me more directly, "Do you spend 80% of your time with your bottom-20% performers or your top-20% performers?"

I hadn't really thought about it before but it generated quite the discussion. He asked me, "If you doubled the performance of your bottom-20% what would you have vs. doubling the performance of the top-20%?"

It was a no-brainer. I knew what the right answer was. I needed to concentrate my efforts on the top-performers in order to increase the productivity and effectiveness of the entire organization. Most importantly, I couldn't disrupt the entire organization in order to help the bottom-20%. Doing so would simply turn things topsy-turvy in the organization and make things worse for the rest of the group.

I think about that lesson often and it's very difficult for me not to think about it amidst this current carnival-like debate on health-care. Approximately 85% of the people in the United States have health-insurance, either through private providers or the government. After dissecting the numbers of those un-insured, it's only about 5% of the people in the states who are chronically un-insured. That is, they don't have insurance, can't afford insurance and don't currently qualify for government insurance.

Do we really need to completely re-invent the entire system to help the 5%? Do we want to change things for everyone or just find a way to insure the chronically un-insurable? It seems to me that the latter would be much easier to do than the former.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


I'm a bit hard-headed and that probably explains, more than anything else, why I didn't finish college. I used to get in arguments with professors and students alike about the role of the university and what I expected for my money.

College, to me, was all about getting an education and then using that education, along with all of my other resources, to make something of myself and contribute back to society. Many of the other characters in the university system thought college was for something else entirely.

I was in the computer science program at the University of Maryland and one of the required course tracks was Calculus for math majors. The first day of class the professor told the class that only 20% of the students would get a grade of C or better, the required minimum grade to advance to the next class. I raised my hand. I don't remember if I used the words "how dare you" or not but I was furious. I explained that I had paid good, hard-earned money to get into the class and I presumed that the vetting process I endured along with my previous education had prepared me to sit in a college-level Calculus class. I pointed out that a success rate of 20% represented a dismal failure on the part of the school and this professor in particular. The explanation was that this was a "wash out" course in order to weed out, apparently 80%, of those who wished to be engineers, mathematicians and scientists.

I didn't have a problem with the course being difficult or the requirement that we were expected to build a strong mathematical foundation in order to be considered computer scientists. I had a problem with the guild-like mentality of controlling the number of entrants into the field.

On the other hand, I also got into arguments with the students who were there for something other than an education. In one computer science class, again on the first day, a student asked if the examinations would be cumulative. I couldn't contain myself and yelled out, "No, you're expected to forget everything once you've been tested. What a moron."

Alas, college just wasn't for me. I took as many of the computer science classes I could and left the school to make a living and did fairly well in the job market.

Then, just this morning, I read this article. A woman is suing her school because she graduated and is unable to find a job. She feels that her money and time were wasted in college and the college has failed to live up to its side of the bargain and find her a job.

I don't know this woman and it would be unfair of me to call her a moron but it certainly is tempting. I can understand her frustration in not being able to find a job but I am completely unable to comprehend the sense of entitlement she apparently feels her degree bestows upon her.

If she went to college to get a job then she got in the wrong line; she should have queued up with the job applicants rather than at the admissions line.

I find this story particularly galling because it shows just how far askew we've become in our expectations of guarantees of success rather than guarantees of opportunity.

Welcome to the school of hard-knocks.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


There's a lot of debate going on right now concerning government provided health-care in the United States. I haven't been paying much attention because health care, apparently, is now the number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States and is a complete, unmitigated disaster - at least, according to the proponents of government provided doctoring.

This subject is one of the hot topics amongst my friends on the golf course and those of you who know me can probably guess the position I take. The other day, though, I had an interesting conversation with one of my golf competitors around rationing. He thought I was a bit insane to even entertain the idea that the government would ever resort to rationing of health care resources. Never mind the simpleton argument I gave him that increasing demand (patients) without increasing supply (doctors) would necessitate some form of rationing. He furiously demanded an example of something the government already rations.

"The roads", I said.
"The roads?"
"Yep, the roads."
"Now you've completely lost it you right-wing fanatic", he responded. "I can drive anywhere I want whenever I want."

I then told him about ramp metering. I told him that he had experienced ramp metering and never even considered that it was a form of rationing imposed on him by the government. I had driven with him many a time when he encountered those ramp meter lights and I repeated back to him what I had heard him say almost everytime he saw a ramp meter light:

"Why do I have to wait for these f*(&ing lights to turn f*(&ing green so I can get on the f*(&ing freeway that I already f*(&ing paid for?"

Apparently he no longer wanted to discuss universal health care because he changed the subject to how hot it was that day. I told him he was probably feverish and should go see a doctor.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bragging Rights

If you don't want to read about me tooting my own horn then move on, this isn't for you.

I started playing golf about 9 1/2 years ago. Those of you who know me know that I'm obsessed with the game and I'm blessed to be able to play almost every day.

There are many challenges in golf and many achievements for which all players strive and each goal achieved simply creates another. When we finally break 100 we want to break 90 only to become obsessed with breaking 80. We start out as worse than bogey golfers and strive to make pars on a consistent basis. Then we want to get to the point where we're making birdies. We strive for eagles and seek out that magical hole-in-one. If our handicap is in the 20's then we want to get into the teens followed by single digit and then we want to be scratch. It's a never-ending search to improve our swings, our game and our scores.

I've struggled over the past year. Last year my handicap index was about -5.4 and I decided that I wanted to get better. My hands were involved in the ball striking (not a good thing) and I wanted a purer ball-strike. This led to golf disaster - my index shot up (down?) to about -12.8 where it was just two weeks ago.

I spent some time with my coach and practiced, practiced and practiced. I've got my index back down to about -4.6 right now - the lowest it's ever been and today I had a first that was very exciting to me and my playing partners:

I shot even par.

I've been close before with a couple of 1-over rounds but that even par round always eluded me.

For those who care, I had two bogies on the front (the 1st and 3rd holes), a bogey and a birdie on the back leaving me 2-over with 4 holes to play. (Isn't this golf stuff exciting?!?!?) I birdied 15 (a par 3) and 16 (a par 5). On 17 I was on the green in regulation (a par 4 green I reached in 2 shots) but overshot the flag by about 2 feet and it rolled down to a lower tier about 80 feet from the hole. Looking back at an uphill, up-grain putt I overpowered it and went 15 feet past the pin. Aaaargh - I was even par and now I'm looking at a three-putt to go back to 1 over. I had a downhill, down-grain putt and just got it started and was excited when it fell in, leaving me even par.

On 18, a 419-yard par 4 I missed my drive but stayed in the fairway about 155 yards from the center of the green. The pin was at plus-20 meaning that the pin was 20 yards further than the center-of-the-green numbers shown on the fairway sprinkler heads, meaning that I had about 175 yards to the hole. This green also had two tiers running from right to left and the flag was on the lower tier on the left. I grabbed a six-iron intending to choke-down a little and hit it smoothly to the center of the green with a draw (left) spin to get the ball to go down the hill towards the hole. I hit the ball but had a fade (right) spin and the ball stayed on the upper tier. Now I'm about 90 feet from the hole with a down-hill, down-grain putt. I need to 2-putt to stay even and I'm starting to get nervous. My line was good but I came up about 4 feet short leaving a left-to-right slider.

Here I am, four feet away from achieving one of my big goals - shooting even par. More nerves. It went in center-cut and I was grinning big.

The numbers: 13 of 14 fairways hit, 14 of 18 greens hit, 40 total shots to reach the greens and 32 putts.

So, how does a golfer think about a round like this? In a most miserable way. I had four birdie putts inside 8 feet that I missed. I mis-clubed on a par 3 coming up 8 feet short of the green and lipping out for bogie. The missed fairway was because of a blocked tee-shot because I got stuck and couldn't get my hands turned over. While I hit my goal of 40 shots to reach the greens I missed my putting goal by four (I target 28 putts per round).

It's not that we golfers dwell on the negatives. No, we dwell on what could have been. I think those missed birdie putts were easy putts and I had an opportunity to shoot 68 instead of 72. Never mind that 72 is a wondrous score or that I held onto my nerves and made it through the challenges of the 17th and 18th holes - I could have done better.

That thought, that I could have done better, is what keeps me going out there and trying. All golfers are the same. We can always do better we just need one more chance to try and prove it.

So, what's next? Breaking par, a bogey-free round, breaking 70, a hole-in-one, reaching 18 greens in regulation, reaching the par-5's in 2 and many, many more tests of the game. But the most important - having fun and enjoying the time I get to spend with my friends.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Back on the lake

I just came back from another trip to Lake Powell. It was another week of boating, fishing, camping, drinking, eating and sleeping - fun for all.

The biggest change in Lake Powell is its level. Before we shoved off we were told that the lake was rising 5 inches a day. Given the size of the lake this is a massive increase.
The photos above show one of our favorite campsites near Oak Canyon. The photo on the left was taken in June, 2007 and the one on the right this past trip in June, 2009. You can see how much the water has risen in the past two years. If you click on the images to see them in full size you'll see the house boats and get a better sense of scale of the rock formations in the canyon.

We had 18 people spread over 2 house boats. On the left is Skye, our youngest crew member, demonstrating the rough life of 5:00 AM fishing duty.

The fishing parties were quite successful almost every day which helped create a bit of variety in the prepared dinner menus.

At the end of the day, though, it was necessary to marshal the appropriate resources and prepare for the evening's festivities. Feeding 18 people does require a bit of work but the group was up for it with everyone taking turns with the various tasks. As you can see, it was just a week full of difficult toil and drudgery as we slogged through the chores of the day.

We all had our own roles to play and it went off almost without a hitch. There was a bit of excitement as I landed the boat one evening in 40 mph winds to be followed the next morning with water as smooth as glass.

It was a great trip, it helped everyone unwind and we enjoyed, once again, one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Newest Family Member

This is Buddy, the newest member of our family. Buddy is a rescued foundling.

Wendy's brother, Jim, owns a tree farm near the Louisiana-Mississippi border which he visits every week or so. On one visit back in December he heard barking as he got out of his truck.

When he investigated he found this dog, about 1/2 its current size, living under the house in a hole he dug and had filled with leaves. He also found a deer carcass that had been dragged from the woods which was serving as this miscreant's food source.

In January, on a visit to Louisiana, Wendy and I met this dog and felt that we could give it a new home. He has traveled quite extensively with Wendy and me across country and back and forth from California to Arizona to Louisiana.

Contrary to the photo shown here he is actually quite well behaved. We ignored the advice of family and friends to name him "Lucky Bastard" and went with the run-of-the-mill, Buddy.