Sunday, September 27, 2009


On Saturday at 2:00 PM I joined with my family to celebrate my grandson’s third birthday party. The birthday boy was surrounded by parents, grandparents, great grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends of all kinds. There was food and cake and a lot of people hugging.

And there were balloons... that floated up to the ceiling to the delightful squeals of kids, grasping at their ribbons and watching as they floated up just out of reach of their little hands.

Twenty-four hours later, Sunday at 2:00 PM, I joined with friends to remember a man whose life was cut short much too soon from a heart attack. His wife was surrounded by parents and children, aunts and uncles and friends of all kinds. There was food and cake and lot of people hugging.

And there were balloons... which, as a Navy Color Guard played Taps, we all released and watched together in silence as they, and our friend’s life, floated up out of reach of our little hands.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Film review: "I.O.U.S.A." (documentary)

I recently watched the documentary I.O.U.S.A. – a quite chilling wake-up call to Americans about our nation teetering on financial collapse due to our ever mounting national deficits. (view the trailer on YouTube)

The filmmakers interview some of the most principled and influential economists, politicians and business people in the know about this pending crisis including: AlanGreenspan, former treasury secretaries including Paul O’Neill and wealthy Berkshire Hathaway CEO, Warren Buffett. Much of the film time, however, goes to former Comptroller General of the US, David Walker who explains through simple and understandable graphics the serious brink of financial crisis at which this nation is currently poised.

The country faces four distinct national deficits: A budget deficit, savings deficit, trade deficit and leadership deficit.

Most people are familiar with the Budget deficit which as, at the time of the film released had reached $8.7 TRILLION dollars… and is continuing to climb. You might guess that perhaps most of our tax revenue is consumed by Medicare, the Iraq-Afghanistan wars, Social Security? Nope - The largest portion of the taxes you and I pay go to interest on the loans the government has taken out to pay for all these services. As Mr. Walker points out, “the government has no money”, it pays for things through taxes and borrowing. And the rate at which we are borrowing is unsustainable and disastrous for the future of this country.

The personal savings rate of people in this country has dropped to zero. Our trade deficit has placed us almost at the bottom of the world’s trading economy. We produce far less than we import and we are mortgaging out national assets to purchase things we cannot afford. And yet, we continue to blithely stupefy ourselves with the funeral arrangements of Michael Jackson and NFL playoffs.

Crucial to the problem is our Leadership deficit – Congress is anathema to speaking the heresy that they KNOW will doom their re-election prospects: Taxes. It is not possible to spend more than your income; neither for an individual family or a nation. Americans don’t care how much in taxes we pay – whatever it is, it’s too much. Our elected leaders are beholding to short term business interests through the lobbyists they employ. The likelihood of ever enacting any true fiscal responsible policy seems distinctly dismal, in my view.

Unfortunately, this subject does not hit the public consciousness. It’s boring so the news media doesn’t cover it. It’s complex so our politicians don’t talk about it. And planes don’t fall out of the sky because the nation is in debt. Like cigarettes; the tragedy of lung cancer is still many years down the road.

But this is a film that should be shown in every high school classroom. It should be the topic shown every night on the news… a runner at the bottom of the screen showing how much of our tax money we pissed away to China and Japan that day.

Americans usually act when disaster strikes, are very good at putting out fires. We are piss-poor at preventing them in the first place. We have one hell of a wake-up call heading our way. I.O.U.S.A. is trying to shake Americans awake before it is too late. See it.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tossing out Recycling

I recycle. I believe we (humanity) waste a lot of energy on disposable plastics and packaging and that this has a significant impact on the environment. Yet I have a bit of nagging doubt about the benefit of recycling rolling around in the back of my brain and I can’t seem to shake it.

Magicians Penn and Teller did one of their HBO “Bullshit” series about recycling – strongly criticizing it, as they can only do in their humorous and often profane style. I chalk some of their views as mantra from the usual Libertarian sources (of which P&T are… the “flaming” kind). Still, as my wife often says, sometimes there is a “grain of truth” to an issue. And I think the grain of truth in the criticism of recycling is that it actually may be somewhat wasteful in itself.

Consider this: most people I know wash or rinse out their recycling before they put it in the recycle bin. Each time I rinse out my morning yogurt container, I wonder how much water I am wasting. Think about this for a moment – using pure, clean drinking water to rinse out a container that you are discarding. You know, many concerned scientists warn that the world may soon face a shortage of fresh water is poised to be the next global crisis.

I notice that I am using a lot of water on stuff I am throwing out – between glass and plastic, we fill a garbage can size recycling bin about every two months. I have been considering dumping the rinse water into a bucket so I can actually MEASURE how much water I am wasting on stuff I am throwing out.

Another thing "green" issue has been bothering me also – lighting. I've switched from incandescent to compact florescent light bulbs (CF). They are a bit annoying when you first turn them on as they have to warm up a minute or two before they reach full brightness. No big deal. But it turns out that burned-out compact florescent bulbs should not be tossed the trash as they contain toxic mercury. CF bulbs must be disposed of as “toxic waste”.

Some European countries have outlawed CF lights as has California (pretty close to European as Americans get). But, what is their plan for disposing of all the millions of dead CF bulbs and their dangerous component of mercury?

Another thing I notice during our weekly garbage pick up. Before recycling took off in the public consciousness, there was only one garbage truck coming through our neighborhood. Now there are two – that means double the impact, double the fuel, double the energy to make two vehicles, double the personnel to operate them. My garbage bill just increased this year.

I don’t know what the answer is. When I was a kid we had milk bottles which we took back to the store (after the Milk Man stopped delivering it to our porch weekly). The bottles would need to be washed, that would take water… and the bottle need to be transported. Which is more efficient and energy neutral - washing and reusing containers or washing and throwing away single use containers?

Maybe the key is not to create the packaging in the first place. For example, I hate buying two packages of five screws when I only need six. Likewise I hate having to get a pair of scissors to open a shrink wrapped package of compact fluorescent light bulbs.

I am starting to lean toward the thought that recycling just might indeed be Bullshit.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Craftsman

After 12 years of working for a Bank I needed a change. I was mid 30’s, had just gone through a divorce, and I hated my job. I was also in debt up to my eyeballs, but had just met another beautiful blond babe and things were looking up.

We moved in together and started planning a new life. Layoffs came at the bank and I was more than ready to desert that sinking ship. I took a severance package and moved from the city to a small town in Oregon with my new wife and a horizon full of possibilities. What meager retirement from the bank I took in cash to live off of and embarked on my new career as a custom clock maker and woodworker. To say that I was naive about the potential success of my newly chosen career would be an understatement.

I had designed a wooden cube clock with a brass face. The “creative” aspect was that the numbers on the face looked as if they had all fallen off the face in a jumbled pile at the bottom of the clock. I thought it was pretty clever. It required that I make a cubicle oak case, hand letter the face and insert the works behind a glass bezel. Not high woodworking sill, but it took a bit of time to assemble each one by hand.

I had remodeled the garage of my new wife’s home as a shop. One of the first things I noticed was that it was a bit lonely to work at home alone every day. The guy across the street was a self-employed potter so I went over and visited with him when time permitted. Occasionally he needed help with his pottery business so I worked for him unloading the kiln and dipping pots into the glazing. We were artists and in production… making a living from our crafts. I thought I was pretty cool.

In reality, the money wasn’t coming in. At one point I booked booth space at a nearby town that had an open crafts market. I constructed a booth, paid the booth fees, and hauled my inventory to the market. These were long days of standing around watching shoppers slip into and out of my booth, browsing my merchandise, selling an occasional clock. On a good day, I made almost enough to cover my booth fee. No profit to speak of.

A few feet away there was usually some homeless guy who sat on a bench or on the ground, flailing away on an out-of-tune guitar. This guy would throw a hat out in front of him and soon it would fill up with $1 and $5 dollar bills. He paid no booth fee, no overhead costs whatsoever. The same people who would wander through my booth, but not buy anything, would happily drop money into this guy's hat... money for nothing!! He was making a lot of money. I was clearly backing the wrong business model.

It became remarkably apparent: people didn’t know talent from no talent, no idea of craftsmanship from crap. They would buy the clock made of a slice of wood with no more than a hole drilled into it for the clockworks. They had no appreciation of workmanship that went into an item versus stamping out a piece of garbage.

I believe generally that artists have the capability to appreciate the work of other artists. But the general public doesn’t know shit from Shineola. I believe this is why so many high grossing films and books hit the market each year… people buy into them because they are popular, not because they are good. Quality is lost on the common man.

Sherlock Holmes said it best: “Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself - talent instantly recognizes genius".

Monday, September 7, 2009

Nothing ventured, nothing read.

I must confess, I am somewhat crestfallen. I just asked my wife if she had read my most recent blog post. "I read half of it", she says. !! Isn't that a bit like telling someone half a joke?

Apparently, it's not that she is just bored by me; she also only read half of Kara's blog. Pressing her on this she says that she's already heard all my stories so she doesn't need to rehash them by reading them (again) on my blog. But she has no clue what Kara is going to come up with next... !?

Ok, so this post is for you, my dear wife:
A man walks into a bar with a small dog under his arm and sits down at the counter, placing the dog on the stool next to him. The bartender says, "Sorry, pal. No dogs allowed." The man says, "But this is a special dog -- he talks! I'll prove it..."

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Unsportsman-like Conduct

John Fitzgerald Kennedy JFK may well be best remembered for his famous “Ask not…” inaugural speech, or perhaps for his leadership ushering mans first steps off this planet in to space. But I will remember him for “The President’s Council on Physical Fitness” and how this policy forever created a hatred for competitive sports which smolders within me to this day.

First off, I wasn’t built for sports. I was usually the smallest and lightest kid in my class. Of all the classes I hated most in high school was Physical Education. Competitive sports were alleged to supposedly teach cooperation, teamwork, and camaraderie. Instead they taught me that only the strong deserve to survive and that the tenuous and shallow pursuit of personal “glory” is an underlying value within the American psyche.

You can therefore correctly assume that I was indeed the last one picked, before the wheelchair kid, when choosing up teams for sports. I was the brunt of much hatred and name-calling merely because I was not skilled in throwing, hitting, kicking, passing or catching any form of ball. Mistakes are not well tolerated in sports. Were executions a legal part of the sports program I likely would not have lived beyond my second month as a Freshman.

During the previous two years of pummeling at the hands of bullies at junior high, I had learned fairly well how to run. Now as a Freshman in high school, my buddy talked me into signing up for Cross Country with him. That first year, I was the third slowest kid on the team. By the
time Track season rolled around in the Spring, the two slower guys had dropped out. I kept at it because it was hard and I needed to do something hard. During our two weeks track instruction in PE class, I enjoyed brief status. The other kids quit when they got tired or their sides started to hurt. I left them in the dust.

By my Junior year I was my school’s top Cross Country runner and top Two-Miler. Some of the PE coaches took notice - most finally conceded that this short skinny kid was indeed an athlete. But one coach wouldn’t.

It was during two weeks of boxing instruction in PE. Coach Asshole was matching up kids of simi
lar height and weight to spar in the ring (just mats on the gym floor actually). -- This day, this sadistic bastard matched me, the smallest kid, against the biggest guy in class. I guess he thought it would be funny.

Now back in those days my Dad was a huge boxing fan. I would sit on the couch with him and watch the Friday Night Fights from Madison Square Garden. Dad and I would watch Rocky Graziano and Sugar Ray Robinson while he drank a Pabst Blue Ribbon with a dash of salt. Dad would explain to me the nuances of the sport of boxing; the strategy, drawing in your opponent, back-peddling, feinting a throw to gain an opening. He called it part dance, part sport.

There I stood on the mat in PE class surrounded by the guys. I turned my body to the side to present the smallest possible profile and put my gloves up to protect my face. I danced… left, then right, then again left… God, this moose was at least a head taller than me. But unlike Rocky and Sugar Ray, Moose was stupid – when he would cock his right back to throw a punch, he would drop his left and hand exposing his face. JAB – reaching up, I threw a left jab to his face then feinted back. His right hand swung in a big empty arc through the air, coming nowhere near my face. Dancing, left… right…. Moose again winds up for a right cross, again dropping his left hand and exposing his face – Bam, my left jab catches him square on the nose.

Moose repeats this same mistake over and over again. By now Moose is beginning to fatigue from throwing right crosses that only create wind and suck his endurance. On the other hand, Track Star has endurance on his side and showing no sign of tiring. Moose is stumbling over his own feet now… both hands drop as he looses his balance. Bam – I deliver a right cross to Moose’s jaw. There’s no way I’m going to hurt this guy, I don’t have the upper body strength nor the mass in my hand so do any damage… I’m going for style… and to show Coach Asshole that I am an athlete.

“Time” someone yells and a towel is thrown in, the fight is over. Moose has never laid a hand on my body the entire fight; I have delivered at least a dozen or more left jabs on his fat face and a right cross to his jaw. If anyone had been keeping score, I would have won the match. In my mind, Coach Asshole’s silence affirms my win. That Friday night, I tell my dad about PE class – he is proud.

A few years later I notice that my Dad has stopped watching the Friday Night Fight on TV. “The fights went crooked.” he explains when I ask. There's a cold glass of Pabst on the coffee table; he’s watching Laurence Welk.