Monday, March 30, 2009

A Civic Duty

I had Jury Duty late last week. It's something that I think everyone should do, if they have the chance. Law and Order shouldn't be the sole source of out knowledge of the legal system, so a look on the inside should be informational. I wasn't selected for a trial - instead, I learned an entire new definition of boring.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Missed It By That Much

So I'm watching a show on "mega-tsunamis" on the History Channel. They show a researcher, who talks about the wave triggered by a landslide in Lituya Bay, Alaska. The researcher tells us that the wave would have been taller than the Sears Tower. The visuals cut to a shot of Chicago and show... the John Hancock Center. Okay, the Sears Tower and the Hancock Building are only a couple miles apart, and they're both black glass skyscrapers with tall white antennae on top and were designed by Skidmore Owings and Merrill. But still, you'd expect that the History Channel, of all people would be able to tell the difference. (I'm impressed that none of their editors seem to have been to Chicago, as pretty much anyone who has ever seen the Sears Tower would have said: "That's not the right building...")

Monday, March 23, 2009

This Explains A Lot

"Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so."

Douglas Adams

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Straight Skinny

Okay... Does anyone know what's REALLY going on with AIG and these %#*^!$@ bonuses? I'm hearing, on the one hand, that the executives who are receiving the 160+ million dollars are the same people who create this whole mess by placing huge bets on "exotic financial products," whatever the %#*^ that means. On the other hand, I'm also hearing that the people receiving the bonuses were involved in other portions of the business some of which were actually profitable.

But if the names of the executives receiving the bonuses have just now been released to law enforcement, and the media doesn't have them, how does anyone know if a given executive was involved in Credit Default Swaps or other hinky business practices? And if we don't really know what people were up to, should we really be making definitive statements one way or the other?

Friday, March 20, 2009

No More Sniveling

I am hearing from a lot of people who are expected to pick up the slack for a half-dozen laid-off colleagues and then be snivelingly grateful that they still have jobs. Getting a paycheck is a wonderful thing, but the lousy economy doesn't mean a return to feudalism.
Dear Prudence. Slate Magazine.
Given the general state of the economy, jobs are being shed all over the place, and even profitable companies are engaging in mass layoffs and wage cramdowns. As a result, people who remain employed are often expected by their employers and/or peers to be grateful simply to have work - effectively conceding that they, as individuals, bring no value to their companies and are easily replaced or done without. It's past time that we went back to an understanding of employment as a contractual arrangement that is expected to bring benefits to both parties - not charity to those of us too stupid, lazy or irresponsible to not be independently wealthy.

The Plastic Problem

This list could also be called: "Ten Things That People Don't Make Credit Card Companies Compete On." And that is the base of the problem. While everything on this list is pretty petty and nasty (I mean, come on, setting the time due before the mail is delivered on the due date? That's a reasonable policy?) and people seem willing to complain about it, they don't want to switch card issuers over it. I understand that there are consequences to changing from one card to another, but it's a general fear of those consequences that prevent us from making the card companies compete to keep us as customers - which in turn, leads to more and more BS on their part.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Mommy Trick

It was a simple text ad at the bottom of a Slate article: "Read the trick, discovered by a mom, to turn yellow teeth white." It was tucked in with other teeth whitening ads and yet another transparent scam touting "a easy way to make $7k a month online..."

If a woman created whatever product that's being sold through these ads, it's pretty much a given that she is a mother. Most adult women are. A friend of mine is a cancer researcher. If she creates a breakthrough therapy, it too will have been "discovered by a mom." So what, I wonder, is playing on the stereotype of a "mom" supposed to do here? I can't get any farther than generic ideas of "wholesomeness." Not being a parent myself, I'm not tuned into the whole raft of motherhood stereotypes that might be out there. But I get the idea that we're intended to envision some youngish (mid-thirties, tops), pretty, white, stay at home mom somewhere inventing this in her free time, between changing diapers, separating squabbling siblings and cooking dinner. Someone with no greater ambitions than being a good mother, being attractive to her go-getter husband, sharing beauty secrets with her mommy-set girlfriends - and, of course making just a little money on the side with her ever-so-wholesome home based business.

Of course, this is all just speculation on my part, brought about by seeing a slew of ads for various products that all seem to center around that fact that "a mom" created them. But it seems to be conjuring up what always struck me as a somewhat retrograde impression of "momminess" for lack of a better term. I wonder what about it sells.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Does That Come In Kegs?

NPR's Planet Money weblog references the idea that a good section of the American public has been slamming back the Haterade over the whole economic situation.

Which leads me to wonder. Are sales of Haterade up because we're collectively trying to wash away the taste of Housing Bubble-flavored Kool-Aid?

Come Back, Spock. All Is Forgiven.

Where's cold, hard logic when you need it? The deepening financial and economic disaster that's engulfing the United States seems to be triggering an incredible outpouring of the last thing that we need. Strong emotion. President Obama's pandering to the public about AIG executives being paid bonuses (which, from what what I understand, would be termed "commissions" in many other lines of work) is riding a wave of public anger over our apparent hostage-taking by the people we think go us into this mess, and who are now portrayed by some as the people we need to get us out of it.

I like to think of myself as someone who prefers the best solution to a problem, but I could just as easily be a hard-hearted bastard with little concern or empathy for others, and I recognize that. But if it was an unwise succumbing to "irrational exuberance" (Remember that little Greenspanism?) that got us into this mess, an unwise succumbing to seething anger isn't likely to be the best path out of it. In a very real sense, emotionality is at the heart of short-term thinking, and it was short-term thinking that sparked an unwillingness to see what was coming before it fell on us and the remarkable ignorance of risk that triggered it. It's also what's behind the impatience for solutions and for the heads of the "perpetrators." But getting what we want now, at the expense of the future, is what got us where we are now. And it's a one-way street. We need a different road home.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Calvin's Promise

One of the central tenants of Conservatism, American-style is, we are told, that if you work hard, follow the rules and pay your dues, you will succeed in life. Indeed, we're told that people fail (or even become failures, when they're being really uncharitable) because they didn't follow these simple precepts. No matter where you grew up, you're likely to have encountered someone who preached the values of hard work and sacrifice, and extolled the eventual benefits thereof.

But whenever someone says, "Okay, I've upheld my end of the bargain - time to pay up," the line seems to change, and quickly become: "You aren't entitled to anything. You haven't done what you needed to," as young Morgan Oliver found out, when her story was told on NPR. Some of the responses were withering. Seems that working your way through college has become the easy way to get a job. Absolutely no hard work or sacrifice involved. I wish someone had told the faculty and staff that back when I was in school.

But after thinking about for a while, I understood that the real problem was that many of us misunderstand the message. Modern conservatism has some of its roots in Calvinism. And it occurs to me that Calvinism (as it was explained to me - and I could be badly misunderstanding it myself) didn't offer a path to salvation - it simply sought to show how to recognize those who'd already made it. So the philosophy wasn't: "If you work hard, follow the rules and pay your dues, you will succeed in life." It was: "Those people have have succeeded in life have worked hard, followed the rules and paid their dues." (Note the lack of the word "because" in that last sentence.) It was more of an after-the-fact justification for success than a before-the-fact recipe. But that doesn't fit in very well with modern-day conservatism, which tends to downplay risks (in much the same way that modern liberalism is generally blind to opportunities). And besides, work hard, follow the rules, pay your dues then hope for the best is hardly a ringing endorsement of the virtues of hard work and sacrifice. I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't preach that, either...

Monday, March 9, 2009

Junior Foodies

So, while I was driving along, I saw a billboard. It was dominated by the face of a young girl, perhaps seven or eight years of age. She wore a plaintive expression, but was clean and well kept.

"I can't cook." was printed off to one side. This was followed by a pitch for "kid-friendly"meals, and the name of a local charity food bank.

It took a moment to register. But then my first thought was: "She can't?" In my past life, when I worked with children, occasionally, on the unit, we would have a pot-luck for the kids. All of us staff members would bring something for the children and ourselves to eat. I would usually bring some sort of heavy pasta and meat dish - the sort of thing that would lapse you into a food coma after one helping. Thinking back on it, I'm surprised you could look at it without gaining weight.

One day, we announced another pot-luck, and the children immediately clamored for their own turn to be the cooks. That was a lively debate among us staffers. We argued the safety merits, and the fact that we didn't want the kids to be doing "adult" tasks rated highly - after all, it was us who were supposed to be caring for them. But in the end, we let them do the cooking. I doubt that you'll be surprised (even though I was) to learn that many of the children, barely into their teens, could out-cook most of the staff, a decade or more older than they. They were excellent cooks - they had to be. Before they'd been removed from their homes, their parents had been unreliable at best, actively neglectful at worst; if these kids hadn't learned to cook for themselves (and often, their younger siblings), many of them would have gone hungry. And so they'd learned to cook; often complex (and very tasty) dishes with rather simple ingredients.

But really, the best thing about letting the kids cook for us was that it gave them another way to show us affection, and us another avenue by which to praise them.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

John Q. Seagull

I've been neglecting, as of late, to put any pictures up here, so I decided that I'd drop one in real quick. This is just a simple seagull, taken along Seattle's downtown waterfront one weekend, with the graying sky as a backdrop (there was a fog rolling in). He was just flying along, likely hoping that someone would toss a bit of bread his way, when I snapped this picture of him. While I doubt that it's the best seagull picture you've ever seen, I really kind of like it, for some reason.
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