Monday, December 29, 2008

Not Even Close

I don't think anybody would ever accuse me of wearing rose colored glasses with regard to my views on the world today, and I know that my opinions probably give me the label of being one of those "doom & gloom" types. I don't see it that way, of course; I'm really a very optimistic person. But I try not to slant, sugarcoat, or plant the seeds of false hope either.

Here's the priceless aftermath of some who did:

"I think this is a case where Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are fundamentally sound. They're not in danger of going under I think they are in good shape going forward." -- Barney Frank (D-Mass.), House Financial Services Committee chairman, July 14, 2008. Two months later, the government forced the mortgage giants into conservatorships and pledged to invest up to $100 billion in each.

"No! No! No! Bear Stearns is not in trouble." -- Jim Cramer, CNBC commentator, Mar. 11, 2008. Five days later, JPMorgan Chase took over Bear Stearns with government help, nearly wiping out shareholders.

"Existing-Home Sales to Trend Up in 2008" -- Headline of a National Association of Realtors press release, Dec. 9, 2007. On Dec. 23, 2008, the group said November sales were running at an annual rate of 4.5 million -- down 11% from a year earlier -- in the worst housing slump since the Depression.

Seven more where these came from: The Worst Predictions About 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

And Yet . . . There It Is

Take a step back in time for a moment. Close your eyes and travel back over 2,000 years. What does your mind conjure up?

What were the people like back then? What type of things did they think about? What concepts did they understand and what technology was available to them?

Remember, this is a time centuries before the great sailing ships of England, Spain, Portugal, and France. The telescope had not been invented yet, steam & combustion engines were unknown, flight was impossible by any means, and the industrial revolution was not even a faint spark on a distant horizon. Even the Black Plague was still centuries away.

What do you see in your mind as you think about this time period? What were the people who lived in this period really capable of doing?

Now watch this 3 minute video: 2000-year-old computer recreated

Does it shake up your existing perceptions a little? The device is called the Antikythera mechanism, and it’s fascinating because it was made about 1,800 years before the technology & knowledge to build it were known. Think about that for a second; It’s not even supposed to exist.

And yet . . .

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Saturdays With Sarah

From the book "Finding Liberty":

When my daughter Sarah was a baby, she had just enough energy to make it to lunchtime. There was no “gentle warning tone” when her gas gauge neared empty, just a predictable yet sudden moment - somewhere between noon and 1 o’clock - when her eyes would screw shut, her mouth would open wide, and a piercing wail of fatigue would start to vent from deep within her.

On Saturdays, this was my call to action. I would dutifully scoop up my baby girl into my arms, retire to the darkened bedroom, and begin the ritual of her nap.

Holding her little body to my chest, I would pace the confines of the bedroom with a slow, rocking gait. I would quietly sing her a lullaby - usually the same one over and over – until her insistent crying gradually abated to the gentle hitches of soft, muffled sobs. As the fight continued to leave her body, I would stop singing the lullaby and begin humming it instead, the vibrations from my chest adding their own chorus to an already sleepy symphony.

When I sensed that she was all but played out, I would lay her on the bed. She would wake up, of course, but that was expected, so just as soon as her head was on the pillow I would quickly lie down beside her. At this point, she would no longer have the energy to actively contest the inevitable, but her droopy eyelids would continue to battle gravity and resist the siren song of sleep for as long as they were able.

I knew from experience that if I just remained there with her, she would be fast asleep in 10 or 15 minutes. I also knew that after those same 10 or 15 minutes of lying next to her warm little body and breathing in her sweet baby perfume, I would be asleep too, and my Saturday would suddenly have a great big hole in it.

I really couldn’t complain. For 5 days each week I was not there at all to assist my wife with the children, and during every night of the week I simply was not endowed with the necessary equipment to help out even if I had wanted to (and I can promise you that during those nights I had absolutely no desire to be of any assistance whatsoever). So if the weekend gave me the opportunity to provide my wife with a little relief, it should not have bothered me at all. But it still did. Especially on Saturdays.

Sundays were already kind of a “scratch” anyway. Church in the morning, lunch, maybe a football game in the afternoon; then dinner, baths, and everyone to bed early in preparation for Monday morning. But Saturdays . . . well, those hurt a little.

Saturday was the one day that was open to all possibilities, and it was the one day that I had available to get accomplished whatever it was that I needed to do. And there was always so much to do. The grass needed to be cut. The cars needed to be washed. I needed to make some headway into the pile of things that had broken during the week. Half a dozen unfinished projects begged for attention. The list seemed almost endless, and that was just the “preventive maintenance” I needed to do to keep from falling behind further than I already was. New projects? Something just for fun? Forget it.

So when I would hear Sarah get fussy on Saturday afternoon I would almost always feel a touch of frustration coupled with a vague sense of loss. I would think of those things that I would not be able to do simply because my daughter needed to take a nap, and who, in doing so, would inadvertently pull her daddy into the same land of blissful slumber regardless of how hard he tried not to go. Once again, a Saturday with almost unlimited potential would be gutted.

Some things will always be, but some things will never be again. 10 years have now passed. The grass still needs to be cut, the cars still need to be washed, and I still have a half dozen projects that need my attention, but my little girl doesn’t take naps with her daddy anymore.

Sarah is 11 now, and the vague sense of loss that I feel at this point in my life is one of knowing that my baby girl will never be a baby again. She has girlfriends that occupy her time now. She has private talks with her mother that I am not privy to. She still loves her daddy, but she isn’t quite as dependant on him as she used to be.

My little girl plays softball now, and through some twist of fate I somehow got roped into being an assistant coach for her team, even though I know nothing about coaching. It’s been a rude awakening for me to learn how much time being a coach will carve out of each week. For 3 months now we’ve had practice after practice and game after game in a seemingly endless buffet of sweat, dust, sunburn, bruises, and sore muscles. Sometimes it seems as if every time I turn around I’m getting ready to head back out to the ballpark. I admit, it’s been a little frustrating at times.

But then I look at my daughter; so excited as she runs out onto the field, so determined as she stands in the batter’s box, so happy as she chants with her teammates in the dugout. And I am here with her. Suddenly, my heart swells with joy as any & all regrets of what will not be are washed away by the realization of what is, and I am able to fully appreciate these fleeting moments in time simply for what they are.

There are some things I can no longer do with my daughter, but this is something that I can do with her - today - and I intend to soak up every single minute of it while I still have the chance.

Because some things will never be again.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How I Gave Myself a $3,200 Raise

The economy’s down and money is tight. Food prices went up with gasoline prices, but didn’t come back down with them. The stock market’s tanking, 401k’s are devalued, and the easy money has dried up. With well over a million jobs cut this year alone – and more on the way – it’s a good time just to be thankful that you have a job; certainly not the environment to ask for a raise.

So don’t ask. Just take one. It’s not that hard, and you can make it as big or small as you decide. Here’s what we did:

Cell phone: Cat & I were paying $89 a month to have our 2 phones. We actually got rid of them 3 years ago, but I include them here because for most people the money is there to be had. But oh my! How can you live without a cell phone! Easy; the same way you used to live before you had one.

AOL: Why we ever used AOL in the first place I’m not sure, but we did for years. It’s completely unnecessary, unlike the $24.95 a month we used to pay for it.

DSL: In for a penny, in for a pound. That’s right, we no longer have internet service at any speed in our house. Still have it at work. Still have it at the library. Like the cell phone, you may shudder at the thought of giving it up. Have you ever asked yourself why? Do you realize how much time you waste surfing the internet? Do you realize how little value it actually brings you? Do you know how much money you could save without it? I do: $29.99 a month.

Cable/Satellite TV: Honestly, how much value does this bring into your home? “Deal or No Deal”? “Dancing With the Stars”? “The Biggest Loser”? You’re kidding me, right? The only thing I have missed at all is watching college football, but you know what? I’m still alive. Turns out I really don’t miss it that much after all. Don’t miss the $31.88 a month we used to pay for it either, because we’re keeping that now.

Long Distance: Is there really a reason to pay for a long distance plan when you don’t need to? Isn’t it nice to get a real letter in the mail every now and then? It doesn’t affect incoming long distance calls, and we can still “10-10-xxx” if we need to make one ourselves. In the meantime, we’ll use the $28 that we used to spend on long distance each month for something else.

Here’s how it all stacks up:

Item Monthly
Cell Phone: $ 89.00
AOL: $ 24.95
DSL: $ 29.99
Cable: $ 31.88
Long Dist: $ 28.60 (avg)
Total: $ 204.42

That comes out to $2,453 annually, and that’s conservative, because it does not include associated taxes, fees, surcharges, etc., associated with any of the above, nor does it include money spent for new phones, accessories, and the like.

But it’s important to remember that that $2,453 is post-tax money; raises are pre-tax. Assuming a 20% tax bracket (state & federal combined), my boss would have to give me a raise of $3,200 in order for my take home pay to go up by that much.

My boss can’t do that; so I did.

You may wonder, “What do we do without cell phones, TV, or the internet?” Well, interestingly, we do all of those things that we didn’t do when we did. We play games. We have conversations. We play (or learn to play) instruments. We do things outside. We read books. We go for walks. We watch movies from the library (free) or from Netflix (about $1 each over the course of the month). We get involved in community events. We fix, improve, repair, or replace all of those things that we didn’t have time to before. We . . . . well, you get the idea.

It’s really kind of nice.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bought & Paid For

Below are some key excerpts from an article about a current issue in Australia:

Babies with a severe form of epilepsy risk having their diagnosis delayed and their treatment compromised because of a company's patent on a key gene. It is the first evidence that private intellectual property rights over human DNA are adversely affecting medical care.

The situation comes amid growing concern among doctors and medical researchers over the ethics of granting private ownership to human DNA. A Senate inquiry announced this month will investigate the effects of gene patenting on health-care.

Mervyn Jacobson, a founding director of [Genetic Technologies], said, "The question is, are public hospitals allowed to break the law and breach patents granted by the Australian Government?"

While in principle the company would insist on its rights, in practice it would be prepared to negotiate, he said. "We don't need to necessarily enforce them against publicly funded institutions."

Read Entire Article: Sick babies denied treatment in DNA row

If you think that this kind of thing can't happen in the U.S., you're dead wrong. We're moving into a "Global Society" that will be governed by "international law", remember? And even though U.S. companies may not be excercising rights over patented human DNA at the moment, they are - and have been for years - excercising their rights over patented seeds. Don't believe it? Do a little searching & digging on "Percy Schmeiser" and/or "Monsanto", but be prepared; it's a deep well.

Just because we don't know what's going on doesn't mean that it isn't happening.