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March 31, 2009

Sympathetically Ranty???

Filed under: Observations — sbj @ 4:53 pm

People fascinate me. Yesterday I read on the opinion page of my local paper (the Idaho Statesman) a letter to the editor stating that the recent paycuts to teachers (required because of the economic downturn, not a choice anyone in the legislature would have made under different conditions) were a good thing. Quoting, he felt we need to “trim some of the fat” off of the education budget. He spoke of his teacher friends who stated the best parts of their jobs were “June, July and August” and admonished these spoiled-part-time-workers-with-full-time-wages to get a “reality check.”

I was incensed, furious… I was downright perturbed. I ran through all of the comments you might imagine. Printable ones include, “what kind of idiot is this,” and “do people seriously think this way,” you get the idea.

But then the reality hit me. Yes, Soren, people really do think this way. I looked at the letter a little more closely, looking for his real point, and I found it. He is concerned about the accountability and structure of the traditional family, and its values. He thinks that more of the emphasis on education should come from the home, and honestly, I agree with him there. Not at the expense of the public school system, or its teachers, but I do agree.

I think his anger is misplaced. He wants to blame someone he can lash out at and see a tangible effect exacted upon (teachers, in the form of a salary cut). However, the failure is not with the teachers; it is, as he properly advances, in the home. Unfortunately for him, his proposed solution (cutting teacher salaries) will not increase parental responsibility, it will simply make our first and best line of defense against the failure’s he is concerned about weaker.

Having given this some thought, I’m no longer angry, I just feel a little sorry for what I perceive to be a misguided soul. I really hope, at some point, his vision of the world changes. Fundamentally, I think he and I would agree on a lot of things regarding family, parenting and guidance from the home. We probably share many of the same frustrations. However, taking those out on a group of people who are doing some of societies most important work, and some of societies lowest wages is not the solution to any of those issues.

As an aside… I’m not sure what teachers he is talking about. I currently serve on the board of one PTA (I served on the board of two last year), I was on the strategic planning committee for one local school district last year and am doing so for another district this year. I have had a little exposure to teachers k-12, and none of the teachers I have spoken to have a three month vacation every year. This time is spent on anything from teaching summer school to continuing education so that they return better prepared to enhance the lives of the children they are entrusted with. And I’m not even going to get started (again) the amount we pay to other professions of far less import.

March 30, 2009

I’m number 7!!! I’m number 7!!!!

Filed under: Environment,Observations — sbj @ 7:38 pm

Recently a friend was over at my house and noticed a computer humming along in the corner of my living room. When she asked if I turned if off every night I said no. She then, politely pointed out that I was wasting energy, and as a person who so often pontificates (my words not hers) about energy issues (amongst others) I might want to rethink my position on shutting the little beast down.

Since then I have turned the computer off, if I had to hazard a guess, three or four times. Better than before, but, not exactly exemplary. Today, I received a link (from her, coincidence… I think not) to a study that reveals that every year, in the US alone, $2.8 billion in energy resources are wasted on computers that are left on overnight. For those with a less budgetary and more environmental mindset that is the equivalent of 20 million tons of carbon dioxide (the amount produced by 4 million cars on the road).

When I did the math it seems like it costs roughly 8 cents per night per computer (although the author of the article said 25 cents… one of us struggles with math). Obviously, this is not much, on a individual basis. An argument can certainly be made along the “what difference can I make” lines.

However, using the same logic I gave to this same friend regarding recycling a few months ago, you cannot get 7 million people to recycle until person #1 does it. In fact you cannot get person #8 to do it until person #7 has. These things build on each other. In matters such as these, it takes a series (a very large series) of insignificant events or action to create a significant result.

Will me turning off my computer curb global warming, reduce our dependence on foreign resources or result in significant costs savings on my monthly power bill? No. However, if I am one of thousands who do, the answer becomes “maybe”; tens of thousands and it becomes “possibly”; and if millions make the same choice… “probably”.

So I’m gonna start turning off that computer every night, and I’m going to be #7. Which means the doors now open for one of you to be #8… any takers?

But dad, its not all the other kids that are jumping off the bridge… its you!

Filed under: Observations — sbj @ 2:17 pm

Why, in our society, is pre-marital sex only wrong for teens; and why, given this, do we expect them to take that council remotely seriously? I am, of course, generalizing here. Some people do believe that pre-marital sex is wrong at any stage of life. However, as a society in general, we seem to pound that message into children, and the opposite message into adults.

When I go out with someone more than once or twice, it is an unspoken assumption that “something” is going on… or at least will be soon. People talk about “friends with benefits” like they are poker buddies. When I watch tv or a movie people are constantly “hooking up.” And for the most part, if the story is spun right… we want them too.

We are bombarded daily by messages about sex, but when was the last time you can recall that an adult was admonished to “wait till you are married.”

This may be because if you are single past a certain age you are considered “fallen” and beyond help from this type of advice. It may be, more optimistically, because people just assume that you are grown now, and can (hopefully) make good decisions on your own, in other words, out of respect.

However, I am left wondering if it matters why it is the case at all. Ultimately, if you model one behavior and advocate another, your message is conflicted. Acting as if casual sex is fine for adults while telling our children to wait is not going to register with them, nor should it.

I’m not advocating that adults enter into a program of abstinence, or wait to be (re)married in order to have sex; nor am I encouraging teens to go out and have casual sex. However, I do think we, as a society, need to get our message straight and practice whatever we preach.

When I was far too young to be having the conversation, I asked my mother about casual sex. When it was or wasn’t okay to have. Her response, typically, was a bit outside of the norm. She said (roughly) “it is okay to have casual sex with someone when your relationship has reached the point where, should that sex be lousy, you can tell them (in the middle of doing it) that it isn’t working for you, stop, and go grab a bite to eat without the experience effecting your friendship.”

I’m not sure how many people, especially today, would even invoke that particular “out clause” in the throes of passion, but I do think there is substance in that advice that belies its practicality (or lack thereof).

There is council about establishing a quality friendship before being concerned about a physical relationship. This advice transcends the varied and sometimes limited views of the various religious and legal institutions of marriage, as it should, in my opinion.

It also speaks to the issue of being prepared for the outcome of an action before undertaking it. She encouraged me to think my choices through before making them. What if this does not work out, if there is no “spark” etc.? Are you solid enough to handle that or are you risking the loss of a good friend?

Most importantly, though, it did not send me a conflicted message. Her message applied as much to me as it did to her. And while I cannot honestly say that I always followed this advice over the years , to the best of my knowledge she always did.

I believe that we, as a society, should be sending the same type of message. Honestly, I don’t care if it is “Don’t have sex until you are married” or “Don’t have sex until you have a relationship that has reached a certain level of maturity” or even “don’t have unprotected sex.” I only care that whatever the message is, it is consistent and it is exemplified by its sender.

March 23, 2009

Nobody’s Perfect… and so am I!!

Filed under: Observations,obama — sbj @ 4:20 pm

As anyone who reads here often knows, I am a huge fan of our 44th President.  I voted for him, I encouraged others to vote for him, and I have defended his policies and decisions.  Of course, I have also criticized him when I felt he made mistakes.

Today I simply feel the need to laugh at him.  Not in a malicious, hurtful or disrespectful way.  Rather in more of an ironic, “seriously???”, sort of way.

This is a clip from CNN’s coverage of Obama’s 60 Minutes interview:

“As a general proposition, you don’t want to be passing laws that are just targeting a handful of individuals,” Obama said. “You want to pass laws that have some broad applicability … you certainly don’t want to use the tax code to punish people.”

On the surface, that statement seems to make sense.  However, this is the same man who just kept all of the Bush era tax cuts, except those on the most wealthy of tax payers.  Is that not using the tax code and passing laws that are just targeting a handful of individuals?

While I agree with both of the decisions referred to here, I cannot escape the unfortunate irony of his remark… and am forced to chuckle to myself about it.

This is the second time in a week (special Olympics bowling being the first) President Obama has said something that, upon reflection, he probably regrets.  Of course, it beats the previous administration where the ”misunderestimating” was “persecuted” both in word and deed and “They never [stoped] thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither [did] we.”

March 18, 2009

A friend is a friend…

Filed under: Just life,Observations — sbj @ 1:57 pm

To the general public, I am a 42 year old single guy. To the general public, it seems, this is not acceptable. Efforts to set me up with every woman I pay the slightest bit of attention to are relentless (the same cannot be said of the men I interact with… more normalizing I guess, but not the topic of this particular piece).

It appears that I am required to be in a romantic relationship, at least to satisfy the needs of my friends and acquaintances. I do not understand this. A romantic relationship has never and will never be a priority for me.

Don’t get me wrong, it comes with certain benefits that are rather pleasant. I love sex, for example. Next to basketball, I think it is the most fun you can have with your body (or someone else’s). In fact, sometimes it even transcends basketball (sometimes).  I love intimacy, cuddling, and disrupting someone’s sleeping patterns with my snoring.  I love most aspects of being in a relationship.

However, those things are not so fantastic that they make me change the way I view a friend, simply because she has the ability (physical or otherwise) to provide those “benefits.” When I make friends, I make friends; gender is not a concern or factor. I do tend to have more female friends, but that is a function of what it is, typically, to be a woman (compassion, energy, sensitivity, attentiveness, etc.), not because of physical features, or other potential benefits.

Further, romance, intimacy, et. al. are not, in my opinion, the key tenants of any relationship I have with women, nor are they the defining quality of any of my female friends (whether I have dated them or not).  Rather, they are a bonus (and in some cases a counterbalance to other “features”) that comes if the relationship evolves.  Neither they, nor their potential, are part of the friend making process.

Throughout my life, whenever I have invested any significant amount of time with a woman (assuming I am single at the time), the other people who surround me (women at least as much as men, if not more) start asking if this is “the one.”

They want to meet her, but increasingly, it seems they want to meet her for different reasons than I thought they did. Perhaps foolishly, I thought they wanted to meet her because, since I thought she was cool enough to befriend, they might think that way as well. But the ensuing conversations are never along those lines. Rather, they always focus on whether or not we are currently (or will soon be) dating.

I suppose I should be appreciative about being surrounded by people that care about my happiness, and, ultimately, I am. But, every now and then, it gets a little frustrating that they seem to feel the need to define my happiness before advocating it.

March 16, 2009

Sometimes the stars just align…

Filed under: Observations — sbj @ 8:25 pm

I had a fantastic experience at the gym today. A little background, at the Y teams are formed by what order you walk into the gym. The idea being that creating teams in this fashion prevents people from stacking a team and generally speaking the teams will be even.

Today, for my team, the stars aligned. Not counting myself, my team was comprised of the top 4 players in the gym… and I don’t suck. At any time there are the makings for 5 or 6 teams in the gym (two games going at once and usually one or two teams waiting). On paper, you would not have been able to assemble a team that would rival us using all of the other 20-25 players in the gym.

I am not exaggerating in the least bit. All five of us had played college ball. We were all over six feet tall, and we are all fast.

Team after team trudged onto the court, made the requisite jokes about their assembled troops, or ours, “what we lack in size we make up for by being slow”, “it’s a shame you guys couldn’t get any players on your team”, “don’t worry, we’ll take it easy on you”… and then beat us.

You read that correctly, they beat us, every single team in that gym beat us at least once, two of them beat us twice. We played 7 games in the 2 hours I was there… we won none. We did not let anyone win, we did not let up on anyone, we just lost.

Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and sometimes it is less. We exemplified the latter today. We didn’t play poorly, really, we just didn’t play together.

There are numerous cliché’s to describe what happened to us, “too many cooks spoil the broth”, ”too many chiefs not enough Indians”, etc. Each of us is used to being the guy who takes the tough shots, who wants, gets and does wonderful things with the ball when the team needs us most.

We are all very good at this, however, what we tend to forget is that someone always gets us the ball in a position to do those wonderful things. We also forget that while we are roaming the perimeter trying working to free ourselves to get the ball, someone else is working down low, securing rebound position for those oh so rare occasions when we miss a shot (a good shooting percentage is 40-45%… there are actually lots of these occasions when we miss… over half of them). We also forget that those screens that we go around for that wide open jumper are set by someone as well.

We had a team full of stars, but a team completely lacking in someone’s. As I walked off the court a friend of mine that I have been playing ball with, in this same gym, for 21 years muttered to me “too many stars.”

In a way, I think he was right. However, there is a big part of me that thinks we might be misusing the word star. Why is the star the guy who puts the ball in the basket and not the guy who makes it possible in the first place, or the guy who cleans up the mess when “we” miss and sends the ball back out so we can try again… expecting no credit or accolades for his effort?

This thought process is not limited to the basketball court, of course, it can be applied all over our society with equal validity.

Today I played on a great basketball team that was sorely in need of a few stars, and when I left the gym I walked into a world full of stars that are not appreciated any more than I appreciated those missing from my team. Before I went oh and seven without them… that is.

To all of them, I say…

Thanks.

March 12, 2009

Yes I Would!

Filed under: Observations,obama — sbj @ 1:52 pm

The other day a couple of friends and I were talking and the (somewhat common)topic of not wanting to be in Obama’s shoes at this point in history came up. There was general agreement on this point and the conversation moved on.

However, I’m not sure I actually agree. In fact, more to the point, I’m fairly certain I would trade places with him in a New York minute.

Lets start with the low hanging fruit. His place in history is secure, provided he does not completely mess things up in an unprecedented way, he is always going to be the first minority President. He will be studied and revered for that forever. The Jackie Robinson of the White House, if you will.

Further, he ran one of the most innovative and successful campaigns in history. Not successful because he won, but because he changed the face of political campaigns. Social media, small private donations, and all of the other hallmarks of his run for the White House, for better or worse, will dominate the political landscape going forward.

His speeches, like the already famous race speech, will go down in history amongst the best oratory every given by a US president. His open minded approach to politics will be a model for future presidents (even those grumbling about meeting with potentially hostile nations now will likely embrace this approach when their time comes).

With regard to the problems he faces; well, there is little chance he will make them worse, and even if he does, not demonstrably so. Not in a historical sense anyway. In all likelihood, he will either share FDR type acclaim for digging us out of tough financial times (and perhaps even enjoy something more substantive by bringing some type of reform to Washington), or, at worst, he will have kept us afloat in troubled waters.

In short, I don’t believe he has much of anything to lose, and everything to gain. Obviously, he does not view it this way, because he would never accept the position that he is there for the purpose of “not messing up.” However, the reality is what the reality is. His place in history is secure, the only thing in question is how grand the accolades will be in 100 years (i.e. if he also dug us out of a recession, changed the way Washington works, etc.).

He has walked into a job where the deck is stacked in his favor and a lasting legacy is his to lose. Coupled with that, he has the opportunity to make substantive changes that will positively affect this nation, and by extension the world, for generations. On top of that, he has the ability, drive, and objectivity to drive this potential to reality.

So I have to ask myself… what’s not to like?

March 11, 2009

Pass it on…

Filed under: Observations — sbj @ 10:02 pm

Remember that game you played in school.  The teacher tells the first kid a sentence, then one by one the kids tell one another the sentnece in a chain of whispers until it reaches the end of the line.  At that point “please feed the fish and ducks before you go to school” has turned into “the school of fish ate duck food and got fleas” and everyone learns a good lesson about interpersonal communiaction, getting your facts right and obtaining your information as directly as possible.

I think we have all experienced real life instances of this phenominon, where the story gets to you that your friend “joe” said “Cindy has herpies” when the reality was that “Cindy found her keys” etc.  Often these misunderstanding or mis-repititions can cause angst or friction, because we forget that little exercise we did in grade school, and how fallable the human ability to listen and repeat really is. 

Yesterday, a gentle reminder of this was served up on a silver platter (so to speak… an inscription was on the metal plate inside the watch).  In April of 1861, litterally when the civil war started, a watchmaker was working on a watch for President Lincoln. 

Sensing an oportunity to perhaps be a part of history, the watchmaker put an inscription inside the watch, closed it up and gave it back to the president.  Generation after generation of the family passed the story of the inscription along, the most recent version going something like this:

The first gun is fired. Slavery is dead. Thank God we have a president who at least will try.

The watch itself has been at the Smithsonian for years and was finally opened Tuesday.  Here is the actual inscription:

Jonathan Dillon April 13 – 1861, Fort Sumpter was attacked by the rebels on the above date. Thank God we have a government.

Obviously, the current version is not off base to the point of “flea bitten fish”, however it is also clear that some of the context and emphasis has changed over the years. 

Its an interesting story, but to me, it is also a nice reminder about that little exercise we all did as children and the potential dangers of putting too much stock in the theory that what you heard is, in reality, exactly what was said… even if you heard it with your own ears.

March 6, 2009

Sometimes, you should let others talk

Filed under: Just life,Observations — sbj @ 3:32 pm

This feels like one of those times to me… enjoy…

March 5, 2009

Do as I say, not as I do…

Filed under: Observations — sbj @ 3:51 pm

Over the years, I have heard countless times, the admonition that one should not advise others in areas they have not mastered (i.e. someone who is not in a successful relationship should not give marital advise, etc.); in fact it is one of my old business partners “go to” lines. I have always dismissed this notion, pretty much out of hand. Recently, however, it (sort of) came up again and I decided to do a little reflective thinking regarding my position on the matter.

After careful consideration and re-evaluation… well… my position has not changed. Simply put, I do not subscribe to this way of thinking. For starters, I do not believe anyone, anywhere, has mastered anything as yet; and that is not going to keep me from seeking the advice of people who seem to have a good understanding of various situations… regardless of their personal success levels.

There is an old adage that goes something like this “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” While I do not buy into this hook line and sinker either (especially with the intent in which it is usually said), there is something to it. The ranks of coaches, teachers, councilors and even mentors are filled with people with lists of failures as long as or longer than of their successes.

I recently read that 42% of relationship counselors have been divorced at least once, 28% are divorced and single as they practice. While these numbers are below the numbers for society as a whole, they are not that much lower. Some of these are the most respected people in their field. In other words, they “failed” at marriage, but are not successfully helping other succeed.

A Cornell University study (evaluating NBA coaches from 1996-2004) found that 70% of NBA coaches in the study never made an all star team, 34% of the coaches never made it to the NBA at all. Some of the most notorious failures as coaches and front office personnel were the greatest players the game has ever seen (arguably the greatest player in history, Michael Jordan, has been far from a success and perennial all-star, hall of famer and 2 time NBA champion Isaiah Thomas is considered by many to be amongst the worst).

Note: to be fair to the intent and findings of the study, it should be pointed out that although a demonstratively smaller group (only 30%) coaches that were all-stars themselves did, on the whole, have a slightly higher winning percentage (6 or 7%) than non all-star coaches).  However, clearly the findings do not indicate that one must have succeeded as a player to become or have success as a coach.  The study also noted that these numbers were similar to those found in baseball, it did not reference other sports (or I missed it in my reading)

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Success in a particular area has never been a guarantee of being able to teach, coach, or advise in that field, nor has failure been preclusive.

An example of what makes a good adviser, mentor, or counselor would be the ability to relate to a situation, understand objectively and without bias the contributing factors, and see viable paths to resolution, solution, or accomplishment.

This particular skill set may or may not exist within someone who has experienced failure in a particular endeavor, and more to the point, the relationship between having these traits and achieving success in the pursuits of a particular practice is insignificant… at best.  Recalling the NBA, even when an all-star made the grade as a coach (30% of the time) they only offered a marginal improvement over the non all-star and non NBA player coaches (6-7%).

They are, in my opinion, different jobs, and they require different skills.

If you want to decide if someone is likely to make the winning shot, study their past performance with the ball in their hands; by contrast, if you want to determine if someone is likely to put you into a position to make the winning shot, study their performance with ex’s and oh’s.

I’m just say’n

March 4, 2009

Et tu Bush?

Filed under: Observations,obama — sbj @ 4:12 am

It is not new to hear people getting up in arms (assuming, of course that they still have arms to get up in) about the Patriot Act.  There are those that argue to protect it, and those who argue the madness of it… there are not many in the middle.

In the Frost/Nixon interview in 1972, one of the defining moments, one of the moments that more or less eliminated Richard Nixon from having any hope of resuscitating his political career was when he admitted that he felt the law did not apply to the President when issues of national interest were at stake.

In other words, the President, his decisions, and by extension the United States, were above the law.  The exact quote from Nixon:

“Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

This admission (rightfully, in my opinion) crippled Nixon.

It appears, however that our esteemed former President Bush either didn’t see the movie, read his history, or even watch the interviews in real time (he was of course alive and old enough to do so).  Because, it appears, he essentially did the same thing.

I came across this short piece in the Atlantic tonight (http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/03/criminals-in-th.html) which referenced this much longer piece from Salon (http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2009/03/03/yoo/).  This is an excerpt from the Salon piece:

The essence of this document was to declare that George Bush had the authority (a) to deploy the U.S. military inside the U.S., (b) directed at foreign nationals and U.S. citizens alike; (c) unconstrained by any Constitutional limits, including those of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments.  It was nothing less than an explicit decree that, when it comes to Presidential power, the Bill of Rights was suspended, even on U.S. soil and as applied to U.S. citizens.  And it wasn’t only a decree that existed in theory; this secret proclamation that the Fourth Amendment was inapplicable to what the document calls “domestic military operations” was, among other things, the basis on which Bush ordered the NSA, an arm of the U.S. military, to turn inwards and begin spying — in secret and with no oversight — on the electronic communications (telephone calls and emails) of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil.

There is a link to the actual document in the article, if you are concerned about this being out of context.

I also salute President Obama for making these documents public, and I hold a cautious optimism that he will maintain the same integrity checks on his own administration.  After all, that will be the real measure of the man.  Its easy to publish someone else’s mistakes, being honest about your own is a different matter.

If he does (continue to publish the mistakes of the past and maintain transparency regarding his own actions) then the promised change will, in fact, have arrived.

March 2, 2009

What the frip?

Filed under: Conversations,Observations — sbj @ 11:40 pm

An economist friend of mine and I were talking over the weekend about, you guessed it, the economy. It was, without a doubt, the same conversation that hundreds of other economists (or, in my case, pseudo-armchair economists… I’m not even cool enough (read: qualified) to be an full-fledged armchair economist) have had regarding Housing and Credit Card issues of late. We were discussing bubbles.

Whenever the conversation shifts to these topics, especially the housing situation, it seems like it is nearly a requirement for someone to bring up the bubble reference. In most cases the telling of the South Seas Company story is not required. Either the people involved are familiar with the story, or they are so acclimated to the term that the actual historic lessons learned have been rendered irrelevant.

Note: If you are interested in the history, I recommend the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. The whole book is fantastic, and the explanation of the South Sea Bubbles is as good as any I have read.

As our conversation continued, my friend started talking about the housing bubble and, for the first time, it really hit me.

I do not believe there is a housing bubble.

I do not believe there is a credit card bubble.

I do not believe there was an internet bubble either.

In point of fact, what I believe is that we, dear citizens of the United States of America, are the bubble. Our entire way of life has become a hyperbolic expression of what freedom as well as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness meant, in the minds of our forefathers.

I’m not sure what the total cost of our sports entertainment was in 2008, but I know the player salaries of the NFL and MLB alone totaled more than $6.5 billion (obviously, player salaries are only a portion of the spend, and, this does not include any other sports). We paid $8.3 billion for admissions to the top 100 grossing movies in 2008 (this does not include movies like Leatherheads, Defiance, The Love Guru and several others that grossed over $30 million in the US, but were not in the top 100).

Is it just me, or are we leaning just a little too heavily on the pursuit of happiness (and… in doing so, have we perhaps also strayed a bit from its original context)? Our financial system rewards the dreamer, the entrepreneur and the risk taker, which is a fabulous vision. However, in retrospect, how different is that then what was going on in London in the early 1700’s once you take the substance out of the equation and substitute entertainment or gadgetry in its place.

My hope, as I spewed forth all of this drivel, was that my esteemed economist friend would point out how flawed my thinking was. I was waiting for the poo-poo little thinker, here is the big picture vision you are lacking. My hope was falsely laid… his response was, simply… “pop, pop, pop. You live in a society based on profit, accomplishment, and frippery rather than compassion, humanity or virtue what do you expect is going to happen.” (okay okay… I added frippery, he said frivolity but I never get to use frippery in my every day conversations so I took a little license with the quote :) )

My hope is not expired, of course (have you met me?). I have many friends who are fighting the good fight. They are working for sensible energy policies, they do not watch (much) tv, they even (gasp!!) bring their own bags to the grocery store (and they do so much more than I can mention here).

No, we have not passed the point of no return, however, as they say, the first step in fixing a problem is acknowledging that you have one. This is that time. We are the bubble, my friends, and if we don’t get ourselves under control we are going to pop.

Pop, pop, pop…

March 1, 2009

Where there’s a will…

Filed under: Observations,Uncategorized — sbj @ 6:26 pm

Last night I listened to a podcast from the City Club of Cleveland. The speaker was Dr. James Orbinski of Doctors Without Borders. If you have an hour to raise your awareness about some of the issues of the world, I recommend you go here http://www.cityclub.org/Default.aspx?TabId=194 move down to the December 5th podcast and give it a listen (it’s the link below the description). It is at the same time enlightening, discouraging, and hopeful.

If you don’t have an hour to become more familiar with the problems facing the rest of the world (guilt guilt guilt!!!), here are a few take aways, in bullet form:

* In the West, the average life expectancy is around 80 years, in Africa it is 39. In other words, while I am just hitting my stride here in the US, I have exceeded the average life expectancy there by three years already.

* Roughly half of the people in the world survive (if you can call it that) on less than $2USD a day (80% of their daily income is spent on food).

* This bullet point is not from the podcast, it is added for comparison: According to the USDA, In 2007, the median U.S. household spent just over $6USD per person (of $123.30USD/day of average household income) for food each day (4.8% of our daily income is spent on food)

* Last year 840,000,000 people went to bed hungry every night. That number is expected to grow by 100,000,000 this year.

* Last April the World Food Program went begging to raise revenue for the expected increase, the same week Bear Sterns received a $700,000,000 bail out from the US Government.

Before I go on, I want to make the point, much as Dr. Orbinski did in his address, that I am not trying to villainize anyone here. There were reasons for the Bear Sterns bail out, and the median US household is not the ultimate evil doer responsible for the worlds problems with regard to excess.

Further, it is important to keep in mind that statistics can be deceiving as well. Take for example the oil companies that many of us like to nettle away at for posting record profits while gas prices were going through the roof. Profit margins for the petroleum industry (the actual percentage of money you make relative to what you spend and/or earn) ranked 60th overall last year at 8.3%, behind industries like Electronics and appliances (14.5%), Pharmaceuticals (18.4%), and beverages and tobacco (19.1%). So pharmaceutical companies (you know those humanitarian folks who are supposed to be making the world a safer, better place) and beverage and tobacco companies (you know the ones that are trying to kill us, one vice at a time) are making money at over twice the rate the of oil companies.

But I digress…

One of the great parts of the podcast was when he contrasted the difference between hope and optimism, noting adroitly that you can still have hope in the absence of optimism. Optimism is hinged to a reasonable expectation of success, while hope is less demanding and only requires a chance, regardless of how slim, that objectives will be met.

Which means, of course, that no matter how dire the numbers (if the entire bear sterns windfall had been, instead, redirected to those going to bed hungry every night, they would have received .83 cents each… not enough for a single value menu cheeseburger) or how long the odds, there is still hope.

And hope is one of the key building blocks, in fact you might say it is the foundation, of optimism. As long as there is hope a plan can be hatched, a strategy developed, a solution found and implemented. Dr Orbinski saw genocide first hand, he is intimately familiar with the statistics I quoted above (and many more), and he has worked in the poorest and most oppressive regions in the world… and yet, he is both hopeful and optimistic.

And if he can be, I can be… even if it is an act of faith engendered vicariously through him (I’m okay with that).

So now I’m off to and plot, and develop, and hatch, and find, and implement. I cannot fix the problems of the world myself; however, I can, and will, continue to have hope…

And where there is hope… there is a will

And where there is a will… there is a way.

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