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December 30, 2009

helps the medicine go down…

If you have read my blog for a while, you are aware of my friend Alison and her project 365 blog. If you are not familiar, in short, she has dedicated her blog to being publicly thankful to the people in her life (no matter how ancillary they might or might not be).

Yesterday, she wrote a piece (http://300sixtyfive.blogspot.com/2009/12/day-290-non-rushing-one.html) that exemplifies why I so enjoy reading her work.  Alison recognizes little things that often go under-appreciated, ignored or just missed altogether.

I have been the driver of that minivan and, I am ashamed to say, have also been upset when they don’t acknowledge the gesture. Every time I have done that I have subsequently felt small and petty.  I didn’t let them in to get thanks, so why do I get upset when I don’t get it?

The simple reality, though, is that people who do good things (no matter how large or small) should be recognized for it and should be encouraged to continue.  In my opinion, that encouragement is as good for the accolader as it is for the accoladee, as the positive aspects of the act are reinforced for both.

I guess what I want to say is, thanks Alison!  It makes my life more pleasant knowing there are people out there like you, paying attention to and acknowledging the real greatness in this world… like a couple unhurried seconds in the life of an anonymous woman in a red minivan.

On a good day it reinforces my world view… and on a bad day… it is… well… a spoonful of sugar :)

December 28, 2009

Caveat Emptor???

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , — sbj @ 9:39 pm

I received an email today, along with a solicitation of my opinion about it.  I guess it’s going around (it’s the first I have seen of it)… it is about reforming Congress.  Here is the email… with my thoughts to follow:

Congressional Reform Act of 2009

1. Term Limits: 12 years only, one of the possible options below.

A. Two Six-year Senate terms
B. Six Two-year House terms
C. One Six-year Senate term and three Two-Year House terms

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

2. No Tenure / No Pension:
A congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

3. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security:
All funds in the Congressional retirement fund moves to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, Congress participates with the American people.

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, server your term(s), then go home and back to work.

4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan just as all Americans..

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

6. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career.. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

7. Congress must equally abide in all laws they impose on the American people..

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

8. All contracts with past and present congressmen are void effective 1/1/10.

The American people did not make this contract with congressmen, congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

I understand and, to some degree agree with, the frustration that leads to this type of “reform.”  This is a clever way to parody the system and call for meaningful change :)

Having said that, in my opinion, there is not much meaningful positive change in the suggestion.  In fact, as I understand it, it would be damaging to the system.

I’ll start with the repeated premise that serving is not intended to be a career.  I would submit that the founding fathers absolutely intended for it, in many cases, to be a calling.  I am quite certain they were aware, upon shaping the constitution, of the value of experienced elder statesmen in national government.

Six years is just about enough time to have a pretty good idea what you are doing on the hill; and then, you’d be gone.  I don’t think I would be comfortable with decisions on major issues being made by a legislature who’s most senior members had been there half a decade and/or were lame-duck legislators.

Term limits, even for the president, were not implemented by the founding fathers (keep in mind that presidential term limits never existed until the great depression and the American people rallied around the guy who pulled us out of it) because they knew that the system of checks and balances, and the freedom of the electorate to choose their representation was the best tool for creating both an accountable government and the experienced elder statesmen that any nation needs to exist in the world of global politics.

In fact, the **ONLY** term limits initially established for a major branch of the federal government were those of the supreme court justices… making the supreme court a lifetime appointment.

So you see, from my perspective, the fundamental premise of this email is wrong… which seriously cuts the legs out of its suggestions.

Having said all of *THAT*…

I think if frank, objective (i.e. not clouded by frustration based on current satisfaction with the people doing the job right now) conversations could take place, interesting legislation could be written on points 3, 7, and possibly 8 (although I doubt it on #8… it seems to my uneducated – legally – mind that we would be treading on constitutionally forbidden Ex Post Facto Laws here; not to mention that essentially, through their agents, their elected representatives, the American people did make those contracts… I’m pretty sure that’s how Representative Democracy works :) ).

Most of the other issues (health care, retirement, etc.) are necessary (in their current form) because without them the transitory nature of the job would preclude quality people from giving up large chunks of their life, usually in the prime of their earning years, in order to serve in a legislative capacity.

When it comes to legislating the laws of the country, setting our national budget, and deciding whether we should or should not go to war (etc.), I think the last thing I would want is a bunch of people that the phrase “you get what you pay for” applies to.

December 18, 2009

Uphill… in the snow… both ways…

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , — sbj @ 6:00 pm

When I was a child, if I wanted to watch cartoons, I got up Saturday morning; if I wanted to watch a lot of cartoons, I woke up early Saturday morning.  I remember – gasp!!!- going to bed early on Friday nights just so I could get up in time to catch the super friends at 6:00am.

When someone in my children’s generation wants to watch cartoons, they turn on the television.  If they want to watch a lot of cartoons, they turn on the television.  Not only are there networks that are (virtually) nothing but cartoons; but you don’t even have to turn it on when they broadcast them anymore.  Set up your Tivo properly and you can watch any cartoon anytime you want.

There are children who have never known what it is like to sit down and not have (at least one) episode of The Family Guy, or The Simpsons, or Sponge Bob, etc. ready and waiting for them. (To be fair… this is not much different than me with, say, The Daily Show until I ditched TV altogether a while back).

When I was 5, fast food was a $6 billion industry, in 2000 (when my son turned 5) that number had ballooned to over $110 billion.  In case you are wondering about inflation… the adjusted US GDP went up 4x over that period, the fast food industry 16x… so we’re not talking about inflation here (Source of US GDP number: US Department of Commerce).

Take a look at the cost increase by type of food, over the 15 years leading up to the year 2000 and its $110 billion fast food extravaganza.

The same report that reveals this trend points out that over the same time period consumption of fruits, veggie’s and dairy has dropped significantly while starch, sugars, and fats have remained steady or even increased (the cost of a can of soda has gone up a mere 20%, fats and oils 35%, while the cost of fresh fruits and veggies have shot up 118%. Coincidence? One does have to wonder*).

When I was a boy, I was outside playing something everyday… sports, cowboys and indians (not the best choice in retrospect… but I didn’t know better at the time), hide and seek, or just plain “playing.”  Most kids I know today spend most of their “play” time online or on a gaming consol.

Yes, I am getting to a point here…

I am afraid that our lives have become to much a function of convenience.  Quick, relatively inexpensive food, addictive while inactive entertainment and the like are serving as enablers to the generally acknowledged national problems of sedentary life styles and obesity.

As the year – and indeed the decade – come to an end the time honored tradition of establishing resolutions once again begins anew.  I’ve never really been a big fan of new years resolutions, defiantly stating that I make my resolutions as they are needed, a constant and consistent year ‘round undertaking.

However, this year, because it is the end of the year, or because its just a coincidence that my “process” is dealing with these issues right now, I have made a short list of focus items going forward (based on what I was writing about above).

1. Improve my families dietary habits. Drastically reduce fats, starches, soda etc. and increase consumption of fruits and veggies.
2. Become more active in our activities. Fewer hours in front of a video game or computer, more hours outside playing, walking, exploring, etc.
3. Make more of our own fun. Embracing creativity, instead of enjoying as much pre-packaged fun.

That’s it, that’s all.  Those are the new additions to the Jacobsen family goals.  What do you have brewing, either as a resolution… or in general.  I’d love to hear! (And quite probably be inspired!)

*I am not implying some sort of conspiracy here, simply refering to the fact that anything that is getting the bulk of production and the associated benefits (efficiencies of scale etc.) is going to have better cost controls, etc.

December 16, 2009

And now it gets interesting…

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , — sbj @ 9:31 pm

Okay… it only gets interesting if the sources ar People magazine are correct.  But… as gossipy magazines go, People tends to be pretty reliable, so I’m going to give it enough credibility to begin speculating.  People is reporting (and this will be on newsstands Friday) that Elin Woods is leaving Tiger Woods.

And this, my friends is where the rubber meets the road.  It is easy to seclude yourself, mind your P’s and Q’s and do the right thing when you are fighting for something.  However, a better definition of a person might be gleaned from how they conduct themselves when the fight is over, and, in fact, lost.

Has or will Tiger change(ed)?  Is he going to be a better “father and human” (if not husband).  He was certainly motivated to become all of those things in the past few weeks.  He had a wife he did not want to lose (I do not know him well enough to say how deeply he loved or cared for her, if at all… but his actions do indicate that he at least wanted to maintain the relationship.).

I have seen it go both ways, after the divorce.  I have seen people say “that’s it, I tried, it didn’t work, so now I’m going back to doing my own thing;” and I’ve seen people actually re-double their efforts to be a “better father, human” and, yes, even husband.

I have seen people fall to pieces, personally, professionally… in every measurable way.  Similarly I have seen people become far better people than they ever were before… in other words, I’ve seen people keep their word, even when the objective and motivation for speaking them in the first place did not come to fruition.

Certainly this is not easy task and takes a significant amount of character and integrity (it is important to point out here that I am not saying Tiger or anyone in his position had that character or integrity prior to hitting rock bottom… I am speaking of qualities developed or enhanced as a function of their self-destruction).

What if Tiger stayed away from golf for a while, to work on being a better human and being a better father, and making things as right as possible with Elin, instead of running back to the comfort of the links and competition?

But wouldn’t it be nice if, after losing his primary motivation for his new focus, tiger maintained it anyway. Without a marriage to save and a relationship to repair, he worked on the same things that would have accomplished those things (in a co-operative environment) anyway.  If he worked on those things because of something internal – a desire to actually be a better man rather than just rebuild an image of him being one – Tiger Woods might not accomplish what he set out to do… but it would certainly be a (pardon the pun) “major” victory.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

Filed under: Uncategorized — sbj @ 5:27 pm

This morning, while waiting for the bus I was perusing my friends facebook updates, cause, thats what we do to keep up with some people these days (not a complaint mind you… I find facebook and other social media very useful for this).  While catching up, I found this update from a somewhat long lost friend…

“I am so proud of S*****. They were practicing a song at school and were told that they had to substitute the word “Holiday” for “Christmas” She of course refused and will not be singing for the talent show.”

This kicked off my usual inner debate on this topic, and that fascinating unilateral discussion was in full swing when I happened upon this comment (to her update) which very closely mirrors many of my own feelings on the matter (it was almost like there was an echo in my head!!!)

“For some reason, it has become acceptable to be exclusive of select holiday beliefs instead of all inclusive…quite sad….there is so much to celebrate from everywhere!”

Such a simple statement, summarizing what I was struggling to say (to myself!!!) succinctly and accurately.  In short, we are trying to fix problems who’s solutions require inclusion with exclusivity.

I do not believe our founding fathers established separation between church and state (which, technically, they didn’t do, by the way – they outlawed the creation of a state religion, but did nothing to forbid religion – i.e. prayer – from schools or state functions) in order to create intolerance or religious sterility.

Rather, I believe, this was done to allow and accept diversity; not to create a non-theistic society, but rather to create an environment in which a poli-theistic population would be able to co-exist with their neighbors and appreciate what each contributed to the proverbial great American Melting Pot.

As my friends friend said so well… “there is so much to celebrate from everywhere,” and, I might add, so much to learn as well.

So, in the midst of this holiday season, here’s a toast to Christmas and Kwanza and Chanukah and yes, even National Fruitcake Day (December 27th)!!!

Happy holidays everyone… and by that I mean Everyone!!!

December 15, 2009

Lest we remove all doubt…

Filed under: Uncategorized — sbj @ 8:56 pm

Here is what I wish people would think about before the act, speak, or do anything else on the thoughts that cross their minds… “is the potential cost of being wrong greater than the potential cost of keeping you mouth shut (or not taking some other action).”  If so, keep it to yourself, at least until you know what you are talking about.

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.
- Abraham Lincoln

Yesterday afternoon a person I follow on Twitter (not even someone I exchange ideas with regularly, just someone on my timeline) had a horrific experience.  Specifically, her two year old child fell into their swimming pool and drowned (her tweet said “Please pray like never before, my 2 yr old fell in the pool”).

There was, as should be expected, an outpouring of emotion.  However, there was also a rash of doubt and condemnation.  People (who know absolutely nothing about the circumstances of the drowning) blamed the mother for being inattentive, blamed Twitter and social media for essentially killing babies (the actual quite being “…twitter is evil,distracts from priorities”) and more.

One Twitter personality took things a step further, launching a personal crusade to validate the story.  Questioning, publically if this was a hoax, and stating repeatedly that if it were a real news story there would have been something in the media by now about it.  She called Florida media, she called local Florida police departments, and publically decried the lack of results from her premature stone kicking.

So, when the story did hit the media and was validated… what was the response from our crusader?

“story confirmed (no names mentioned). I have no reason to apologize 4 wanting story verified”

This brings me back to my original thought/question.  In this case, the price of being wrong (essentially calling a grieving mother a liar in public and adding that to everything else she must be going through right now – in case its not obvious), in my mind outweighs (by an order of magnitude, at least) the cost of waiting until the facts present themselves.

If this had been a hoax, there would have been weeks, months – or as long as your sordid imagination wanted – to rail against it.  No lost opportunity cost at all.

By contrast, by speaking up publically, she (and the others who did similar things) has done irreparable damage that can never be undone or taken back.

So much grief and pain, caused by a statement that could have just been kept private.  The price of being Madison Mcgraw being wrong will be felt by Shellie Ross for a very long time (probably forever).  How much would it have hurt Madison to wait a day or two and get the fact straight???

I can’t even imagine the heartache of losing one of my boys, let alone adding to that the other facets of this situation (guilt about being there when the accident happened, receiving this feedback from what you expected to be a support unit).

Personally, I think Madison does have something to apologize for… I’m not sure how much anguish you can add to a person who has lost a two year old child, but whatever it is, her callous and compassionless comments surely must have done just that.

Since she does not feel she has anything to be sorry about, however, I will take the liberty of apologizing for her, and for everyone else who felt the compulsion to ignore any faith in humanity, the potential results of their actions and any sort of due diligence.

I’m sorry, Shellie, mostly for your loss, of course, no one should be ever have to endure their children preceding them in death; but also for the treatment you received while trying to deal with all of this.

December 12, 2009

The fall and rise of Tiger Woods?

Filed under: Observations — sbj @ 11:37 pm

Yesterday Tiger Woods demonstrated, in yet another way, that he is in fact both human and fallible.  Through another short prepared statement, released via his web site, Tiger has announced that he is taking an indefinite leave from the game of golf in order to focus his energy on his family, specifically, being a better father and husband.

First of all, let me say this… kudos, Tiger, for taking the right action in walking away from the game.  In a week where you have swung and missed repeatedly, this time, you got it right.  If I were in Tigers shoes, I would have taken it a step further and announced my retirement (more on that soon); however I’m not Tiger, and the beauty of being human is that each of us gets to make our own choices and do whatever we think is best for us.

Professional Golf is a game that has always been a bit paradoxical (if not oxymoronic) to me.  Constantly holding itself to self-proclaimed higher standards (some of which I love, for example, if you don’t produce, you don’t get paid, and if you don’t produce all year… you are off the tour and have to earn you way back); and yet still holding as a cornerstone of its season a private, exclusive golf club like Augusta wrought with bigotry and intolerance

In 2003 (and 2004) Augusta provided a microcosm of golfs enigmatic existence.  Faced with a show of force when their sponsors threatened to pull their endorsements because of the clubs refusal to accept women members the club simply said… “cool, we’ll just pay for the ad spots ourselves… on with our sexist show” (that is more a paraphrase than a quote, of course).  In a sport that self espouses gentlemanly conduct, chivalry was nowhere to be found.

But I digress, this is about Tiger, and his decision to take a mid-prime-of-his-career sabbatical.

One of the great things about Tiger (the image, not necessarily the man) was that be broke down barriers.  He was seen by many to be bringing humanity, civility, and a sense of equality to a sport that was widely acknowledged to be a couple decades behind the curve.

He was a good guy.  Successful and upstanding, he was a real role model for anyone to emulate. Remember those “I am Tiger Woods” ads?  They never made “I am Michael Jordan” ads… “be like Mike” was as close as we got… and thats just not the same.  It was okay to be “like Mike,” but Tiger was the guy it was okay to actually be, regardless of your cultural, ethnic or even gender background.

When Barry Bonds was a young player for the Pittsburgh Pirates (yep he had a life before the Giants) I was actually a big fan of his.  Then his mouth, the cream, the clear, BALCO et. al.  ruined his mystique and gradually eroded away my respect for him.

I remember rooting against him when he was chasing Hank Aarons career home run record.  I didn’t want baseballs most hallowed record to be in the hands of someone with such a sordid past.  I remember thinking how much I wanted him to just stop. For the sake of the game, for the sake of kids growing up reading about the legends of the game and seeking role models… and for my own peace of mind.  At the same time, I knew he wouldn’t, no on in his position would.

I remember looking at Tiger Woods and thinking that he was “better than me.”  And I liked that, I liked the idea of a hero that was capable of doing things beyond what the average Joe would do.  In the last few weeks, of course, I have lost that impression.  Tiger is one of us, he is human, he is fallible.

However, with Tiger, unlike Barry, I still have a little hope.  If Tiger were to willingly give up his quest to surpass Jack Nicolas’s career record of 18 major tournament victories for the purposes he outlined in his statement (becoming a better husband and father) AND for the purpose of leaving golfs most hallowed record in more capable and deserving hands; well, that would be something beyond what the average (and lets be honest, even the above average) Joe would do.

My respect for Tiger would skyrocket.  Not because I approve of what he has done (and let there be no confusion, I do not) but because he would have handled his humanity and fallibility in a way that truly exemplified greatness.

Most people, at the end of the day, are selfish.  Most people, given a chance to cement a legacy for themselves (i.e. the greatest golfer – or home run hitter – in history), regardless of what that might mean for themselves, their family, or the sport, will take it.  In fact, I’m not sure I know of a single person who has ever passed up such an opportunity.

Golf is a game that extols the virtues of the players on the course.  Repeatedly I have read and heard about how it is the only sport where the players actually enforce rules and penalties upon themselves.  I believe that it is time for Tiger Woods to embrace that tradition; cite his own infraction and assess the appropriate penalty.

If he did, and if I were a big enough man to honestly admit it, I probably would have to say that, in this particular area – one that if far more important than his skill with a putter or a driver, Tiger Woods is “better than me” … and I wouldn’t mind that at all…

December 8, 2009

One reason we can’t all get along…

Filed under: Observations — sbj @ 8:25 pm

The other night I was talking with a good friend and she – while sharing about a family spat – said something along the lines of:

There are these people over here in this country, and they have their own history, and principles, and cultures and values, and then there are those people over there with all of theirs.  How, when a family with essentially the same upbringing, the same experiences, and everything else they have in common cannot get along, can we ever hope for world peace, or for the nations of the world to “get along.”

(She said it much better than that, I hope she forgives my horrible reiteration of it).

It called to my mind another interesting conversation I had recently with my father and brother (actually two separate conversations that went exactly the same way, with each of them).  Bear with me, because this involves sports…

College football has BCS bowls, to which every team aspires.  All year we have cheered on our hometown BSU Broncos as they pursued a BCS bowl.  BSU is a non-BCS school, meaning they can only get into the big dance through a convoluted path (which I will not go into here).  All year we have also followed the season of TCU, another undefeated non-BCS school.  We have followed them because (prior to Sunday) there had never been two non-BCS schools invited to BCS bowls.

Sunday, both BSU and TCU were invited to play with the big boys in January.  Except, they kinda weren’t.  They were invited to a BCS bowl… to play each other.

Outrage*!!!

The stories started flying about a bowl conspiracy to protect the reputations of the major BCS conferences. After a year of hoping and (in some cases at least) praying for a BCS game, there was collective disappointment at the matchup.

More locally, I was upset, my father was upset, my brother was upset… none of us wanted this game and we felt cheated… and angry.

But then a funny thing happened.  We put ourselves in the position of the bowl selection committee and went through the same selection process they did.

First I did this myself in my head; and much to my surprise – when I looked at is objectively, I made the same match up.  I then talked to my brother, and we went through the process again. *Shock and surprise* he reached the same conclusion as well.  Later that night I repeated the process with my father, and… you guessed it… same result.

In the course of one conversation (or thought process) we had come 180 degrees on this.  Mind you, none of us likes the match up, still.  However, liking it or not, we realized, in their shoes we would have done the exact same thing.

My – perhaps by now obvious – point is that, often the gap between what we want to happen and what actually happens is enough to create anger and discontent.  No one had done anything wrong on the BCS committee (at least as far as we could tell, since we reached the same results), but still… collectively… my family was outraged* with them.

It never ceases to amaze me how often conflict is the result of misunderstandings, rather than actual disagreement.  It seems to me that the first step to solving the quandary my friend outlined so well is simply listening with the intent to understand when others are talking.

I am certain that over half of the conflicts that take place daily – from individual kitchens to the United Nations – could be avoided if people just took the time to put themselves in the other persons position and work through the situation from that perspective.

(I am equally certain this would not solve all of the problems, but wouldn’t it be nice to be working with a shorter list of problems that actually existed beyond perception?)

*twice in the blog I used the word outrage(ed).  In fact there was no outrage, I was choosing this word for (somewhat humorous) effect.  We were displeased, thats about it… we’re kind of a boring bunch that way ;)

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