Customer Service (and its lack)

May 24th, 2011

We just got home today from one of the worst travel experiences in my life. We flew through Denver on United, connecting to Colorado Springs in order to visit my brother’s family in Pueblo and attend my niece’s wedding. It was less expensive than flying directly into the Springs or into Pueblo, and we’ve done it many times before with no problems or at worst delays. Going to the Springs on Thursday, we were delayed an extra two hours in Denver, but made it to Springs tired but happy to get in and see family, and enjoyed a wonderful weekend staying at the Pueblo Marriott, with a really good experience there, and visiting with family I hadn’t seen in twenty years in some cases. It was a great trip.

Until we tried to come home. There were several hours between our Springs flight and our Denver connection, so we didn’t anticipate problems. We got out of Springs late with about a half hour to connect. Then the troubles began. We ended up having to run sixty gates to try and make our flight. The airline knew we had just come in, and the gate attendant when we arrived assured us they would hold the flight. United’s policy is to close the doors ten minutes before a flight, but we were told the zone manager has the option to hold the flight for connections.

We got to the gate just as the doors had closed, running as hard as we could. Twelve people were standing there waiting, and United would not let us on the flight. I suppose they had already given our seats to other stranded passengers. And now we were the stranded, for not being able to run sixty gates in ten minutes. Our luggage was on the plane and going to San Diego. But we couldn’t get on the plane, since they had closed the doors.

I understand people miss connections, and airlines have to do what they can. But knowing customers have just come in a flight, and then leaving them stranded at the gate, is pretty inexcusable. Refusing to do anything for them when this happens is the totally unacceptable part. They wouldn’t book us a room, give us a voucher for a meal or anything. And were telling hundreds of other people in the airport the same thing, using the excuses that their United-Continental merger wasn’t complete, so they weren’t responsible for a Continental connection, or that it was our fault for not running sixty gates fast enough. We were all stuck, in dirty underwear in many cases and with no toiletries. But they didn’t care.

So we called Marriott, who booked us a room at the Residence Inn (using the United corporate rate code, which we found amusing.) We had a nice dinner at Applebees, who fed us efficiently and treated us well. We got breakfast the next day at Residence Inn, included with our room, deodorant, at a minimal cost, and free shuttle service to the airport. We got outstanding service — from everyone except the company that created the problem.

We traveled home today with many of the stranded — the mother with a young baby, who they had done nothing for. We had dinner at the Applebee’s the night before next to the man they had stranded from Grand Junction, who had now canceled his San Diego trip for business and now only wanted to go home. They couldn’t get him home that night either. The waitress told us that they heard these stories about United every. single. day.

And now, for want of a nail, the shoe has come off. We will never fly United again. We will never connect through Denver on a trip again. We are looking for a charity to donate our United miles to — all 70,000 of them. We will not use this company again.

I don’t blame the employees. The rules are set by the company, and the employees have little leeway. No wonder they stop caring after a while, and just do the job as best they can. I blame the management, the millionaires and maybe billionaires who run this company, set its policies, and every day, strand hundreds or even thousands of people. And don’t care. Not at all. Not even enough to hand out a package with some underwear, deodorant and a toothbrush, and eat the cost of a hotel room. Would that really be so difficult? Really?

I don’t give this airline long to survive. Others can do better — and do. Or at least care if they don’t.

Why General Electric sucks ass

September 23rd, 2010

Waited all afternoon for the repair guy to come repair the microwave, since the Mag is supposed to be under warranty for nine years and we’ve only had it for seven years. G.E. robocalled at 4 and extended the repair window to 5. So the repair guy calls at 5:30 and says he’ll still try to make it tonight! He is filling in last minute for someone who got sick and says he’s not allowed to cancel appts and is still willing to come even though it’s so late. I guess he needs the work…

G.E. is doing all their scheduling through robocalls, and I guess it’s as much a pain for their employees as their customers. Too bad C.E.O. pay has become more important that how employees and customers are treated or providing good customer service! What a shame our once leading companies are now just pathetic money making shells that don’t give a damn.

This is AFTER the G.E. refrigerator we bought at the same time died just last week. It only had a five year warranty.

Did I mention I’m never going to buy another G.E. product, and can no longer recommend them? What a shame American businesses put C.E.O. pay above treating employees well, building great products, and good customer service. Enjoy your yachts, assholes. Let’s hope nothing breaks on them…

Sigh.

Insurmountable opportunities

February 21st, 2010

“We are confronted with insurmountable opportunities.” — Walt Kelly, “Pogo”

“There is no failure except in no longer trying. There is no defeat except from within, no really insurmountable barrier save our own inherent weakness of purpose.” — Kin Hubbard

“Imaginary obstacles are insurmountable. Real ones aren’t. But you can’t tell the difference when you have no real information. Fear can create even more imaginary obstacles than ignorance can. That’s why the smallest step away from speculation and into reality can be an amazing relief. ” — Barbara Sher

I’ve been confronted with many insurmountable opportunities lately to find new information and do new things, visit new facilities for pet therapy work, explore new people, etc. It’s been a distracting year so far but a fun one. I’m really hoping to get back to a more regular blogging schedule though.

Why Jesus tossed the moneychangers out of the temple

November 5th, 2009

“The injunction of Jesus to love others as ourselves is an endorsement of self-interest,” Goldman’s Griffiths said Oct. 20, his voice echoing around the gold-mosaic walls of St. Paul’s Cathedral, whose 365-feet-high dome towers over the City, London’s financial district. “We have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieving greater prosperity and opportunity for all.”

via Profit `Not Satanic,’ Barclays Says, After Goldman Invokes Jesus – Bloomberg.com.

Why “cheap” isn’t necessarily a good thing

July 17th, 2009

Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture

But Shell wonders if our expectations are too low. We no longer expect craftsmanship in everyday objects; maybe we don’t feel we even deserve it. “Objects can be designed to low price,” she writes, “but they cannot be crafted to low price.” But if we stop valuing — and buying — craftsmanship, the very idea of making something with care and expertise is destined to die, and something of us as human beings will die along with it: “A bricklayer or carpenter or teacher, a musician or salesperson, a writer of computer code — any and all can be craftsmen. Craftsmanship cements a relationship between buyer and seller, worker and employer, and expects something of both. It is about caring about the work and its application. It is what distinguishes the work of humans from the work of machines, and it is everything that IKEA and other discounters are not.”

via IKEA is as bad as Wal-Mart | Salon Books.

I try to support local artists and craftsmen as much as possible. Much of my jewelry is hand crafted by a local silversmith friend, and I have hand crafted pottery and mugs and artwork and many other things. The closest store to my house is a WalMart, where I never shop. I haven’t bought anything from Ikea in years, since everything we got there simply fell apart after a very short time. Yes, I get tired of my things, but I try to get myself to look at their wabi sabi nature, and appreciate that the things I own are made well enough to last for a long time.

Casey’s points today are well taken:

The shape of life defines a space (what we call the empty space in Taoism) that defines each person. We feel a need to place within our empty space connection and meaning. If you consume meaning, after the consumption: you are left with nothing and left chasing more consumption.

The answer people seek can be stated simply:

To have a full life is to live it.

We spend a lot of time and effort trying to avoid emptiness, filling our lives with activities and other people and lots of stuff and things. I spent a lot of time in my life being afraid of the void, fearing what would happen if I lost things, if I lost friends, if I lost myself. Well, all those things happened, and the best part was all the other things I found — that the void isn’t really so scary, that “crazy” people are often the sanest people around, with a different perspective on life that can be very enlightening, that real friends don’t walk away from you and those who do aren’t real friends, and that “for everything you have lost, you have found something else.”

We cheapen our own lives, and those of others, when all we look for is the least expensive thing that suits our need or desire of the moment. We add value to our lives by valuing the work of others, valuing their time, and their abilities to craft a fine product that we can enjoy using for many years. When I wear my friend’s jewelry, I smile, and when others admire it, I have a story to share. When I take the time and make the effort to find the best quality for what I want, instead of just the cheapest price, I feel like I am valuing myself, the thing I am buying, and the people who made it. I can’t always afford the very best (and often price is no guarantee of quality, really), but even in making the effort, I have taken that step towards being aware of what went into what I’m buying, who benefits from it, and valuing myself and the other people involved as fully as possible.

Rational

July 2nd, 2009

berns_rational_thinking
The Myth of rational thinking

Greg Berns doesn’t want you to make a decision by yourself. He doesn’t trust you.

People don’t make rational decisions, he contends, and you are likely to muck it up. Don’t be offended by his reasoning, though. He says that there are biological reasons why we all get it wrong….

Economists had long assumed that with proper information or instruction, people would make good financial decisions, systematically and without emotion.

“We know from studies that people don’t make rational decisions,” Berns says. “The problem with economic models is that they assume a certain level of rationality by people, that people will maximize their benefits.”

Add into the mix that most of us don’t know that we are irrational, says Emory economist Monica Capra, who is a member of the center. People believe they themselves are rational, even if everyone else isn’t she says.

“The purely rational economic man is indeed close to being a social moron” — Amartya Sen, “Rational Fools”

“Man is a rational animal who always loses his temper when he is called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason.” — Oscar Wilde

“Insanity — a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.” — R. D. Laing

“The human race is in such a dreadful state that no rational person can talk about it without resorting to seditious and obscene language” — Henry Louis Mencken

“It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this.” — Bertrand Russell

“Of all the ways of defining man, the worst is the one which makes him out to be a rational animal.”
– Anatole France

The intellect is inherently dualistic. It makes distinctions and creates new connections between concepts and calls that “meaning.” This type of analytical thinking is extremely limited in the face of Tao, which is not fully rational, nor fully quantitative, not fully describable. Though most followers of Tao are learned, they also realize that the intellect is but one aspect in what must be a multifaceted approach to Tao.

It is said one must give up education, not because we should be dumb, but because we mut seek a level on consciousness beyond the intellect. We must study, but not to the point that emphasis on experience and meditation is lost. If we can combine the intellect and direct experience with out meditative mid, then there will be no barrier to the wordless perception of reality.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

The sage never tries to store things up.
The more he does for others, the more he has.
The more he gives to others, the greater his abundance.

– Tao Te Ching, Eighty-one

Moksa becomes relevant when one realizes that behind one’s struggle for security, artha, and pleasures, kama, is the basic human desire to be adequate, free from all incompleteness, and that no amount of security or pleasure achieves that goal. So when a mature person analyzes his experiences, he discovers that behind his pursuit of security and pleasure is a basic desire to be free from all insufficiency, to be free from incompleteness itself, a basic desire which no amount of artha and kamam fulfills. This realization brings a certain dispassion, nirveda, towards security and pleasures. The mature person gains dispassion towards his former pursuits and is ready to seek liberation, moksa, directly.

– Swami Dayananda Saraswati

The Quiet Coup – The Atlantic (May 2009)

March 28th, 2009

Good article in the Atlantic on the financial crisis — worth a read.

The Quiet Coup – The Atlantic (May 2009).

As more and more of the rich made their money in finance, the cult of finance seeped into the culture at large. Works like Barbarians at the Gate, Wall Street, and Bonfire of the Vanities—all intended as cautionary tales—served only to increase Wall Street’s mystique. Michael Lewis noted in Portfolio last year that when he wrote Liar’s Poker, an insider’s account of the financial industry, in 1989, he had hoped the book might provoke outrage at Wall Street’s hubris and excess. Instead, he found himself “knee-deep in letters from students at Ohio State who wanted to know if I had any other secrets to share. … They’d read my book as a how-to manual.” Even Wall Street’s criminals, like Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky, became larger than life. In a society that celebrates the idea of making money, it was easy to infer that the interests of the financial sector were the same as the interests of the country—and that the winners in the financial sector knew better what was good for America than did the career civil servants in Washington. Faith in free financial markets grew into conventional wisdom—trumpeted on the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal and on the floor of Congress.

From this confluence of campaign finance, personal connections, and ideology there flowed, in just the past decade, a river of deregulatory policies that is, in hindsight, astonishing:

• insistence on free movement of capital across borders;
• the repeal of Depression-era regulations separating commercial and investment banking;
• a congressional ban on the regulation of credit-default swaps;
• major increases in the amount of leverage allowed to investment banks;
• a light (dare I say invisible?) hand at the Securities and Exchange Commission in its regulatory enforcement;
• an international agreement to allow banks to measure their own riskiness;
• and an intentional failure to update regulations so as to keep up with the tremendous pace of financial innovation.

The mood that accompanied these measures in Washington seemed to swing between nonchalance and outright celebration: finance unleashed, it was thought, would continue to propel the economy to greater heights.

The conventional wisdom among the elite is still that the current slump “cannot be as bad as the Great Depression.” This view is wrong. What we face now could, in fact, be worse than the Great Depression—because the world is now so much more interconnected and because the banking sector is now so big. We face a synchronized downturn in almost all countries, a weakening of confidence among individuals and firms, and major problems for government finances. If our leadership wakes up to the potential consequences, we may yet see dramatic action on the banking system and a breaking of the old elite. Let us hope it is not then too late.

Financial Journalists Fail Upward

March 18th, 2009

I think Cramer’s statement is telling about the entire American psyche today — we want to be entertained, not informed. We don’t even really care if our products work or not, as long as the ads are entertaining or it amuses us for a while, we’ll just throw it away and get a new toy then. We don’t care about our political system as long as Rush Limbaugh  and Bill O Reilly and John Stewart feed our outrage. We don’t care if our food is good for us as long as it tastes good. Etc, etc….

“Listen, you knew what the banks were doing and yet were touting it for months and months,” said “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart to CNBC superstar Jim Cramer in their much-discussed confrontation last week. “The entire network was, and so now to pretend that this was some sort of crazy, once-in-a-lifetime tsunami that nobody could have seen coming is disingenuous at best and criminal at worst.”

The applause Mr. Stewart has received for his j’accuse is the sound of the old order cracking. We have turned on the financial CEOs, inducting them one by one into the Predator Hall of Fame. We have gone deaf to the seductive rhythms of the culture wars. We have tossed out the politicians whose antigovernment rhetoric seemed invincible for so long.

And now comes the turn of the bubble-blowers of pop culture, the army of fake populists who have prospered for years by depicting the stock market as an expression of the general will, as the trustworthy friend of the little guy buffeted by a globalizing economy.

We know — or we think we know — about the roles played by other culprits in the debacle. The government regulators, for example: How could they have ignored the coming disaster? Well, they were incapacitated by decades of deregulation. What about the market’s own watchdogs? Well, from appraisers to ratings agencies the whole tough-minded system was apparently undermined by conflicts of interest.

But what about the syndicated columnists and the beloved stock pickers and the authors of personal finance best-sellers, the industry for which CNBC is the perfect symbol? How did they manage to miss the volcano under their feet?

Mr. Cramer, for his part, had the forthrightness to confess his errors and admit his limitations. “I’m not Eric Sevareid. I’m not Edward R. Murrow,” he pleaded. “I’m a guy trying to do an entertainment show about business for people to watch.”

via Financial Journalists Fail Upward – WSJ.com.

By rights we shouldn’t even be here

March 3rd, 2009

“It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they are. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo I do understand, I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding onto something.”

“What are we holding onto Sam?”

“That there’s some good in this world Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”

– Sam’s speech at the end of The Two Towers.

If I have even just a little sense,
I will walk on the main road and my only fear will be of straying from it.
Keeping to the main road is easy,
But people love to be sidetracked.

When the court is arrayed in splendor,
The fields are full of weeds,
And the granaries are bare.
Some wear gorgeous clothes,
Carry sharp swords,
And indulge themselves with food and drink;
They have more possessions than they can use.
They are robber barons.
This is certainly not the way of Tao.

Tao Te Ching, 53

Weeds

The first step for establishing a successful native garden is to get rid of weeds. While this is analogous to traditional gardening practices, it differs in that weeds, or unwanted/ harmful plants, will be defined a bit more broadly than is usual.

The definition of weeds used here will be all plants whose maintenance interferes with maintaining healthy soil conditions for natives. These will include:

a) Plants that require a lot of water and nutrients for quick growth, and thus are very competitive with native plants for these resources,
b) Plants that typically grow fast and that can crowd out the native plants, which take longer to develop,
c) Plants that do not connect or do not contribute to the mycorrhizal grid, and thus compete for resources without giving anything back to the community, and
d) Plants whose maintenance adversely affects the nature of the soil from the point of view of what benefits the fungal network, and thus the plant community in the long run.

Thus, from the standpoint of a native garden, the term weed will not only include traditional weeds, but also annual exotic garden plants, many perennial exotics, and lawns, since the maintenance of these alien species moves the nature of the soil away from supporting the fungal species that natives require. In short, the soil conditions which support imported, water-loving garden plants can inhibit the growth of a mycorrhizal fungal network.

How the Crash Will Reshape America

February 17th, 2009

Interesting article on America’s geography post-crash — the end of the “sprawlconomy” and the beginning of the information economy… go read the whole thing if you’re interested, it’s good.

What will this geography look like? It will likely be sparser in the Midwest and also, ultimately, in those parts of the Southeast that are dependent on manufacturing. Its suburbs will be thinner and its houses, perhaps, smaller. Some of its southwestern cities will grow less quickly. Its great mega-regions will rise farther upward and extend farther outward. It will feature a lower rate of homeownership, and a more mobile population of renters. In short, it will be a more concentrated geography, one that allows more people to mix more freely and interact more efficiently in a discrete number of dense, innovative mega-regions and creative cities. Serendipitously, it will be a landscape suited to a world in which petroleum is no longer cheap by any measure. But most of all, it will be a landscape that can accommodate and accelerate invention, innovation, and creation—the activities in which the U.S. still holds a big competitive advantage.

The Stanford economist Paul Romer famously said, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” The United States, whatever its flaws, has seldom wasted its crises in the past. On the contrary, it has used them, time and again, to reinvent itself, clearing away the old and making way for the new. Throughout U.S. history, adaptability has been perhaps the best and most quintessential of American attributes. Over the course of the 19th century’s Long Depression, the country remade itself from an agricultural power into an industrial one. After the Great Depression, it discovered a new way of living, working, and producing, which contributed to an unprecedented period of mass prosperity. At critical moments, Americans have always looked forward, not back, and surprised the world with our resilience. Can we do it again?

via The Atlantic Online | March 2009 | How the Crash Will Reshape America | Richard Florida.

And so the first battle ends

February 10th, 2009

Obama won, sort of….

Senate Approves Stimulus Plan

I don’t think this was a great bill, but now at least the battle lines are drawn and we know who can be called on for support and who the leaders of the opposition are.

And in a weird way, I think that was the actual goal of the bill. Other things can be passed later on, as the situation gets more desperate (and it will, sorry people…)

I’m actually really encouraged by how well this went, all things considered. Paul Krugman is becoming a powerful outside voice for the Obama camp and did some great work on this one, yet still criticizes the effort as being too small. He’s going to be the voice to listen to going forward, maintaining his outsider status but criticizing the opposition very powerfully. Obama did an excellent job of reaching out to the American people and going over the talking heads of the right wing media.

As for Geithner, I am really unimpressed. I hope the wonks can win him over eventually, but his Wall Street ties are still far too strong. And obviously, Wall Street wasn’t happy with him today anyway. (Down 300 points right now). Geithner is going to have to choose a real side to be on soon, and Obama better convince him to be on the people’s side. I hope Obama can start letting others have the influence and take over for the lack of leadership that Geithner and Summers are showing right now. It’s quite disturbing to see them continue the failed Bush bailouts with no real new plan to improve things at all.

I really think Obama and Geithner need to start reading some economics blogs. And Barry at the Big Picture, who sends us this today:

timmie-in-trouble

The Mess That Greenspan Made: Three Sins, One Gift – The Gift

January 31st, 2009

Throughout history, no system of fiat money has endured the test of time. There have been numerous examples, most notably in 18th century France leading up to the French Revolution.

The reason? It is too easy to create fiat money.

Governments create money to solve problems – wars, natural disasters, poverty, re-election. When money can be created “out of thin air” there is seemingly no limit to how much money can be created or how many problems can be solved.

Governments like to solve problems.

The world’s money handlers profit by creating money to lend to businesses and individuals. When money, in the form of credit, can be created “out of thin air”, there is seemingly no limit to the prosperity that can be fostered or the money that can be made.

Money handlers like to make money.

No one has benefited more from today’s fiat money system than governments and the financial industry. Governments have borrowed and spent to please their constituents, and the world’s money handlers have grown wealthy as few can imagine.

Not a Panacea

But, over time, fiat money proves it is not the great panacea that people at first think it is. In the broad sweep of history, its effects, though initially welcomed and embraced as hope for a new era of prosperity, prove fleeting.

Ultimately, despite what the government and the money handlers tell them, people come to realize that their money is losing its value at a quickening pace. It is losing value because too much of it has been created.

The words of the government issuing the money begin to ring hollow and the riches of the money handlers become far too egregious.

This realization comes to different people in different ways.

The poor usually suffer first and most, as they experience difficulty making ends meet. Their money no longer purchases what it once did. The poor have little understanding of history’s broad sweeps, what money is, or what money once was. They know little of storing value.

Those in the middle may have prospered by participating in the speculative games offered up by the money handlers. Throughout history, rising asset prices fueled by the extraordinary creation of money and credit have provided the opportunity for ordinary individuals to obtain great wealth and notoriety.

Eventually, they too come to realize that their money has lost value and the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed can no longer be supported.

But, as in nearly all eras, the money handlers prosper more than all others. Those at the top – the business elite, the bankers, the peddlers of influence – they reap the benefits that fiat money provides, most of them knowing well its dark secrets and sordid past.

At some point in time, with a populace accustomed to ever-increasing prosperity and hope, fiat money fails to deliver.

The seams begin to bulge and the system becomes increasingly strained as ever-increasing amounts of fiat money must be poured into the economy to maintain its momentum.

The public becomes disillusioned, realizing they have been duped into behaving in ways that their forefathers would ridicule. Their profligate ways – lifestyles which don’t square with incomes – give way to the harsh, cold reality that there is no free lunch and there are no easy riches.

They realize the government has mismanaged the nation’s affairs, that the money handlers have once again benefited handsomely, and then there is unrest.

One thing leads to another, and one more fiat money system comes to an end….

Whether intentional or by happenstance, whether inspired by Ayn Rand and an Objectivist self interest, motivated by his early years as a gold bug, or driven by a simple desire to be popular, Alan Greenspan’s actions have resulted in drawing nearer the end of another era of fiat money.

Alan Greenspan’s gift to the world was to squash the hope that Paul Volcker’s actions had augured – to bring nearer that eventuality that can not be avoided, and which should not be put off. For Man is Man – his tools have far outpaced his ability to reason and he is not suited for a world of pure fiat money.

No one knows what tomorrow will bring, but all signs indicate that the future of fiat money will not be one of enduring value. A generation of relative stability has begat instability.

Eventually, the current system of fiat money will give way to a new system, and this process has been by hastened by Alan Greenspan.

This was Alan Greenspan’s gift.

via The Mess That Greenspan Made: Three Sins, One Gift – The Gift.

Things Fall Apart — and come together anew

January 1st, 2009

As declining risk appetites manifest in nearly everything in 2009, from our collective views on financial risk to our tastes in culture, music, film and fashion, we will see a focus on declines, destruction and devaluation. Perhaps nowhere will this be more obvious than in the disintegration of large-scale social networks into smaller, more focused and intimate groups.

While peak social mood helped propel the movement toward increasingly open social networking platforms and large scale interactions, the rush to disassociate from the crowd will inevitably manifest as a reduction in broad network exposure and a preference for close-knit, tighter communities. Beneficiaries of this movement will be families, small groups and, to an extent, neighborhoods.

via Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis: 2008: An Extraordinarily Long Year.

Part of my efforts the last few years has been to support family, friends, and social groups around me, financially and otherwise, creating small local political groups and discussions, etc. It’s interesting that Mish is picking up on this trend and pointing it out. Tight-knit social groups will be essential to helping everyone survive tougher times. Reaching out to help those around you is going to be extremely important this year, and create tight new bonds for many of us. I think the blogging communities that have been created in recent years are a part of this, too, and will be an essential part of our support networks, while the larger social sites may become less relevant.

Sometimes we forget that there is some upside to the lean years. We learn who is important to us, and who was just there for the good times. We learn what is essential to our lives, and what was just fluff we can live without. Hard lessons, but they will be learned this year…

Happy New Year!

December 30th, 2008

Yahoo! Avatars

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.”
– Edith Lovejoy Pierce (via Whiskey River)

“Time has no divisions to mark its passage, there is never a thunder-storm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year. Even when a new century begins it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols.”
– Thomas Mann

“New Year’s Resolution: To tolerate fools more gladly, provided this does not encourage them to take up more of my time.”
— James Agate

Wizards

October 2nd, 2008

stein

It’s all fun and games til someone gets turned into a frog, huh?

Harry Potter, they ain’t.

“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”
Thomas Jefferson 1802

McHoover

September 16th, 2008

091508fundamentalsarestrong

Please read Barack Obama’s excellent speech on the economy today…. click on the link for full text.

Over the last few days, we have seen clearly what’s at stake in this election. The news from Wall Street has shaken the American people’s faith in our economy. The situation with Lehman Brothers and other financial institutions is the latest in a wave of crises that have generated tremendous uncertainty about the future of our financial markets. This is a major threat to our economy and its ability to create good-paying jobs and help working Americans pay their bills, save for their future, and make their mortgage payments.

Since this turmoil began over a year ago, the housing market has collapsed. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had to be effectively taken over by the government. Three of America’s five largest investment banks failed or have been sold off in distress. Yesterday, Wall Street suffered its worst losses since just after 9/11. We are in the most serious financial crisis in generations. Yet Senator McCain stood up yesterday and said that the fundamentals of the economy are strong.

…So let’s be clear: what we’ve seen the last few days is nothing less than the final verdict on an economic philosophy that has completely failed. And I am running for President of the United States because the dreams of the American people must not be endangered any more. It’s time to put an end to a broken system in Washington that is breaking the American economy. It’s time for change that makes a real difference in your lives.

…Make no mistake: my opponent is running for four more years of policies that will throw the economy further out of balance. His outrage at Wall Street would be more convincing if he wasn’t offering them more tax cuts. His call for fiscal responsibility would be believable if he wasn’t for more tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and more of a trillion dollar war in Iraq paid for with deficit spending and borrowing from foreign creditors like China. His newfound support for regulation bears no resemblance to his scornful attitude towards oversight and enforcement. John McCain cannot be trusted to reestablish proper oversight of our financial markets for one simple reason: he has shown time and again that he does not believe in it.

What has happened these last eight years is not some historical anomaly, so we know what to expect if we try these policies for another four. When lobbyists run your campaign, the special interests end up gaming the system. When the White House is hostile to any kind of oversight, corporations cut corners and consumers pay the price. When regulators are chosen for their disdain for regulation and we gut their ability to enforce the law, then the interests of the American people are not protected. It’s an ideology that intentionally breeds incompetence in Washington and irresponsibility on Wall Street, and it’s time to turn the page….

I can relate so well to this

August 14th, 2008


Remember…

Been there, done that…. scattered my parents’ ashes off Kauai four years ago….

ABC News’ Sunlen Miller reports: On his last day of vacation, Senator Barack Obama paid tribute to his mother, who passed away in 1995 from ovarian cancer.

Along the scenic overlook on the South Shore of Oahu – Obama visited the exact spot where he scattered his mother’s ashes after her death.

Obama stood quietly for a moment, then sprinkled the flowers from a lei a few times into the ocean, as some rough surf crashed up to where he was standing. The Senator was accompanied by his childhood friend, Bobby Titcomb who he grew up with on the island.

Obama has said that his most cherished possession is a photograph of the spot where her ashes were scattered.

On his week long vacation to the island – Obama also visited his grandfather’s grave in Punchbowl Cemetery – a WW II veteran who fought in Patton’s Army. Obama brought his wife, Michelle and his two daughters Malia and Sasha to lay a flower lei at his grave.

Carl Jung and the Cathedral

July 16th, 2008

One summer day when Carl Jung was a 12 year old schoolboy in Basel, Switzerland, he fell to admiring the cathedral in the town square. In his autobiography called “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” he recalls his train of thought:

The sky was gloriously blue, the day one of radiant sunshine. The roof of the cathedral glittered, the sun sparkling from the new, brightly glazed tiles. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the sight, and thought: “the world is beautiful and the church is beautiful, and God made all this and sits above it far away in the blue sky on a golden throne and …” Here came a great hole in my thoughts, and a choking sensation. I felt numbed, and knew only: “Don’t go on thinking now! Something terrible is coming…”

He was completely panicked and dared not finish the thought. He agonized over it for days, having trouble sleeping and feeling tormented, trying so hard to not finish the thought. In the middle of the night of the third day, he finally decided that “It must be thought out before hand.” So he went through a long process of thinking why he should not think “that thought”. His rationalized reasoning went on for three pages! Now remember, this is a 12 year old boy. Carl finally decided it would be okay with God for him to finish, saying “Obviously, God also desires me to show courage. If that is so and I go through with it, then He will give me His grace and illumination.”

Jung continues, “I gathered all my courage as though I were about to leap forthwith into hell-fire, and let the thought come. I saw before me the cathedral, the blue sky, God sits on His golden throne, high above the world — and from under the throne an enormous turd falls upon the sparkling new roof, shatters it, and breaks the walls of the cathedral asunder.”

Even as a boy, Jung found the scatalogical image redemptive. “I felt an enormous, indescribable relief. Instead of the expected damnation, grace had come upon me… I wept for happiness and gratitude.”

From the start, Jung understood this newfound connection to the deity to be different in kind from anything he’d been offered by his own church. Jung’s father was a Protestant minister but one, we gather from Jung, for whom the church had become lifeless. As a child he thought his father was reliable but powerless, and after his epiphany, he says, “a great many things I had not understood became clear to me. That was what my father had not understood, I thought; he had failed to experience the will of God, had opposed it for the best reasons and out of the deepest faith. And that is why he had never experienced the miracle of grace.”

– Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World with some adaptations from Starstuff’s Journal

Hyde also points out in this chapter that “dirt is always a by-product of order”. My take is that if our gods are too clean, too orderly, they cannot lend us any creative energy, and our lives become too sterile, too orderly. By placing the gods high above us, not allowing them access into our lives or us access into theirs, we limit our own creativity. You have to get a little dirty and messy to truly feel the divine. Make your rituals too sterile, too structured, and they bring no spirituality into your life. Make your home too sterile, too orderly, and it becomes a place where you can’t relax and enjoy life itself. If you’re afraid to get messy, it’s hard to really make interesting art. If you’re afraid of your life getting messy, it’s hard to care about other people and be willing to get involved in their problems.

Find the Elitist

April 12th, 2008

How sad to see Obama attacked by the effete intellectual snobs of the media….

You know, I’m not a rural voter, but I’m bitter. About 80% of America is pretty bitter about politicians right now. Why should anyone deny it? And why should anyone deny that the Republicans have run on God, guns and gays for the last however many years, scaring them into voting against their best interests on a continuing basis over things that nobody is actually threatening them about? Nobody is going to take away their guns, or ruin their marriage in any way they can’t do themselves, or tell them not to worship whatever God they choose. These are non-issues. Get over it already.

Obama wants to talk about the issues that matter to people. Instead Clinton and McCain and the media turn this into yet ANOTHER attack. Voters are “bitter” because we never hear about what matters, these asshats just keep going after each other about stupid things they say. C’mon, cut us all a break and let’s talk about how to un-screw-up our country already. Honestly, without the idiocy.

More from Robert Reich:

I was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, 61 years ago. My father sold $1.98 cotton blouses to blue-collar women and women whose husbands worked in factories. Years later, I was secretary of labor of the United States, and I tried the best I could – which wasn’t nearly good enough – to help reverse one of the most troublesome trends America has faced: The stagnation of middle-class wages and the expansion of povety. Male hourly wages began to drop in the early 1970s, adjusted for inflation. The average man in his 30s is earning less than his father did thirty years ago. Yet America is far richer. Where did the money go? To the top.

Are Americans who have been left behind frustrated? Of course. And their frustrations, their anger and, yes, sometimes their bitterness, have been used since then — by demagogues, by nationalists and xenophobes, by radical conservatives, by political nuts and fanatical fruitcakes – to blame immigrants and foreign traders, to blame blacks and the poor, to blame “liberal elites,” to blame anyone and anything.

Rather than counter all this, the American media have wallowed in it. Some, like Fox News and talk radio, have given the haters and blamers their very own megaphones. The rest have merely “reported on” it. Instead of focusing on how to get Americans good jobs again; instead of admitting too many of our schools are failing and our kids are falling behind their contemporaries in Europe, Japan, and even China; instead of showing why we need a more progressive tax system to finance better schools and access to health care, and green technologies that might create new manufacturing jobs, our national discussion has been mired in the old politics.

And from Mark Thoma at Economist’s View:

The working class has been largely ignored by this administration, save a few tokens when elections are near, and that’s what the questions ought to be about. What do each of the candidates plan to do to change the conditions that led to Americans being “more pessimistic about their situation than they have been for more than a quarter century”? How many times has McCain flip-flopped on economic policy? Does he have any plans at all to address these problems (beyond wishful thinking), or will he follow in this administration’s footsteps on (the lack of) domestic policy? But no, instead, we get this drivel. The public has not been well served by a press that seems, as I watch CNN, to spend more time picking out their clothes than they do preparing to talk about issues, and they aren’t even the worst offenders. I shouldn’t be surprised, it happens every four years, but I hoped for better. I’m afraid old politics still works.

I say buy Twinkies

April 12th, 2008

They keep forever and sell well in the unemployment and free coffee and wifi lines at Starbucks….

But seriously, getting out of debt is a good idea.

Oh, and don’t buy stuff you can’t afford.