Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Complaining to the Republicans 3/3

Basic democracy is getting assaulted as well by Republicans. And it's odd why. Voter fraud. There are better chances of getting hit by lightning than someone committing voter fraud, there are inadequate studies to show significance of voter fraud, and no state backing the anti-fraud measures has been able to produce any evidence showing there is a need for the law. What has been produced are a series of very questionable statements where representatives have stated they believe the provisions can swing a state in favor of Republicans. The intent of these laws is clearly to disenfranchise voters without scientific cause.

Speaking of science, since when is it something that has to always have an asterisk with it? Under Republican rule, basic scientific tenets have come under scrutiny because they challenge doctrine. What a weird world. Science is all about discovery and making sense of the world yet clearly unscientific beliefs have made their way into the Republican platform. Things such as intelligent design are allowed to be taught in schools. Sex education has been dropped in favor of abstinence only education in many states despite mountains of evidence that show it is less than ineffective—it's reproductive. Or counter productive.

And of course there is global warming. Needless to say that the scientific method allows for a bit of uncertainty. Yet the only 'scientists' against global warming have a nasty tendency to be paid by companies that stand to lose money in the debate (oil companies), are unqualified to speak about the subject matter (astrophysicists or engineers instead of climate scientists), or have some other very conspicuous stake in the matter. This is a losing racehorse and Republicans have decided to try to scrub the very language from the national dialogue (no mention of sea levels rising anyone?). Any reputable scientific hub has extensive literature that demonstrates why the debate isn't happening for anyone studying it yet the Republican party clings to this debate like there is something to discuss. Often they feel like the Catholic church fighting Galileo. This time however there will be major consequences.

Speaking of major consequences, the failure to even have a conversation about how to keep the public safe while ensuring Americans' 2nd amendment rights has certainly led this nation into the highest gun crime rate; rampant suicides, murders, and accidental deaths; and most recently the tragic events in Aurora, Colorado.

Which leads me back to the main complaint—there is no debate. Democracy is founded on the principles of open dialogue and public discourse. It is a process of working with people instead of petulantly drawing lines in the sand. And I am so tired of it. The truth of the matter is that while the Democrats certainly have their unchained bulldogs there is a larger collaborative attitude. The Republican party has started to devolve into the party of only bulldogs that are more willing to bite the hand that feeds than to defend the fundamentals of good governance.

Think about it. Because I really want this country to work.

Complaining to the Republicans 2/3

Yet they aren't fiscally responsible. Republicans have been backing $1.3 billion for refurbishing Abrams M1s that the military (read our generals who have their shiz down) has flatly said they do not need. We are in a world where terrorists use things such as improvised explosive devices to blow up the very vulnerable bottoms of M1 Abrams. Meaning they aren't built for the missions the US uses them for. Seriously, look it up.

Still don't think it's fiscally irresponsible? How about this, the Republicans pushing for 'fiscal responsibility' are willing to cut benefits programs for the most poverty stricken—without replacing them with meaningful alternatives. Their complaint about welfare queens—totally unfounded accusation by the way that puts valuable funding for people who really need it in question—is not solved by the elimination of the program. And yet they are unwilling to raise taxes on the wealthiest, or close tax loopholes that everyone already agrees are bad (yes even the Republicans), or any myriad of measures that are well within congress's job description.

Oh right, it's congress's job—as written specifically in the enumerated powers of the US Constitution (so much for strict constitutionalism).

But maybe it's because the Republicans believe in small government. Again, this works pretty well conceptually but in real policy terms small government is an extraordinarily malleable term. By most measures, the US government is already one of the smallest per capita per person in the world—far behind Poland who Mitt just praised for their small government approach. And when it comes to abortion rights, it's a little off that the Republican party wants to put so many regulations on a woman's body. Or a couple's right to marry.

And the weird thing is that it's disguised as a state's rights issue—something inherently democratic and locally minded. Yet it was Republicans in Michigan who blatantly suppressed vote counts for the passage of emergency manager laws in the state legislature—multiple times. The emergency manager law is also an inherently undemocratic process, handing over absolute power of a jurisdiction to a state appointed manager. They have no oversights.

Complaining to the Republicans 1/3

I try hard to give lip service to both sides when it comes to talking about politics. So I'll try hard to be fair, but be forewarned, this isn't going to be non-partisan.

Voting in the election is framed as a dichotomy—one or the other but overall very little will change. And sometimes this is true. Realistically, no party gets everything they want because our system is built to be slow. So everything in a party platform should be taken with a grain of salt. Let me put it this way, Dems wouldn't be mad at Obama if he really did get everything he wanted right? So why should we believe for a second that any politician's platitudes are going to translate 100% into action. It's not so much a lie as a wish list that Santa won't ever deliver on. He is made up after all.

But here's the deal; parties in power do have a lot of sway for many small things and can slowly steer the lumbering boat that is American government.

So, let's talk politics. There are many people in the Republican party—currently leading—who have adopted a policy of not negotiating at all.

Think I'm wrong? Republicans originally proposed almost all of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act agreeing that they were necessary for reforming a broken healthcare system where Americans pay the most of any nation yet still lag behind other countries for major health indicators. The result after BO passed it into law? Take it to the Supreme Court despite the fact that the Dems got almost nothing they wanted.

Another example? The filibuster has been used so many times in the senate that 60 votes is now the norm. It has never been the norm until now. The bills that are getting filibustered? Everything. The senate is utterly unable to muster enough votes to pass nearly anything including a budget.

And that brings me to the budget. Since when does a party talk so fervently about fiscal responsibility yet refuse to budge on even the most minor issues regarding the upcoming year's budget? The Republicans nearly drove the country off the fiscal cliff purely because the spending cuts that were proposed weren't big enough.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Catching Fish


My dad and Natalie explain the psychology of catching fish

It Was Drama


Olivia got into explaining how she viewed the headlines for Dear Abby

Sweatpants: For All Your Sweaty Needs


Georgie has a video about sweatpants.  Watch it.

Peeps Jumping off Cliffs


I went paragliding.  Check out these bomb videos of me jumping off cliffs.

It may not have been me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Overherd

I do what I want.

I guess I'm really an adult. It's kind of weird. I'm 23. 2 decades plus three. And I'm not sure what to do with myself sometimes.

No one signs me up for soccer teams; no one gives me gold stars. I never get grades. It's freeing and confining at the same time.

I find that I can hold myself back better than anyone else. The truth of the matter is that being an adult means taking responsibility for oneself. And I'm not very good at it. And I don't think a lot of adults are either.

It's a thing.

You know that John Lennon song? The one where he implores you to imagine things. I forgot the name. Well, in part of it, he says that we could have peace if we wanted.

And he's right. We have a lot of things because we woke up one day and believed we wanted it. And we suddenly had it.

Scratch that. I think it was a different song. About war being over if we wanted it. I forgot the name of that song too. I think he was kind of a hippie peacenik.

The point is that we can just get rid of the world's problems if we really decided to. What a weird thought. Why don't we? I mean, I understand that there are a lot of logistical issues, but to not attempt it sort of shows that we are only marginally more self-aware than the other animals.

Humans are absurd sometimes is what I'm saying. I'm saying that we have evolved to point B, but I think there are a lot of points forward from here. The first step is life, the next is a gradient of self-awareness, then the gradient of empathy, and beyond that is probably a gradient of super-empathy. And we aren't there. We just aren't there yet.

We suck sometimes.

Um...the story is that now that I'm an adult I do what I want but I haven't gotten good at pursuing what I want. And following through. I'm not too good at that.

The point—is—that—other—people—do—that—too. And it ain't all me, there is a culture of lazy and I'm part of the herd too many times out of 10.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My Id

I'm trying to capture the notes between the keys; the space between the lines; the grays between the black and whites.

I can't find it. Not that I ever expect to. Genius is a gift reserved for a very few. And part of becoming an adult is realizing that you aren't one of them. And however humble I may seem, I don't mean it quite genuinely. Because where would I be if my ego didn't tell me I had value as an intelligent human being?

I think that getting older is not a process of getting wiser just finding different reasons to justify one's causes.

The summer sun was great today. But I was locked up in a room staring at a computer trying to make some lines of code work. I have the enthusiasm to make the website work but it takes a long time and being a precise and logical being is far beyond me as a human. If only computers could program themselves.

I recently helped design props for our Ed Team. I feel really proud of that work. And I'm proud of the changes I'm making to the Triangle website but the thing really needs a major revamp and I don't know where to start. What a headache.

Occasionally I look out the window and watch people pass by. So many walk those streets and will never know me or each other. I wonder how many important people pass by my office every day?

I wonder how many pictures I have where someone famous is in the background, just hiding there. Or someone that will be famous.

I have so much fun doing what I'm doing but I definitely have to get my life together on many things. C'est la vie.

C'est la vie. I don't speak French. Is that the life? Wilco, Passion Pit.

It drives me crazy how many people believe chain mail, Facebook posts, tweets, or whatever. And guess what chain mail still is annoying.

I struggle with how cynical I can be and how much I try to be open and caring to everyone.

I live by the statement, “some people do that. And that is.” I used to want to rule the world, but what would that give me? I'm not sure anymore. I want to help people but they can be really dumb sometimes.

Ford is selling a 3 cylinder vehicle for $1000 more than their 4 cylinder vehicle and billing it as getting good gas mileage. Get a Geo or tie together three lawnmower engines. Rip-off.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sunsets of Summer

Short story

I found myself lost again. It was good.

The shadows had long since turned everything into outlines. Dark shapes against an orange horizon. I sucked in the sweet air of the summer evening.

When all is outlines, the world turns into a peculiar mixture of organic and geometric shapes. I found my eyes transfixed on a street sign, leaning just slightly like a hopper painting. I let my eyes follow the simplified shape, a three dimensional object thrown into two dimensions.

I wondered to myself—half believing in my originality—if we were just the outlines of some four dimensional object. And maybe we were, just loops in time, constantly replaying our lives with wonder, even though it happened the same each time.

I exhaled slowly and sat on the bench. The sun shot rays out in its setting dance. The sky deepened. A young woman passed in front of me and looked out at the sun. Her hair was tied back in a ponytail. She turned profile to me as a stray wisp caught a ray of light.

I caught her eye briefly and we both looked away; we had held eye contact for a moment too long. If her face had not been a perfectly beautiful outline of orange and black I would have seen her blush.

The breeze that had lazily rolled past in the late afternoon was shifting into a steady wind. There, as a reminder that we were all in motion and the sun would hide behind the distant hills soon.

I felt the earth below my feet and the entire planet lurched slowly in orbit as the hills overtook the few rays and my hemisphere pointed out to the blackness of the universe.

But first the orange turned pink then a wonderful purple. I was still lost but I was ok. Being lost could be a good thing.

The girl lifted her arms above her head and stretched with a deep breath. The final rays of a deep pink sky traced her curves. She shivered slightly at the stiffening breeze. The leaves rustled in a nearby tree.

An evening bird called out lazily. In the far distance a car drove around a slow curve turning its headlights on.

The girl started to leave and paused briefly to take in the scene for one moment.

“Excuse me, can you help me? I'm lost and I'm not quite sure where I am.”

A Face Doodle at Dinner

 
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cat Herding Appendix

I'd like to append my worldview post that I recently wrote about.

Given recent tragic events in Colorado, I find that there is particular resonance that comes from the original http://www.gleamingedge.com/mirrors/onsheepwolvesandsheepdogs.html article on which my 'Herding Cats' post was based.

I don't want to tarnish or politicize the terrible tragedy that was the early morning shooting at the Batman movie premiere in Aurora, Colorado. The nation is reeling from the senseless and violent deaths of these innocent Americans.

It is, more than anything, a reminder that the world we live in can be cruel and without meaning. And we need still need protections to keep us safe. We need societies that are receptive to threats and anxious about the future. And that is because the very few of us who have destructive tendencies can destroy so much.

The peaceful among us have little recourse in times of psychopathic outbursts. In all honesty, I don't believe much in unfettered access to guns or weapons with the potential to kill. Certainly though I don't find the thought of a population without access to arms comforting either. Visions of Big Brother run through my head. I'm stuck on these points.

The gun man would have been harmless without access to guns. He also would have been useless without his malicious intent. Truthfully we have few ways to keep people with harmful intent from owning guns. And we have few services to help people assuage their malevolence.

In America we do little to try to curb violence before it occurs. Without having the answers to say precisely what needs to be done in a policy context I can say that we need to be having a conversation.

To the NRA: this does not mean I want to get rid of guns. It means I want to talk about how to help responsible gun owners continue to enjoy their rights to arms and guarantee the safety of over 300 million Americans. As an American dedicated to 'insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, [and] promote the general Welfare' I find it deeply troubling that we don't talk about how the 2nd amendment has irreversibly halted the pursuit of happiness for over 12,000 Americans annually.

How do we balance these two needs? That is where the conversation starts.

I find it deeply unsettling that understanding how to keep ourselves safe from imminent as well as future threats has been relegated to the most extreme factions. As long as we dig trenches in a policy context we will continue to sacrifice our most vulnerable citizens caught in the middle.

This tragedy could have been prevented and I feel a deep sorrow for those who have died and their families. My lesson is not 'guns or no guns.' My lesson is that we experienced, as a nation, a huge loss. And every year we experience this loss several thousand times over. The lesson is that not all is well in the country and vigilance requires anticipation as much as reaction. How do we work together to keep each other safe? How do we balance our most basic rights?

It is negligent behavior for us to continue living like this and idly accept the deaths of so many Americans. So, I've said it before and I'll say it again: let's talk. Let's be civil, and let's make it work for our safety, our rights, and our posterity. Is that so hard?

Recycling Prince


So, I was the Recycling Prince for Triangle. I'll tell you about it later. Just enjoy the shot

Mitt's Tax Returns

Mitt Romney's tax returns. Why they are simultaneously unimportant and essential.

Let's start with the basics; there is almost definitely nothing illegal in Mitt Romney's tax returns. Even if he were doing something illegal, he can afford a good enough accountant that those things don't show up in his returns. So put felonies to the side.

Secondly, in general there probably isn't anything that interesting in his returns. What anyone is going to find is more of the same: a rich guy manages his money well and stays rich. Rich guy, through legal loopholes, is able to pay barely anything in taxes. Oh well. Mitt isn't the first rich guy to do so, and he won't be the last.

That brings us to why should anyone care? Two reasons: it exposes that the tax code is unfair, and Mitt is unable to convince voters of his higher qualities.

The tax code. With a good accountant and several million dollars a person is usually able to leverage the tax code so that they can keep much of that wealth and pay almost nothing on it. At first this sounds pretty reasonable—they make money and they should keep money. Except it kind of doesn't; right now there is no tax on capital gains, money earned through investments like Romney's. In a given year, Mitt has only to pay his investment banker and he earns money. Like $21 million. And almost all of it tax free.

To recap: with enough initial investment, multi-millionaires make money by doing nothing and don't pay taxes on it. Additionally, most of the money ends up gathering dust in a bank vault which stifles the economy because it does not trickle-down.

This isn't Romney's fault. He shouldn't even be sniped for it; he's following a cultural norm. And all indications suggest that he is extraordinarily generous with his funds. But he is under no obligation to pay the Federal government more than he owes.

Mitt's higher qualities. Mitt seems like a decent enough guy. Sure there is plenty of ego involved in being an elected official—that comes with the territory. Let's assume though that people fall on a pretty standard bell curve between a jerk and nice. Most people have a decent mixture of jerkiness and niceness. Get over it; no one is perfect. Mitt is supposedly with the rest of us: deeply passionate about his family and his future. Sometimes he can be selfish, sometimes rude, and other times clueless. Usually though, he's nice and he tries really hard to make the world better.

And this whole tax return business just doesn't open the voters up to perceiving those qualities. Understandably there is a certain amount of privacy afforded every family—even ones scrutinized heavily by the media. Yet that argument only goes so far. Realistically, a family is not up for political attacks. But how a candidate interacts with the government is pretty important, and probably one of the only things up for public attention that is private.

After all, politicians run the government and voters want to feel trust that these people can successfully navigate the arena—read not become corrupted by the power. Voters have very little to go on in terms of Mitt's character and positions—they tend often to be to the right of Obama but in concrete terms it's a little more vague. Mitt is a decent dude, but many are baffled by what ground he firmly stands on.

Certainly the DNC is ready to make attacks based off of what comes out of those returns. And that's probably not too fair. From the perspective of a voter though, it is perfectly reasonable to have some documents available for scrutiny—especially because it gives them a sense of the candidate.

Sometimes the cold political calculus of the race distorts the ultimate goal which is to represent the people. In this debate about whether or not to release tax documents, voters' needs have been left by the wayside. It is perfectly reasonable for the voting public (and the media) to request documents that have already been released in more recent versions.

It just sucks that it looks like a political maneuver.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Excuses

Here they go.

I haven't written because I've been walking my cat. I haven't written because my cat acts up too much and she wakes me up at 4, 5, and 6 in the morning. I haven't written because the car has scratches in the bumper.

I haven't written because my hard drive may be completely crashed. And it has all of the information I want on it. I haven't written because it feels like my heart has been broken. And I'm trying to fix it. And did you know that data recovery can cost thousands of dollars? Yeah, what the hell?

I haven't written because I'm just trying to figure out my life; discover myself—or some equally contrived thing like that. I haven't written because I am just trying to process the news. I mean the Middle East. It's crazy.

I haven't written because Mitt Romney won't release his tax returns. I mean, what the hell is he hiding? Probably nothing, but the anticipation and conjecture keeps me from writing on my blog. Right? Yeah.

I haven't written because I'm thinking of joining a religion and I don't want to confess anymore sins. I mean, that would suck. I haven't written because I am trying to gain achievements on Team Fortress 2. I haven't written because I fell asleep at the wheel, sideswiped a parked car and swerved into a hipster in jorts on a fixed gear bike.

I haven't written because it's summer in Seattle and that means it's going to be beautiful and there ain't no reason to stay inside and look at a computer screen. I haven't written because I'm full of white guilt—I'm not sure what that means.

I haven't written because I am a chronic procrastinator. I'm also a compulsive liar. That statement is false. So is this one. I haven't written because I've been dreaming in Spanish. I haven't written because my conscience doesn't sound like my writing. I haven't written because I'm afraid of judgment. I haven't written because Judge Dredd's judgment is deadly.

I haven't written because my muse is working full time. I'm running out of ideas. And all I seem to be left with are excuses. I better be writing or making up more excuses.

Eh...

Meh.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Billboards in Reno, My Letter.

The city council has reviewed the digital billboards for some time now.  In that time there has been a considerable amount of controversy.  It is difficult to imagine the passage of this proposal in its current state without leaving a bad taste in almost everyone's mouths.  The billboard companies have animosity toward many citizens and businesses in the city, council members perceive their constituency as undermining potential progress, and citizen groups feel trampled on and ignored.

Obviously the intent is to actually reduce the amount of visual clutter in Reno's skyline.  Yet the exemptions and process built into the document provide for a troubling process.  I am concerned that there are sufficient loopholes that it would be possible to actually add to the number of billboards in Reno.  Briefly, it is the job of city employees, council members, and billboard representatives to attend meetings related to billboards.  It is extra-curricular and even a loss of personal income to attend a meeting as a concerned citizen.  By putting the burden on citizens to find and attend every meeting that may have an impact on them related to billboards is effectively limiting the democratic process to those who can afford it.

And that is another area of concern.  Are the people who would be most impacted by these developments adequately represented in the public process?

A cursory analysis of the people who live nearby the densest concentrations of billboards--therefore the most impacted--indicates that they are low wage hourly workers with schedules not conducive to appearing at these meetings.  These are people who tend to make significantly less than the median household income and have insufficient assets to participate in these public processes.

These people would be the most affected by changes in billboard policy yet their representation in this matter is zero.

Given how billboards have been shown implicitly and explicitly to correlate with depressions in property value this policy change could have enormous and disproportionate impacts on the city's poorest citizens.  Basically, the addition of digital billboards near (within several blocks of) properties decreases property value.  This equals a loss of tax revenue for the city and a loss of value for the property owner.

In a city reeling from foreclosures and the economic downturn, neither the city nor its citizens can afford to lose even more money--especially in the neighborhoods where this ordinance has the most impact.

That's not to say that the entire ordinance needs to be scrapped.  Rather, it is to say that perhaps a revised public process where all stakeholders are present would allow the concerned parties to craft an ordinance that has greater consideration toward the needs of all parties.

It would be a severe embarrassment to the city council if this were to go to court and the result mirrored the recent decision in Arizona which overturned a similar ordinance.  It would also be costly and unproductive.  As is, several groups are ready to take court action.  For the sake of saving on costs for the city as well as showing a good faith effort to represent the entire voting constituency which you were elected, I urge you to postpone decision further and look to crafting these policy changes with a neutral third party facilitator.

Their goal is to change the atmosphere of distrust into one of collaboration.  It has also been shown that Alternative Dispute Resolution can significantly improve the chances of lasting outcomes while reducing costs by 90% or more.  Importantly, having a facilitator that is trusted by all parties lends legitimacy and productive input to a process traditionally muddled by demonizing the "opposition".
If the city council truly wants to stop reviewing this ordinance and craft a policy that satisfies all parties then it is imperative that a legitimate process be found.

It's never too late to stop a negative process and shift to something positive.  I believe strongly that it is in the best interests of the council to consider the merits of a process where all parties are allowed input into an ordinance that would affect them.

Please reconsider the ordinance and hire a third party neutral to facilitate the process.

Monday, July 16, 2012

On Herding Cats 2/2

How do we neutralize threats before and during a conflict?

“I promise to be fearless.” I wrote those words into my mediation handbook on nearly every page. I said it, I believed it. And it has driven me since. My mediation trainer had us say it all the time. And I carry that with me.

In my field I get to meet the people that are hopefully putting the soldiers out of business. We fight a little differently in our work. I've met people who have ended decades of violent conflict. People who have ended famines. People who have ended gang wars and street fights. People who have helped murderers apologize to the families of their victims. People who every day seek out conflict and make it something positive.

And if I were to explain in one word what we do—nothing. Our job is not to step in and say who is right or wrong, what should be, or how to do something. Rather, our job is to listen and disappear into the ether.

My job—and worldview—is predicated on the premise that people are like me. They hurt and they laugh and they are concerned about a great many things. Our sole job is to open the channels of communication between people. We take conflict between people and work to make it a challenge that they all face together.

I know it's not traditional guns and glory. In fact, my field has peaceniks, hippies, and feminists. I meet a lot of very touchy-feely emotions people. And sometimes it really is just a feelings circle.

Here's the thing: good, well-trained alternative dispute resolution (ADR) experts work.

But where does this leave the sheepdogs, the sheep, or the wolves? Certainly there are plenty of off the cuff situations that require quick timing and expert execution. And wars don't fight themselves; we still have thousands of committed men and women in our armed forces that spend every day putting their lives on the line. That's commendable.

My life is solving conflict in a different way. They aren't exclusive and I'm not naïve. The world isn't fuzzy happy things. But the world isn't black and white and harsh all over either. We live in a world of nuance, where sometimes my approach won't work. And sometimes having a concealed firearm isn't going to help you in danger either.

Like it or not we make it through life relying on a good deal of luck. There are plenty of things out of our control; so we prepare as best we can, we accumulate skills and tools to help us get through life. Personally, I have chosen tools and skills that take a lot longer to work and a lot more effort. Many believe that war is the only option and we are foolish to stop the marching masses. Yet, ADR professionals have been on the front lines of every war never fought; you don't hear about us and we don't want you to. The best day for us is the one in which there is no news.

People call us insane because sometimes we try to reason with mad men. That's ok. We will keep trying because our goal is that one day we won't be needed and neither will the soldiers that fight our wars. Until that time though, the fighters press on prepared to fight the righteous war.

If this seems less like an argument and more like a complement, then I am doing a good job. If it seems like this is somehow trying to expound, excoriate, or proselytize then I am sorry—I can be a crappy writer.

The point I am trying to make, more than anything, is that being fearless is more than committing oneself to a violent way of resolving conflict. Sometimes it is being Gandhi and fighting the world's largest empire with peace and resolve. Sometimes it's Martin Luther King Jr. walking in Alabama. Being the so-called sheepdog is fine. Being the watchful shepherd is also possible.

So I believe I have broken every rule I set out in writing this piece. It probably also rambles a fair bit. But hopefully the reader, you, took something important away. If not, I'm open to any and all thoughts.

On Herding Cats 1/2

Roger showed me this article http://www.gleamingedge.com/mirrors/onsheepwolvesandsheepdogs.html and said he would like to know my thoughts. He said that in the military he encounters many people who believe in this world view.

The basic premise is that the world can be divided into three basic categories: the harmless masses, the vicious aggressors, and the honorable protectors. The author perhaps draws out the metaphor for too long—sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs—but the foundation is concrete.

I want to first start by dropping the metaphor. No clear argument comes from tying oneself to an imperfect analogy of life. And I'd rather not refute the writer of this piece for I believe that there is much to be learned and valued in his perspective. For me to tease out what I believe from what I disagree with would take too long. Rather, I will try to explain my worldview and hope that an astute and diligent reader can compare the two pieces.

To me the world rarely lies in stark categories of thought. It has been rigorously demonstrated that animals—humans especially—are inclined toward making generalizations, categorizations, and false patterns. For example, look at a screen full of white noise and notice that you can pick out patterns despite none actually being there. It's how we survived in the wild. We made assumptions that were based on perceived patterns and the quicker we caught on, the better we survived. It's why we have things like OCD, stereotypes, and prejudice. It's also the basis for math, science, philosophy, and logic.

The difference of course is rigor. By building on robust and substantial evidence we are better able to understand our world in meaningful ways. That said, I will now go on to make unsubstantiated remarks about how I view the world.

“I always hated the hypothetical if a bad person was holding a gun to your loved one's head and you had a gun pointed at the bad person, would you kill them. Of course I wouldn't let my loved one die. I'd do everything in my power to save them. But there are always more options in life. You could shoot him in the knee, you could try to talk to the bad person. There are always options.” I heard this during my mediation training in college. I know, snobby liberal arts college that believes in mediation and other snobbery like vegans.

He had a very real point though. And that is the question of what to do under stress, how do we prepare for the moment when danger is immediately present and there is little or no time to react? How do we know that the decision we make is the right one?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Artful Facade

If I were to write a story that had already been written verbatim. Or if I were to write a story nearly identically to another.

And if I knew nothing of the original story's presence, what does that make my story? What value does it have? Is it original? What does that mean for the effort I put in? What if I copied Moby Dick or War And Peace? Is that more valuable than another copy? How many authors does the book have now?

I guess the point is Dada. Or rather, that art only has the value that we say it does. And that people are suckers for crap if it sounds deep and meaningful.

What we really enjoy is less the art and more the history and visibility of the piece. I value immensely any art that is related to my friends, family, or me. I value it simply because there is a connection that I recognize and take solace in.

What if a fake Picasso fell into your hands? What if you were the only person in the entire world who knew that the painting was fake? How would you value the piece? What if critics believed it to be Picasso's finest work and valued it as the most expensive and important piece of art in the entirety of human civilization—perhaps an exaggeration but I'm sure you can follow. But what does that mean for the art itself?

And how would you feel?

What if the ruse were revealed; how would the world react? Would the piece still be important? Would people still value it?

I think it's safe to say that we—humanity—can be kind of full of ourselves sometimes.

I was at University Village today. It's a big outdoor mall that is really nice and very safe for white children. Ciera went to the Mac store. A giant 50% grey building with squares and a glass front door. It has the Apple logo on it. Across the street was the Microsoft store. It is a giant 20% grey building with squares and a glass front door. It has the Windows logo on it.

And that brought the entire Mac v PC debate into sharp focus. We're all full of crap on this one. It's just stuff we use to do stuff and there is no 'culture' or some philosophy that will make us better people. It's just stuff. If we want to improve our lives, it won't be because we favor 50% grey over 20% grey (the real grey).

Friday, July 13, 2012

Correction: Spain and the EU

I have to make a correction. Also I have to give a break-down. I have to—there is an honesty gun pointed at my head.

First, Spain is still in deep—er, y'know. I previously said that its economic structure sort of made it an exceptional case, but it seems that Spain is still a major economy close in turmoil. What is going on with Spain anyway? Well, in typical Spanish fashion, the old party was swept out of power and a new party came into power led by Rajoy.

Then when it became evident that the new government really didn't have many tools to address the economic woes of the country, support dropped off a cliff. Big surprise. And Spain is a big economy. It would be like having Texas declare bankruptcy. Greece and Portugal are like Maine and South Dakota, it would be tough but everyone could hobble along. Losing Texas would be devastating.

And that is what the Eurozone is facing right now. The thing is that the governments are struggling to create stimulus in their country. Instead they are hoping that by contracting government spending and showing economic discipline the markets will rebound.

Sometimes that might be a decent solution. Here however that is not the case. Think of it like this. Businesses and consumers in Europe have slowed or stopped their spending and growth until the economy gets better. This results in a hole in spending. To counteract this something has to fill that hole. Filling the hole does two things, it loosens up cash allowing spending and it creates confidence that there is control over the markets.

Right now, the governments are refusing to fill that hole, instead relying on the European Central Bank to create monetary policies to address the issue. That only works as a stop gap. Fundamentally it is important to restore confidence and create robust policies that ensure the money goes someplace useful. The ECB is out of its scope and depth while the European governments continue to hem and haw over the correct course of action.

It's ridiculous to assume that people will suddenly feel like the markets are looking up if the governments continue to stonewall each other in procedural quagmires.

I'm just happy that the US has a streamlined political system where important policies can be crafted in a bipartisan manner to alleviate our woes. Thank God there aren't any people out there that think tying a noose around our necks to suffocate spending is the best way to restore consumer confidence. Or that creating benefits and tax breaks for people/institutions already sitting on loads of cash that they will never spend is a good idea.

That would be ridiculous right?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dear Judicial Correction Services

Dear Judicial Correction Services,

Thank you for reading my blog. Really. I appreciate that someone took the time to read through the entirety of my fictional story that bears the name of your company. I wrote the story as an emotional response to the New York Times article I read. I do believe that they have fairly robust fact-checking, but that doesn't make them perfect. There are probably many things that JCS would refute.

I also bet that you have plenty to say about my blog post. Probably numerous inaccuracies and omissions. So I want to allow JCS an opportunity. Because I want to be fair.

I'm giving you the opportunity to write me back. And I really would love a response. Obviously the New York Times article did a number on your PR. So I'd like to let you speak. I'll put your post right up on my blog no questions asked.

But there are a couple caveats. First, the post has to be a MINIMUM of 365 words. Second, I'd really like it if you answered the questions below. You don't have to answer the questions, especially if you think they are unfair, but I would deeply appreciate them nonetheless. Third, you have a week to reply.

Oh, and FYI: I really believe in providing a wide range of perspectives. I truly hope to hear a reply from JCS to flesh out this story in more detail.

And those are the rules.

Ok, so here are my questions.

How does JCS work with local jurisdictions to save money?

What is the JCS mission statement and how is that followed through with on a daily basis?

In cases where people cannot pay their fines (unemployment, disability, etc) how does JCS work to get their cases closed in a timely, reasonable, and socially conscious manner? (that's sort of three questions).

How does JCS guarantee that clients are fully aware of their rights and options?

What parts of the story did the NYTimes (and myself) miss?

What should the public know about JCS?

I know that you may not have time to actually go through all of these questions. Where I work we struggle to finish tertiary priorities. So if you have some boilerplate plus some pizazz I'll be happy to publish that too.

Please consider my questions. I would be happy to post them.

You can send your responses to my email; firsthara@gmail.com.

Thanks,
Nick Hara

While I've Been Changing

Ok, so here is my opportunity to catch up on everything. Let me tell you that life has been moving in distorted fits and starts.

I love the cat, she is getting much better about learning how to use the leash. I get it, by the way. I have a cat. And I put her on a leash.

It's ridiculous. And hilarious. Only the weirdest people you know do stupid crap like that. No one tries to train a cat. It's a cat.

Well, normally I don't say this but go fly a kite. I'm training my cat to use a leash because I want to be able to take my cat outside without shortening her lifespan by a quarter. Also, I want to get the discipline just right for this cat. And Arya is actually kind of obedient. I just have to keep pounding this stuff into her.

I'm committed to this. Even if my parents and sister cracked up when they heard. I mean, a solid laugh for about a minute over the phone. I kept thinking, “oh, right, not everyone is psycho about their pets like in Seattle. I'm such a hipster. What kind of monster have I become?”

But then it was brushed aside by the fact that I'm getting this cat in tip top shape and she is going to rock everyone's world.

Damn! I did it again. Cat lady.

The point that I'm trying to make is that lots has been happening. I just got my new computer and I am loving it. It works so well and as we speak I am ramping up to get all of my videos burned into dvds. It's been three years now for the Spain ones and over a year for the Senior year ones. I finally have the ability to make this work. If I can get my external hard drive (also on the fritz) to work.

Fingers crossed everybody.

Also, Ciera is still gone on vacation. So I've actually used this time to catch up a bit with friends. I miss them and I so dearly want to be near them and hang out with them.

It'll happen. I have faith.

What I do when I don't post

Ok, so I know I haven't been the best about posting. It's a thing.

Anyways, I am now the web admin for Triangle Associates and one of the first changes I made was to add myself to the website. Check it out!

http://www.triangleassociates/.com/section_about/staff_NickHara.htm

Monday, July 9, 2012

Judicial Correction Services

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/03/us/probation-fees-multiply-as-companies-profit.html?pagewanted=all

short story cont'd:

I relaxed, he may have been another version of a used car salesman but he seemed like he got some sort of commission for completed cases. The economic incentive would work in my favor. I smiled and nodded.

He paused for a moment and looked at his screen, “ok, I have your case pulled up. You originally owed $65 for parking in a no-parking zone.”

I interrupted, “it was a two hour zone but the last five minutes I was there the zone changed into a no-parking for rush hour. I didn’t even know because the sign had graffiti on it.”

“No matter. Because you didn’t pay your ticket the fines added up. When you went to prison your tab was at nearly $1500. Now Jimmy, it’s my obligation to inform you that we don’t have the power to reduce this, that’s between you and the judge. We do have the power to help you pay it off in your own time.”

I felt relieved. $1500 dollars, and surely much of that would be reduced by my time behind bars.

Don started, “so if my calculations are correct, because you didn’t put any amount toward your debt before your incarceration all of the fees still apply. And since you are signing up with our program instead of going it alone—a wise decision in my opinion—you have the $49 sign-up fee, the $12 monthly, and our processing fees.”

I couldn’t even speak.

“Looks like your total now, with tax and the administrative fees, is $2397.43. Now, I know this feels like a lot, but we are here to help. I’ve calculated your monthly income pre-incarceration and I’ve added in the government programs you qualify for as income. Together it amounts to an average monthly income of $1500. With that, we can take a mere 30% and have you paid off in about a year. How does that sound?”

Every alarm in my head was ringing. Something wasn’t right. Instead of reacting I just nodded and found myself outside of the building letting the summer breeze cool me. I had a sheet filled with fine print in one hand and my bag of personal belongings in another.

And it was all because of her—not really. I was trying to make a statement. Impress her. We had gone on a couple of dates and I had felt a strong connection. Mostly I was pulled to her vulnerability. She seemed so in need. And I didn’t feel like I was a savior—I was unemployed. But I felt like I could be there for her. We could help each other out of our loneliness and turmoil.

I got a bouquet for her. It was mostly purple flowers—her favorite color. I remember striding into her office, looking confident but feeling like a child. When I gave her the flowers she cried and hugged me. I knew I had won some points.

I felt really like a million bucks. All of the things I had been struggling with faded away. They disappeared. Until I came outside and saw the officer putting the ticket on my car.

The happy feeling was gone. I couldn’t even afford the postage to mail my ticket in.

We dated a few more times after that. She was great but I wasn’t able to really keep up a girlfriend. I was ashamed of my poverty, and swamped by my worry.

Sometime after my phone service was cut, the cops came to my door with a warrant.

I snapped back to the present. The leaves on the sapling next to me rustled. I looked out on the parking lot. It was empty.

Judicial Correction Services 1/2

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/03/us/probation-fees-multiply-as-companies-profit.html?pagewanted=all

A short story:

I knew that I could go to jail. I never thought that it would happen. I’m not stupid. I’m just not rich. And like all good stories, it’s because of a girl.

Prison was prison. I thought I would remember every moment; make a big life lesson out of it. But when the sun hit my eyes and the doors closed behind me prison faded like a nightmare. I looked at the slip of paper in my hands. It was my next destination.

Let me be clear, I wasn’t a lifer or a violent offender. I was just a poor guy who had stretched the limits of his misdemeanor charge into jail time. For me that was 15 days.

“My name is Don. It’s nice to meet you. Sit down,” he motioned to the chair across from his tiny desk. The space was cramped and hot. Summer had found a way to amplify itself in the office. I sat slowly and took in my surroundings. The walls were corporate beige and the decorations were so generic as to be invisible. Years later I could hardly recall if there had been anything in the room at all.

Don spoke, “well, it looks like you failed to pay your ticket for long enough that you were given time.”

“Exactly. Look, I explained this to the judge but he said something about court solvency. I don’t know how to say this but I can’t pay this ticket.”

“We hear that a lot. That’s why you are in our program Jimmy—can I call you that?” He showed his teeth through an ersatz grin.

I hated Jimmy. Bullies used to call me that to belittle me—it was a crap name. “I’d uh, prefer if you called me Jim.”

“Right Jimmy. Y’see, this program is here to help you pay off your debt. You’ve already paid off your debt to society,” he paused for effect, then laughed on his own, “and now it’s time to pay your debts—er, fines.” He laughed deeply. Then he coughed and sneezed.

I tried to laugh with him, maybe it would get me somewhere. I wasn’t sure. “I’m unemployed. I can’t even collect unemployment because my last job was part-time. I barely am able to pay for food. Hell, I’m not sure how I’ll pay next month’s rent!” I was getting worked up. I suddenly realized how crappy my life had become. Struggling to make ends meet had become normal; prison seemed like paradise because I was guaranteed meals there. “I used to pull in $270 on a good month. Now that I’ve been in prison I’ll be lucky if I make anything at all.”

Don looked at me with a well-practiced look of sympathy, “Jimmy, we see your type all the time. We aren’t here to gouge you. We’re here to help you get your life back on track. One unpaid ticket, believe me I know how absurd it seems. We want to erase this absurdity.”

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Ganging Up

Sometimes watching the news looks like a bunch of privileged white guys ganging up on the black dude and his other minority friends.

Halfway through looking up “sustainable cat food” online I realized that sometimes the things that come out of my mouth can sound pretentious, hipstermatic, preachy, and ridiculous. When I start doing things because “it’s ironic” but it really isn’t and I’m just not getting it then please shoot me. Or tell me to stop.

But seriously I am committed to helping my cat avoid all of the kitty diseases that are associated with eating a poor diet. Think of all the nasty diseases that we can get from a diet of pure junk food and translate that to the kitty version. They’re just as devastating and three times as cute—also generally grammatically incorrect (i can haz diabeteez?).

I am a little lonely. Cats aren’t much conversation when they don’t come with captions.

It’s odd how much I really feel that loneliness when Ciera goes away. I realized that I’m really on my own today. I pay my bills, I feed my cat, I run errands, and I really don’t know too many people in Seattle.

It’s a thing. I think that my time out of college has been an extraordinary time of transition. And some days I succeed; others I feel like a failure. It’s the fate of being a Gen Y-er.

I think we have a mentality like Shia Labeouf(?) in Transformers 3 (yeah I’m about to make a Transformers reference) when he’s all like, “the president gave me a medal and I saved the world twice; I don’t want to be a mail boy. I just want to do something important.”

And I think that everyone who’s not our generation (the old diggers) see us more like the kids on the SNL sketch “You Can Do Anything” where a bunch of Gen Y-ers do meaningless crap and expect instant gratification. “I think I’m famous because over 2000 people watched my video!”

The sad thing is that neither is true. No one watches my YouTube channel, and I don’t have any giant space robots as friends.

I now work in the world where accomplishments are seldom measured as concisely as they were in school and fame and fortune are fleeting out-of-reach apples which are rotten on the inside anyway. I just wish I had a giant space robot that doubled as a car.

What if aliens that landed here on Earth weren’t technically advanced like in movies but were just barely on the cusp of interstellar travel? Much similar to us if we were to attempt it; not conquerors but rickety explorers barely able to get from point a to point b.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Catnipulation

I think the cat is blackmailing me. When I go to do something she doesn’t want she has a variety of responses carefully honed to make me respond favorably to me.

She’s doing it right now. She is sitting on my lap purring and stretching. When I put my hand close to her she nudges it and makes me pet her. If I type too much she mews gently and sticks her paw out. If I continue she gets up and tries to stand on the keyboard. If I still continue she climbs up on my shoulders and will dig her claws in if I don’t stay leaned back.

I think that this might not be the healthiest relationship.  Because of my continued typing just now she jumped off the couch and mewed at me.  Mind you she purrs the entire time.

I can’t leave this place either.  She walks me to the door and gives me lonely eyes when I close it behind her.  She meets me at the door everyday when I come home.

I feel like such a bad person for not giving her all of my attention all of the time.  What the hell?

And for those keeping count this is my fourth cat related post.  But I really have very little else to talk about in my life right now.  I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of my new computer.

I have my last guitar lesson tomorrow.

I have been reading Edward R. Tufte’s books on information and displaying information effectively.  He’s pretty cool.

The weather has been awesome.  It finally feels like summer has sort of tentatively arrived.  I want to be at the beach house.

But mostly I’m thinking about getting a kitty leash and what food I’m going to get for the cat because she still has really stinky poop.  And she farts a lot.  And she’s getting so big.

And she’s up on my shoulders again.  And now she farted in my face.  And she won’t stop purring.

Sometimes she’s naughty but other times she is super well-behaved.

Is this what my life has become?  A diary of a cat?  What am I doing with my life?

But seriously, her poops are really stinky.  And she makes sure to poop right at 6:30 every morning just so I have to get up.  She’s totally manipulating me.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Hipster Paradise

Seattle is a bubble.  We have compostable bags and everyone recycles like it’s their religion.  We have fresh food markets everywhere.  We can eat local most of the time.  Hell, I can even ask for the animal’s papers and the waitress will be happy to bring them.

It’s seriously like Portlandia.  Only it’s not.  It’s like it’s on crack.  This place is so sustainable I feel guilty spitting on the sidewalk because it’s a waste of water.  Not that we are ever shy of water.  We have been able to manage our water so well that we are restoring river systems and tearing down dams.

What kind of utopia do I live in where the biggest concern seems to be a surplus of hipsters?

Not that my description is entirely accurate.  There are a fair number of problems in the city.  The police can be brutal and racist.  The streets are full of homeless people who go ignored every day.  There is still an extraordinary amount of segregation in the city.

The point I’m trying to make is that this is a place where people are actively trying to make the place better.  But not just because individuals think they have the right answers.  Rather, it is through a process of active democratic governance and engagement.

And I know that is utopian.  I work at a firm that specializes in engaging the citizenry.  Of course I have a slanted view.  Except, the fact that my profession flourishes let alone exists here shows an extraordinary degree of sensitivity to the collective impacts of decisions.  What a novel thought.

Living in a government intensive place has its pros and its cons.  We have a fairly high tax rate here.  I have to have a pet license.  I have to pay for parking everywhere.  And there are three garbage trucks that make their way through my alley every Tuesday.

But there are upsides.  I’m never caught off-guard about public works projects.  I never have to worry that the city doesn’t care; I have many opportunities to engage my local government at all levels. 

What I’m saying is that Seattle is safe.  It’s a great place for me to start my adult life.

But sometimes the hipster paradise is weird.

Shakespeare and S'mores

The Town Theatre is having another get together.  I drew this one.  You should totally show up if you have the time!

QA4th

My musings at the park on the Fourth in Queen Anne

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

This fourth will be weird

This fourth will be weird.  I am alone with the kitten just waiting to make a plan.

It’s hard to leave the kitten though.  She is adorable and seems to get separation anxiety when I leave.  I went for a good run this morning because it was sunny and wonderful out.  When I got back Arya acted like I had left her for a thousand years.  When I go to work I wonder if I could bring her so she isn’t lonely.  I’m neurotic about a cat.

What the hell?  I’m going to be one of those fathers that is perpetually on the verge of tears because he’s failing his kids.  No I’m not.  But until I get this cat owner thing down I’m the gullible idiot who will take the cat to kitty therapy.  Kind of serious.

Anyways, Ciera has gone away with her mother and extended family to Sun Valley, Oregon.  She left last night and I felt like a single dad suddenly.  Am I raising her right?  When I say no am I being cold?  How do I nurture this thing?

Sorry.  The point I was trying to make is that I am not going to be with family or Ciera for the fourth.  That’s a new one for me.  I’ll be mostly alone today, and later will see my friends, maybe.  This Fourth is just going to be different.  And I’m ok with that.  I’m happy to be slowing down for a moment and giving myself some time to gather my bearings.  My only obligation is to pet and feed a cat.  And clean her litter box.

My god, this post is mostly about the cat.  She’s adorable.  But I’m not a crazy cat lady.  Although it felt like everyone we talked to about adopting a kitten was one and seemed to think I was as well.  That doesn’t bode well.

So Ciera will be gone for ten days.  In that time I plan on spending a lot of me time.  I can be really solitary.  I like to think then do and people sometimes feel like encumbrances.  Not that this mindset is really appropriate or true.  It’s just that today when I said to myself, “hey I’ll go for a run, it’s so pretty out,” that I threw on my clothes and was out the door in less than a minute.  With other people it always seems like an ordeal.

I just want to go sometimes; transition at my pace.  And having other people around (Ciera mostly but only because I live with her) can change my pace.  So I think I’ll take these ten days to understand my pace and how I work, hopefully so that in the future I’m not an ass when people don’t move at the speed I want.

I can be a jerk, a loner, and a crazy cat person sometimes I guess.

Happy Fourth.