Social Commentary


Immediately after eating a full dinner (which included dessert) Saturday night, we stopped by a bakery where I got a second dessert.  The bakery was called “The Sweet Shoppe”.  You may have heard of them because they won Cupcake Wars recently on the Food Network. 

We were just going in to look, but I saw their French toast cupcake… cinnamon cake, cream cheese icing, bacon, and real maple syrup on top.  That’s right… I had bacon on my second dessert.  It was delicious.

Then the guilt set in.  Not so much over having a fat bomb after a fully satisfying meal, but the absurdity of our obsession with food while so many have nothing to eat.  With my own eyes I have seen children fighting with dogs so they could eat trash in Nicaragua.  At the same time, we have “Cupcake Wars” that are broadcast via satellite on channels dedicated to food.  It’s really kind of crazy when you think about it. 

Now I know that people around the world would be hungry whether I ate that cupcake or not… and I mean come on – it had bacon on it, but it did make me think about how much we have and how much more we think we are entitled to.  I heard a report just this week that there are 101 million people in the United States receiving some sort of assistance when it comes to food (food stamps, free or reduced lunches, etc.).  That number is startling enough, but it was followed by another – there are 97 million people in the US who work full time.  That’s right – we have more people receiving governmental assistance to get food than we have working full time. 

I know some of those recipients are children and some are very worthy of assistance, but many are not.  How is it that the same schools that offer meal assistance also have problems with childhood obesity?  In many cases, it is the very same children who get free lunches that are obese.  I’ve been to Title 1 schools and seen this firsthand.

My biggest fear is that we may have passed the tipping point when it comes to getting handouts.  Again, I know there are some very worthy candidates for government assistance, but there are growing bodies (literally) of people who take free stuff because they think there are entitled.  Why do I think we have passed the tipping point?  Think about it.  In this example, four million more people get handouts than work full time to have income to provide for their families.  Those people vote (or will soon).  What political platforms will they support?

This is scary stuff.  What happened to American pride?  I firmly believe that if our country was like this seventy years ago, I’d have to write this in German. 

So where do we go?  I say we get rid of about 90% of government assistance and privatize assistance programs.  Hear me out.  There are a lot of non-profits that do great things to help people… and with the exception of our military; I believe private organizations are more effective at doing anything when compared to the government.  These organizations will be competing for funding.  This is a good thing because the people who contribute to them will have the opportunity to choose the organizations that are most effective at delivering on their mission.  You may have heard of this concept before – it’s called capitalism.  It used to be a popular idea in our country.

Without our taxes going to inefficient government programs that fail to deliver results, people will have more money to donate to non-profits (and receive a tax deduction).  Yes, people can choose not to donate.  That’s why the non-profits have to be efficient and effective – that’s a good thing.  My experience is that people are very generous when they see someone devoted to a cause and producing results.  But then we come back to that tipping point issue.  There are more people getting assistance than there are doing the assisting.  If I were a politician running on this platform, I would be reduced to doing commentary on Fox News after a failed campaign.

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Shaky2

I wrote this last week, but failed to publish the post…

 

We attended the Shaky Knees Music Fest in downtown Atlanta over the weekend.  In case you aren’t from the area, it rained… a lot.  We got about six inches of rain Saturday and Sunday and of course, the festival was entirely outside.  As you can see from the photo, the entire area resembled a cattle feeding lot more than it did a park. 

Sara and I were pretty well prepared with rubber rain boots, but the barefoot hippies abounded.  They splashed around in the ankle deep mud fantasizing about Woodstock.  You would see them coming out of the Porta-Potties covered in mud from the knees down…. at least I think it was mud. 

There were a total of 24 bands playing over the course of two days.  We only went one day and didn’t go when the doors opened because we knew it would be a long day with the poor weather.  Besides, we were primarily there to see the headliners, The Lumineers, who went on last.

There were a total of three stages.  A band would play on one or two stages while the open stage(s) were being set up for the next group.  We played it strategically and decided to forgo seeing anyone play before The Lumineers so we could stake out a good spot for their show.  Our strategy paid off.

 Lumineers

We held our spot few rows from the front for an hour and a half in the rain.  Then about ten minutes before the show, a couple forced their way through the crowd and settled directly in front of us.  The guy was over six feet tall and my wife could see nothing but his back.  Meanwhile, two girls – probably less than five feet tall were pushing in from behind me.  I don’t like close quarters, but I despise injustice.  I informed the individual who arrived late that we had been standing in our spot for an hour and half and now my wife couldn’t even see the stage because of him.  Fortunately, he was able to my side of that argument and went somewhere behind us.

Meanwhile, the two little girls were getting even pushier.  It was like being mobbed by Oompa Loompas.  Keep in mind that it is pouring down rain, so almost everyone is in rain gear.  All I can see below me are two little red-hooded rain jackets – one to the rear and left of me and one to my right.  The one on the right was the most intrusive.  She kept pushing and eventually wedged her way between me and the person previously in front of me (who I thought I was already too close to). 

I was at a loss for what to do, so I just let the little person be a nuisance.  The more she pushed, the more I wanted to push back, but couldn’t because it was a small girl.  As a result, I was annoyed through much of the show. 

Looking back, it’s kind of funny.  I had no problem telling the tall guy exactly what I thought about his decision to push in front of us, but I couldn’t do anything about the sub-five-foot girl.  I later realized that we do this all the time.  We meet the big challenges head on only to let the little annoyances constantly bug us.  We don’t think they’re big enough to bother with, but in the end it’s not the size of the problem but the pervasiveness of it that eats away at us.

Regardless of the rain, hippies, morons, and Oompa Loompas, we enjoyed the show.  Really good music is very effective at overcoming foul moods.

This may be a little controversial, but I’m going to post it nonetheless.  I voted recently.  There were three things that stood out to me as I waited in line to cast my ballot.

First, it is never good for an engineer to wait in a long line.  They had the whole thing set up wrong.  There was a line that led to a table where you filled out a form with your name and address – a 15 second process.  This table had seven chairs around it (that’s 28 people per minute).  There were 14 voting machines set up, but before you could go to them, you had to get your little yellow card.  There was a single table with two people manning it scanning driver’s license and distributing the voting cards – a 20 second process.  Yes – I timed everything… I had over an hour to kill.  So there was obviously a bottleneck in getting your voting card and a result, about 5 voting machines were vacant at any given time.  Never go to an airport with me.

Second, it was nice to see all of the people who would willingly stand in line in the cold November rain (cue Guns ‘N’ Roses) for their opportunity to vote.  The ability to cast a ballot is one of the things that makes our nation great.

Third (and this is where it gets controversial), many of the people standing in line had no business casting a vote on some of the issues.  I’m not talking about their vote for president.  I think most people had their minds made up on that one long before they stepped in.  I am referring to the votes on whether or not to make amendments to our bylaws regarding some important educational issues. 

One of the items we voted on a whether or not to allow charter status for schools.  That sounds like an easy one, but when you dig deeper and start to consider where the funding will come from, the actual performance of existing charter schools, and how this impacts the other public schools, it gets a lot more complicated.  The voting precinct handed out literature on the topic, but most people didn’t even bother to read it even though they were standing in line with nothing else to do.  The person in front of me started to read the material and after about 15 seconds said, “I don’t understand any of this.”  She then passed her literature back in the line – making a conscious choice to vote out of ignorance.

Before people are allowed to vote, shouldn’t they be able to prove some sort of comprehension regarding the issues on which they are voting?  We allow people who are completely ignorant of the issues to cast a vote that determines the direction very same educational system that apparently failed them.   What if sample ballots were available ahead of time with some bullet points on the issues?  How about a list of candidates and their positions on important topics prior to entering the voting precinct?

Don’t tell me you’ve never punched a ballot for a name without having any clue who the two candidates were or what they stood for.  That’s just not right.  We complain about politicians all the time, but when it comes time to decide who will represent us in office, we don’t carry out the due diligence required to make an informed decision – partly because it is so difficult to get unbiased information.  So if you have not done so yet today, go vote… but know what you are voting on!

 

Sara and I went to the Midtown Music Fest in Atlanta over the weekend.  Sara’s mom watched the kids while we were gone, so Sara left early Friday afternoon to meet her and make the child exchange.  This meant that Olivia would be checking out of school early. 

Typically, Olivia gets out at 2:20.  On this momentous occasion, she got to leave at 2:00.  The way she talked about it, you would think that she was preparing to stand on the podium for Olympic gold.  That was all she talked about when I dropped her off that morning.  She was so excited about the fact that later that day she would be “checked out”.

It’s these little glimpses of insight into the mind of a child that helps me remember where we find some of the simplest forms of satisfaction.  It wasn’t the fact that she was leaving early – she was only getting out 20 minutes earlier than her regular time.  She was just excited because her name would be called out and for one brief minute she would be center of attention in her classroom.  She’s not the type that typically seeks attention – she has been known to clam up in front of crowds – but in this instance, all eyes would be on her without her having to perform or do anything spectacular.

For me, this is a lesson learned.  Most people love recognition.  Few people freely offer it.  In the working world, most of what we recognize is the things that people do poorly or fail to do at all.  As a manager, I know that it seems like I spend 90% of my day dealing with problems.  Most of these problems are because someone didn’t do what they were supposed to do or because someone performed poorly.

We have a finite amount of time and seemingly infinite supply of problems.  This dynamic often leads us to manage by exception – we recognize the bad and ignore the good – thinking that the good things will simply continue to be good without our intervention.  While I’m not a fan fixing things that aren’t broken, I am a fan of recognizing the lack of brokenness.  I’m an even bigger fan of recognizing excellence.  Unfortunately, we spend so much time focusing on the broken until it becomes the only thing we see.  I challenge you to look for something good and recognize it – I know this is a practice I need to adopt at work, at home, and on the highways of Atlanta… maybe that last one is a stretch.

 

The growing sense of entitlement in our society is nauseating.  On my last trip to Nicaragua, we were boarding a very full plane.  We had to use all of our checked bags for medical supplies, which left us with a carry-on and personal bag for all of our clothing and personal supplies for a week.  As we boarded, we discovered that the overheads on the plane were full.  The flight attendants made numerous announcements to only place carry-on bags in the overhead bin and to put personal items, such as backpacks, briefcases, and laptop bags under the seat of you.  Since many people refused to do this, several people could not put their carry-on bag in the overhead bins.

There was a man across the aisle and a couple of rows behind me who refused to take his laptop bag out of the overhead.  When the flight attendant personally asked him to place it under his seat, he replied that he was entitled to have one bag in the overhead.  He went on to say that he did not have a carry-on bag and it was his right to put his laptop in the overhead.  He then said that all of the other people should have checked their bags.

It was his use of the word entitled that really set me off.  Unable to keep my mouth shut, I told him that these people DID check their bags and those bags are filled with medical supplies for sick mothers and children – probably not the best thing to say in the presence of a flight attendant when you’re unsure of whether or not those medical supplies had been cleared with the country you are about to enter.  She simply smiled, he complied, and my boiling blood reduced to a simmer. 

Here we were, going to a third world country to provide medical aid to impoverished people and this guy was entitled to put his laptop bag in an overhead bin.  Every single day 30,000 children die due to preventable diseases and he couldn’t bear to have a laptop bag under the seat in front of him for three and half hours.  Get some perspective people!

Just yesterday, I was engaged in casual chitchat at work and the person with whom I was speaking complained about the 4th of July being on a Wednesday.  It was just going mess up the whole week… why can’t we just have Friday off instead of Wednesday… it was going to be like having two Mondays in the same week… blah, blah, blah.

I didn’t say anything this time, but here’s what I wanted to say:  “Let’s get this straight.  You are going to be paid for a full day’s work without having to do any work on the day that we celebrate the fact that we are a free country?  Get a grip!”

Don’t go all political on me either.  We ARE a free country and we are THE worldwide leader when it comes to democracy.  Most people who complain about our lack of freedom rarely leave their county much less their country.  If you want to appreciate our freedom, spend some time in Eastern Europe.  If you want to appreciate our wealth, spend some time in a third world country.  If you want to appreciate your friends and family, spend some time on airplane.

My wife is a dermatology PA.  This means that 73% of her conversations begin with someone saying, “Hey can you look at this?”  Aside from intense scolding whenever I get sunburned, it’s generally nice to have a derm PA in the house.  She can check all of those weird spots and stitch me up when I split my foot open on a boat propeller (that was another story).

Just the other day, I asked her about a spot on my left cheek (no… my face cheek).  I’ve had what I thought was a freckle for a while and it seems to be changing shape.  When I noticed that it was also raised, growing, and possibly developing a spinal cord, I decided it was time for her to look at it.  One of my worst fears was confirmed.  No, it wasn’t melanoma.  In fact, it wasn’t any type of cancer.  It was an age spot.

At least most people call them age spots.  Some people call them liver spots, which must have some kind of medical meaning because I’m not sure what my liver has to do with my cheek.  I’ve also heard the politically correct term of wisdom spots.  If we’re going to make up names for the sake of making us feel better, why don’t we just call them denial spots?

Call it what you want, I have one… make that two.  She found another on my leg.  So I have two of these things growing on me and young people don’t have them.  I’m learning that the phenomenon of growth never ends.  When you’re young, you grow.  As you get older, things grow on you… warts, spots, hairs, Matlock reruns, etc.

Hairs are another weird thing.  I’m getting quite a few grays on the side of my head.  Sara wants to pluck them out, but I refuse to let her.  They’re about four times as thick as my regular hairs, so I figure they’re here to stay.  I’d rather have gray hair than none at all.

Then there are those mysterious hairs that just pop up overnight.  I’ve got this one on my neck that I nicknamed kudzu because I can cut it or shave it and the thing will be two inches long the next day.  I thought about trying some RoundUp on it, but I’m afraid I’ll make it angry.

The funny thing about all of these aging maladies is that I have no desire to turn back the clock.  We went to a concert in Athens last week.  That’s where the University of Georgia is located, so there were a lot of college kids at the venue (I guess if we went to concert where college kids showed up, we’re still somewhat cool).  The main act didn’t even take stage until 11:15.  I kept checking my watch and thinking about the babysitting tab we were running up.  We didn’t get home until 1:30 in the morning and had to get up early the following morning to drive to Chattanooga for a wedding and birthday party.

We were tired to say the least.  The next day, Sara asked me if I wish I could be college-aged again.  I didn’t even have to think about it.  It was a definite no.  I found that almost everyone at that concert who was college-aged was both annoying and stupid.  That must mean that when I was that age, I was also annoying and stupid.  Nothing against any of you reading this that may be at that age.  I know you don’t think you’re annoying and stupid… but you are wrong.  You won’t realize it for another 15 or 20 years, but you are wrong.

Do I have found memories of my youth? Of course, but that doesn’t mean I want to throw away all of the lessons learned since then.  Maybe if we spent more time applying the wisdom of our age, we would spend less time romanticizing the fondness of our youth.

Sara got me a banjo for Christmas.  That may sound like a weird gift, but I actually asked for it – I guess that makes me weird.  I’ve always liked Bluegrass music and I love the newer music that incorporates banjos (Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers, etc.).  Plus, tons of people play guitars.  How many people do you know who can play a banjo? 

If nothing else, I thought it would be a great addition for home security.  What would-be intruder wouldn’t go running for their life if they broke into a home and heard first line of Dueling Banjos?  I guarantee you Ned Beatty won’t be breaking in.

I’m starting from scratch, so it’s been pretty rough but I’m improving.  I’ve found some banjo tabs online that show you how to play songs even if you can’t read music.  One song I thought would be good to learn is the theme song from The Dukes of Hazzard, so I went searching.

While searching, for some reason I thought about how ridiculous that show was.  Don’t get me wrong – I was a big fan.  I had my Duke Boys lunchbox and watched the show every chance I got.  It’s just that I can’t imagine a show like that coming out today.

Imagine describing The Dukes of Hazzard to someone today who had never seen it.  You and a friend are exchanging idle chatter and you bring it up…

“You know our family is really hooked on this new show.”

“Really, what is it?”

“It’s called The Dukes of Hazzard.”

“What’s it about?”

“Well… it’s about these two racist redneck brothers who run moonshine for a living in their bright orange Dodge Charger named after the Confederate general of the Civil War with a rebel flag on top.”

“Oh?”

“…and their sister is a bartender at a honky-tonk bar owned by the mayor.  His name is Boss Hogg.  He’s this stereotypical obese Southerner who is the brother’s mortal enemy, but for some reason he employs their sister.  It must be because she wears these really short shorts all the time and flirts with everybody constantly – even her own brothers.  That’s a little weird.  Oh, and they can’t have guns, so they blow up a lot of stuff with dynamite-tipped arrows.  You know, just like Wyle E Coyote.”

“Sounds interesting.”

“Yep, it’s a great show for the family.”

I know we often talk about how terrible television is these days, but I think we sometimes forget where we were. 

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