Monday, December 31, 2007

Where You Won't Find Me in 2008

I've finally had it. I've disliked going for some time now, but because Angie and the kids like to go I would take them on occasion. It was easier when it was for something I wanted to see, for sure. For the last couple of years I would go only to see a huge sci-fi epic, but even that draw won't be enough.

I'm talking about the movies. The only other place (other than a sporting event) where you have the privilege of paying $12.00 for a popcorn that cost 50 cents to produce. But, it's not about price at the movies. It never has been. It's about the people...

I no longer want to go to a theater that invariably has people that couldn't care less about anyone else in the place. Whether it's the couple that bring their baby - and that baby proceeds to cry during the movie. Or, perhaps its the teens that are there for every other reason than to watch the movie. Or the others that just want to have a conversation instead of enjoy the show. And, my biggest peeve, the people that cannot possibly miss a call or text and are using their cell phones the entire time. Those phones give off a lot of light and are very distracting.

The movie studios and the theater operators have been lamenting the state of their business for many years. The claim DVDs, production costs, and piracy as the problems they face. They are totally wrong. The problem is that the theater operators don't police their theaters and the entire experience suffers for it. When in-home entertainment rooms are the rage, why would anyone go to the movies to battle that crap? I know I no longer will.

Before you tell me that I sound like some cantankerous old man, even Angie said she was really distracted when we went to see "I Am Legend" last week. The teens next to us got up at least 10 times during the movie...sometimes returning to their seat so quickly that they could not have possible gone to the bathroom. There was a group of people having their own conversation the entire movie. And worst of all, the teen next to us kept checking her phone every five minutes. I don't know what she does for a living that she couldn't afford to miss something, but I know that I am on the clock 24x7, and I still managed to put my phone on vibrate and not check it the entire time.

I think I am going to take all of the money I save by not going to the movies and invest in a recliner for the living room. With the surround sound and the 54 inch TV, I don't think I'll ever miss the theater again.

Too bad microwave popcorn just doesn't taste as good as the theater stuff.

SL

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Littlest Lessard - Prelude

You already know I am a big fan of the show, "The Biggest Loser". I watch it most seasons, assuming I don't have school on the day of the week that the show is on. Angie and I have talked about going on the couples editions, but we both know that we can't be away long enough to do it. I've wondered what it would be like, especially after this last season where many of the participants have lost 150+ pounds.

Combine my very real need to get into shape with a very strong sibling rivalry that my brother, sister and I share (even though we may not see each other or even talk to each other often), and you may have the motivation needed to finally get it done.

You see, my sister Michele, my brother Marc, and I all are big. So, one of us geniuses came up with the idea that we should have a weight loss competition in the spirit of The Biggest Loser. Here's the deal. Every week, starting on January 2nd, I will update our progress on the blog. The first one of us to lose 20% of our body weight will be the winner - or, the Littlest Lessard.

This is what we are playing for:
1) If I win, Marc and Michele have to fly me to New York and take me out to eat at one of my favorite restaurants - Gasho of Japan in Hauppauge.

2) If either one of them win, I have to fly them both down to Dallas for a dinner at Pappasitos.

That's it. We'll post pics, weight, weight loss, percentage lost, and probably talk a lot of smack in the comments. It won't matter, though. They'll lose.

My overwhelming desire not to lose to either of them will ensure that...because the trip and the dinner be damned, it's all about the bragging rights.

SL

Monday, December 24, 2007

What's On Your List?

As we wake tomorrow, most of us will rip into the presents that await us under the tree. It is a fun and exciting day, one in which witnessing the joy of the children has replaced my own personal wants for presents. However, even among all of the commercialism that is Christmastime, it is imperative we focus on what the season is all about.

Did you know that we exchange presents as a symbol for the ultimate present that God has given us in Jesus Christ? I didn't until tonight. It made me wonder about the entire nativity scene and the amazing God we have. How easy it would be to discuss the coming of a savior in the grandeur and splendor that was due to him. Who could have blamed God for wanting to spoil is child, who left the perfection of heaven to take human for among us? He could have been born in the finest hospital to the best doctors...instead, he was born among the livestock in a manger. Thinking about the entire life and ministry of Jesus, it just begs the question, "why?"

Why would our God, who created all things, place his only Son in squalor, to an unmarried virgin woman who would become the object of doubt by her betrothed and gossip to her town? Why would our God send his Son, His PERFECT SINLESS Son, to Earth to take on our sin and to die like the worst criminal of His time?

The answer is as easy to understand as it is to accept: Because He loves us, and because it is the only way He could bring us to Him. Had He done it any other way, the story would have lost something and perhaps the focus would have been moved away from His grace and love for us to something else. It is just amazing that He loves us so much. One of my favorite songs has the line, "You know the depths of my heart, yet You love me just the same". Meditate on that. God knows the ugliest, most depraved depths of our hearts, and loves us anyway. That is awesome to think about.

Whether you get what was on your Christmas list, or not - remember, we've already been given the greatest gift of all.

Merry Christmas.

Luke 2:1-20
The Birth of Jesus 1In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3And everyone went to his own town to register.
4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
The Shepherds and the Angels 8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ[
a] the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.


SL

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Meet Mr. Higgins

Ok - so we don't always make the wisest decisions. Things are going along just fine, so what do we do? We upset the applecart. It looks like Tipsy has accepted Mr. Higgins enough for us to keep him (see "Picture of the Week" at right and Angie's blog). The kids are estatic, Angie is pleased, I'm not so much, and Tipsy seems a little pissed. You can't really blame her, but at the same time it's her fault.

Angie has really wanted a smaller dog that would play with the kids. We'll she's found one. Higgins has a really sweet personality and, at a year old, really loves to play. Tipsy has never played with the kids - she tolerates me and Angie, but you can tell, she isn't a lover of children.

Tipsy and Higgins sniffed and did the doggie greeting out on the porch. No issues. Tipsy is somewhat submissive and so is Higgins. It's been her house, but Higgins has her in the energy department. Tipsy has bared her teeth at Higgins a couple of times - she is defensive about her food and her kennel. She'll nip at Higgins before things are settled, I'm sure, but that just might be the end of the question as to who is in charge.

The truth be told, Higgins is VERY sweet and playful. He has a very nice personality. I'm just not too keen on walking a dog again (we let Tipsy out in our unfenced backyard, she always comes back). Higgins won't, so he needs a walk on a leash. Ultimately, as things get settled, I think he'll work out.

At least until the kids get bored and I get stuck with the responsibility.

SL

Monday, December 17, 2007

It's Called Christmas...

I love this anti-Political Correctness stuff. The only danger is that when we don't care about HOW we give the message, we could be turning off those TO the message - and that would be wrong. We need to deliver it in a way that gives the best chance to be heard.


SL

Integrity of the Bullcrap

If you visit my blog regularly, you know that I am an avid baseball fan. I love the game. I love playing the game, I love watching the game on TV, I love watching the game in person. I've often said that there are few things on earth more pleasant than sitting at the ball park on a warm afternoon, watching a good game, eating a dirty water dog and drinking a $7.00 beer. What I really love about the game are the intricacies that happen thousands of times a game.
What I hate are the people involved with the game. All you have to do is look at Alex Rodriguez opting out of a $25M a year contract to get $27M a year. Now, he has since said that he is embarrassed by his behavior and that he's made a significant mistake - but I don't think he's giving the money back either.

Unless you've been living under a rock, than you are aware that the Mitchell Report was released last week. I've downloaded it, and have read some of it (it's over 400 pages). Additionally, I've listed to the several hours of press conferences from former Senator George Mitchell, the report author; Bud Selig, the Commissioner of baseball; and Donald Fehr, the President of the MLBPA (players union). My reaction, what a bunch of jerks.

The main issue of the report is that the players, baseball, the media, etc. are all complicit in the Steroid/Performance Enhancing Drug problem AND that the problem was widespread. My problem to this is that it doesn't tell us anything we don't know. Baseball has spent an estimated $60M on this report, and this is the result??? What a joke.

Then you have baseball, represented by Bud Selig. His reaction to the report is not personal ownership, but how this report is a step towards maintaining the "integrity of the game". My issue here is that baseball didn't seem to care about the integrity of the game when attendance was down in the 90's and everyone was talking about the ball being "juiced". I remember the conversations we had...more home runs were being hit because expansion diluted the quality of pitching and because manufacturing methods for the balls had changed (the ball was juiced). It seems, in retrospect, that the ball wasn't juiced, the players were. However, the result of this offensive outburst was fans and interest returning to the game that had been decimated by yet another work stoppage and players strike. The highlight of this interest was the Mark McGuire/Sammy Sosa chase of 61 home runs record. What a sham.

Then you have the players themselves (represented by the greasiest human being on the planet, Donald Fehr). His complaint in the report was that the union didn't have an opportunity to review the report prior to release. What he doesn't tell you is that the ONLY player who actually responded to a request for interview for the report was Jason Giambi, and the reason he did it was because he was being threatened with suspension if he didn't. It seems like Fehr was trying to position the players for the next collection bargaining session. What an ass.

Ultimately, I still love the game - I just hate the players even more. Imagine getting paid millions to play a game that I've paid a lot of money to play, myself. They should be thankful for the opportunity. However, it's those millions that help convince someone to cheat. I can almost understand a player cheating (taking Steroids) to make those millions. It's in that context that baseball's history needs to be taking into account. As long as there is winning and losing, there is cheating. Whether a spitball, corked bat, stolen signs, or a hypodermic full of testosterone, people will try to get an advantage.

Bob Costas has recently put it best...he stated that the record book should contain the provision stating that baseball records are very much continuous, but that they still need to be put into historical context; whether due to segregation, day/night games, expansion, or performance enhancement drugs, the game has always been changing and the records of the game need to be reviewed in light of these changes.

I'll keep rooting for the Mets, and keep looking for those players that exhibit true sportsmanship. Fortunately, there are still a few players out there.

SL

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Snowstorm

I just got in from tooling around in my Cadillac SRX in the snow. I'd think I was dreaming if it weren't for the fact that my hands are freezing. I'm awake - my car is a rental and I'm working in Utah.

It's snowing in the valley here in Salt Lake City, and it is absolutely beautiful. It started this afternoon and is still going. I drove home in it, but the roads were fine. Something about how people that get a lot of snow know how to live in a lot of snow. Apparently, the valley here has gotten about three feet over the last week. The mountains have received more.

And that's why license plates in Utah have the slogan, "Greatest Snow on Earth". It's a dry powder that has very little moisture. Makes for horrible snowballs, but GREAT skiing. If you haven't skied Utah snow, than you haven't skied.

It's been a perfect day to get me in the holiday spirit because dreaming of a white Christmas in Dallas is just too much to ask.

SL

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Blog Bytes

Lots going on and haven't updated in a while, so I'll use the trusty fallback - blog bytes...

1) Travel - I am soon to embark on week 3 of 4 for travel. I spent two weeks ago in Raleigh. Last week I was in silicon valley. This week is Salt Lake City, UT (can you say cold?). Next week I am in Orlando, FL (should be warmer). Work is very busy as we are in the midst of our vendor launch, but things are going very well.

2) Holidays - I have not been in the holiday spirit too much, probably because we have no money for it. We're trying to focus on what's important and church has been a blessing in that area. We had our annual holiday music service this last week, and the focus was on our work in Africa. The church hosted orphans from Worldhelp's International Children's Choir and they performed as part of the service. Really hit home about what Christmas really means.

3) Givedifferent and World Vision - if you are looking to also make a difference, check out GiveDifferent and WorldVision. GiveDifferent is our church's fundraising mechanism. The $60K we raise will go to digging wells and buying goats. WorldVision is a Christian charity that or church is partnered with to sponsor needy children. Our church has sponsored every child in the town of Katito, Kenya (over 500 children). Shameless plug: our small church is sponsoring more children in Africa than any other church in Texas and several other states in the south.

4) Kids - kids are doing well. Now seems to be a slow time, as there are no sports seasons going on. I think basketball starts soon, so the respite will be short-lived. Cassie is busy with scouts and has taken to school like a fish to water. She goes to school all day and then comes home and plays school. She becomes "Mrs. Blue" and is a real taskmaster. Marissa has acclimated to junior high school very well and is getting good grades. Dylan is getting very involved with the youth worship band at church (playing drums). Justin continues to do his thing at Pizza Hut and at community college. He awaits his Assistant Manager promotion.

5) Angie - Angie is doing well, even if she doesn't get to spend enough time with me. She is very busy with the Women's Events (WE) team at church and is busy help plan women's brunches and retreats. She completed her first semester at community college, taking a design class. She is very much thinking about returning to school to get a degree/certificate in Interior Design.

6) School - right now I am between semesters (the reason I am traveling so much). I got four A's this semester (three A's and an A+) and currently hold a 3.78 GPA. I've reconciled that my grades may suffer due to my travels, but that just didn't happen this semester. The fact is that I had four easy classes. The next two semesters won't be so easy, but I can finally start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I will complete 5 classes this semester (equivalent to full-time) and should only have a couple of more years left.

SL

Monday, December 03, 2007

Downsizing

Angie and I have made a monumental decision. We are downsizing this year.

No, we aren't selling the house. We've gotten a smaller Christmas tree instead. Many of you understand that this is a monumental decision for me - and one that I wasn't convinced was the right decision - until last night.

For all but the first Christmases in the house, we've had a beautiful 12 foot tree up in the front room. Because we have an open ceiling in that room, the big tree always looked so beautiful. The problem with the big tree is that it is soooo big. I was stored in TWO large Christmas tree boxes and came in 5 parts. The real problem, though, was that it took at least a week for Angie and I to put it up. With 6000 tips to straighten it just took FOREVER. And, because it was so big and unwieldy, it caused considerable stress and the associated conflict when it was time to get it going.

Unfortunately, when it was up - it was beautiful. It had over 2000 lights and it was a really stunning tree that everyone commented on and one in which I took immense pride.

That pride is all gone as I look at our seven and a half footer. The good news - Angie and I put it up in less than two hours. Also, we can decorate it without a ladder. Most importantly, we bonded as we put it up. Both of us remember all the fighting that the other tree caused, and when we didn't fight with this one, we were greatful for it. The bad news - it looks pathetic.

Cassie saw it this morning and she said it looked great. If the other kids feel the same way, I'll have to let go of my pride. Besides, we are giving out big one to the church. At least I'll be able to enjoy it there.

SL

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Give Different Dot Org

Can you remember what you got for Christmas last year? I can't. I know it probably had to do with hunting, and probably some DVD's, but I cannot remember what the kids got me, what Angie got me, and what I got from family back in NY.

Come to think of it, I bet the kids couldn't remember, either. I think we got Dylan his drum set, but I could be wrong. We have video of it if I really must know.

Imagine giving a gift that REALLY means something. Imagine remembering what you gave because your gift changed lives - possibly SAVED lives.

Think about giving differently this year. We are. If you get a shirt and a card, you'll know why.

To see a local Dallas newscast about giving differently, click here.

SL

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Watch TV and Feel the Burn

For the next four weeks I will be spending a significant amount of time traveling for work. This week has me in Raleigh for the week, and next week I will be in San Jose. The week after that in Salt Lake and the week after in Orlando.

Typically, when I travel I spend a great deal of time in the office, go out to dinner and then work more in the hotel room. Ultimately, even though I am working a great deal I have some free time. I made a decision that when I have free time, I am going to spend some time in the fitness centers in each of the hotels.

I got back from dinner tonight but was not very motivated. My back hurts a bit and I have some work to finish up on. I made up my mind that I was going to work out tomorrow morning, so I booted up the laptop and scanned the channels as Windows loaded.

I ended up finding the beginning of The Biggest Loser on NBC. Angie and I love watching the show (See a previous post about the show) and I am always very motivated by it. Tonight's episode was an even greater motivation. They met with a doctor on the show that explained all of the ancillary benefits to their weight loss. One lost 100 points to his cholesterol. One restored their blood sugar to normal levels. One lost 76 lbs of fat, but she only has lost 65 pounds. How can that be? She's gained 11 lbs of muscle. Another lost three water cooler sized vats of fat. One lowered his BP by 50 points. The stories continue. It has been amazing. I am so moved by their gains (losses), that I'm putting on my socks and sneakers.

As soon as the show is over, I'm going to work out. I want to be one of those success stories.

SL

Monday, November 26, 2007

Duckless in Dallas

Why would anyone in their right mind get up at 1:30 in the morning?

The answer is to ensure that you get a great spot on the Brazos River for some duck hunting. Dylan, his dad, and I went duck hunting this Saturday. I was very much looking forward to it as their spot near the dam on the Brazos has always brought them good success. I hadn't been there before and didn't bag a duck last season, so I was looking forward to getting my first.

The hunting spot is more than 2 hours away, so you gotta get up early in the morning to get there, get to your spot (before anyone else), set up your decoys and wait for sun up.

We got to the river a little past 4:30am, and got to our spot around 5. By the time everything was set we had about an hour's wait until lawful shooting could begin. It was cloudy, cold and drizzling, but really beautiful. As the sun came up, you could see the hills, trees, water, etc. It was just really beautiful, and nothing what I expected. I'm not used to hills in Texas....it is pretty flat, but there were amazing rock formations and forest covered hills where ever I looked. If it weren't raining and cloudy, it would have been perfect.

It would have been perfect even with the rain if the ducks were flying, but we didn't see a one. We sat for several hours as it got colder (37 degrees on a bank clock as we drove home), tried to call some in, but we never did see one.

I can't wait to go back, though. Even if the hunting is lousy, the surroundings were just awesome.

SL

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

A little Thanksgiving fun courtesy of Dorsey Elementary school's kindergarten classes.



SL

Monday, November 19, 2007

Strange Visitor

I don't understand everything that he says. We agree on just about nothing. His point of view is completely foreign to my own. The kids think he's the coolest thing since sliced bread. I love him like a son and brother at the same time.

He's my nephew, Paul, who stopped by and visited with us for a couple of days as he was working in Dallas. Paul is 25 and has had an awesome opportunity traveling the east coast and the south while promoting Rockstar Games' "Table Tennis" for the Nintendo Wii. Basically, he's been going to college campuses and sporting events setting up flat screens and projectors to allow people to try out the game. It's a perfect job for Paul as he is one of the most charming, social and gregarious personalities that I've ever met.

He worked the Stars game, the Mavs game AND the Cowboys game this week, so he's definitely been around. When he wasn't working he was visiting with us. In fact, when he arrived on Friday, Cassie waited up till midnight (she fell asleep about 10 minutes before he arrived, but then stayed up with us until 2:00am). We played Wii, goofed around and ate. On Saturday morning, he wanted to play with the guns so Dylan, Paul and I went to the range and shot the handgun and the rifle. We thought Paul was a natural as we couldn't see his hits on the target. Upon closer inspection we discovered that he was missing it entirely. He improved quickly and was very pleased. He claims that the scope on the rifle is not properly sighted-in. He's wrong. I went off to school, while he visited with Cassie and Angie for a little longer.

Paul came back on Sunday evening. We gave him a home cooked meal (he took the leftovers for the road), visited some more, and I watched as he bounced with Cassie on the trampoline.

He left this morning for Indiana, where he'll return the van and catch a flight back to New York for Thanksgiving. I hope the trip gave him a greater appreciation for this great country and for his uncle in Texas.

It was great to see him - even if I don't understand him.

SL

Friday, November 16, 2007

Little Drummer Boy

This week, a rock star was born. Pa-rum-pum-pum-pummm.

On Wednesday night Dylan played with the worship band at our church's middle school service called the Merge.

He's been practicing the songs for the last several days and he sounded great. The youth pastor had him try out several weeks ago and sent him a couple of songs in MP3 format. He listened to them and practiced them - all by ear. Dylan has never had a formal lesson on the drums, and has picked up how to play from Justin, who seems to be able to play any musical instrument he tries. We bought him a real drum set last year after he destroyed the not quite real drum set the year before.

So, a rock star is born, if he can get his grades up. We told Dylan that we would pay for lessons if he got his grades to all A's and B's. If being on stage and being a big deal with the girls doesn't motivate him to do it - nothing will.

Pa-rum-pum-pum....pummm.

SL

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Out of Commission - Again

As I write this entry this morning, I should have been at 45,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean returning from several days work in Amsterdam. As you can see, I am not. Instead, I am sitting at my desk in my home office with a sore back. As I prepared for the first part of my journey (day trips out the San Jose, CA and then Salt Lake City, UT) I threw out my back - AGAIN. It is amazing how my back goes out - I wasn't doing anything - I just moved from one keyboard on my desk to another. I rotated my body perhaps 60 degrees and WHAM! I felt a twinge on the right side of my lower back. I knew instantly that it wasn't good, even if it didn't hurt too much. I took two Advil and went right to bed.

I had a very early flight the next morning, so I had set my alarm to 3:30AM giving me only about 5 hours of sleep. When the alarm went off I could hardly get out of bed. I was mobile, but barely, and I knew that my domestic travels were done. I went back to bed for a couple of hours and then called travel to cancel my itinerary. I had three and a half days until my flight to London, so I hoped for the best.

I worked not from my home office last week, but from my living room couch. It was the only place I could sit at for long periods, so with a TV tray on my lap and wireless network connectivity to the Internet, I worked as normal. Angie took care of me while I did so.

Saturday came and I thought I could manage the trip, but the plane ride really scared me. Nine hours to London in coach sounds long enough, but add the prospect of back pain, or worse - spasms, and I was terrified. I spoke to my boss and we decided it was best to cancel.

So, I've been up in my office this week but have some to the conclusion that I need to replace my chair with something a little more "quality". I'll reschedule these trips for December and January, so I will have lots to talk about. I have been to Amsterdam many times, but not within the last several years, so it will be a homecoming of sorts.

You know I'll blog about it.

SL

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Masked Troop

I overheard Angie talking to the moms of the girls in my troop. She was saying that I am very organized and because of this the troop will always be organized. The funny thing is that I agree with her right up to the point when the girls start to arrive. Then - all bets are off.

Actually, we had a GREAT second Girl Scout troop meeting last night - if I don't say so myself. This was Angie's first as she had an appointment for our meeting two weeks ago and she said that it went really well. I think the girls had fun.

The girls came in and worked on their name plates...we used them for our Kaper chart, which shows which jobs that each girl will do for the meeting. When we completed our pre-activity, we opened our meeting in the friendship circle. We worked on the Girl Scout sign, the quiet sign, the Girl Scout handshake, the Promise, the "Make New Friends" song, and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Once the circle was done, we went back to the table to do our activity. We made Harlequin masks. I had previously cut out the mask shape and eyes, so the girls decorated with feathers, paint, sparkles, jewels, etc. They did a great job with Angie's help (I did some paperwork with the moms while Angie took over). By the way, the idea to do masks was not mine. I talk to Cassie's kindergarten teacher every week and try to get ideas of things to do. During the activity, some of the girls tested on the Girl Scout Promise. Two girls succeeded (including Cassie) and one was very close - I felt so bad that I couldn't give her credit as she left some of it out. Angie was great, though. She complimented the girl and made her feel really good for trying. The girls that memorized the Promise get their Promise Center patch for their uniform.

After we cleaned up, we did snacks. After snacks, we closed our meeting in our friendship circle and I gave the girls their awards (the girls earned their first activity patch for attending their first troop meeting).

We'll have another meeting in two weeks and will be working on our invitations to their pinning ceremony.

SL

Monday, November 05, 2007

Cultural Differences

This morning, Angie and I attended the funeral service for our next door neighbor, Billy Tyler, who passed away after a fight with cancer. His step-daughter is a friend of Marissa's, so we interacted with the family often. I didn't know Billy real well, but knew that he was the hardest worker I have ever known. He was out working in his yard all of the time, even after his diagnosis. You knew he was getting seriously ill when that stopped. He still has the greenest lawn and the most perfect landscaping on the block.

I'd like to think that I don't have racist tendencies and that I judge people based on what they do (mostly - I've blogged in the past about my judgement of those based on appearance, but appearance to me does not include race). We've known Billy and his family since they moved in about three years ago and liked them. It didn't, and doesn't matter, to Angie and I that they are an African-American family. In fact, the only reason I mention that is because I'd like to focus on the cultural differences that I observed at the service - difference that find there source in racial differences.

Billy's service was at the Mt Hebron Missionary Baptist Church in Rowlett. Angie and I were probably 2 of 10 white people there. There were seven pastors officiating the service, some from Billy's hometown in Tennessee and some from Dallas and Rowlett. Billy's direction to them was to have a "normal church service" which apparently includes a sermon, singing and lots of praise for Jesus. Much of it coming in the form of audience feedback as, "Amen", "Hallelujah", and "That's Right!". It was wonderful, if not a little strange for us. People who were speaking would spontaneously break out in song and then spontaneously start talking again. Like the sit/stand and response routine of a Catholic mass, unless you knew what to do and when, you just kind of sat there and took it all in. One thing we noticed is that the singing was awesome. Someone from Billy's family sang an a capella version of Amazing Grace that was...well, amazing. The sermon was like something you would see on TV or in the movies - of a very animated black pastor speaking his mind and explaining scripture.

Angie and I have been pondering the culteral differences, but are also pleased by several of the many things we have in common. One - love of family. Clearly, Billy loved his and they loved him. Second, the love and comfort that God provides for us through Jesus. We may celebrate that differently, but the message is the same.

Rest in peace, Billy.

Billy Lee Tyler
1954 - 2007

SL

Opinion Piece VI

Who Killed Tom Hanks, Mel Gibson, Ted Danson and Alexandra Paul?
(a review of “Who Killed the Electric Car?” by Scott Lessard)


Occam’s Razor states that all things being equal, the simplest solution to a problem is typically the correct one. In my experience, this idea tends to be correct more often than not. This explains why I am not a huge fan of conspiracy theories. To me, most “conspiritists” are paranoid, misguided, or just plain insane. That is not to say that there isn’t something going on behind the scenes every now and again, but I don’t believe the Federal government was behind 9/11, that NASA staged the moon missions, or that the Holy Grail is the surviving bloodline of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdelene. The complexity of these events being conspiracies are just so incredible, the easiest and more logical answer is that these conspiracy theories are all false. The same is with the supposition placed by the makers of “Who Killed the Electric Car?” that the automakers, the oil companies, and government conspired to kill an incredible technological advancement and kept us dependent on foreign oil far beyond what that dependency should be.

In fact, I am more inclined to believe Dan Neil when he states in the movie that, “GM would sell you a car that ran on pig shit if it would sell.” Why? Because GM is a large corporation out to sell cars and make money. That’s the simple fact of our market society – the market has a demand for a product. If there is demand, but not enough product, the price goes up. Producers, seeing the price rise, realize they could make money if they had more product, step up production. This increased supply lowers the price so more people want to buy the product. The cycle repeats until people no longer want the product. This didn’t happen in the case of the electronic car (named the EV1). We have to ask ourselves why…The movie clearly states that this was because GM wouldn’t create enough of them and that they did this because they were in collusion with the oil makers, who are the ones that really had a great deal to lose. To distill it down, it was a conspiracy – that big corporations pressured the government to eliminate stringent requirements that the auto industry sell more alternative vehicles, thus removing the requirement for them to make more vehicles.

My question – and one that the movie does not address – is why would the auto industry do that? Why would they care if they are selling electronic cars or gasoline-powered cars, or both? I can’t imagine any reason for this. They want to make profit and can do so by meeting the needs of the consumer. If the consumer really wanted a car that went only 60 miles between charges they would have bought it. If the consumer really wanted a car with questionable battery technology, they would have bought it. If the customer really wanted to pay more for these problems, they would have bought it. The problem is that GM wants to sell hundreds of thousands of automobiles, not tens of thousands – the consumer demand just wasn’t there. If it had been, at the scope at which the marginal benefit of selling this car was greater than the marginal cost of building it, GM would have built them. This HAS to be the case. General Motors is a public company with many thousands of owners in the form of shareholders. To not take advantage of a new and profitable product would have been career suicide for the board and for its management. However, this never occurred, even with all of the publicity and the celebrity hype surrounding the car. This isn’t to say that GM couldn’t have marketed the car better, or provided better technology into the vehicle – they probably could have. What is evident, however, is that they had one real reason not to put the car into mass production – it wouldn’t have been profitable to a company whose number one responsibility is to grow value for the owners.

I find it interesting that demand wasn’t created by the fact that Ed Begley Jr. had one or that Tom Hanks said he was “saving America” by driving one. Further proof that the EV1 was either not ready for sale or that the American consumer was not ready to purchase.
SL

Thursday, November 01, 2007

I'm No Hallow-weenie!

Last night the kids scored some mega-candy. I've been picking at it since. Angie, Cassie (cheerleader) and I (hunter) trick or treated with Cassie's friend Grant (spiderman) yesterday. We went about halfway through the neighborhood up one side and down the other. Unfortunately, we ran out of time (Cassie's bed time is 8:00PM) so we had to quit and inspect her candy. Contrary to popular belief, I do not keep all the pieces that I like.

Dylan (70's cool dude) stayed back to hand out candy until the lure of free sugar got to him and he went out with Marissa (90's cool dude) and some friends. They went around the entire neighborhood and scored a ton of candy. At that point Angie stayed back and handed out tootsie rolls, Sweet Tarts, etc. When the kids got back, I inspected their candy, as well. I ended up throwing out a lot this year - most of it opened or looking like it had been opened.

After Cassie went to bed, we popped in Poltergeist. It was great to see a fun movie from years ago - even if it scared the wits out of Marissa. She slept on the couch last night.

It's cool that our neighborhood makes a big deal about the night for the kids. Several houses are very decorated, and a couple are even like haunted houses. The kids love it and it's good, clean fun. Here are some pictures of that fun...




SL

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Opinion Piece V

Below is another mediation essay - one of the three major assignments in my writing course.

Human Genetics Research – Cautious Approach Needed
(Mediation between Francis Fukuyama and Gregory Stock)

… After days and nights of incredible labour and fatigue, I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life; nay, more I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter.…I doubted at first whether I should attempt the creation of a being like myself, or one of simpler organization; but my imagination was too much exalted by my first success to permit me to doubt of my ability to give life to an animal as complex and wonderful as man.… No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onwards, like a hurricane, in the first enthusiasm of success.
- M. Shelly, “Frankenstein”


I can imagine a scientist today feeling the same way at his discovery…an enthusiasm at being the first to accomplish a task or discovering a truth about the environment that surrounds us. Add to this possible event that the discovery is within the field of genetics however, and the picture becomes a bit more sinister. It is inevitable that gene therapy, altered genes in foods, human cloning and a myriad of other research areas that fall under genetics conjure up images of Frankenstein’s monster and mad scientists. This is a future that Francis Fukuyama, a professor at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, portrays in his essay, “In Defense of Nature, Human and Non-Human”

His argument is compelling and deals with a common sense approach that calls for the strictest of regulation overseeing genetic research. His premise is that the human genome (and the genetic make-up of higher animals) is too complex for effective gene therapies to ever be developed and that altering these genetic structures that are not fully understood could have dire consequences. He continues to argue that when it comes to complex systems, human beings have a long history of suffering negative consequences when we attempt to alter an ecosystem in which our understanding is lacking. He argues,

If there is one thing that the environmental movement has taught us in the past couple of generations, it is that nature is a complex whole. The different parts of an ecosystem are mutually interdependent in ways that we often fail to understand; human efforts to manipulate certain parts of it will produce a host of unintended consequences that will come back to haunt us. (2)

He continues his argument by sharing statistics that there are fewer genes than originally thought and because of this fact, many human capabilities or behaviors must be attributed to gene interactions, not specific genes. (4) It is because of this fact, that we cannot understand the effects of altering a gene. Yes, we may obtain the positive result that we expected by changing a single gene, but it is likely that we will also suffer the unintended and unknown effects of changing that gene, as well. He states, “the victim of a failed experiment…a human child whose parents, seeking to give her greater intelligence, will saddle her with a greater propensity for cancer, of prolonged debility in old age, or some other completely unexpected side effect that may emerge only after the experimenters have passed from the scene.” (5)

Fukuyama then proceeds to argue that it is our very human nature that is at stake. It is our genes that have given us unique abilities and that we cannot begin to understand the make-up of this genetic ecosystem. Furthermore, he argues that because it is our human genetic make-up that makes us uniquely “human” and that this needs to be protected – to protect our very essence. He proposes, “A biotechnology that seeks to manipulate human nature not only risks unforeseen consequences, but can undermine the very basis of equal democratic rights as well.” (7)

Fukuyama finishes his essay by calling on the strictest of governmental oversight over biotechnology. He uses European countries as examples of the types of agencies and regulation that the United States to create. He goes so far as to advocate the creation of international legislation by the United Nations. (9)

On the extreme opposite side of this argument is Gregory Stock, director of the Program on Medicine, Technology, and Society at the University of California at Los Angeles. He argues that biotechnologies will advance regardless of the legislation in place to control and that legislation will likely hinder our progress in “improving the future health and well-being of our descendents.” (1) He continues to argue that genetic manipulation is already occurring in animals and that improved approaches will be safe and have the potential for enormous gains in medicine and ultimately in the human condition. He envisions improvements in avoiding cancer, in anti-aging therapies, and in any improvements that are “best for our children”. (12)

Stock continues, stating that current limits on research and cloning are “premature, futile, extremely misguided, and just plain wrong” (19) in that “[a ban] would not significantly delay the arrival of reproductive cloning, which in my view is almost certain to occur within this decade somewhere in the world.” (19) Furthermore, illogical bans have eroded the leadership position of the United States in biotechnology and has delayed the discoveries of therapies that could have improved the human condition. Stock proposes that the fears of Frankenstein’s monster are caused by the “strangeness” (21) of the possibilities and that this fear is a poor reason for restrictive legislation.

Finally, in direct opposition to Fukuyama, Stock proposes that advances in genetic research will be “democratizing” (24) because we will be able to use these advancements to the benefit of the masses – namely, they will level the playing field. He argues that it will be much easier to raise the IQ of a person with a 70 to a 100, than it will be to raise the IQ of someone from 150 to 160. (24) He continues to rebut against Fukuyama in arguing that we would not lose our humanity, rather we would maintain it, even if what that meant changes. He uses the example of life spans doubling…this wouldn’t make us less human, rather it would change what it meant to be human, something that occurs with regularity today. (27)

Although both Stock and Fukuyama put forth compelling arguments, they both seem to miss the point. In their extreme positions, they have argued themselves into a corner which forces us to reject their hypotheses. I cannot back Fukuyama as he seems to deny the amazing advances that biotechnology could provide. Stock, on the other hand, must also be rejected, as he fails to acknowledge to awesome potential for mistakes, or worse, misuse from which biotechnology could suffer.

I completely agree that we could never fully understand the human genome and how multiple genes interact to create our personalities, abilities, etc. This, however, is not a good enough reason not to try. Yes, humanity has a long history of making a mess of those things we do not completely understand (look at the environment for a readymade example). However, Fukuyama seems to deny that there could be enormous benefits to biotechnology and that dire consequences of research in this area is not a given. Would Fukuyama deny that practical applications of gene altering in agriculture have not produced crops that are better capable of feeding the masses? His argument would say that even this technology is so potentially damaging that we should abandon it. Although the possibility of damaging the food chain seems remote, Fukuyama would seem to imply that because the possibility exists, we should abandon the research. What about genes that cause cancer? Should be not try to alter them and make them benign? This seems to be of too great a potential benefit to humanity to abandon. Even with my objections to his argument, I do agree that we should carefully legislate controls into what we can do. In contrast to Stocks argument, it is obvious given the enormous propensity to cause suffering; the government must create the appropriate controls.

Stock’s argument fares no better. Does he truly believe that we should try to control something that we cannot succeed in controlling? This argument would be similar to the argument that speed limits should be abolished because no one heeds them anyway. His argument is that if the United States restricts biotechnology, then other countries will allow it and take leadership positions. Again, he misses the point. Would he argue that we shouldn’t restrict something we know is wrong because it is allowed somewhere else? I would postulate that the United States should take a leadership position in the forming of international rules that clearly define the parameters in which research and application can be done. Lastly, his argument that current restrictions may have delayed the discovery of treatments for some of humanities worst maladies. Again, however, I question his logic. Should we proceed with medical tests on convicts or invalids? According to an extension of Stock’s argument, it would be acceptable to do so if the benefits to doing so are reached. Again, a preposterous statement, and one that I believe Stock would be forced to deny.

Clearly, Fukuyama and Stock paint themselves into a corner in which their arguments have no defensible position. It is because of this, that I believe it is fairly obvious that a middle of the road position in required. The benefits of gene therapies and treatment advancement are just too great…even though the possible abuses and consequences are great, as well. But this fact makes some intuitive sense – the greater the risks, the greater the rewards. It is for this very reason that very close monitoring through peer-review, governmental oversight, and international standards are required. The United States could, in fact should, take a leadership position in helping form international standards that closely governs biotechnology research. Additionally, ethics panels should be created that help frame ongoing oversight requirements and sanctions. These panels should include leading scientists, philosophers, legislators and futurists. By engaging the international community, we can hope to gain consensus as to what the parameters are, as well as develop strong international condemnation for those that do not participate within these parameters. The essence of the human race is at stake and clearly calls for all of humanity’s involvement.

Works Cited
Fukuyama, Francis. “In Defense of Nature, Human and Non-Human.” World Watch July-August 2002. Rpt. in The Aims of Argument. Timothy W. Crusius and Carolyn E. Channell. McGraw Hill, 2006. 668-670.
Stock, Gregory. “Choosing Our Genes.” The Futurist. July-August 2002. Rpt. in The Aims of Argument. Timothy W. Crusius and Carolyn E. Channell. McGraw Hill, 2006. 672-677.
SL

Monday, October 29, 2007

We Made It

We joined Angie last night for the closing ceremonies for the 3-day walk that her and her friends just completed. It was very inspiring as over 2400 women completed the walk. In fact, the organization has raised almost $1B for breast cancer research since it has started. Angie's team all completed the walk, and have raised over $22K so far. Angie was understandably very proud of her accomplishment, and she should be. She walked more than 53 miles over the three days. Although she hasn't walked 53 steps today, she is actually doing pretty well - taking full advantage of her jet tub, her foot massager and her hubby. No worries there - she deserves it.

As for me...we had a great weekend with the kids. The highlight - playing mousetrap and trouble on the kitchen table on Saturday afternoon. Just shows you that spending time with the kids can be simple, cheap AND fun. We'll all do it again soon - without the monster walk.

SL

Friday, October 26, 2007

Three Days - Can I Make It?

Angie begun her 3-Day Walk for Cancer Research today. In fact, I just got off the phone with her. They are at their pit stop (about halfway point for the day) and she has walked over 8 miles already today. She's doing well, but was appreciative of the couple of team members who are walking slow purposefully to stay with her.

I think I'd rather be walking 60 miles than doing her job this weekend. I am just not wired to sit in line picking up kids from school. Don't get me wrong, I love when I have to kids to myself. We spend some real quality time together that I don't always get to have with them and we do things that I don't do with the regularly. In fact, even though my day started at 4:30 today when Angie got up, my day REALLY starts at 2:00 after my last conference call today.

After I hang up from that call, I go to Cassie's school to volunteer in her classroom. I stuff the Friday folders and then help her teacher with the remaining class. At 3:00, Cassie gets out and we leave together. We will then get Marissa and Dylan at 3:50. We'll have Snack-Attack Friday, where we'll go somewhere and get a snack. The kids love that. Then Marissa has pictures and a Volleyball game, and then she's off to a Halloween party. Me, Dylan and Cassie will hangout until Marissa gets home at 10:30. We'll end our day with popcorn and a movie.

Saturday will be errands, seeing mom and a spectator section of her walk, a birthday party (hopefully) and a ball game. We'll end our day the same way - a movie and snacks.

Sunday - church, lunch, cleaning and picking up mom.

I can't wait till she's home - already

SL

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bored Sick

I was in Raleigh yesterday for an important operational review. In fact, since my interviews back in January, I've had two very important meetings with my boss and his boss (among others). The first was my recommendation for vendor selection (one of the reasons I was hired). The second (yesterday) was to review how that vendor has been doing.

As before every important meeting, I get nervous. Besides preparation, the other way I get ready for these meetings is to pray - I pray to God to help me say the right things and to represent Him properly. I also ask those close to me to pray for the same. So, when I called Angie before the meeting to ask her to pray for me, she informed me that Cassie was sick with a cold and wasn't going to school today (her first missed day). I know how well she is doing in school, so I wasn't overly concerned.

We had our meeting, which went very long due to the great discussion (yes, it went very well) and at my first opportunity I called home to inform Angie. When I got no answer, I became a little concerned - perhaps Cassie got worse and they went to the doctor. I couldn't imagine them doing anything else if Cassie was ill. I tried Angie on her cell phone.

When she answered, I could tell she was out. I asked where, and she informed me she was picking up some items for her three day walk this weekend. I asked how Cassie was, and she informed me that she was at school....

"At school", I inquired.

"Yes, at school. She was bored and asked me to take her to school. She went about 9:30AM."

I couldn't believe my ears. All of the kids know that if they stay home from school, the have to stay in bed or on the couch and that they cannot do anything else for the day. I guess watching Disney Channel all day was worse than sitting in class, so off to school she went.

Does anyone else find that amazing?

SL

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

D-Troop Redux

Our First Meeting

Last night we had our first meeting of Daisy Girl Scout Troop 8459. The girls arrived and we decorated name tags. Cassie had made me one earlier in the day, so the girls worked on theirs, coloring and drawing pictures on index cards that had their name printed on front and the promise on the back. We laminated them, and put some yarn on them (as a lanyard) and we were good to go. The room was real quiet.

The next activity was out meeting opening. We practiced the Girl Scout Promise and the Girl Scout Sign in our friendship circle. I introduced the girls to scouting, the circle and what we would be working on. I introduced the girls to the quiet sign, but it was unnecessary as the girls still haven't spoken.

Next, the girls traced each other on large craft paper and then finished their self portraits by adding eyes, hair, noses and mouths, and whatever else they wanted. The girls started to open up a little bit.

We then had snack - yummy rice krispy treats and punch. The girls helped me clean up and then we ended the meeting with a friendship circle. It was quiet, but the girls were eating.

We had 6 girls participate and all seemed to have a great time. It was fun, and we are looking forward to our next meeting in a couple of weeks. I just hope the girls make some noise next time. I want to have to use my quiet sign.

SL

Monday, October 22, 2007

Separated At Birth...

...Peter Frampton and my great Uncle Tony.


I should have known by the age of the crowd...I should have known by the fact that my sister was in love with him (in the 70's)...I should have known, but I didn't expect this. Peter Frampton (the guy with the crazy fro on his album cover) has gotten old. And I mean old. When he came out on stage at I was struck how much he reminded me of my uncle Tony. I made jokes about him not being able to play guitar because of arthritis, or that I was afraid he was going to stroke out on stage, or perhaps even break a hip. He even joked at one point that he and his bassist have been playing together since 1847.

Truth be told, the guy can rock. He is one amazing guitar player. When he covered Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun, I knew I liked this guy.

Angie had received tickets to see him at Billy Bob's (the World's Largest Honky Tonk) in Forth Worth. We made an evening of it and spent the night there, had a great Mexican food dinner at Mercado Juarez (perhaps the best Mexican we've ever had - better than the Goose, even) and enjoyed some time with each other - some much needed time as I've been in school for the last three weekends and she has her three day walk coming up.

Ultimately, we had a fantastic time at the concert. I think I'm going to have to bring her to more, because she leaned over to me during the show and said to me, "I want to go to more concerts!" I've been asking her to be more clear about what she wants, and she definitely did.

Anyone know the number for ticketmaster?

SL

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Garbage Sale

That's right...not GARAGE sale, but garbage sale.

It is amazing to see the constant flow of people stop at our driveway to rummage through our garbage. Angie is having a garage sale today and Saturday to get rid of some of our clutter, junk, not used items, etc. The proceeds are going to buy her some of her remaining equipment for the three day walk.

When I look at the stuff on the driveway, I see garbage. Old shoes, clothes, furniture, house items, and toys. I guess others see a deal. The first lady who stopped (she arrived at the house even before I had the signs up in the neighborhood) bought $35 worth of Angie's old clothes. A pile of maybe 30 pair of shoes is already half gone, and she's been out there less than an hour. It is amazing. I haven't seen anyone walk away empty handed.

This is on top of the garage sale that her 3-day team had several weeks ago and made more than $1000. I guess there is a market for other peoples garbage. If you are local, come on by...there is still a mirror, a bottle of bubbles or some coffee mugs still available. But you better hurry, another car just pulled up.

SL

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

D-Troop

Girl Scout Daisy Troop 8459 had our first official meeting last night, as parents of five of the girls met at our house for some information sharing. We have a total of 8 girls signed up, but two couldn't make it and I've been unable to reach one. We discussed the structure of the troop, service unit and council, as well as, the goals and probable activities that we can do during this next year.

I am very confident that we have the makings of a good troop. All of the parents were motivated and all were willing to help.

Our focus this year will be on:
1) The Girl Scout Promise and Girl Scout Law
2) Earning Daisy Petals
3) The Program Goals for Girl Scouts, and
4) HAVING FUN!

Cassie and one of the other girls played while we met - apparently Cassie told her that she is her new best friend...that was quick, but I hope it points to the fact that she is excited and will enjoy being a scout.

Too bad Daisies can't sell cookies. That's what I am going to enjoy.

SL

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Thank God For Friends

Response to April. See her comment to my last post and her post on her blog, Another Place to Think...

It's nice to know that I have good friends...friends that care about me to tell me when I'm doing good, and more importantly, when I'm not doing so good. April's post is an example of what I'm talking about.

The truth of the matter is that I have an eating problem...call it a disorder, call it weakness, call it whatever you want - just don't call me late to dinner!!! All kidding aside, I know that I shouldn't be eating certain foods and certain amounts of different foods, but in many instances, I just can't help it - and yes, I despise that within myself. I am such a control freak, and make efforts to control so much about my environment, that I see the inability to do this as an significant weakness - in myself and others.

I've blogged about my judgmental thoughts of others, and this area is no different. I project the despair I have onto others, and judge them for my sin...

Thinking about it, though - maybe being aware of these facts and keeping April's post in perspective are part of the battle. If I acknowledge my inability in this area (and allow others to have that same freedom), I would be defeating the judgment and would be on my way to recovery. I don't know, but in other areas of my life that the good Lord has provided healing, it's happened in a similar way.

It will be an interesting journey, one that I will post about often.

Thanks, April. As I learn to love my neighbors more, perhaps I'll learn a little more about loving myself.

SL

Monday, October 08, 2007

It's Monday, Where's The Update?

When I look back at previous entries, I see a trail of posts about getting in shape and quitting smoking. They are hard to read, mostly because they represent an area of my life which is just an incredibly difficult struggle. It's not all bad news (As of Oct 5, it's been five months since I smoked a cigarette), but when it comes to my weight it's been starts and stops. This time is no different - the busy-ness of life (and my own lack of discipline and laziness) seem to have gotten me off track again.

I haven't been to the gym in over a week, and my diet has died. As school has ramped, as work has gotten busier and as the kids have gotten involved in activities, it seems as though I just jump from one thing to the other, and taking care of myself is lost in the wake. It's hard to eat right when you have five minutes before you have to leave for something. It's hard to eat right when you spend all weekend in a fast-track class (I started a third class this semester that lasts three weeks as we meet on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for five hours per day). It's hard to get up to go work out when you are so tired to begin with.

I've felt good about the progress I made in the few short weeks, especially in the gym. I'm going to make an extra effort to continue that - even if it means that I go early in the morning and not with Angie at 8:15. Please pray for my success, and let me know if you've been successful in this area - and how you've done it.

SL

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Opinion Piece IV

The following is a mediation piece that I wrote for my writing course. A mediation is an essay that attempts to propose a compromise solution to two polar opposites. The difficult part of this type of writing assignment is that you may not actually agree with the position you are advocating.

American Imperialism…Extremes Don’t Work
(A mediation of Ivo H. Daalder’s and James M. Lindsay’s, “The Bush Revolution”)

Should I stay or should I go now? Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble. And if I stay it will be double.
So come on and let me know.
-The Clash

There have been two camps historically within the American foreign policy debate, those that believe the United States should look inwardly and not get involved in international affairs (“isolationists”) and those that believe that American hegemony is the only effective method of supporting our interests (“imperialists”). This debate has been going on nearly as long as there has been a United States, as George Washington was presented a difficult decision when France went to war with England a mere four years after the Constitution was signed (Daalder). Isolationism ruled American politics for many years until the end of the Spanish American war (Daalder) as it was believed that a new nation like the United States would be unable to defend itself (both militarily and culturally). Once it was proven that the US could defend herself, the imperialists took over. With Woodrow Wilson, American foreign policy began to justify getting involved internationally through a moral imperative (Daalder). In fact, when he declared war on Germany kicking off America’s involvement in World War I, he did so be claiming that the “world must be made safe for democracy”.

This imperialistic frame of thought took us through the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and the rest of the cold war. However, with the end of the cold war, and for all intensive purposes the defeat of the Soviet Union, the United States no longer had a great enemy. In fact, the U.S. no longer had any institution or world power in which could control its actions. Basically, the imperialists lost their controls and foreign policy took on a new spirit – that the United States had “freedom of action” (Daalder). The Bush Administration took full advantage of this arrangement. According to Daalder and Lindsay, this set up the Bush presidency for three claims to his foreign policy:

1) Constraints on actions were shed.
2) An unbound America should use its strength to change the status quo.
3) We should use our power to force regime change in rogue states.

The problem with uncontrolled power is that it has a tendency to be used inappropriately. In this case the old saying rings true, absolute power corrupts absolutely. In this case, our unbound ability to do whatever we wanted resulted in a global perception change of America that adversely affects all Americans. Instead of the moral imperative that we should be defending, we are seen as bullies trying to inflict our culture on the rest of the world. Worse yet, much of the rest of the world sees us as only interested in defending our economic interests elsewhere, even at the cost of human lives.

It is clear to see that both an uncontrolled isolationism and an unbound imperialism neither works nor is sustainable. Ask yourself, is the United States more secure now than before September 11? Although we have not been directly attacked since then, it is obvious that more people in this world hate us than ever before. I would argue that this is due to the uncontrolled imperialism of the last several years and that to repair the damage done, we must return to a spirit of moderation, justified by the moral imperative, within our foreign policy.
SL

Monday, October 01, 2007

Bad News Travels Fast

From This: To This:
I've been on suicide watch since yesterday. Angie has taken away my shoelaces, belt and anything else that I might try to hurt myself with...

You see, the Mets season as again ended in despair. If you remember last year, I blogged about their lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Championship Series. This year, it is much more devastating. In fact, the Mets are now the owners of the biggest/fastest collapse in baseball history, and truth be told, the last couple of weeks have been very difficult to watch. The Mets lost 12 of their last 17 games to give up a 7 game lead to the Phillies. These are the same Phillies who have on their team Jimmy Rollins who predicted in January that the Phillies were the team to beat, not the Mets.

It's interesting to see the national sports coverage of the New York media today. The headlines from the rags in New York (Daily News, Post) are really funny. A friend sent me the picture of a drunken Mr. Met with a tagline that's a play on the Met's motto, "You Gotta Believe".

I am "bereaving", but I am given solace with another popular Met slogan - "There's always next year!"

SL

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Opinion Piece III

If you follow the news then you know that the toys in your house may contain a great deal of lead paint and that the pet food you serve to your dog or cat may have harmful chemicals in it. What you may not know is why this is the case or what we can do about it. The following essay is a "Visual Rhetoric" essay which attempts to explain this current leading news story. A "visual rhetoric" essay is one in which we were to use images as part of our story telling. Images can be a very important part of our communication.

CHINA: WILLING AND ABLE TO MAKE SAFE PRODUCTS?

More often than not, when you look at a product to see where it was made you’ll see “Made In China” on the label. It is a fact of our global economy that China has a massive manufacturing infrastructure and has dominated that segment of the global economy for several decades. The Chinese, with an artificially devalued yen, cheap labor, and a robust manufacturing infrastructure, supply much of the products we use every day and enjoy a massive trade surplus with the United States. Many of these products wouldn’t surprise us, like small plastic toys and low-end electronics. What may be surprising is to learn that China supplies many high end products, and even food products. China is a leading exporter of: rice, wheat, potatoes, corn, peanuts, tea, millet, and barley…apples, oilseeds, pork and fish (U.S. Dept. of State).

Because of the recent press around the safety of Chinese products, this issue has come to the forefront for both the American consumer, and the US government, whose many responsibilities include the protection of the consumer. Toys with lead paint are being recalled (MSNBC.com). Tainted pet food products are killing dogs and cats (Barboza). A high-level Chinese official was executed for drug safety testing fraud (Schwartz) These and other occurrences (e.g., toothpaste, tires, mattresses, etc.) have made it clear that China does not have the legislative and enforcement infrastructure required to ensure that the products they ship are safe and meet minimum safety standards. In fact, it may be entirely possible that China does not want to have these safeguards in place, as it will raise the costs of goods exported from China and may erode their competitive advantage in the market place.

Recent figures place the trade surplus China enjoys with the United States at $24.97 billion in August 2007, the second-highest monthly level on record. (NY Times.com) It is these enormous amounts of money that China necessarily wants to protect, and any change to the status quo would be viewed as potentially damaging to the Chinese economy.
In fact, the tainted pet food scare of several months ago potentially cost Chinese industry millions of dollars. Many brands of pet food products were found to have industrial chemicals in them and several dogs and cats were killed as a result. This, in itself, would be a terrifying prospect. However, the reality may be much worse. Many believe that these products were PURPOSEFULLY contaminated to bring them up to nutritional requirements.

Now, regulators with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are examining the possibility that melamine was intentionally mixed into the wheat gluten in China as a way to bolster the apparent protein content and to meet pet food requirements, according to a person briefed on the investigation (Barboza).

However, the cost to China is negligible when compared to the possible impact of the current Mattel recall. Potentially, billions of dollars worth of Mattel toys may contain high levels of lead paint, even though the use of lead-based paint has been outlawed for several years. In fact, since June 6, 2007 Mattel has recalled over $430 million – this compared to $130 million in recalls for ALL of 2006 (Ng). The total of all products withdrawn from American shelves so far this year is over $1 billion (Ng). What these figures don’t speak to is the dramatic health effects that these toys may have on American children. Lead is known to cause learning disabilities and birth defects – enough to where lead in paint was outlawed.

There are many different health effects associated with elevated blood lead levels. Young children under the age of six are especially vulnerable to lead's harmful health effects, because their brains and central nervous system are still being formed. For them, even very low levels of exposure can result in reduced IQ, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders, behavioral problems, stunted growth, impaired hearing, and kidney damage. At high levels of exposure, a child may become mentally retarded, fall into a coma, and even die from lead poisoning (National Safety Council).
Although the Chinese government has taken several steps of late, many argue that these steps are just window-dressing – or an effort of damage control to the reputation of Chinese products. What is especially troublesome is that China does not acknowledge that there is a widespread problem.

China, while conceding that regulation needs to be improved, has insisted that most of its products are safe. The government takes seriously media reports questioning the safety of Chinese goods and has "begun enforcing a very strict examination and inspection procedure,'' President Hu Jintao said at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Sydney on Sept. 6. Hu said 99 percent of China's exports meet international quality standards (Ng).

Yet, 1% of potentially $300 billion in merchandise is still $3 billion in merchandise. Clearly, the Chinese are diminishing the magnitude of their problem. I would argue that China is neither motivated to enact significant changes, nor are they capable. China, although a massive and growing economic power, is still behind the rest of the industrial powers in many ways. They appear to be ill equipped to handle many of these regulatory pressures that countries like the US, England, Japan, etc. are able to enact with respect to consumer protection. In fact, it is becoming increasingly evident that the US government is no longer sure that the Chinese can regulate their products properly and some congressmen are starting to say we should do it for them. Rep. Mike Ferguson, R-N.J., reiterated that companies that manufacture their products in China will need to ensure they meet federal safety regulations. He adds, “If they don’t, I believe Congress must give federal regulators the authority to ensure that our kids’ toys won’t actually harm them” (MSNBC.com).

This regulation, whether done in China, or at home, will have the ultimate effect of forcing the American consumer to pay higher prices to get the products they crave. However, a silver lining of this may be a return to “Made in USA” purchasing. It is entirely conceivable that clever marketers will spin this current environment to something akin to: “Buy American, Buy Safe”. In fact, according to the Anholt Nation Brands Index, “China dropped to 37 out of 38 nations, ahead of Indonesia, in the second quarter in a ranking of how favorably consumers view a product based on its origin” (Ng). Will this lead to people buying less from China? Will this lead to more companies going to other manufacturing locations for their products? Ultimately, the consumer will have the final say as they always do.
SL

Friday, September 28, 2007

Man Among Girls

I was a big deal last night - a really big deal. It seems as though the Girl Scouts really like it when men get involved and volunteer and as I received my troop leader pin last night, I was the only man up on stage. You see, I told Cassie if she wanted to join I would get involved too. I am a big fan of scouting and the ideals that it teaches, so I would do anything if she would join.
So it seems, I may have sold my soul....or at least, my free time.
I am now the troop leader for Troop 8459 Daisy Scouts. Cassie and 4 other girls (currently) are in my troop. I've taken their online overview training and hope to get more training soon, because I have no clue what's going on. I do know, however, that the principles of Girl Scouting are the same principles that I want Cassie and the rest of the kids to have, so I am completely on board. We are going to have some fun, as the learn the Girl Scout Law and Girl Scout Promise and while we do activities that attempt to reach one of the 4 goals of girl scouting:
*** Develop to their full potential.
*** Relate to others with increasing understanding, skill, and respect.
*** Develop a meaningful set of values to guide their actions and to provide for sound decision-making.
*** Contribute to the improvement of society.
Aren't those goals that we all have for our girls?
SL

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Opinion Piece II

The following essay was written for class as a review of the movie, "The Ad and The Ego". I don't recommend the movie, and you'll understand why if you read my essay.

The Ad and the Ego: Unconscious Mumbo Jumbo

I knew this movie was doomed when a commentator used the word unconscious when he meant subconscious – as in “advertising affects the unconscious mind”. The creators of “The Ad and The Ego” would have us believe that all of the world’s ills are caused by advertising and knowing this will remove the power that ads have over us. This is clearly an unfinished hypothesis and the authors do nothing to complete it. In fact, they offer no solutions, at all, other than espousing an unoriginal argument that power holders utilize advertising to bend us to their will and ultimately support their powerbase.


Unfortunately, the authors defend their position with sociologists that seem to be unable to communicate anything other than the rhetoric expected of those sitting on the “left” side of the spectrum. In fact, I would not be surprised if their argument would be silenced should an administration be in office that more aligned with their political ideology.

The above notwithstanding, there are aspects of a society that is constantly bombarded with sounds bites that last anywhere from fifteen to thirty seconds that we should look to address. Our “MVT-ized” culture seems to be unable to pay attention to anything for more than short periods. If something challenges us to think, we seem to be overpowered by it and quickly turn to something else. Our news is delivered without substance. We are told what to think without challenging it. We are numb to the constant barrage that we are under. However, the problem isn’t with “advertising” per se, rather a culture that demands immediate gratification and is largely unwilling to work for the things that we want. Any media delivered in a way that is counter to the “I want it with no effort” criteria is rejected. Advertisings fault? I don’t think so.

In fact, advertising takes advantage of knowing what we want and delivering it in a way that we’ll accept. It is SUPPOSED to generate a need response and cannot do this without making us first feel that we are missing something. Companies are SUPPOSED to sell products, creating markets for their products when needed. People in power are SUPPOSED to want to remain in power. However, this doesn’t mean that we need to be automatons, powerless to the onslaught of advertising as the creators of the movie seem to think we are. In fact, should more people come to the realization that we are powerful and that we do have the ability to filter what we see, control what we think, and determine what stimuli we allow into our bodies, our culture would grow by leaps and bounds.

Until we exercise this ability, and our bodies which are accustomed to sitting in front of the television, we’ll continue to respond to the emptiness that is delivered in short sound- and video-bites.

SL

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Day Late And A Pound Short




Because I wanted to blog about Angie's birthday party yesterday, I did not blog my weekly fitness update. I thought I would do that today particularly because it was a tough weekend. Not only was the Goose very hard to turn down on Sunday, we had two birthday cakes this weekend, and one trip to Ruby Tuesday's for Angie's birthday on Friday. Lastly, since I needed to use my "time" at the gym on Saturday for clandestine shopping, I only worked out three times. My goal is to get to the gym a minimum of three times a week, but that fourth session of Saturday is important because I can stay a long time a get a killer workout in.

All told, however, I am mostly pleased with the week. Yes, I was out of range for my nutrition this past weekend, but I was really good during the week and didn't gain a pound. I didn't lose any weight, either, but given the week - I'll take it.



I worked out this morning and ate right yesterday, so I'm right back on track.

SL

Monday, September 24, 2007

I've Been Living A Lie...

...several, in fact. I've been lying to my wife and kids for a while now, and it's taken a toll. I've not been sleeping real well and I feel like I'm physically falling apart. I can't do it anymore and I'm thankful that I don't have to. We celebrated Angie's 40th birthday last night with a monster surprise party and it was great, but I'm glad it's finally over.

About a month ago, Angie's friends and I started conspiring to pull this off. Carey helped secure the location and Jessie was the mechanism to get her there. There rest was mine. I catered the party with Mexican food from the Blue Goose (Angie's favorite restaurant). I ordered a bounce house to keep the many kids busy so the adults could have a good time. I had a trip to Sam's Club for drinks with Bob (Angie thought I was working out - even dumped water on my head to make it look like sweat). Dylan and I did the rest of the shopping while we were "hunting" before the party.

Almost everyone showed and everybody had a good time. The food was outstanding (enchiladas, fajitas, and quesadilla bar - made to order) and we even had a little entertainment as Justin wrote an original song for his mom and played it at the party. I don't think there was a dry eye in the place when he did.

Everything went real well and she got the 40th birthday surprise party that she had dreamed about. Me - I'm just glad its over. I've slept better already.

SL