Saturday, July 30, 2011

3 Good Things (Step Change Children edition)

Thursday morning, son not a homeowner; 

Thursday afternoon -  a homeowner!

Thursday morning, daughter a wearer of braces; 

Thursday afternoon - NOT a wearer of braces!

Saturday morning, other daughter a 17 year-old; 

later Saturday morning, an 18 year-old!

Friday, July 29, 2011

We’re Going for a Ride

Yesterday’s New York Times reported on the newly proposed automobile fuel-economy standards and the automakers who begrudgingly love them. I couldn’t help but notice the report was full of package deals, fallacies, and wiggle words.

Still, the industry’s meek acceptance of what are considered extremely challenging fuel-economy goals is a marked retreat from years past, when the companies argued that consumers would not be willing to pay for the technology needed to meet higher mileage requirements.

“The auto companies’ level of vitriol and rhetoric has changed,” said Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, a group that works to mitigate global warming. “We welcome all epiphanies.”

Vitriol and Rhetoric

Hate speech. That’s what most people think of when they hear those two words together.  While vitriol is language using bitterly abusive feeling or expression, rhetoric is the art of using language effectively. Putting the two together does not make either a form of hate speech (which is a package deal). The biggest difference between them is how they reflect upon the ability of the speaker: while the first may reflect passion for the subject, it mostly reflects the speaker’s inability to form a cogent argument; the second reflects upon the speaker’s power of persuasion. Don’t be fooled by these two fine words packaged to discredit any speaker whose point of view disagrees with your own.

Details of how the credits will work have not yet been made public, but the intention is to encourage the development of cars with far lower emissions.

Details and Intentions

There ought to be a law - don’t worry about the details. This sort of short-term thinking is the reason statists give in order to regulate all aspects of our lives. They imply that people can’t be trusted to figure things out for their own long-term benefit (shall I buy the car with the hybrid premium or the less expensive traditional gas model?) so we must be nudged by an all-knowing benevolent government which has previously determined how things will work best for us and for all men. So long as the government has good intentions (e.g., lower emissions – which has previously been sold to us as an unquestioned good), statists claim its interference in any industry is proper. Don’t be fooled by this appeal to authority. The authority to live your life comes from the fact that you are alive.

[. . .] but the real test will be if costs can be lowered enough so consumers will want to buy more electric and hybrid models.
This time, the automakers’ trade group proposed radio ads that would have raised concerns about job losses, but the proposal was squelched by some of the companies, notably G.M. and Chrysler.
 [. . .] and the White House made it clear to Detroit executives that the changes were coming and they needed to cooperate.

Free Market vs. Government Force

A successful company thrives by providing its customers with valuable goods and services – unless of course, that company relies on government funding. When a company cannot fail by virtue of underlying government support, there is no real incentive to thrive. While the auto companies that were under government receivership may or may not be on solid financial footing, they clearly remain stooges for their government bosses.  This is not vitriol, but an assessment of their actions as reported in this article.

In the end, though, Detroit was faced with an undeniable political reality: there was no graceful way to say no to an administration that just two years ago came to its aid financially.

“This was no time to fight these regulations,” said one Detroit executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the nature of the closed-door negotiations. “And you’re starting to see these fundamental shifts in the market that play a huge role in this.”

Political Reality

What is political reality? There is politics and there is reality. When the government attempts to shape reality through political maneuvering (e.g., regulations, taxes, grants, and special interest spending), all it creates is a house of cards.

Just as we couldn’t continue to live in the house of cards carefully crafted through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, we can’t ride in a car fueled by government machinations for very long either. Sooner or later it will breakdown leaving those of us who would have been better off with the less-expensive, traditional gas models, stranded.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

This Provincial Life

It’s not as if we came from the BIG city, but moving from an (in)famous city to a little town brought its share of culture shock.  Where was the Home Depot, the WalMart, the hospital? Sure, I can get to those staples of civilization if I need them, but they are all now just a little further away than may warrant the trip. With the exception of banks and gas stations – of which our little town has an inordinate proliferation – I needed to satisfy my consumerist urges with a paltry few mom & pop stores with their limited selection and high prices. I’ve gotten used to this inconvenience over the years.

Then came last Saturday.

Starting out as any typical Saturday, we made our early morning trip to the dump [n.b. Curbside trash pick-up is one more of the shocking shortcomings of small town life to which I have not only grown accustomed but begun to embrace. While you must make the trip to the dump, you can do so three times a week and not have to accumulate particularly smelly things for up to a week.] After the dump we headed home, changed cars from my darling daughter‘s dump car (which is a far better model than Stephen’s commuter car) to the “If Mama Ain’t Happy Ain’t Nobody Happy” touring SUV, and planned our route d’errands. (I figure if I say it in Franglish, it may seem less perfunctory. It didn’t really work for me, either.)

First stop, an old farmhouse turned appliance store. A little over a mile from our house, we decided to scout out the local appliance store and immediately scored a new over-the-range microwave with installation for less than what I priced out over the internet at Lowe's. In addition to the fast and friendly service, we got to spend some time kicking around the merits of Metallica vs. The Bee Gees.  Good times.

Ten minutes later we ventured to the car parts store on the next block and were able to pick up a broken signal bulb for the commuter car for under five bucks. Sweet! Then we drove a half mile to the hardware store to look for a new door knob and purchased a brushed silver one to match the other one in the room. Grabbing some Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and gas at the gas station with the Dunkin’ Donuts inside, we came home triumphant in our pursuits.

Later in the morning we collected our gorgeous and just-picked CSA vegetables from the farm across town.

I’m bothering to record and relate this experience because all too often things don’t go as planned: people are late, stock is lacking, help is discourteous or dumb.  As we drove home from our last stop we reveled in our success not only in getting the items we sought, but also in doing so with an economy of both time and price and all within a convenient two mile radius of home!

Now why the microwave broke and an un-lockable brass doorknob suddenly started to lock itself are much like “What about the smell of the ocean?” in that they are questions whose answers are best left for another time. For now, I’m happy driving around my little town, waving to my neighbors, and appreciating what this provincial life has to offer me.  

Did I mention the proximity of our Crossfit gym to our house? 1.45 miles.

Oh, yeah. It’s so close I could run there – if that were the kind of thing I’d be tempted to do. 

And now a word from Belle & Co.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Strike a POSE

There's nothing to it!

On Saturday afternoon I attended a POSE/barefoot running seminar given by Drew Wallace of Upstream Fitness at my CrossFit gym. For those of you who weren't on the East Coast or who may have a very short memory, Saturday afternoon temperatures hit over 100 degrees with major humidity. You might say that even when I'm having a good time this kind of weather turns me nasty. Add in a little bitterness due to some cross-scheduling of Girls Night Out with a previously planned and pre-paid seminar, and a little grumbling about my least favorite physical activity in the world and you have the makings of a miserable afternoon.  And yet, somehow, I enjoyed myself.

I really dislike running because, let's face it, I suck at it. But when you think about it, how can someone be so bad at something they've been doing naturally all their lives? The problem is that from around the time running became about more than a way to get from the swing set to the slide to the monkey bars to the bubbler and back again, I've really had no use for it. I don't run so much anymore as simply move my body forward in a slow plodding manner in my best imitation of people I've seen jogging.

But because you can take running with you everywhere you go, and because even with my slogging pace, I have found that running can be a great way to burn calories, to work big muscles, and to provide an overall cardiovascular workout, I want to be able to do it better. By better I don't necessarily mean faster or longer, but merely with less disdain and with the hope of long-term satisfaction rather than joint injury. Barefoot running may provide that path.

I've got hurdles: not the kind on a track, but the mental kind.

I grew up in a house with a diabetic. If we had a coat of arms, I have no doubt that Protect Your Feet would have been emblazoned across our dog-hair-covered shield. Foot injuries lead to infections which lead to death. Seemed simple enough. As a result, the bottoms of my feet are as smooth as a baby's butt. This is nice when you rub your feet on someone else's legs, but as you can imagine, this is not such a good quality to have when trying to run on those feet.  (And the bottom of my someone else's feet are like 12 grit sandpaper, so it's not as if he cares.)

In February I hurt the ball of my left foot. I don't know exactly what I did (tuck jumps) to it, but it never healed completely. This became evident in the "after" film of me running – oh yes: there was video! After the seminar, some exercises, and biomechanical explanations, we were filmed running barefoot (or with shoes again in a barefoot manner as the instructor explained that this it when it seemed harder to keep good form). I was able to adapt my stride striking the pavement with my right foot, but I still struck the ground with my left heel – possibly in an attempt to protect my old injury.

Hot pavement.  Did I mention that it was sunny, over 100 degrees F, and had been for three days? Oh yeah. The pavement was HOT.
Nothing Vogue about it. 
Barefoot: In Body or Mind

So, here's the important part whether you're shod in something that allows your feet to spread out and feel the impact of the ground or barefoot: heel strikes are bad, unnatural, and send shock waves through your body when running. So don't do it. Land on the ball of your foot allowing as much of your foot as possible to hit the ground, but only kiss the ground with your heel. Your body should be upright with the weight bearing leg directly underneath it while your trailing leg should be near to passing through to land when the rest of your body gets there. Don't bounce. Keep a good rhythm and relax.  

My favorite part of the exercise was running with a clip-on metronome.  I'm going to get one and continue to practice my POSE-ing at increasing rates of speed.  Who knows? With enough practice, I may actually be able to pick up some speed. Maybe.

Posture – Rhythm – Relaxation.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Girlfriends Guide to Soaking the Rich

As a fan of 1950s housewifery, I find myself particularly attracted to Ayn Rand's explanation of why someone might find the idea of taxing the rich so compelling. "If an average housewife struggles with her incomprehensibly shrinking budget and sees a tycoon in a resplendent limousine, she might well think that just one of his diamond cuff links would solve all her problems." It's an understandable mistake, but a mistake nonetheless.
No one tells her that higher taxes imposed on the rich (and the semi-rich) will not come out of their consumption expenditures, but out of their investment capital (i.e., their savings); that such taxes will mean less investment, i.e., less production, fewer jobs, higher prices for scarcer goods; and that by the time the rich have to lower their standard of living, hers will be gone, along with her savings and her husband’s job—and no power in the world (no economic power) will be able to revive the dead industries (there will be no such power left).
“The Inverted Moral Priorities,”The Ayn Rand Letter, III, 21, 3

Girlfriends, don't be fooled by the sparkle of that cuff link. There is no wealth in the unearned and only destruction in the force used against the minds of men (or housewives). The legitimate use of government force is not to equalize our incomes but to protect our individual rights (e.g., how we choose to pursue our own happiness, free from the force of others). Most significantly, unlike political power, economic power is achieved by voluntary means (i.e.,by individual choices) not force. 

1950s Pictures, Images and Photos

Don't be sold on the notion of soaking the rich as a means to gaining value. It's an ideological facade.

Monday, July 18, 2011

3 Good Things (Up to Date Weekend Edition)

1)  My daughter's friend has been keeping up with her Dr. Who obsession. She made her TARDIS earrings as a party favor for her own birthday party. Awesome.

2)  I've been reading, reading, reading to stay on top of my three book clubs. We read Galt's Speech, two supporting essays, then met to discuss it with friends for my Atlas Shrugged Reading Group. I finished The Help for a neighborhood book club this week and am reading the Koran and Spencer commentary for another discussion group.

3)  No kids Saturday night: date night at home. There is nothing quite as wonderful as date night at home. I wonder, though: when all the kids have permanently moved out, will our time home alone be as sweet? Certainly the stolen moments aspect of it will be absent, but I plan to make the concentrated time together every bit as appreciated. I don't imagine it will be terribly difficult, but it will be somewhat different.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Aye Eye!

Hyperopia: n. An abnormal condition of the eye in which vision is better for distant objects than for near objects. It results from the eyeball being too short from front to back, causing images to be focused behind the retina; farsightedness.

Myopia: n. A visual defect in which distant objects appear blurred because their images are focused in front of the retina rather than on it; nearsightedness.

These are distinct, and in fact, opposite eye defects, both of which, oddly, I have.  My right eye is myopic and my left, hyperopic and amblyopic (i.e. wicked frigin' lazy) but, more importantly, even at my ripe old age, I just found out there may be some therapy to slightly improve it!

I made the picture small for
your intestinal convenience.

After the series (2) of right eye bleeds – subconjuctival hemorrhages – I needed to get a complete eye exam to check out what exactly the hell was going on in there! Turns out, nothing. All is well deep in there. The hemorrhages, although in the same spot and five weeks apart, were oddities. The doctor did note that I was a weightlifter, which is good because I wasn't certain I had stressed heavy weights, a sometimes cause of subconjunctival hemorrhages, as opposed to 5 lb. dumbbells during my previous emergency visit. So when I tried to explain the load, the silly doctor thought I could snatch 185 lbs.! In my further explanation I got a chance to demonstrate, without weights, the difference between a deadlift, a power clean, and a snatch. Well, for some reason, I didn’t call it a snatch, but an overhead press.  Go figure. But when’s the last time you did that in a doctor’s office?

Anyway . . .

The very exciting news is that my new eye doctor, now one of my favorite doctors ever, asked me if I’ve ever considered trying to retrain my damn lazy eye to focus better! What? Years ago, my then eye doctor had given me the same prescription in both lenses so my eyes would “look” the same from the outside! He gave up my left eye for dead! Bastard! (Actually he’s the one who probably saved any of my left eye vision when I was three and a half, so I really did appreciate his efforts. He was simply wrong in recommending this course of events as I was wrong in accepting them, unquestioningly.)

Since I respected his opinion, I accepted his call. Who wants one huge and one tiny eye? But I have a wonky eye whether or not I choose to highlight it!  If I can make it work better I’m all for it!

My new doctor said that it was once thought such therapy was good only for children but that some adults are finding slight improvements with regular periodic efforts in focusing the lazy eye with the correct corrective lens by blocking out the other eye completely! Woo hoo!

Or should I say, Arrrr!, because the only way to completely block the good eye is with a patch.  That’s right! I’m going to look totally badass in the next two months prepping for Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Avast, ye landlubbers, I’ll be lettin’ ye know if this be the plan of a scurvy dog or hearty matey.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Tale of Two Realities: Worthless Alternatives

Two articles in today’s Boston Globe:

Evergreen Solar Inc., the once promising alternative energy company that received millions in state subsidies, warned late Monday that its shares will likely be worth little or nothing even if it is able to strike a deal with creditors to restructure its debt.
Three years ago, Evergreen opened a gleaming 450,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Devens, a former military base in central Massachusetts, promising to create hundreds of new jobs. Governor Deval Patrick’s administration awarded the company $58 million in tax breaks and other aid, one of the largest state incentive packages in recent years, to help persuade Evergreen to expand here and jump-start the state’s alternative energy sector.

A study released by Governor Deval Patrick’s administration this week said the prospects for job growth, lower energy bills, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions justify state-mandated investment by utilities - a projected $5.37 billion through 2015 - in alternative energy, including energy efficiency. Utilities that operate in the state are required to purchase at least 6 percent of their supply from renewable sources such as wind and solar. 

Even when the slap from reality still stings, politicians continue to do what they do best: spend other people’s money. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I Need a Vacation

After ten days away, we arrived home Sunday afternoon. By we, I mean me, my husband, and our two daughters – one soon to be 18, and one just turned 13.  I mention their ages because it’s important to note that these girls aren't small children requiring constant supervision, but more or less independent people, each able to make fairly sophisticated decisions about her own well-being on a small scale. Or so I thought.

Now I grant you, the vacation we took was not a typical family vacation in that Stephen and I went to participate in the classes and general sessions offered by the annual Objectivist Conference. This meant we were engaged for much of the day apart from one another, but still, we were staying at the Marriot Harbor Beach Resort & Spa, a beautiful resort on the Atlantic, not Ed’s roadside motel.  We were on the beach, with a huge pool complex, complete with canopy bed-like loungers, lounge chairs, umbrellas, two chair cabanas, a Starbucks and wireless internet in the lobby, chairs, couches, and a comfy station at which to plug in and work. There was the opportunity to snorkel, ride banana boats, play tennis, and go para-sailing. Our room was nicely appointed with a balcony overlooking the pool and ocean, but mostly, it was one small room with two large beds for four people – one of whom talks in her sleep.

When the weather was nice, the girls went to the pool. My oldest is a very strong swimmer, but more interested in getting some “base color” than in eyeballing my youngest who complained bitterly about how much pool water she swallowed on day one. When the day was rainy, as it was on two occasions, they stayed in the room. One day, on returning to the room in order to make lunch plans, I thought I had walked into a mushroom growing operation!  I found them in the dark, huddled in one bed re-watching episodes of Dr. Who on the computer. They told me they had been there all morning, and planned to be there all afternoon. They seemed quite content with this plan that they could easily reenact at home.

I can’t blame the oldest for not being more excited to venture out with her little sister; I did not contract her babysitting services before we left. But the truth is that I did expect her to behave in a manner more in keeping with my idea of an older sister – bearing in mind, of course, that I don’t have one, nor was I ever one.  This was my mistake: while I did my best to explain how much of the day they would spend without us, I should have been more explicit in my “take charge” expectations of her prior to her decision to come with us.

Initially, we had decided not to go to OCON this year because it meant leaving the youngest behind, or taking the youngest without some supervision.  The oldest finally decided that she did want to go, and so we made our plans based on mistaken assumptions. Getting the most of the conference classes and sessions require some concentration and heavy thinking.  While I attended all of my classes and most of the general sessions, I was unable to integrate the information presented in a timely manner because I was completely distracted by and concerned with my daughters’ experiences, or lack thereof which I equate with wasted opportunities. As of yet, I have gained no new knowledge about the ideas presented at the conference.

As I reflect on the experience from a distance of two days, I have grown older and wiser about my family and myself, and here is what I learned: if it can be avoided at all, don’t travel with children. Okay, I know that's not the proper way to look at it. We have had some excellent family vacations – usually centered around some historical or cultural place or event – but this was different.  A resort does not a vacation make. It’s more the time spent doing things that are exciting or delightful or interesting, but that you normally can't do that makes a vacation. Some serious work needs to go into making certain you get the most out of your vacation plans. I assumed my oldest would step seamlessly into my role as Julie, your cruise director so that I could pursue other values outside of the family. She didn’t, and so I found myself straddling the line between two of my values – one, a happily engaged family, and the other, a better philosophical understanding of Objectivism – and practically speaking, I gained neither.  

Finally, don’t get me wrong. At various times, this vacation was a win for me. Running on the beach, getting to hang out with some people I adore but rarely see, meeting some fabulous new folks and other friends for the first time in person, attending rousing lectures given by passionate speakers, being near the ocean, introducing the girls to Luc Travers and his Touching the Art method, were some of the high points! What I did not succeed at is preparing myself and my family for what could and should have been a more productive vacation for us all. 

This is a huge bummer because that’s what I do! That’s what I'm normally good at. As family support staff, I arrange things so we each can get the most value out of our experiences! This has always been one of my biggest virtues and mostly what I neglected to act on this time. And although doing something you don't normally do is implied in my definition of a vacation, vacating my virtues was not exactly what I had in mind. It’s exhausting to fail so miserably and this failure of mine is why I need a another vacation. Immediately.  

This time, I’m pretty sure that concentrating on and celebrating only one of my values—one of my highest values—in a hedonistic, resort environment, albeit temporarily, will help recharge all of my virtues. And by temporarily, I think an uninterrupted twenty-four hours—instead of twenty minutes—ought to do it.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day: Not Just the 4th of July.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Brave men with a radical plan. What has become of their vision?