Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How did we get here?

Its an election year, which means that politics are front and center.  The situation in our nation has been gradually sliding around for the entire 20th century.  We've lost sight of some things that used to be considered values.  Here's a list of some things I think we'd do well to bring back.

We used to place value in our own name.  We would behave a certain way, work a certain way, in order to not dishonor our name.  Honor is something that has become twisted over time.  Every society defines honor differently.  Honor to me means doing everything you can to the best of your ability, placing others before yourself and serving them to the best of your ability.

Honor is sacrifice.

Honor is not killing someone else because they've insulted you.  An honorable man will take the insult in stride, recognizing that everyone has an opinion.  They will reply to the insult in varying degrees, depending upon the circumstances.  The rule to this response is that the response cannot exceed the initial insult.  If you insult me verbally, I cannot in honor respond to you in any way other than verbal.  If you push me physically, I will respond physically.  In legal terms this is called "due force".  You push me, I push you.  You try to hit me, I try to hit you.  You take a lethal action against me and I am free to respond lethally against you.

Honoring our first amendment (I did a post a while back about Paying the Bill of Rights and this ties into that) means that we will be insulted, offended and disgusted.  That is guaranteed.  Those who do so have a right to do so.  I have a right to insult, offend and make them disgusted in return.  I do not have a right to prevent them from expressing their opinion or limiting their Freedom of Speech in any way.  I do not have a right to take a verbal or written insult and respond physically.  Legal response is only an honorable choice if said insult or offense has wounded us in some way; either our reputation or financial situation.

Duty is an obligation that is imposed upon us.  It may or may not be voluntary.  I have a duty to my family; my wife and kids, my parents and siblings and other members of my extended family.  I also have a duty to my country: I once swore an oath to honor and defend the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic.

These duties mean placing others ahead of myself.  I feel a duty toward my fellow man, so I have at times endangered myself in an effort to aid them.  When I was in the Coast Guard we had a saying: you have to go out, you don't have to come back.  We were a service intended to save lives.  If that meant we died in the effort to save others, then that was the price required.  I have applied that to the rest of my life as well.

I place the needs of my family ahead of my own desires.  I place the needs of my friends ahead of my own.  I have in the past and will in the future given others food that I would have otherwise eaten.  I share freely of my time and talents.

Duty is sacrifice.

Its funny, when I start writing these rants I have a vague idea of what I want to say and everything else just sort of comes out.  The result is that, if I had to define how we arrived at the society we have it would be that we lost the sense of selflessness that we once prized so highly.  Both Honor and Duty are putting others ahead of ourselves which is a way of expressing selflessness.

Ironically, the selflessness of previous generations has created the selfishness of ours.  Most of my peers, and often me, think of life in terms of benefit and cost to ourselves.  "If I take this job, will it better my situation and that of my family?"  "I know water is better for me, but I really like soda."  "I want to be able to pay for my kids' education and give them a hand up that I never had."

Yes, that last one is selfish.  What does your child learn if you pay their bills for them?  Do they learn how to control and manage money?  Do they feel any investment in their education?  Will they apply themselves the same when they're not paying the bill for it?  History has shown us no.  Too many people in my generation and those following had no idea how to manage debt appropriately and got into trouble as a result.  Animal House had a joke that Bluto was in college for seven years.  That isn't a joke today: that's an average student.

The hardest lessons are the ones we learn the most from.  Giving your kids what you think is a hand up can really be a hand out.  I would rather give my kids a house when they get married than pay for their college.  I would rather take them to get a loan and insurance for their first car than purchase it.  Acquiring debt is unfortunately necessary in today's world.  Getting a loan for a car and college will teach my kids more than if I paid for them.  By the time they get married, they'll have already learned about how to manage money.  Purchasing them a house at that time will allow them to have more cash flow to pay off those debts.  They'll have learned how to care for things they own.  They'll have learned how to manage their cash flow.  The money pit that is home ownership would be easier for them to manage at that time.

And let's face it: if I can afford to buy them a house, it'll be a "fixer upper" that they'll be pouring money into anyway.

Tying it together
In the end, by learning to sacrifice and be selfless we would have greater empathy for others.  We would be more inclined to help others.  We would hopefully have acquired the necessary wisdom to know how best to help them up, not give them a hand out that benefits us more.

"Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for life."

That old saying is more valuable than many think.  It is easier for the giver to spend a few minutes giving a hand out than the hours it would take to teach a valuable skill.  Giving a hand out is selfish.  It satisfies our guilty conscience without inconveniencing us in any meaningful way while simultaneously not really solving any problems of the people we are pretending to help.

"How does this relate to politics?"

Glad you asked!  This nation is in dire straits.  Our economy is on the verge of collapse.  Enemies are knocking at the door.  Congress is filled with infants holding their breath rather than take the chance of listening to their political opposition.  A little more honor, duty, sacrifice and selflessness in our halls of government would change the direction we are headed in.  We would be once again the shining city on the hill.

Do not take the easy route.  Honor demands that we consider all options before us.  Duty demands that we take an active part in the political process.  We need to give up on the shorthand of political parties and listen to what the politicians say and see what they do.  Both sides are guilty of hypocrisy.  Who would be willing to reach across the aisle and find a solution that works for everyone?  Right now, the capitol is filled with corruption.  Both sides are beholden to special interests.  Don't chose the candidate beholden to the special interests you like, chose the one who will be willing to put aside their own interests and serve others.

After all, that's what they're really there for.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

It has been a while since I've updated and the majority reason is that I've been concentrating on a job search.  They always say not to do this, but I've been doing what "they" say for a year and so far no dice and I'm pretty pissed off with the whole process by now.

"But what do you mean by 'this' J?  What are you going to do?"

I'm glad you asked dear reader.  I'm going to rant about the job search  process.  I follow the guidelines: I've cleaned up my online presence as much as I can and I always follow up each interview with a nice thank you note and a phone call.  I'm polite and professional in my appearance when I do get an interview.  But you want to know what pisses me off?

No call back.  Seriously, I've been on the other side of the table.  I know it can be hectic running a job search while trying to do your normally busy job.  I do.  I get it.  But if you've brought someone in for an interview, they deserve a response.  None of the interviews I've had in the past year have called me back.  Not a single one.  Only in two cases did I even 'officially' know I didn't get the job.  In once instance I knew at the second interview and in the other they actually picked up the phone when I called and to be honest I think it was because they were on the ride home and I called their cel-phone.

That's not right.  If someone comes in for an interview they deserve the courtesy of a phone call or email letting them know you passed them over at the very least.  Its rude.  These companies want us to play by the rules and be nice, they should too.

Which brings me to another rant.  Companies abuse their position.  They do.  We all know it.  We know why.  It makes sense, it really does but don't you dare let me hear you complaining about how an employee feels about the company when the company has proven they don't care about the employee.  This falls almost entirely on HR departments.

In addition to the no call back on an interview, I've also been offered a job reporting to the position I was applying for.  Someone needs to talk the the HR person and have them tell the interviewer that this is insulting and rude.  "I don't think you're right for the position, but how would you like to report to that position for much less money than what you were hoping to make?"  The response I want to make is "how would you like me to take a dump on your desk?"  I don't but that's because I'm professional enough to know not to.  What this tells me is that this company doesn't care about my perspective at all.  Likely they'll work me to the bone without any word of thanks.  This is the kind of boss that when you call in sick, they'll sigh and ask if you're sure you can't make it.  This is the kind of boss that will write down every little slight and you'll hear about it on your yearly review.  This the kind of boss I don't want.

When times are tough, companies try to get as much bang for their buck as they can.  That's understandable.  The laws of supply and demand are pretty clear and when you have three hundred applications to a position you can afford to be not only choosy but you know they'll be willing to take less money than what they might otherwise.  That's fine.  Do not complain about how no one has any corporate loyalty.  Don't dare.  We understand that you want the biggest bang for your buck but we also understand that the job market won't be in the toilet forever.  When it does turn around, we'll be looking for another job and when we find one, we'll take it and go.  Thank you for your time but here is an opportunity for me to make the money I should have been making.

Being thankful for a job is fine, but that doesn't mean I need to let my family starve or I need to live like a Spartan because the company took a chance on me.  Especially when the most I can hope for is a two to four percent raise.  A two percent raise when the yearly cost of living is three percent means I am losing one percent of my standard of living a year.  Do not act surprised if I go somewhere else that gets me a ten or twenty percent increase.  Do not be insulted.  Accept that I have needs and wants and that if I am not getting those needs and wants fulfilled I will go elsewhere. Its called "work life balance" and while for you fine folks in HR that's a buzzword you think means we want pizza parties and free soda (or pop) the reality is that if I'm not being taken care of at my current place of employment I will find another place that will take care of me.

Also understand that a four percent raise in my income can be eliminated by a five percent increase in my part of the benefits.  I once got a five percent raise at a company while they increased our cost of healthcare by ten percent.  You folks in the public sector can ignore this because the rest of us are picking up the cost that would normally get taken out of your paycheck.  You're welcome.  Given the differences between five percent of my income and ten percent of my heathcare cost, this amounted to a - you guessed it - two percent raise.  I did the math.  I hate math.  That's how mad I was.

We all know companies exist to make money.  Let me tell you my approach to both my job and my career:

My job is to make my boss look good.  If I'm not doing that, then my boss needs to talk to me about why I'm not doing it.  Typically, its happening because I do not have something I need.  Sometimes its due to circumstances beyond our control.  In both cases, I normally have already informed my boss of the situation if I know what it is.  Either way, a little discussion goes a long way to avoiding an adversarial atmosphere.

The company pays me to keep me away from my family.  The skills I bring to the table justify their paying me.  That's it.  I'm not saying I'm worth X dollar amount per year to feed my ego.  I'm saying that because that's how much I think my skills are worth.  I base that dollar amount on the going rates for people with my skill set based on location and industry.  From my perspective, that's not the value I place on my time away from my family.  That value drives me to earn the most I can.  So when someone offers me as much as 50% less for a job that reports to the job I applied for, its insulting.

We all have jobs.  We all place different values on those jobs.  We all know the economy sucks right now.  We all know the job search process sucks.  A little courtesy and looking at things from the other person's perspective makes a big difference.  That last interview has ruined any desire I might have to work for that company and definitely not for that person.  Companies would do well to remember that the interview process goes both ways: you're deciding if I'm the right fit for you and I'm deciding if you're the right fit for me.  90% of the time, we treat each other professionally.  Its that 10% that makes us insane.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ten month update

Another long hiatus from the blog.  I apologize for that.  The job search has been rough.  I've been searching for a job, on average, about two to five hours a day.  I've been in contact with no less than five recruitment agencies and at least three independent recruiters not affiliated with an agency.  I've had three interviews.  Three.  That is downright depressing.  I don't know if its my resume (all recruiters I've spoken with about it said there's nothing wrong with it) or if they do a google search and find this fine blog and it somehow has pissed them off but either way I'm living in a state with an unemployment rate that's well below the national average and I can't seem to get an interview, let alone a job.  That has an impact on a person, from a self-respect and self-esteem point of view.  I've been fighting depression on and off the entire time.  My unemployment benefits end soon.  I think.  I got a weird message after my last call in then a letter with 'details about my case' that looks identical to the letter I got when I first signed up.  No explanation as to why I was receiving it.  *sigh*  Yet more frustrations in an already high stress and frustrating situation.

On the other hand, I have been doing a lot of volunteering for Pack N Pounce, helping friends and neighbors with various things and generally keeping busy.  At night, I've been writing.  I scrapped the web comic idea because it was way too time consuming with very little hope of a return on the investment.  I've successfully completed a novel of over 88,000 words and edited it and polished it.  I've started searching for an agent and I got my first rejection letter.  If J K Rowling got seven before successfully selling one of the best selling series of all time, then I figure I've got about 69 more to go at best.  I'm trying to keep my spirits up and my family has been helping me with that.

This past year has shown me how important family is.  I've been blessed with great parents, a wonderful wife and four awesome children.  I get along quite well with my in-laws who are great people.  As I mentioned earlier, I get along very well with Rick and Brenda and their kids (who are adults and the only family that's local).  My siblings and their families have been great.  I cannot express the gratitude I feel to all of these people for all the support they've given me during this tough time.  I love you all.

This is probably going to be my last post for some time.  I'm starting a blog about the background for the world setting that my novel (and several short stories) are set in.  It may help sell the book and even if it doesn't, it'll be great to have it all written out for me to refer to in my writing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


With the move to Utah came a 2000 mile drive across the country.  I've done this before from Massachusetts to California and back as well as numerous trips to various places around the lower 48 from various other places in the lower 48.  This reiterated some of the frustrations I've felt when I drive so I am going to share them with you lucky readers out there in the blogosphere.

First of all, highway driving across the country is frankly atrocious.
If you are on a two lane highway, then the left lane is for passing.  Don't sit there because you're going ten miles over the speed limit and for Heaven's sake do not even think of going in there if you're not going ten miles over the speed limit.  The speed limit around the nation is somewhere between 55 and 80, so if you're not doing at least 65 stay out of the left lane.

On a two lane highway, the right lane is for exit traffic and general travel.  This is where you sit if you're going to be on the road for several hours.  This is where you sit if you're doing the speed limit or a little under it.  This is where you can sit and veg as the miles get eaten away by the droning of the engine.

On any highway, two, three or even six lanes, if you're going less than ten miles under the speed limit (with certain exceptions) you should not be on the highway.  Highways are for high speed travel.  There is no highway in the continental United States that does not have a local route traveling mostly parallel to it.  If you're not going to go at least 55 miles an hour, that is the road you should be on and not the highway.  There are studies I'm sure that show slow drivers cause more accidents that fast drivers.  Not because its more dangerous to drive at that speed but because when you're going too slow for the road, others have to react to you which places them in danger.

That makes a good segue into speeding.  Speed kills.  There is really no reason to be driving more than fifteen miles over the speed limit.  In a very practical sense, there is no reason to be going more than eighty miles an hour regardless of the speed limit.  The speed limit is in theory supposed to be the fastest speed allowed by law.  I realize that for something like 99% of the people on the road, "speed limit" equates to "suggested speed" but according to the law, its supposed to be the highest you are legally allowed to go.  That means if your weaving in and out of traffic at 57 in a 55 zone, a cop can pull you over.  Driving too fast is dangerous not only to you but to everyone else on the road.  The faster you're going the higher the chance you have of dying from one single mistake.  If the speed limit is 75 as it is in most states I traveled in and you're doing 85 then you come across someone going 60, that's a 25 mile an hour difference in speed.  Your bumper is rated for at most 15 miles an hour.  That means if you rear-end them, you're going to crumple your car if it has crumple zones and its going to cost you a lot of money to repair it at the very least.  You can still get serious neck injury even without triggering your airbag.  Neck injuries can have long-lasting results such as paralysis and death.  Hard to laugh that off.

The police are there to protect you.  That includes from yourself.  This is why people get pulled over for speeding.  Yes, its mostly to save insurance companies money but really it does protect you.  They have a tough job, so give them respect.  They're there when you want them and when you don't.  It's all part of the job.  Yes, there are some that are in it for the power play but there are folks like that in every profession.  Don't hold the whole to the standard set by a few.  If a cop pulls you over, be polite.  Don't think about what your drunken buddies were telling you were sure-fire methods for getting out of a ticket because there aren't any.  They should be professional and you should be courteous.  It goes a long way.
Big changes since my last post.  My family and I have moved from Massachusetts, my home state, to Utah.  There are many reasons behind the move, most of them personal and close to home so I won't go into them here.

Being LDS, there is a lot of baggage/expectations for moving to Utah where the church has its headquarters.  There are all sorts of stories about "Utah Mormons" that generally scare people.  I've found pretty much what I expected to find here: people are the same pretty much wherever you go.  There are some wonderful and friendly people that have gone out of their way to make me and my family feel welcome.  I can't say how much I appreciate that.

Right at the top of that list are my brother and sister-in-law.  Rick and Brenda have been just awesome to have around.  Rick works in the same industry I do and has been helpful in my job search efforts.  Brenda runs an animal rescue that my wife has been helping with pretty much since we got here.  We've been able to participate in parades and a pirate festival as a result of Pack N Pounce, which has been great.  Especially since its a worthy cause.  They rescue animals instead of putting them through euthanasia.

I am still looking for work, but in the meantime I'm going to try writing as well.  Who knows?  Maybe I'll even create a web comic.  My feeling is that if I were to do a web comic, it would have to be on a schedule I could maintain even while employed, so I'm thinking once a week, possibly twice.  I'm working on the characters and the setting now so stay tuned.

I do have a bit of rant to post.  That's up next - I wanted this post to stay positive as overall this has been a very positive experience.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Twister Lessons

I live in the greater Springfield area, which has been slammed by a tornado last week. Yeah, that one. We've been working with folks from church and other volunteers to assist in the cleanup as much as possible. We've donated all of the stored food we've accumulated and are looking to donate some clothes as well.

Then I read this story in the Boston Globe, which looks promising until you get to the end and read this:
"In Massachusetts, Patrick filed a supplemental budget bill Monday that included $10 million for tornado relief, but that money is not designated for individual homeowners. It will be used by state agencies to cover the costs of calling up the National Guard, operating shelters, paying police overtime, and other unanticipated costs such as chopping up trees and clearing debris."

So the Governor budgeted money to pay the state for their efforts in mobilizing but no aid will go to the beleaguered homeowners that have lost all of the their material possessions. No doubt, the Governor is counting in the federal government to foot the bill for some of the $90,000,000 in damages (that number is based on insurance claims that have been filed). It remains to be seen if Westfield, West Springfield, Springfield, Monson, Wilbraham or Brimfield will meet the minimum dollar amounts of damage required for those federal funds. Make no mistake - that clean up money is going to clear out the public properties like streets, which is a necessity. I would be surprised if any of that went to help rebuild Monson's town hall or police station. Springfield has a history of voting Democrat and I would like to say this;

Look around you at the devastation and see who it is that is helping you when the chips are down and you need it most. It is your neighbors, your friends and your fellow citizens not the government. This is how life is. When we need help the most, our neighbors, friends and fellow citizens are the ones there to give us a helping hand. The government will take care of itself first and if there's any money left over, it will go to those organizations that try to assist the people and if there's any money left over after that, it will go to the insurance companies to help them deal with the financial impact these storms have had on them and if there's any money after that it will go to help the people affected. Yes, along the way services will be provided by those organizations and insurance companies but in a bureaucratic sense that won't truly impact the people who need it immediately. The Red Cross will help with immediate temporary needs because that is what they do and they do it well. The Red Cross is not going to ensure you have a place to stay over the next three months while the damage to your home is assessed, weighed and evaluated then funds allocated then construction starts. Insurance companies won't pay for the removal of the trees in your yard unless they're directly damaging your house. A friend of mine helped a neighbor cut up a tree that was blocking the door to his house. Until they did that, they were getting in and out through a window. That tree did no damage to his house, but it prevented him from leaving by either door or garage. Therefore, the insurance claim would not cover its removal.

Remember this in November of next year, when you're pulling the lever for those fine folks in office in Boston. Where were they when you needed them? Crying poor from their fine offices in Boston, that's where. I'm not saying vote Republican because they'll solve all our problems, far from it - they'll just create different ones if we're lucky. Other than photo ops, did they help you in any way? Other than gather attention, how were you helped? Did that attention help you? If you can say that they did not help you, then why do they deserve your vote? By all means, vote Democrat if that's what you prefer. All I'm asking is that you vote for a different Democrat than the ones that ignored you when they should have helped.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Osama bin Laden is dead and President Obama missed an opportunity for greatness

Let me start off by saying President Obama made the right decision. Eliminating Osama bin Laden was the right thing to do. I have made no secret my dislike for our President's policies, but he made the right choice this time. All of the events leading up to the decision aside, it fell upon the President to ultimately decide what to do. I would have rather seen him captured than killed, but if that's how it fell out then that's how it fell out. Sometimes you have to accept the decisions of the personnel in the field and stand by them. Monday morning quarterbacking what someone should have thought in the middle of a firefight sometime after midnight a half a world away from your comfortable bed is not how the military should be handled.

That being said, good for you, Mr President.

What he missed out on was his speech. Instead of focusing on how he made the decision and he was right to do so, he could have made strides towards ending the bitter division in our government. He could have said something along these lines:

"This is a victory for the nation. This is a victory for the men and women in uniform who performed their jobs with their usual mix of professionalism and consummate skill. This is a victory for the policies of my predecessor, without which we would not have garnered the intel that brought us to this monumental day. I have learned that good ideas are not the sole property of one political party, so from this day forward I encourage Congress, Democrat and Republican alike, to remove the party affiliation from the proposed idea and take it on its own merits. Good ideas should be put into action, regardless of source. Bad ideas should be eliminated or moderated. From this day forward my administration will lead by example in this area. Our task is not over. Our nation is not secure, but we are safer now. Let us continue the work before us to make our nation secure."

Then do it. Actually do something positive about eliminating the vitriol that has become so commonplace in our governing and legislative process. I keep hearing those on the left screaming about how Bush failed and Obama succeeded. They keep hammering that waterboarding and "black ops" prisons weren't needed to gather the information.

To fully believe this, you would have to assume that nothing Bush did contributed in any way to the intel that was gathered leading to this monumental place and that is not true. We wouldn't have had Kaleed Sheik Mohammad if not for Bush's policies. He did not provide any intel until after he was waterboarded. That intel was confirmed by other sources that were kept in those same "black ops" prisons.

This was truly a victory for the American political process for we had a Republican President start a job that a Democrat President finished. Neither one could have succeeded without the other. Those are the facts, like them or not. Mental gymnastics trying to make the facts conform to preconceived notions helps no one.

I am not saying Bush did not state repeatedly that Osama bin Laden was not his top priority. I am not saying that Obama did not state repeatedly that Osama bin Laden was his top priority. Both of those are facts. I am saying that the goals each had was reinforced and unattainable without what came before. We need to see that, accept it and realize that we are much stronger united than we could ever be divided.

President Obama could have used this moment to unite the nation behind him, guaranteeing him a second term and ushering in an era of co-operation that the Nation desperately wants and needs but he didn't. He still could, but with much less of an impact. That's a missed opportunity that I hope doesn't come back to haunt us.

We are the United States of America. Its about time we started focusing on what Unites us.