With Liberty and Justice For Some

Not long ago I took my trusty Honda Civic in for maintenance. The dealership graciously offers a shuttle service and so I was able to get a ride to work.

“Bob”, the shuttle driver was probably in his late sixties and I was his only passenger this morning.

I don’t recall how it happened, perhaps something was mentioned on the radio, but the topic of conversation turned to professional athletes who kneel as a form of protest during the playing of the national anthem.

It took only a few words for me to know where Bob stood on the issue.

“If they stopped and thought for just one minute about how many soldiers died for their..”

“for their what, Bob? Their freedom?” I interjected.

“Yes!”  The word was said with much conviction and energy.

In the very next second though, I saw a cloud of uncertainty wash over his face. Bob looked like a man certain he had been standing on solid rock only to discover it crumbling beneath his feet.

I could tell that the crumbling stone had been some cornerstone of Bob’s belief system.  I threw him a lifeline….

“Bob, I served four years in the Marines. I trained for months on how to evacuate American embassies. We did not train to rescue only some Americans. We trained to rescue them all, regardless of their beliefs. I’m a veteran and I have no problem with these guys kneeling during the national anthem. If I don’t, then why should people who never served?”

I have no way of knowing if Bob continues to understand the contradiction and logic errors in his old way of thinking and turned a corner in his life that day, or if he has slid back into the comfort of his old self.

Had I been quicker on my feet that morning, I would have given one more example to Bob. I would have said that if something similar to professional sports existed during Colonial times, I am sure Bob and his brethren would have had no problem with someone refusing to stand during “God Save the Queen”. The only difference between then and now is the oppressor.

 

 

 

 

Russia and the U.S. – Strange Bedfellows

 

In this post, I will explain my theory of how I think the U.S. was complicit in the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia.

To begin, you must understand that the “defense industry” in the United States is enormous. The United States spends more on “defense” than the next 20 largest military spenders in the world…COMBINED…. It is an enormous amount of money and where there is money there is corruption and greed.

There is an incestuous circle of defense companies lobbying the U.S. military to continue buying their products. They make their pitches to generals, tasked with selecting and approving weapons systems, and to members of the U.S. Congress who must approve the budgeting of money for the purchasing of these weapons.

The reward for members of congress are large campaign contributions from defense contractors.  The reward for generals is the promise of a high-paying position on the company’s board of directors when they retire from active duty military service.

There is a fundamental flaw in the way the U.S. approaches defense. Keep in mind that during the Second World War, there was NO defense industry in the United States. Automobile manufacturers switched over to producing vehicles and planes. Maritime ship builders began producing naval vessels. One of the greatest examples of rapidly arming a military ever to occur happened without a “defense” industry. After the war, these companies simply returned to producing automobiles and maritime ships.

The fundamental flaw is this: Virtually all of the major players in the US defense industry are publicly traded, meaning they have shareholders. Shareholders demand a return on investment and if they do not receive a satisfactory return on investment for a long enough period of time, they vote out the board of directors or demand a change in executive leadership. The only way to keep shareholders happy is to grow the business. But, what do you do if your company’s business is producing weapons of death and destruction? What do you do when the militaries of the world are fully stocked with arms and there are no wars, or no large wars depleting their inventory? The answer is: you create new wars, or you create the fear that there may be a war.

Since September 11, 2001, the U.S. military has been primarily engaged in counter-terrorism efforts. Yes, there have been “battles” in Iraq and Afghanistan, but when placed in historical context, these have not been particularly large military operations.

Considering the vast sums of money the US spends on the military, many people, some in very high places began to question if we (the U.S.) really needed to spend multiple billions of dollars on new aircraft carriers, nuclear weapons, the F-35 fighter jet program, etc. In short, with the Cold War now history, the prospects of the U.S. military engaged in a massive land or sea battles with another world power such as China or Russia, seemed to be growing more dim with each passing year.

With this in mind, let us now look at a few key events in 2014.

On February 23rd, 2014, the New York Times published an article with the following headline: “Pentagon Plans to Shrink Army to Pre-World War II Level”. Such a reduction would necessarily drastically reduce the amount of money spent on military equipment. And this represented a real threat to the profits of the defense industry.

The week of February 28th, a mere one week after the Pentagon announced the reduction of the Army’s size, Russian forces entered Crimea. There had been a build up on the border for months, but until this time, there was no incursion into Crimea.

And here is where my “theory” comes in…. I believe that a delegation of congressmen, all addicted to defense industry campaign contributions, reached out through back channels to the Kremlin and stated something similar to this: “We know you very much want to annex Crimea. Perhaps you are concerned about the international response or perhaps even retribution by the United States. In this matter our interests are aligned. We prefer that you do annex Crimea, though as peacefully as possible. Publicly, we (the U.S.), will sharply denounce Russia’s actions, but there will be no tangible response from the U.S.

The purpose of this, I contend, was to justify the statements that followed such as “Russia is back! They have a strong military and are willing to use it! We cannot allow our military to be shrunk as the Pentagon has suggested. We must maintain our dominant position in the world to keep Russia in check and not allow it to become the dominant military in the world.”

Since 2014, and especially since the election of Donald Trump as president, the only changes to the size of the American military has been to grow it and the plans are  to grow it even more.

 

In corporate boardrooms all across the defense industry, anxiety has been replaced with smiles once again.

 

The Body of Scientific Knowledge Is Not Complete


I Love Science (it’s a fact!)

Because I know what I am about to say will be taken out of context any number of ways, let me start by saying:  Science is wonderful! Science is fantastic!  I love science!

I will stop short of the popular meme: “I <expletive> Love Science!” smugly worn as a badge of intellectual honor on the likes of Facebook.

What is science? I Googled around a bit and while there were any number of sources I could have used, I quite liked the explanation on NASA’s website, some of which appears at the top of this post.

I acknowledge that I am forever indebted to science for the vaccines which have spared me from horrendous illness, for the clean drinking water that flows from taps because of the existence of water treatment facilities and for a million other marvels. Every day, all day, I am surrounded by the fruits of science and they make all our lives better. Hopefully I do not need write a “War and Peace” length treatise to demonstrate that I really do get “science” and that “it is good”.

As much as I appreciate science, I am also aware of its limitations. Referring back to our definition we’ll find the words “observing and recording”.  Based on this we must concede that “observing and recording” requires an intellect, which can only mean a human is involved. Though we may be at the top of the totem-pole among all the creatures of the earth, human beings are still fallible and that includes scientists.

Ruh-Roh! Trouble In Paradise

To illustrate that scientists and their work are indeed fallible, take a look at this list of what were once accepted scientific theories but later superseded by better science. This does not even include the thousands of proclamations that never rise to the level of “accepted theory” but that you’ve no doubt heard or read about. You may have even adjusted your life because of them only to be told later “Oops! Sorry guys….”   Example:

Wait! Now they’re saying drinking two cups of coffee a day is bad for you? Two years ago it was bad for you too, but last year they reversed that and said it was good for you. Now they’ve changed their mind again!?”

Because humans are fallible, scientists are a smart enough lot to leverage that old adage “two heads are better than one” or “there’s strength in numbers” and thus a couple of centuries ago the “peer review” was born. The crib-notes version of it goes like this:   

Hey guys, I’ve had this thought for a while now….  I then formulated a hypothesis and I’ve conducted some experiments. The results seem to support my hypothesis. Here’s my hypothesis and the data. Since you’re all scientists in the same field of study as me…what do you think?

No doubt this improved things, but not everything…. as several of the disproved theories on the list referenced above were accepted as scientific theories since the age of peer review.

Today’s Theory is in Tomorrow’s Trash Heap

You would think as time marches on, scientific rigor would always be on the increase and that the vast majority of those things finally declared to be scientific theory would stand the test of time, but…you would be wrong about that.

In 2013, the U.K’s “The Guardian” ran a piece entitled Not breaking news: many scientific studies are ultimately proved wrong! 

The subtitle of the piece was “Most theories are eventually consigned to the rubbish heap, but this is scientific business as usual”

The article’s author was Dr. Sylvia McLain. She runs a biophysics lab at a school named Oxford. You may have heard of it. In the piece, Dr. McLain asserts:

That most scientific studies are ultimately wrong is normal for science. There are more theories in the graveyard of science than theories that stand the test of time. Why? Because new data is always emerging and theories have to be adjusted. Theories are only as good as theories are, until new data comes along and ruins them.

This leads to my main point. Science is not static, it is not final and it certainly is not ever “settled”. By its very nature science can never be irrevocably settled.

Science has not yet revealed all of reality

Even among the scientific theories that have stood the test of time, a mere glance at the timeline of scientific discoveries demonstrates very clearly that every scientific discovery is nothing more than marking the beginning of mankind’s awareness of that which was already there.  I don’t mean to dismiss the substantial education, training and intellect required to make these discoveries, but it doesn’t change the fact that what was discovered was already there.

With the understanding then, that science is simply the gradual awareness of what already exists, can’t we say that there are most likely all sorts of realities that surround us that science simply hasn’t “revealed” to us yet?

The Really Big Stuff

All of this then brings us to the question of God, of creation vs. evolution…and all that stuff, that really BIG stuff.

I did not write this post to prove to you that there is a God, or that mankind was divinely created. I cannot prove that and I admit it.

I took this time to demonstrate that not only are you misinformed, but embarrassingly so. You chant “science!” with righteous smugness, with the assuredness of one who holds but a single card, convinced it is the trump card. All the while, you don’t even understand the limitations of your argument. Don’t take it out on me when you realize the card you hold is the joker.

Science cannot, and will not ever be able to prove that God does not exist. It can only show that he has not been proven to exist,  yet.  This is not because of the greatness of God, though He is great, it is because of the limitations of science. Saying that “science has limitations” doesn’t make me a hater, a denier or a religious zealot; it means that I am aware of how scientific theories rise and then collapse when faced with new information. Similarly, I am aware that scientific discovery is merely mankind’s newfound awareness of what was already there. It is the essence and nature of science itself.  Hopefully this has been made abundantly clear by now.

With this background in place, I was about to start on the whole Darwin’s Theory thing, but it’s taken two hours just to get this far, so I’m going to leave that until the next post.  Peace, out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In God’s Time

One of the things we’re always told is that God answers prayers in His time, not ours.

When I was fourteen years old, my parents divorced. I took it very hard. Though I wasn’t particularly religious (I had stopped going to church a few years before), I remember praying every night for months, “Please God, let my parents get back together.”

Not only did my parents not get back together, but they both remarried. The marriage of my mother and step-father lasted only about seven years. Truth be told, I did not care for the man in the least.

When my father first married my step-mother I would visit them occasionally on weekends. I remember my new step-mom, Linda, and the efforts she made to be kind to me. I didn’t rebuke her, but I didn’t have the appreciation for her kindness that I should have. I was only sixteen and still very wounded.

Time heals all wounds, no matter the scar tissue left behind and I did come to love Linda very much. I loved her as much as any child could love a step-mom.  My mom and Linda had even become friends and used to talk at length over dinner on holidays.

Thirty three years passed.  Then one day, Linda passed away, suddenly, unexpectedly. It was the first time in my adult life that someone very close to me had passed away. And it hurt. Badly.

About a year after Linda’s passing, of all the unexpected things in the world, my parents got back together. I confess at first, it felt very weird. It felt to me as if Linda was being slighted in some way. Eventually that feeling passed, passing more easily as I reflected that my parents were married for nearly fifteen years before my dad and Linda married. It was right that they were together.

Now it is four years later. Tomorrow, my wife and two daughters and my sister, her daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren will leave on vacation together, with our parents, our Mom and Dad. I’ve not been on a vacation with my parents since my early teens. I am ecstatic. It would be easy to mourn the lost years, but I’ll not waste my time. I’m overjoyed. My prayers have been answered…in God’s time.

Good-bye, “Mr. I”

Pizza mogul, sports-team owner and entertainment magnate Mike Ilitch passed away last Friday, February 10, 2017.  I’ve worked at Little Caesars’ corporate headquarters for the last eighteen months but sadly, never had the opportunity to meet Mike Ilitch in person.

Fortunately, not having the opportunity to meet “Mr. I” didn’t preclude me from hearing great stories about him, firsthand, from his son Chris who serves as CEO of Ilitch Holdings.

It was at a day-long internal conference about a year ago and I had the good fortune to be seated at the same table as Chris. During lunch I asked him the question “I understand your dad was both a minor league ball player and a Marine. Those are both young men’s activities. How did he do both? What was the timeline on that?”.  What follows is the gist of the remarkable story Chris told to me. Note: I didn’t record the conversation so it’s not word for word, but it is as accurate as I can be about something told to me a year ago.

Mike Ilitch was a very good baseball player in high school. So good in fact that he enjoyed an open-invitation to workout after school with the Tigers whenever they were in town.

Upon his graduating, the Tigers offered a contract to Mike to which he replied “I want a signing bonus”. The Tigers responded with an offer of a $5,000 signing bonus. Mike countered with “I want a $10,000 signing bonus, or I’m going to join the Marine Corps.”  The Tigers didn’t budge. At this point in the story, Chris Ilitch said that his dad, while telling him this story looked at Chris and said “first big mistake I ever made.”

The year was 1948 and Mike shipped off to bootcamp. Following bootcamp he was assigned to duty in Florida. Mike’s ability at baseball didn’t go unnoticed and he ended up playing ball for his unit against the teams from other units.

In 1950, the Korean War broke out. Mike went to his commanding officer and asked to be shipped out to Korea. The C.O. was fond of his winning baseball team and even more fond of its star player and thus told Ilitch “You’re not going anywhere. You’re staying right here and playing ball.”.

As time passed, Ilitch felt bad about the young marines that passed through the base on their way to Korea. He wanted to do his duty and so time and again he appealed to the C.O. for orders to Korea and again and again the request was denied.

One thing was already apparent in the young Ilitch: He did not give up easily. After repeated requests, his C.O. finally relented and Ilitch received orders for Korea. After traveling to San Diego by train, Mike boarded a ship, a troop transport, bound for Korea.  Amphibious troop transport ships have a distinguishing feature in that the hull is comparatively “flat bottomed” and as a result do not cut smoothly through the water. In short, it was a rough ride. For nearly a week the marines were cramped below deck, rolling, swaying and… vomiting. At this point, once again, Chris said that his father told him “second big mistake I ever made.”.

One day land came into view on the horizon. Ilitch thought “well, this is it. I’m going into combat.”  However as the ship drew closer to land and docked, it turned out it wasn’t Korea at all, but Hawaii. The general in charge of the Marine Corps base on Hawaii had heard there were a couple of young stellar ballplayers on the ship, one of which was Ilitch, and ordered them off the ship, giving them new orders to Hawaii. The troop transport continued on to Korea without Mike. Ilitch spent the remainder of his four year tour playing baseball in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Upon returning home to Detroit, he approached the Tigers to let them know he was back and asked if they still wanted him to play for them. They did. Ilitch said “before, you offered me a $5,000 signing bonus.” The response was the Tigers organization was “you’re four years older now. The signing bonus is $3,500” to which Ilitch quickly replied “I’ll take it!” (he was learning…).

While in the minors, Ilitch rode the team bus all across the country. In many of the small towns he noticed there was nowhere to get pizza, a treat he liked very much. He thought to himself “if this baseball thing doesn’t work out, I think I’m going into the pizza business.”

On the field, Ilitch thrived. He batted over .300, which for a shortstop is excellent. Never one to “wait” for things to happen, Mike rather audaciously called the Tigers general manager and demanded to know why he wasn’t being called up to “the bigs”. “I’m killing the ball down here. Why am I not being called up?”

On another team or at another time, Mike probably would have been called up to the parent team, but at the time, the Tigers’ shortstop was a fellow named Harvey Kuenn, who had just broken in with the Tigers during Ilitch’s last year in the Marine Corps. True, Mike was hitting over .300 in the minors, but Kuenn batted .325 during his rookie year with the big club and was two years younger than Ilitch. Though never elected into baseball’s Hall of Fame, Kuenn was one of those players “on the bubble” – in the discussion, but never quite making it into “the Hall”.  In short, the Tigers “were set” at shortstop.

Had it not been for the twist of fate that the Tigers had a shortstop who could smoke the ball to all fields, Ilitch almost certainly would have enjoyed a career as a big league ballplayer and things would have been quite different as a result.

 

 

 

NSA Finding New Ways to Wreak Havoc

It is certainly arguable that the U.S. government favors the welfare of its corporations over the welfare of its citizens. In a twist of poetic justice, its blatant disregard for the rights of its citizens is dealing a blow to the gut of one of its newest and most promising industries, cloud computing.

As it becomes more and more clear that U.S. surveillance programs don’t limit their insatiable appetite for data to U.S. citizens, “data sovereignty laws” are being enacted by governments around the world. These laws require that multi-national corporations doing business in a particular country store their citizens information in that country. Some countries may even strengthen these laws in the near future, covering data in motion as well as data at rest. In short, these governments do not trust the surveillance programs of the United States and are acting to protect their citizens. (What a concept,right?)

Cloud computing providers such as Microsoft’s Azure and Amazon’s AWS are not at all structured to support this turn of events. Far from it. Rather, they are designed to replicate data around the world into their various data centers in order to provide fast performance. These data centers exist in relatively few countries, selected for a combination of proximity to population centers and to the Internet backbone.

The effect of all this is not just a blow to cloud computing providers. By requiring multi-national corporations (read: “U.S. multi-national corporations”) to keep an individual’s data in the country of their citizenship is a very costly proposition. It may make doing business in certain countries no longer financially feasible.

Congratulations, U.S. government. The long arm of the NSA has shot many of your corporations and a promising new industry in the foot. Cheers!

You can read more about this topic here, and here.

Detroit is “Awesome”!

One of the biggest problems with the “word inflation” that permeates our culture is it makes it more difficult to explain the truly exceptional.  In an era when everything is “phenomenal” and everyone is “awesome”, it makes it that much harder to describe something that really is extraordinary.

Having spent the last couple of months working in the midst of downtown Detroit, I can tell you that the transformation going on down there is nothing short of amazing. When I take walks before work or during my lunch break, I literally (yes, really “literally”) have feelings of euphoria when I see all that is going on.

For the longest time, I’ve dwelled on the sad thought that Detroit was once the *fourth* largest city in the U.S. and a thriving center of both business and culture. All that was in decline just about the time I was born. I often hear Steve Wonder’s “Up-Tight” in my head while imagining Woodward jammed with cars from the early 1960’s. All the women look like Jackie Kennedy or Diana Ross. Some of the men wear hats and all of them are wearing ties whether they need to or not. It is a cool picture, but one I felt would always remain an image in my head and not reality before my eyes. Now, I feel as if I am going to be handed a chance to walk in the midst of what I once thought to be impossible – what it must have felt like to be my age now in the hustle and bustle of Detroit in the early 1960’s.

The largest and most obvious sign of this revitalization is the construction on the M1 Rail , a 3.3 mile stretch which has Woodard in various stages of demolition/reconstruction. Though it will be another eighteen months or so until the street cars are rolling, just crossing Woodward and seeing fresh, new rail running off into the distance already gets me pumped up.

Even more exciting than the M1 Rail is the number of buildings, both on Woodward and elsewhere, that are undergoing *major* renovations. There are any number of buildings where construction workers are tearing away the exteriors of building, soon to be replaced with….I don’t know yet! I’ll have to wait and see.  I’ve seen street-level businesses along Woodward with much of the store front missing as workers inside gut the interior and build it back up again, better, newer and wired for the 21st century.

As an unabashedly proud IT nerd, one of the most exciting things for me to see is the rise of the high-tech industry downtown. Just the other day I learned that Amazon.com actually has over a hundred software developers occupying an entire floor of 150 West Jefferson and that they’re adding more. There is a sky-scraper right off Campus Martius that, according to the large painting on its side, is the home of Galaxie Solutions, a software staffing company, as is Strategic Staffing Solutions which has taken up residence in the historic Penabscot Building on Griswold. Back on Woodward there is Detroit Labs which makes mobile apps and I have to say that their workplace is uber-cool…I’ve been to some Ruby meet-ups there. It is difficult to not notice the employee shuttles for Quicken Loans coming and going from the Compuware Building.  The company was voted the #1 best large-company employer for IT workers in the country last year. At the north end of downtown near Cass, signs in the window promote “Coding Bootcamps” where people can acquire the skills to hop on to the IT bandwagon. Our own IT department is growing seemingly every day, so forgive us all if the downtown crowd looks a lot like the cast of “Office Space”, with a dash of artists and a pinch of lawyers in suits tossed in for good measure.

I haven’t for a moment forgotten that all of this is “downtown” and that “the neighborhoods” constitute about 98% of the land space of Detroit, but I think the M1 Rail is going to be a catalyst to spread the growth, much more so than I ever thought.

As rents for downtown apartments continue to rise, the M1 Rail opens up a tremendous number of new possibilities as the areas a quarter mile or more on either side of the rail all become candidates for residential redevelopment. Work downtown? Live near midtown or New Center and ride the rail to your job downtown. Personally, I am looking forward to the completion of the line so I can expand my lunchtime possibilities up to New Center as well as be able to stroll the Detroit Institute of Art for forty-five minutes during lunch, getting there and back on the rail.

And none of this even counts the 50+ block of development known as “The District” undertaken by the Ilitch family.

So, forgive me if I a seem a bit upbeat and optimistic about Detroit, but from what I see up close every day, it’s gonna be “awesome”.

A Plea to Half of America

When I was a much younger man I spent four years as a United States Marine and one of those four years were spent practicing evacuating American embassies in places like Spain, Morocco and Tunisia. When I returned to the U.S. the very first thing I did was drop to my knees and kiss the ground. In ports of entry, to this very day,  I get misty-eyed when I see the words “Welcome to the United States of America”. Make no mistake, I love these United States…but America….you really need to get over yourself.

There’s a mindset, far too prevalent in this country, that America is the absolute best at absolutely everything. If you dare to even suggest  some countries are equally as good at certain things, maybe even better than us,  you’re decried un-American, unpatriotic and…why, you might even be a socialist!

Have you ever heard any these phrases:  “American Exceptionalism”, or how about “USA! USA! USA!” and my personal favorite “God, Guns and Guts made America Great!”

I’ll get back to the God, Guns and Guts in just a minute, but let’s first ask ourselves “what does it mean to be a great  country? If great is defined as being able to kill more people than any other country, then perhaps we are the best. Personally, I’d like think there’s a lot more to greatness than that.

There are many who would have you believe that every person not already in the U.S. is simply marking time through a meaningless existence, just waiting for their chance to come to America. Why? Because we’re so much better than them! Should you ask these people “What are you basing this on? How many other countries have you been to?” they often snap “None! And I don’t need to!”

There’s nothing wrong with having no desire to travel, but you shouldn’t then offer your emotionally-charged opinion that America is the greatest country in the world. It’s even worse when nobody asked you. It’s irrational.

Just recently I spent two weeks in the Netherlands. I stayed with friends in their apartment and was able to experience the Netherlands much like a local. From grocery shopping to visiting someone in a hospital to taking out the trash and washing dishes, I lived more as a local than a tourist.

After experiencing two weeks of life as lived by the Dutch, I came to the  realization a country’s “greatness” is simply a reflection of the quality of life of it’s citizens. With that in mind the stage is set:  The Mighty USA vs teeny-tiny Netherlands (one third the size of the state of Michigan).  Let the battle begin. As a framework for our battle, I return, as promised, to “God, Guns and Guts”.

God – The U.S. is one of the most religious countries on the planet. Only four percent of the population identifies itself as having no religion. Conservative commentators and news outlets would have you believe that the the ninety-six percent are in a “life and death” battle over the right of the ninety-six percent to exist. Yet, our currency says “In God We Trust”. Several state legislatures open sessions with prayers and every single Federal office not related to defense, homeland security or law enforcement is shut down when Christmas falls on a weekday.

By contrast, forty percent of Dutch citizens claim no religion. That percentage will likely go higher as older generations fade away. The forty percent by and large aren’t anti-religion. In my time there, the Dutch didn’t look lost and aimless, nor did they look devoid of conscience. On the contrary, they were friendly, personable and helpful.

Guns – The gun situation in the U.S. is fairly well understood. There is no shortage of laws on the books, most of which are ignored. Following the inevitable annual “gun-in-school-tragedy”,  the answer always seems to be more “soon-to-be-ignored” laws. I am a staunch supporter of the second amendment, but there’s something much deeper that needs to be understood about the gun debate. We’ll get there momentarily.

In the Netherlands you can purchase a firearm and you can keep it in your home. You must be a member of a “gun club” in order to obtain a permit to buy a firearm, however. That being said, we learned from people “on the street” that you can easily buy a gun outside of legal channels. So, on the assumption that anyone that wants a gun can get one, here’s a question that demands an answer:  Why is the homicide rate in the U.S. FIVE HUNDRED PERCENT that of the Netherlands? Guns are the means, not the reason.  I can tell you part of the reason:  anger. We are a very, very angry people. By contrast, the Dutch are largely content and happy. For starters, there seems to be much less of a class divide. Maybe guns would not be such a hot-button issue if we could figure out why we’re so angry and inclined to take a life without so much as batting an eye.

Guts – My favorite topic of the three. I have first hand knowledge of guts as I am in possession of one that is far too large. The rate of obesity and overweight adults in the U.S. is sixty seven percent!!!.  It breaks my heart now more than ever because I’ve seen the answer and it is so simple…and yet so unreachable for us here in the U.S.  The answer is “move your body”. For two weeks in the Netherlands, I dined out every other night. I ate dessert at many of those meals. I ate many breakfasts consisting of eggs, toast, bacon or corned beef hash. I did all this…and lost five pounds without even trying.

Every “city” of any size in the Netherlands is designed from the ground up to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians as equally as cars. I was astonished to see seventy year-old men and women riding bicycles through crowded streets, in the rain, on their way to buy groceries. Young parents pick up their children from school or daycare by bicycle. I’ve seen the mother of twins with one infant in a basket over the handlebars and their sibling in another basket over the rear tire. This was in February! The baskets are warm and padded and have a plastic cover to keep the cold wind off the infant. Lest you think this is harmful to the child, consider that the Netherlands is ranked 18th best in infant mortality rates and the U.S. 34th. Yes, simply by living their lives the Dutch stay slim and fit.

When I returned home and realized that I had to get into a car to go anywhere, I was furious at how badly we’ve failed to take lessons from countries who have better ways of doing things. No need to carve out an hour for the gym each day. No need for endless pills and fad diets. Ride your bike to work. Or as many Dutch do, ride your bike to the train station, lock it up in a bike rack, take the train for a bit, get out, unlock your other bike from the bike rack in that train station and then bike the rest of the way to work. Given a choice of an hour in a car or thirty minutes biking and thirty minutes on a train, I’ll take the latter every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

So, there it is. A three-round knockout. The Netherlands, with its fit, healthy population, walking around content and happy, not shooting each other like life is a video game and doing all of this despite the fact that they should so obviously be lost souls because they’re just not that into religion.  It is no wonder that year after year after year different polls and organizations cite The Netherlands, or Denmark or Norway as having the highest standard of living/quality of life in the world.  Three countries for sure that would be decried by half of America as “socialists!!”. At the end of the day, does anything matter other than happiness?  I’m not saying The Netherlands is the greatest country on the planet. I’m just saying it sure the hell isn’t the U.S.

So…I would respectfully submit that when people who’ve never been outside the U.S. declare us the best, at everything, they’re shouting while having their head stuck in the sand.

You might think that so many Americans saying this nonsense would anger people in other countries, and to a certain degree it does. But mostly, they’re not angry with you, America…they’re laughing at you.

We have the lowest rate of international travel among the developed countries and yet have all these grandiose opinions of our place in the world.

In closing, I would ask you to make it a goal to visit countries on other continents and above all, don’t define your worth and identity based on whether America is or isn’t the best at something. Get out there. Travel, meet different kinds of people and experience different cultures. You’ll be a better person for it.

ADD and Me – Part 2

When we last left our heroes, I had just taken my first pill for ADD. In fact, I took it at 10:10 AM yesterday. I had a meeting at 10:30 AM and as I walked to the conference room, a feeling came over me akin to drinking 10 espressos. I felt pretty wired. Taking the pill on an empty stomach probably accelerated that feeling.

The meeting was about the design of some financial reports, a topic that would have had me fighting to stay awake and fighting even harder to focus on the mundane details of credits and debits. Instead, I felt alert, energetic and was intensely aware of the conversation. In the past, I would have drifted in and out of listening to people speak and have had to “catch up” by gleaning things from the conversation and trying to piece together things I had missed while my thoughts drifted elsewhere.

In fact, it seemed I spent half of the meeting out of my chair and pointing to the project on the screen to suggest changes to the report to make it easier to read. I left the feeling extremely excited about my new found attention abilities.

The next thing I noticed was my unwillingness to have unsatisfactory things around me. For months, the network cables that connect my VOIP phone were about 2 inches too short, causing my phone to rest nearly on top of my laptop keyboard. I just never did anything about it. It reminds me of a joke I once heard told by the motivational speaker Les Brown. It went something like this:

A man was walking down a dirt road down south. He passed an old rickety house and on the old rickety porch sat an old man and an old hound dog. The hound dog was just moaning and groaning. The passerby stopped and asked the old man “why is that dog moaning and groaning?” To which, the old man replied “because he’s laying on a nail”. The passerby, not quite able to believe it said “well, why doesn’t he get up and move?” The old man responded “because it doesn’t hurt bad enough to get up and move”.

On the surface that sounds like a story of incredible laziness. But.. what if one’s mind is just wired differently? In the eyes of a person with a brain wired correctly, it seems like a rational statement, but not when you’re brain is miswired; not if you suffer from ADD (BTW, I do not suffer from ADHD. No hyperactivity, just attention deficit)

And so, I wrote an email to request a couple of longer network cables. When they came, I calmly untangled the wires under my desk and plugged them into the phone and now the cables have sufficient slack to put my phone anywhere on my desk. I next tacked my chronically messy desk. I sorted the stacks of papers on my desk, filed everything in its place and cleaned up my top desk drawer. I’ll get to the others in due time.

Likewise, when I went home, I tamed the beastly stack of weeks-old mail and magazines from the top of the dresser in my bedroom. Each day, I would check for important mail on top of the stack, but anything unimportant… I would just leave there until the stack was so obnoxious that every couple of months, I’d waste an entire evening sorting and trashing stuff. Now, I have made a stack of magazines and have resolved to skim through one a day and then discard them until the stack is gone.

Returning to the workplace, the quiz I took to determine if I may have ADD ( http://add.about.com/od/evaluationanddiagnosis/a/adultaddsymptom.htm ) mentioned that many people feel completely stressed out, that the world is moving to quickly and that what they may actually be experiencing is undiagnosed ADD. I can complete testify to this. Whenever I worked on one task, I stressed that all my other tasks weren’t getting worked on. The bigger the list of tasks became the more I stressed because now I was spending ALL my time analyzing the tasks, trying to determine which was the highest priority. As a result, EVEN LESS would actually get done, intensifying the stress even more. I felt paralyzed.

Now.. I am still aware that all of these projects/tasks exist. I also know I can only do so much. I take what I think is the highest priority task and I work on it until it’s done, or until somebody decides something else is a higher priority. It such a relief to not feel that self-induced stress anymore.

In the past I’d either be unaware of them or ignore them with a nagging feeling of guilt.. “but not enough to do something about it.”

In the 21 years I’ve been married, the words my wife (Ramona) said the most to me were not “I love you” but… “you only hear half of what I say”. It was true. It was very hard to keep my mind focused on the person in front of me if my mind wanted to be somewhere else. All I can do is thank her profusely for hanging in there with a guy that must have not been too much fun to live with at times. I will make it up to you… I promise.

One last thing I thought was interesting about the conversation with my doctor… I told him that despite the fact that I have a great career and do very well, I have ALWAYS felt like an underachiever. I look at people my age or younger who are CEO’s, successful entrepreneurs, governors, congressman, etc and I think to myself “where did I go wrong? I think I am fairly smart guy…what do they know that I don’t know?”. And I’ve discovered that in the great competition of the business world, I’ve been battling with my hands tied behind my back, relative to my competitors. At this point, I have no great aspirations, but it IS helpful to finally know the answer to this mystery.

OK, I lied.. one more thing. The medication I am on.. Adderall is a pretty strong appetite suppressant. Today, I ate lunch BECAUSE I know it’s important to eat something, but I had absolutely no desire to eat food. I have a feeling there will soon be a lot less of me, and that’s OK 🙂 I have a bit of circular question though. If I lose a significant amount of weight, the first explanation people will come up with is “well, you’re on this medication and it causes loss of appetite. Of coure you’ve lost weight.. you can’t help it.” They may be right, but, we’ll never know if that’s the ONLY reason. In other words, I used to spend time on what I wanted to spend time on, oblivious to important but “mundane” things that needed doing. Likewise, if I wanted to eat, I ate. Was it a lack of “will power” or was it my brain simply focusing on what I wanted to do and not caring about the consequences. Interestingly enough, if Adderall had no appetite suppressant to it whatsoever, I think my whole approach to my diet and eating habits would be different now… now that I can think clearly and do what’s right, not just want I want to do.

But, I guess we’ll never know, because the medicine IS an appetite suppressant, so it will remain a mystery. If you suffer from the symptoms I mentioned in part one of this note, please take the quiz… a much more satisfying life could be just a doctor’s visit away.

Angels and Spirits

At risk of sounding like a nut… I’d like to share with you a couple of incidents that have made me an absolute believer in angels and spirits.

To truly get the most out of this blog post, you should first read another blog post of mine and then come back to this one.

I have two specific stories to share.

The Calculator

 

In the summer of 1992, I was taking an economics course at Macomb Community College. It was one of those summertime cram-down type courses that are only six weeks long when the regular courses were many more weeks in length. I think this course met twice a week, four hours at a shot for six weeks.

At the time of taking this course, my wife was very pregnant, expecting our first child, a boy, we had already named Joshua Grant. And then… the unthinkable happened. Joshua was stillborn at full term. The “review” session for our final exam fell on the same day as Joshua’s funeral, and I was in no shape to attend class that night. I missed the review. Two days later, I arrived to take the final exam. I was in shambles. I could barely focus and I had missed the review. To make matters worse, as we sat down to start the final, I noticed everybody placing calculators on their desk. We NEVER used a calculator in this class, as the math was very basic. I had never brought a calculator with me to this class.

I asked the person sitting next to me “why does everybody have a calculator? We’ve never used them before.” My classmate whispered back – “he said last Tuesday that on the final, we’ll need a calculator”. So now, on top of being a wreck over the loss of our child, I was panic-stricken that I was going to fail this exam.

I bent over to my book bag to get a pencil and some blank sheets of paper. And there, in my bag…..was my calculator. I never brought that calculator to class, ever… and I know I did not put it in the book bag… and yet there it was. I felt my eyes well up with tears, by now convinced I must REALLY look like I was out of my mind.

I took the final and amazingly.. I’ll never know how, I got an A on the final and an A for the course. And I owe it all to my little Joshy who made sure his daddy had a calculator.

The Voice

 

In 1996, we were finally blessed with a baby, our daughter Monica. My wife had undergone a cesarean delivery and so for the first several weeks, I was the one who got up at night with Monica.

One night, she awoke crying and I went to feed her. She was really crying quite intensely and she didn’t seem to be hungry. I checked her diaper… dry. I rocked her, sang to her and walked around with her, to no avail. After a while I was really getting concerned because she was unconsolable.

My mind began to wander into that “what if something’s REALLY wrong with her” territory. You know, the one where a trip to the emergency room enters your thoughts.

By now, I was really starting to panic. I didn’t know what to do. And then….. as plain as day, I heard in my head a male voice say “her throat”. I looked down and realized that Monica’s pajamas were snapped right to the very top and appeared to be snug around her neck. I unfastened the top snap and she instantly stopped crying. Considering her brother, Josh, was stillborn due to the umbilical cord being wrapped too tightly around his neck, it sent shivers up and down my spine as a I realized that her brother truly was acting as her guardian angel.