A Balanced Approach

26 July 2011

The big talk in Washington these days is about the debt ceiling.  The US government is currently spending more money than it takes in, more than $4 billion a day.  That sounds like a lot, but it’s only about $50 a day per family.  That doesn’t sound so bad, but isn’t it more than you spend on food?  And that’s money they’re spending over what they’re already getting.  So add that onto the taxes you are already spending.

So here’s the deal.  The US is not allowed to borrow money unless it has been approved by Congress.  Approving this many loans is hard work, so Congress created what is called the debt ceiling.  They’ve said, all right, you can borrow this much money, from wherever you can get it, and spend it on whatever you want, but you can’t borrow any more.  The problem is, we keep borrowing, so eventually, we hit the ceiling, so Congress needs to raise the ceiling again or the US can’t pay its bills, like the interest on all that debt.  So there really is no ceiling.

So next Tuesday, we’re going to hit the ceiling again.  If Congress doesn’t raise it again, the US won’t be able to borrow any more money, so they’re going to be short about $4 billion a day.

Just about everyone seems to agree that we need to raise the ceiling.  If we don’t, we may not be able to send out Social Security checks to the seniors.  We won’t be able to make payments on all of the debts we have already.  And you know what happens when you don’t make your payments.  No, they won’t repossess the country.  But it will hurt our credit rating.  And that means interest rates will go up.  They go up for the Fed if we ever want to borrow money again.  They go up for business loans, home loans, and our beloved credit cards.  The argument goes that this will hurt business, cost jobs, and hurt our already ailing economy.  President Obama calls it financial Armageddon.

So everybody agrees.  Why don’t we raise the ceiling?  Well there is this pesky new group of congress called the Tea Party.  They have this whacky idea that we can’t keep borrowing more and more and never paying it back.  They believe that we should do something called living within our means.  They agree that we have to pay our bills, that the debt ceiling should go up.  But we have to make some changes.  They want us to cut the runaway spending, and to add a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

So what is a balanced budget amendment?  It means we’d add a clause to the Constitution saying that the government can’t spend more money than it gets.  Most of the states have a balanced budget amendment.  So do Germany and Switzerland.  To create a balanced budget amendment, it would first have to be approved by two-thirds of both houses of Congress.  Then, the legislatures of 38 states would have to approve it as well.  Even if this were possible, it could take years.  The bill of rights took two years to be ratified.  The 27th amendment took more than 200 years.  Even after this happens the amendment wouldn’t take effect for another five years.  Meanwhile, we’d be going further into debt, increasing our interest obligations, and reducing what would be left over to pay for other things like national defense and air traffic controllers.

But here’s a little secret.  We don’t need a balanced budget amendment.  We can have a balanced budget next Tuesday.  How?  Don’t raise the debt ceiling.  If the US can borrow any more, then they can’t spend more than they take in.  This will call for some tough choices, but tough times call for tough choices.  Social Security checks would go out, at least for a while.  There is a trust fund for Social Security with billions of dollars in it.  It can’t be diverted for other purposes.  We’d probably still pay the paychecks of the military, but we might have to bring them all home.  Maybe this is a good thing, since the current Commander in Chief doesn’t seem interested in winning anything.  Obama-Care?  What’s that?  NPR can survive on its own.  Maybe we’d have to skip the Cowboy Poetry Festival for a year.  (Don’t believe our Prince Harry.  Those people would still exist.)

Yes, there would be some tough choices to make.  The beauty of this plan would be that the people now in office would be the ones that would have to make them.  The tea-partiers say that we don’t have a tax problem, we have a spending problem.  There’s some truth to this, but the real truth is that we have a procrastination problem.  Everyone talks about spending less, but nobody ever does anything about it.  Congress is in constant campaign mode.  They want to add exciting new programs, not get rid of them.  They want to get reelected.  Obama is on record as saying that he will veto a bill unless it raises the limit long enough to get past the next election.  Even most of the spending cuts the tea-partiers are lobbying for are 5 to 10 years away.

Maybe interest rates would go up.  Maybe they wouldn’t.  We have enough revenue to pay our debts if we decide that’s important.  And, guess what?  If we don’t borrow any more money, we don’t need to worry about the interest rates.  Our creditors will feel much safer is we are paying our debts than if we keep digging a deeper hole.

The time for rhetoric has passed.  It’s time for some action.  It’s time to make some tough decisions.

Leave the ceiling in place.  Let congress vote, one at a time, for the programs they want to fund.  (News flash:  The Appropriations committees do this already.  But they relegate most of this busy work to non-elected staffers.)  If the House and Senate can’t agree, it must not have been very important.  Cut!  If the president doesn’t agree, he’s got his veto.  If Congress can’t override his veto, it must not have been very important.  Cut!  When the revenue is all spoken for, we’re done.  If the cowboys still get their poetry festival, good for them.  If not, it must not have been very important.  If we, the people, don’t like the choices made, we have an election coming up next year.

A Day and a Life

28 June 2011

Friday, June 17, 2011

9:00 AM:             I begin my day with a conference call to facilitate an emergency software release at work.

10:15 AM:           My wife Diana, her mom and I leave Morgan Hill to go to a regularly scheduled 11 AM prenatal appointment in Mountain View.

10:55 AM:           We arrive at El Camino Womens’ Hospital, 3rd Floor.

11:17 AM:           Our favorite midwife, Lin Lee, arrives for the exam.  (The name sounds Chinese, but she’s very British.  She reminds me so much of Mary Poppins that it would not surprise me to see her arriving for work on an umbrella.)  She’s late, but actually earlier than usual.  I’m expecting the usual ten minutes followed by “Everything is fine.  Come back in a week.”  I’m hoping this goes quickly.  I have an afternoon appointment with the ADT alarm tech, and I need to get back to work.

She begins by talking about when we should talk about induction, since the baby is five days late.  I’m skeptical.  We don’t really know when the pregnancy started, so we don’t really know when she was late, and first time moms average eight days late.  Lin says that’s reasonable.  Let’s do an ultrasound.

The ultrasound reveals that the baby is fine, but the placenta is showing signs of old age.  She’s not seeing enough amniotic fluid.  So she does a physical exam.

The exam shows that the cervix is dilated 5 centimeters.  For those that haven’t done this before, or haven’t done it in a while, the cervix is the baby’s portal to the world the rest of us live in.  It’s normally sealed tight, but during birth it dilates, eventually opening to 10 cm.  When the cervix is at 10 cm, it’s baby time.  Diana is half way there.

Lin says we don’t have to worry about induction.  This baby will be here by Midnight.  She tells us to go home, get packed, and come straight back to the hospital.

12:20 PM:           We get back in the car to head back to Morgan Hill.  I called the office to tell them I won’t be working anymore today.  I call ADT to cancel our appointment.  They ask why, and sound like they need a really good reason.  I think I give them one.

We call our birth doula, Lori Dent, to let her know what’s going on.  (Don’t feel bad if you don’t know what a doula is.  I have four children, and had never heard the word doula nine months ago.)  She suggested that we take our time and maybe go for a walk.

1:10 PM:             We arrive home back in Morgan Hill.  There was an accident on 101 at Tully Road.  (Isn’t there always?  They should just leave a couple of tow trucks parked there.)

Diana is reluctant to return to the hospital.  She thinks they just want her back so they can induce labor.  I’m in no hurry, but I do want to get back before rush hour.  I try to reassure Diana that they just want us back because it’s baby time.  We take our time packing.  I take a shower and change into comfortable clothes.  We stop for lunch.  We stop at Target to buy pajamas.

4:20 PM:             We arrive back at Women’s’ Hospital, 1st Floor, Labor and Delivery.  Midwife Bethany Monte is expecting us.  They already have us scheduled for induction.  (Insert sound effect here:  Needle scratching across the surface of a vinyl record.)  This is not what we signed up for. 

Bethany makes a good case for induction.  There is a greater risk of C-section if we wait, and not much risk since they’re going to use just a teeny-tiny bit of pitocin.  I’m inclined to listen to her and I say so, but this needs to be Diana’s decision.   Diana has heard horror stories about the use of pitocin, and wants nothing to do with it.  What she’s heard:  Pitocin leads to more intense contractions.  More intense contractions lead to epidural pain medication.  Diana has her heart set on a natural birth.  Pain medication makes it harder to push, making more interventions like vacuums and forceps necessary.

We ask for a second opinion.

4:45 PM:             Lori the doula arrives.  She doesn’t apply undue influence, but it’s clear she doesn’t approve of the induction plan.

6:35 PM:             The supervising MD arrives.  He does an ultrasound, and finds 6.8 cm of amniotic fluid.  Ten is optimal, and 2 is dangerous, but 6.8 is acceptable.  The baby’s heartbeat is strong and variable, showing that he’s active.  He says the baby scores 10 out of 10.  Come back on Monday. 

We are so out of there.

Before we leave, Diana reports that she is experiencing “cramps”.

8:30 PM:             We arrive home.  Diana’s cramps are continuing.  I suggest we start recording the time of each cramp to see if there is a pattern.  No real pattern, but they’re about 8-12 minutes apart.  They don’t really hurt, and they don’t seem to last very long.

10:10 PM:           We’re hungry, and with limited options.  We go to Taco Bell for dinner.  Diana eats half a taco and can’t eat anymore.  This is my first real sign than something has changed.  Diana always finishes her dinner.

11:40 PM:           The cramps are about 5-6 minutes apart.  We haven’t timed how long they are lasting.  I suggest we do so.  Diana signals when the next one starts.  When it is over, I ask her how long she thinks it lasted.  She says about 10 seconds.  I timed 35 seconds.  Now I know something is up.  I call Bethany back at the hospital to let her know what is going on.  She suggests we watch it for an hour.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

12:40 AM:           Even though the cramps don’t seem like traditional contractions, I’ve begun calling them contractions.  They are now about 3 minutes apart, lasting 35-45 seconds.  I call Bethany back.  She suggests we return to the hospital.  We call Lori, letting her know we are heading back.  We load up the car, and Diana, Mom, and I head back to El Camino.  On the 30 minute ride to the hospital, Diana doesn’t make a sound.  She is so peaceful that I’m certain that she is sleeping and do nothing that might change that.

1:25 AM:             We arrive back at Women’s Hospital, Labor and Delivery.  We’re assigned to Delivery room 9.  Diana is wired up with telemetric fetal heartbeat and contraction monitors.  The telemetry is so that she can move around, even get in the shower, and isn’t wired into a machine.  We know now that Diana is having contractions, but only because of the monitor.  She still shows no distress.  Diana can still talk during the contractions and is still laughing at my jokes.  The contractions are about a minute apart, and lasting about a minute.  A physical exam shows that she is dilated 6 cm.

1:40 AM:             Lori Dent arrives.  She sets about setting up the room with aroma therapy and battery operated “candles”.

2:20 AM:             Diana says she wants to use the restroom.  I help her out of bed and ask if she wants Lori or me in there with her.  She says no.  No one thinks twice about this.  Bethany, Lori and I stand outside chatting.

2:26 AM:             I hear Diana moaning loudly from the restroom.  I open the door an inch, asking if she needs help.  She says “Yes!”  I move in.  Bethany pushes me out of the way.  She checks on Diana, and yells at me to call the nurse saying that “We are dilated and pushing.”  I push the nurse call button, she answers, and I say “We are dilated and pushing!”  The nurse says “What?” and I repeat.  I’m still not sure why this was funny.  But everyone thought that this was hilarious.  Note:  Diana was still laughing.

2:29 AM:             The nurse, Bethany, Lori, and I are crowded into the bathroom where Diana is still squatting over the toilet with no lights on.  There was no time to move her back to the delivery room.  There were two or three pushes, and somehow Bethany was able to reach in and pull out my son.  He came into the world screaming, leaving no doubt that he was not happy to have been disturbed, and that lung problems were not going to be an issue.

Epilogue:

Richard Alarid Dudgeon the Third was born at 2:29 on the morning of June 18, 2011.  This happened to be the birthday of the best man at our wedding, Gary Leon.  He weighed 6 pounds, 6 ounces, and was 19 ½ inches.  (Ricky was.  Gary is quite a bit taller.)

Diana lost quite a bit of blood.  She finally had to be given some of the dreaded pitocin to help close the uterus to seal the open blood vessels.  Her blood pressure dropped considerably, but she was never in any danger.  I was very happy that we were able to more than achieve Diana’s goal of having a natural childbirth.  But I am also happy that we chose to do so in a hospital where we were ready to handle any complication.

Ricky and Diana are both doing just fine.  We were all home by Sunday night.

As Good as It Gets

27 June 2011

I know it’s been a long time since I did any blogging.  I’ve been a little busy.

On June 10, I became a homeowner for the first time.  We bought a three bedroom home on a third of an acre in Morgan Hill, California.  We actually began the home buying process in February.  But banks and title companies move at their own pace.  It finally closed on June 10.

Morgan Hill is a smaller town than I am used to living in.  And my five minute commute has grown to 45 minutes.  But so far we really love living here.  It has a small town feel, while still having most of the conveniences of living in a big city.  And if anything is missing, the big city isn’t far away.

Escrow closed on June 10.  We were completely moved in on June 11.  And, thanks mostly to my wife and mother-in-law, we were mostly unpacked on June 12.  I should probably mention that my son was scheduled to be born on June 12.  Proving himself the latest of a long line of procrastinators, he stayed put.

Back in the working world, on June 13 we released Symantec Web Gateway (SWG) 5.0 to market.  This is a project that my colleagues and I have been working on days, nights, and a lot of weekends for the past eighteen months.  It dramatically expands the capabilities of the product that I work on.  At 2:15 that afternoon I had the privilege of issuing the commands that officially made the new software available to our customers.  And by 2:30 we were standing in the hallway drinking champagne.  (I had no idea this was customary or even allowed.)

The rest of the week was comparatively slow.  We had lots of comings and goings related to the new house.  At one point, we filled the cul-de-sac with service vehicles with the gardener, the cable guy, Geek Squad, and an alarm company tech.  On Wednesday or Thursday, we discovered a bug in SWG 5.0 (not mine, this time), and started work on getting SWG 5.0.1 ready for release.

Friday June 17 was supposed to be uneventful.  The only thing on the docket was a regularly scheduled prenatal appointment.  We expected the usual “everything looks good” but what we got was “this baby will be here by Midnight.”  They were wrong.  Never underestimate the procrastinator gene.

But we did go back to the hospital at around 1:30 Saturday morning, and at 2:29 AM on June 18, 2011, Richard A Dudgeon III entered this world, proclaiming to all that he would have no lung problems.

Brief sidetrack:  I did announce earlier that my son would be named Richard Dudgeon 3.0.  I did fill out the birth certificate paperwork that way.  It turns out that the state of California doesn’t allow Arabic numerals in names.  But they have no problem with Roman numerals.  And we wonder why we have problems getting along with the Middle East.

To recap for those just joining us:  In less than seven days, we moved to a new home, completed an eighteen month project at work, and had a baby.

I’ve gained a lot of confidence this week in my ability to create and execute a plan.  Not that I take the credit.  We’ve proved that my wife Diana and I are great partners.  (For the record, she actually did most of the baby stuff.)  This is actually all about teamwork.  We had a great team of professionals for buying the house, from our realtor to loan broker to inspectors.  After a lot of research and interviews we put together a first class birth team.  And I work with an amazing group of professionals at Symantec.

I’m actually feeling kind of a letdown at this point.  After having all of these milestones fall together, I don’t really know what’s next.  I’m faced with the foreign experience of a near empty to-do list.  I know that I need to set some new goals so I don’t stagnate or move backwards.  I feel a little guilty that I don’t know what my next goal should be.  But mostly what I feel today is a peace and contentment like none I remember feeling before.

Flash back ten or twelve years.  In less than ten years, I’d lost both of my parents.  My first marriage had ended.  I was alone with no prospects of a new relationship.  I was clinically depressed, unemployed, and living on disability income.  I remember around that time seeing the movie As Good as It Gets.  The title of the movie comes from a line by Jack Nicholson, playing a character with some serious OCD.  On leaving his psychiatrist’s office, he says to the other psych patients in the waiting room, “What if this is as good as it gets?”  This really struck a chord with me.  I truly wondered if this was all there was.  I figured, if it was, I should make the most of what I had.

Flash back to the present.  Today, I am truly blessed.  I’m married to a woman I love who loves me with a depth I barely understand.  I’m near the top of my profession with one of the largest companies in the world, and the largest in our market.  I live in a beautiful home in a great community.  And I have an amazing new son.

I do feel some guilt at my current good fortune.  These are difficult times for many.  I have friends and family who have been unemployed for years; who have lost their homes; who have found themselves alone after broken marriages or after losing loved ones.  I hope my story won’t be discouraging, but can maybe provide some light at the end of the tunnel.  I got where I am today, in part, through setting goals, thinking good thoughts, prayer, surrounding myself with good people, and doing some hard work.  It also took some lucky breaks, and, I believe, some Divine intervention.  But mostly what it took was time.  Things get worse, and things get better.  Life sucks when things are down.  But hang in there.  I went through some dark times.  I know now that I had to walk through the dark places to get to where I am today.

Life is good

I don’t know if this is as good as it gets.  But I know it’s as good as it has ever been.

Release Announcement

27 January 2011

We are pleased to announce the planned release of the latest entry to the Dudgeon family line, Richard Dudgeon 3.0.

In addition to many new enhancements, this release will include many of the features you’ve come to expect in the Richard Dudgeon line since 1935, including:

  • Digital peripherals (Five digits on each extremity)
  • Binary vision
  • Stereo sound detection
  • Non-artificial intelligence
  • Voice recognition

 

This will be the first Richard Dudgeon version released to be available in both English and Spanish.  (Sorry, American English only.)

One of the most exciting features is an application called “learning”.  This feature will make this release suitable for any number of implementations that may be desired, including:

  • Astronaut
  • Cowboy
  • Software Engineer
  • Shortstop

 

This product has a tentative delivery date of June 12, 2011.  Release date subject to change without notice.

The current prototype is stable and has passed a number of quality assurance tests and performance matrices.  New features introduced should be considered experimental.

Production team:

Physical production:  Diana Dudgeon
Initial conception and physical architecture:  Richard Dudgeon II
On time delivery:  Nicole Wilcox, MD

Don’t Vote!

2 November 2010

Seriously, don’t do it.  Don’t vote.  At least until after you’ve read this.  And maybe not even then.

How can I be serious?  People have fought and died for our right to vote.  From the Civil War to women’s suffrage, true heroes have risked and sometimes given everything for us to have this privilege.  Isn’t it our responsibility to exercise this right and participate in the democratic process?  I still say no.  Sometimes it is our responsibility not to.

With every right there comes an equal responsibility.  Consider the First Amendment .  It grants to me the right to free speech.  I can say virtually whatever I want, whenever I want, with full impunity.  I can stand on the street corner and hurl racial epithets to those that pass by.  I can burn the American flag.  I can march with the Ku Klux Klan.  But should I?  I say no.

Let’s look at a more direct example.  In 1993, a true piece of human filth, Richard Allen Davis, kidnapped a 12-year-old girl, Polly Klaas, from her mother’s home.  He then sexually assaulted her and strangled her to death, dumping her body beside a freeway overpass.  (I apologize for not having a better description than human filth. It is insulting to both humans and filth.)

Davis had been in and out of jail and prison since the age of 12.  He had been convicted of multiple kidnappings and sexual assaults.  Yet, somehow, this predator was free to walk the streets in 1993.  This outraged the people of California.  This led to Proposition 184 on the California ballot in 1994.  Known as the Three Strikes law, it says, basically, if you commit three felonies, and two of them are violent felonies, you’re going to prison for life without parole.  If this law had been in place before Polly Klaas was murdered, Davis would have already been in prison for life, and she might be raising her own children today.

But there were some parts of Prop 184 that some perceived as flaws.  For example, the law does not require that the third “strike” be a violent crime.  It can be as simple as someone committing petty left.  This led to life sentences for crimes as small as stealing a slice of pizza or shoplifting videotapes.  (I’ll bet he’s pissed after finding out about DVDs.)

Some, myself included, found this to be fundamentally unfair.  For example, one can have dozens of shoplifting convictions, then go out and molest two children, and only spend a few years in prison.  On the other hand, someone can be convicted of two armed robberies when they were sixteen can get a life sentence for shoplifting a pack of chewing gum when they’re 42, even if they have served their time for the robberies and stayed out of trouble otherwise.

So Proposition 66 was introduced in 2004.  This proposition would require that the third offense to  be a violent or serious crime before the three strikes rule could be used.  But it did some other things as well.  For example, it doubled the penalty for committing a second violent felony.  More than that, it increased the penalty for the first offence, and added a “two strikes” provision for sexual crimes against children, like the one Richard Allen Davis committed.  It would give life sentences to these bottom feeders for the second offense.  No more third chances to ruin the life of another innocent victim.  It added some fairness to the law, but it was actually tougher on violent crime.  In my opinion, anyone who was in favor Prop 184 should have liked Prop 66.

A week before the election, it looked like the initiative would be passed.  But at the last minute, a well-meaning billionaire spent millions of dollars on TV and radio ads against the proposition, warning people that, if passed, “26,000 dangerous criminals and rapists” would be released from prison.  The claim was untrue, but it scared people.  The yes vote for Prop 66 was 47%, so the initiative was defeated.  Today, a serial child molester in California can be sentenced to as little as three years for their second offense.  While we are still handing out life sentences for shoplifters.

Prop 184 was passed by 72% of the electorate.  I don’t believe that anyone who voted yes on 184 and actually read the law proposed by Prop 66 voted no.  So what happened?

What happened is that people went to the polls and voted on an initiative that they didn’t really understand.  They relied on what they heard on the radio or saw on TV to decide on which way to vote.

This is happening over and over again.  It doesn’t just apply to ballot initiatives.  It’s the same for elections for city council, state congress, and the US president.  The election is won by the side that spends the most money.  It goes to the highest bidder.  People, this isn’t democracy.  It’s EBay.  (I actually coined that phrase six years ago, before I’d ever heard of Meg Whitman.  It has a certain irony today that it didn’t at the time.)

How do we fix this?  The only way to stop this, is to understand what you are voting for. Actually read the law before you vote yes or no.  It’s easy to find them online.  Before you vote for a candidate, go to their website and see if they stand for the same policies and principles that you do.  Look at their track record and see whether their actions show that they really believe what they say.  Look at their voting record, if they have one.  If you don’t do this, you’re really selling your vote.

Two years ago in California, almost the opposite happened.  Almost every initiative on the ballot failed, in part because they were sponsored by big corporations, and people were sick of people trying to buy elections.  This is a step in the right direction, but it’s almost as bad.  An initiative should become law if it is a good law.  If a corporation spends a billion dollars on an ad campaign for proposition X, this doesn’t make it a bad law by default.  And if it has a catchy slogan, that doesn’t make it a good law.  Read the law.

Let’s say I see an ad on TV for a beautiful new sports car as it drives along a curvy mountain road looking sexy.  I don’t do any research.  I don’t find out what it’s maintenance record is like, what kind of gas mileage it gets, what kind of performance it actually has, how safe it is, or what kind of consumer reports it has received.  Then I go straight to the dealer and buy one.  If it turns out to be a lemon that spends more time in the shop than it does in my garage, that’s my fault.  I got what I deserved.  If I vote for a candidate without doing the research and I get a bad legislator, that’s also my fault.  But that’s not your fault.  Why should I think it’s ok to elect someone to govern you when I don’t know anything about them?

So, again I say, don’t vote! If you haven’t read the impartial analysis on a ballot measure, much less the entire law, don’t vote on it.  If all you know about Jerry Brown or Meg Whitman is what you see on TV, don’t vote for either of them.  Leave the decision to those that have done the research.  Don’t vote for someone because they have the best or the most commercials.  Don’t vote because you like their slogan.  Don’t vote for someone because your friend or your spouse is voting for them.  Though if they’ve done the research, at least that’s something.

Don’t vote for a proposition if you don’t really understand it.  Don’t vote for a bill if you really don’t care.  Let the people who will be affected by it make the decision.  Don’t guess.  Don’t flip a coin.  You don’t have to vote for every issue on the ballot just because you’re in the booth.  You can skip some.  Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Don’t vote for someone because they’re pretty, or they give good speeches.  That just proves that they read well and know a good speech writer.

Don’t vote for someone just because they’re a Democrat.  That’s not democracy.  That’s a club.  And don’t vote for a Republican just because you’re mad at the Democrats.  Vote for the person who will do the best job.

What about third party candidates?  A lot of us won’t vote for someone in the Green or the Libertarian party, even if we like everything they say, because we don’t want to waste our vote.  If everybody feels that way, nothing can ever change.  We’ll always have the same two parties running everything.  We’ll just swing back and forth from one side to the other.  If nobody felt that way, then some of these candidates would have a chance, and you wouldn’t be throwing away your vote.  If you like the Peace and Freedom candidate, vote for her.  Send a statement.  Maybe they won’t win, but maybe someone else will be see that and have the courage to vote Peace and Freedom in the next election.  If you are voting for the lesser of the two evils, you truly are throwing away your vote.  I won’t be voting for Jerry Brown or Meg Whitman, because I really can’t stand either one of them.

Am I really saying don’t vote?  Not really.  But I am saying you should know what you are voting for.  Your votes are going to affect your life.  But they will also affect the lives of your neighbors.  Voting is a right.  But it’s also a responsibility.  If a responsible person doesn’t know what they’re voting for, the responsible person doesn’t vote.

Really Deep Thoughts

17 October 2010

Lessons from the 2010 Copiapó mining accident

By now, everyone knows the story.  On August 5, 2010, the San José copper and gold mine near Copiapó, Chile, collapsed, stranding 33 miners about 2300 feet below the surface of the earth.  To give some sense of this, this is about the height that the two World Trade Center buildings stood, if stacked on top of each other.

For seventeen days the miners waited in the darkness, lit only by the lights of their helmets, not knowing if anyone knew they were alive, or if anyone was trying to find them.  At the same time, no one outside the mine knew if there was anyone alive to rescue.  Finally, on August 22, an exploratory drill punched through to the miners’ chamber.  They attached a note, previously prepared, stating “Estamos bien en el refugio los 33″, “We 33 in the shelter are well”, in English.

On October 9, an escape borehole reached the cavity where the miners were stranded.  On October 12, all 33 miners were successfully brought up to the Earth’s surface, while we all watched on our cable TVs.

This is a great feel-good story.  But I think there are a number of lessons that can be learned from this story beyond “don’t work in a copper mine.”  I’ll write about what I learned.  I’d like to hear what you learned or what you think about my “lessons”.

International Relations

After this accident happened, many nations came to the rescue.  Drill teams came from the United States, Canada, and Europe.  We spend a lot of time talking about the differences between countries.  And these exist.  But when we see real human beings in trouble, people gather together and recognize that the things we have in common outweigh the differences.  Most people are basically good.  Even most governments try to do good.  When we pool our resources, great things happen.  Like the miracle of these 33 lives being saved.  I’m not sure why we don’t pull together to help those like the refugees of Darfur or even the oppressed of North Korea, as two examples.  I think this is something we should look at.

Government Regulation

In this country, the US, at least, there is a cry from some corners against government regulation.  There has been a huge revolution, starting with the Reagan administration, for deregulation.  While I don’t agree with everything he did, I am a huge fan of Ronald Reagan.  Too much regulation is a bad thing.  But no regulation is a worse thing.

Chile does a lot of business in mining, and has a number of regulations regarding mining safety.  The San José  mine was actually shut down in 2007.  But it was allowed to reopen in 2008, even though it still hadn’t complied with Chilean safety regulations.  This points out a couple of things.  Some companies will try to obey every law whether it makes sense or not.  Without proper enforcement, these companies are placed at a competitive disadvantage by their compliance.  Other companies will ignore all regulations as long as they feel they can make more money doing so.  Appropriate regulation, uniformly enforced, helps us all.  Regulation that is not enforced routinely hurts everybody.

Executive Action

When the accident occurred, Chilean president Sebastián Piñera went almost immediately into action.  Before he arrived at the scene, one rescue effort was already in progress.  At that point, it was not even known if any miners were left alive.  But this effort was not sufficient for him.  He called for every effort to be made to rescue any miners that may have been trapped.  Two more rescue efforts were mounted.  It was one of the extra drill-holes that reached the trapped miners first.

When the first trapped miner was rescued, one of the first to embrace him was President Piñera.  I’m trying to imagine this happening here in the United States.  I can’t imagine Barack Obama being present in a raincoat and hardhat embracing someone plucked from a mine in Pennsylvania.  I can’t even imagine Joe Biden in that role.  Maybe that’s for the best.  Obama and his Secret Service contingent might just have gotten in the way.  But I don’t really think that’s an excuse.  I think that the best that we might have expected might be a fly-over in a helicopter.

I’d like to draw a parallel to the gulf oil spill earlier this year, supposedly the “worst natural disaster in US history.”  Where was Obama when it came to this disaster?  Yes, he eventually flew over in a helicopter, walked on a beach or two, and even visited some of the affected businesses.  But what did he do about it?  Did he do one thing to fix the problem?  Piñera asked for solutions from multiple countries to solve his problem.  Did Obama even call on the experts available in the United States?  No!  He was quick to say he would find out who was to blame and that they would be held accountable.  Who cares?  We had a state of emergency, and emergency action was necessary.  The issue at hand was closing the spill.  He left that to British Pretoleum, BP, the supposed perpetrators, to fix the problem.

What could he have done?  He could have asked for other countries to assist in the well closure.  He could at least have set up a board of experts from US companies to help with coming up with a plan for capping the oil well.  He could have assigned NASA to the problem.  But he was too busy assigning blame.

Other countries volunteered to help.  They event sent cleanup vessels to help.  Vessels that were not allowed to enter US waters because the US government would not yield its sovereignty to US waters, even for this limited purpose.

Where was the celebration when BP, acting alone, capped the oil spill, weeks ahead of projections?  Every news outlet, from CNBC to Fox News, calmly reported that the oil well had been capped, then promptly stopped talking about it.  No one congratulated BP.  No one got hugged.  Have you heard one word about the real environmental impact since then?

I may not be the first.  But let me say:  Congratulations, BP.  Thanks for stepping up fixing a problem that your company created.  I know that you didn’t intend for this to happen, and didn’t expect this to happen, but thank you for accepting financial responsibility for those that were impacted by this accident.  I do believe that you could have anticipated this disaster.  I also believe that you didn’t anticipate it, and that you’re working hard to make things right.  I believe a lot of people that led to the accident need to get sacked.  I also believe that a lot of people that helped to solve the problem should have gotten hugs.  I would hug them in person if given the chance.  In the meantime, please accept this electronic hug.

The Space Program

Yes, really, I’m talking about the space program.  The vehicle that rescued the trapped miners was designed by NASA, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  NASA helped with understanding and treating the condition of the trapped miners, not unlike the condition of astronauts trapped in Earth orbit for long periods of time. 

There are those that would end our US space program.  To be honest, they already have.  They are ignoring, or discounting, the benefits of this endeavor.  It isn’t just about discovering what the Moon is made of or landing men on Mars, both of which do have their own benefits to speak of.  But we all gain, every day, from the technologies developed in this endeavor.  We probably wouldn’t, for example have our I-Phones or even our laptops today, without the transistor research funded by the space program.

Robots

Yes, really, I’m talking about robots.  These days, my car is built by a robot.  When I call my bank, I don’t get an operator like I used to.  I get a robot.  How am I better off by having a robot answer my phone call?  How does this help anybody but the shareholders of the bank?  Does it help the people that the bank used to employ as telephone operators?  And yet, we accept this as progress.

How can we sit still while robots are replacing telephone operators, while human beings are working 700 meters below the surface of the Earth to find the copper that goes into our telephones?  I will tell you that as long as we are ok with this, we are responsible for what actually happened, and what might have happened, to these 33 heroes.

Since the year 2000, an average of 34 people have died in mining accidents in Chile.  That’s more than the number that were rescued this month.  Where was the international coverage for this loss of life?  43 died just in 2008.  Did you hear about that?

Why on Earth, or under the Earth, would we replace human operators to answer our phone calls, to save a few cents per call, buy we won’t employ machines to do the work of those who risk their lives to walk hundreds of meters below the Earth’s surface just to provide our coal, our jewels, and the metal that makes our cell phones work?

Confessions of a Craig Ferguson Fan

5 October 2010

Let me tell you about Craig Ferguson.

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I were in Los Angeles for a conference she was attending.  We’re big fans of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.  So we decided to stay an extra couple of days to play tourist and see if maybe we could get tickets to the show.  I’ve never been to a live show like that before.  I learned a few things I didn’t expect.

One thing I didn’t expect was the standing around.  They tell you to get there early, because the audience has to be seated 30 minutes before the show starts at 3 PM, and if you’re not there early enough, you might not get in.  Makes sense to me.  So we got there about 1:30, about ninety minutes before the show.  We weren’t the first ones there, but close.  What they don’t tell you is that the line forms on the sidewalk outside the studio.  Every once in a while, someone comes out to tell you they’ll be bringing us in soon, or to explain what’s going to happen, which isn’t what actually happens.  But mostly it’s just a bunch of strangers milling on the sidewalk like we’re waiting to see Star Wars in 1977.

Lined up on the sidewalk across the driveway were the people waiting to get into Dancing With the Stars.  They were much better dressed than we were.  Dancing has a much stricter dress code.   Some people got kicked out of the Dancing line.  They came to watch Craig with us.  The Late Late Show dress code seems to be, no shirt, no shoes… well at least you’re wearing pants.

So here we are still waiting on the sidewalk at 3:10, about forty minutes after the audience is supposed to be seated with the rest of the 150 hobos.  Someone comes out and tells us that they’ll be taking us in just a minute.  Really, just a minute.  Seriously, it will be just a couple of more minutes.

Finally they really did start letting us in.

On the way in, not one, but two people checked our IDs.  They were very clear that everyone needed a photo ID.  I’m not sure what that was about.  They didn’t type our names into a computer to see if we were on the no-fly list.  They didn’t even compare our IDs with a clip-board to see if we were actually on the ticket list.  Maybe they just wanted to confirm that we weren’t vampires and could actually be photographed.  Or maybe they just want to make sure they can quickly identify the bodies if the studio caves in.

Next, we went through the metal detectors.  I don’t know if they actually care if you’re carrying weapons.  But they were very serious about no cell phones in the studio.  If you had a cell phone, they seriously took it away from you until, but you could get it back after class.  This part I really understand.  Can we get movie theaters to start doing this?

At this point, they assembled us in an area that looked like the line to get on a ride at Disneyland, complete with the captive audience souvenir stand.  Nothing there from Ferguson’s show mind you.  But all of the CSI: New York gear you could ever want to have.  We’re still outside the studio.  But at least we’re off the sidewalk.

At this point, another intern comes out to yell a bunch of rules and instructions.  One of them was, make sure you laugh at the jokes, even if you don’t get them.  Another one was, if you have weird laugh, don’t laugh too loud.

Now they turn it over to the warm up comedian.  He’s like the cheerleader of the show.  He’s the comedy show version of a fluffer.  He’s a middle-aged man with three days of beard stubble who describes himself as a mediocre comedian.  He shouldn’t have said that.  He set the bar too high.  So he tells us about five minutes worth of bad jokes so that we can practice laughing loudly at jokes we don’t get or aren’t funny, and finally, it’s time to go inside.

They run us up five flights of stairs to some sort of staging area.  They line us up along three lines of colored tape on the floor so that they can tell us some more rules.  Actually, they were the same rules.  I guess some of us don’t pay much attention.

I’ve never been in a TV studio before.  I don’t know if they all look like this off-stage.  This one looked dark and dreary, with a bunch of equipment sitting around that looked like it was probably high-tech in the 60s, but hadn’t been used in years.  It reminded me of the janitor’s equipment room in elementary school.  It would have seemed very cool if I was seven years old and wasn’t supposed to be there.

Finally, they take us into the studio.  They actually tell everyone exactly where to sit.  I felt very honored when they asked me to sit in the middle of the front row.  The most notable thing is how small the studio is in real life.  Remember those multiplex theatres that sprouted up in the 70s and 80s?  Remember how they had some bigger theaters for the big new movies, and some tiny theaters that they would use for the for the movies that had been out for a month?  Imagine one of those little bitty theaters.  Then cut it in half.  I don’t know how they make it look so big on TV.

Once we’re in the theater, the warm up comedian tells us a few more bad jokes.  Then gives us a well-rehearsed speech about how we are not the audience.  We are actually part of the show.  We are “show enhancers.”  He actually tries to guilt us into laughing at all of Craig’s jokes, even if we don’t understand them.  And this actually works, for a while.  He actually tells us that he doesn’t understand most of Craig’s jokes because of his accent.  Craig Ferguson is an American, damn it!  We don’t have accents.

Finally, about 4:00, the show begins!  Craig comes into the studio, and we all stand up to cheer, on cue.  Yes, we were instructed to give a standing ovation.

I’m so excited because I’m in the middle of the front row, and Craig is going to be standing five feet in front of me doing his monologue!  So Craig walks to center stage, and the camera moves into position.  Between me and Craig.  If you go to a live TV show, and they invite you to sit in the center of the front row, don’t feel honored.  It means they don’t like you.  The only thing I got to look at was the TV monitors and the back of the camera woman’s head.  I didn’t actually get to watch the show until I got home and watched it on my DVR.

They don’t do many shots of the TV audience.  But I was on camera twice during the show, both times from behind.  I’m the guy with the bald head looking to left so I can see the TV screen while everyone else is looking directly at Craig.

As I mentioned, I’m a big fan of Craig’s.  I’ve read his book, which I recommend.  I watch his show just about every night.  It’s one of the few shows I record automatically on my DVR.  But there are two things he does on the show that I hate.  One is when he plays his harmonica, or, mouth organ, as he puts it.  The other is when he uses his puppets, especially the potty-mouthed rabbit puppet.  So, you guessed it, he played the harmonica.  And he did, not one, but two segments with the rabbit puppet.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen two rabbit segments on the same show.

Craig’s first guest was Mindy Kaling from The Office. Craig clearly has a huge crush on Mindy.  I’ve seen her on the show twice before.  I can’t think of anyone else I’ve seen on his show three times.  The interview goes something like this:  “You look amazing.  I hope you’re not offended.”  “Why would I be offended?”  “How did you get into such great shape?”  “It took a lot of work.”  At which point lovely Mindy explains her workout routine.

I actually watched a re-run sitting in a live studio audience.

The second guest was some documentary reporter from some television show that I’ve never heard of probably on some cable network that I don’t get.  I can’t remember the name of the show.  He seemed bored to be there, Craig seemed bored to have him there, and the best part of the segment was watching a camel chewing on his arm in the video clip.

Geoff Peterson was definitely the high point of this particular show.  I love the robot skeleton, and he and Craig had one of their longest exchanges that day.

By the way, there’s no free chicken.

It may not sound like it, but I did have fun.  I don’t regret going, but I don’t know if I’d do it again.  I’m still a big Ferguson fan, but , I admit, some of the magic is gone.  Sometimes, “Don’t look at the man behind the curtain” is good advice.  If you’re a Craig Ferguson fan like me, I recommend you try it.  Even if you’re not a Craig fan, but you’ve never seen a TV show recorded in person, I recommend that you try the Late Late Show.  At least you don’t have to get dressed up.

Talking Trash

4 October 2010

Aren’t you sick of the negative political campaigns and the misleading TV and radio ads this election season?  Not that this season is any different.  I find them insulting.  They assume that we aren’t capable of thinking for ourselves.  They assume that we’ll remember the five second slogan on we saw on TV on election day, instead of reading the ballot measures or doing research on the candidates to make the best decision.  Judging from the results of most elections, they may be right.

A recent example is the latest bru-ha-ha involving Meg Whitman, a candidate for governor in California, the former leader of EBay. She’s running against Jerry Brown, a career politician, and the former governor of California.

The latest scandal involves a former household employee of Ms. Whitman, Nicky Diaz.  There is some disagreement about what exactly happened, or exactly what it means, or exactly why it matters, but there are some facts everyone seems to agree with.  In 2000, Ms. Whitman contacted an employment agency to find a nanny for her children and housekeeper for her home.  They referred Ms. Diaz, who was hired for the job.  She produced a social security card and California driver’s license, and filled out the appropriate tax forms.  The identification Ms. Diaz provided was fraudulent.  She was an undocumented worker and not legally permitted to work in the United States.  In 2009, about the time Ms. Whitman began running for governor, Ms. Diaz asked Ms. Whitman for help in gaining US citizenship.  At that time, the nanny was fired.

Everyone seems to agree on these facts.  But there are several sides to the story.

Meg Whitman’s side:  Nicky was a valued employee, but she lied to get her job.  When it was revealed that she was an illegal alien, and that it was illegal to employ her, her employment was terminated.

I haven’t exactly figured out Nicky Diaz’ side.  It seems to be something like “She’s a mean lady who didn’t help me.”  In her words:  “”I was shocked and hurt that Ms. Whitman would treat me this way after nine years. I realized at that moment that she didn’t appreciate my work. I felt like she was throwing me away like a piece of garbage.””

Gloria Allred, Ms. Diaz’ attorney, has another side.  She claims that Ms. Whitman and her husband knew all along that Nicky was illegal, but they kept her on so that they could exploit and abuse her.  They only fired her in 2009 because she could become a political embarrassment.  As proof of this, she produced a document sent by the Social Security Administration stating that there was a problem with Ms. Diaz’ Social Security number.  There is a handwritten note written on the letter, apparently written by Ms. Whitman’s husband, Griff Harsh saying something like “Nicky, would you please look into this.”  She claims that Ms. Diaz found lots of letters from Social Security just like this in the family garbage.

I don’t want to get too heavy into the debate.  But let’s look at the facts.  Both sides agree that the nanny was fired when she came and asked for help getting a green card.  This is consistent with Whitman’s claim that this is when she discovered Diaz was illegal.  If this is true, Whitman had no legal option but to terminate the employment.

Allred claims that Diaz was employed just so she could be exploited as an undocumented worker.  Really?  She was paid $23 an hour to be a nanny.  How many illegal aliens get $23 an hour?  For that matter, how many nanny’s get $23 an hour?  The average pay for a nanny in the United States is $13 an hour.  This doesn’t sound like exploitation to me.  And if she really felt exploited, why didn’t she go back to the employment agency and look for a different position?

Ms. Allred claims that Ms. Whitman must have known about Nicky’s status because she got a letter from Social Security.  Um, who has that letter?  Nicky Diaz.  Is there any evidence that Ms. Whitman ever saw the letter in the first place?  And what is Ms. Diaz doing with somebody else’s mail?

Of course there are all the letters that were supposedly put in the trash.  Really?  Is there any evidence of this?  And think about this.  Their story was that there was someone inside Whitman’s house for nine years, going through her garbage, and this is the most dirt they could come up with.  Not much of a scandal if you ask me.

Finally, the intent of the whole affair is obvious from the timing.  Two months before the election.  Allred is a life-long liberal, with connections to Jerry Brown going back to his first stint as governor.  Not long ago Ms. Allred raised a similar scandal against then gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger, also months before the election.  Even if everything Allred claims is true, Ms. Diaz chose the wrong lawyer.  Who can believe anything Gloria Allred says with her track record?

Finally, who really cares?  Seriously, what difference does it make?  Suppose Meg Whitman employed an illegal alien until a year ago.  Does that mean she won’t be a good governor?

Oh, but she speaks out against employing illegal aliens.  She’s a hypocrite.  Maybe.  Barak Obama wrote about his experiences with drugs.  Is he a hypocrite when he enforces US drug policy?  Maybe.  Do you want him to stop doing it?  Is he a bad president because he does?

But Rick, you say, it goes to character.  Seriously, who cares?  I don’t care if my governor has character.  I care if they do a good job governing.  If we eliminate everyone that has ever had a scandal in their past from running for office, who’s left?  Not me.  You?  Anybody you know?  It doesn’t leave many people.  And those that are left are not there because they’d be good leaders.  Probably their left because their more careful about who gets to see their garbage.  If someone has never made a mistake in your life, it may be because they’ve never done much of anything.  The only people I know who have never had a parking ticket have never owned a car.

But doesn’t character matter?  All things being equal, of course it does.  But think about it.

When I think about a politician with character, I think of Jimmy Carter.  Carter is probably the best ex-president the US has ever seen.  He travels to other countries to negotiate peace settlements, to oversee elections, to get US citizens released from foreign prisons.  He builds houses for the homeless with his own hands.  In all seriousness, while I don’t agree with everything President Carter says and does, I admire and respect the man.

That having been said, I think Jimmy Carter was the worst US president in my lifetime.  He is a great person, but was a lousy executive.  Even if you don’t agree with me, would you argue that Carter was a better president that Bill Clinton?  No?  Would you say that Clinton had better character than Carter?  If you had to pick one to replace Obama, who would it be?  The one with character?

I’m not writing this to endorse Meg Whitman.  Her main qualification for governor is her experience as an executive running EBay.  And I’m not happy with everything I know about her time there.  On the other hand, I’ve met Jerry Brown, and I remember the last time he was governor.  With all his time in his many offices, I’ve seen that he’s an excellent politician.  But I’ve never seen any evidence that he’s qualified to govern.  I do wish there was a better candidate available to choose from.  We’re not even left with a choice between the better of the evils.  It’s more like a choice between evil or dumb.

I started this rant complaining about negative campaigns, and I only brought up Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown as an example.  Nobody likes negative campaigns, but they keep happening, because they work.  And there’s really only one way to stop it.  Stop listening to them.  It’s up to you and me.  These tactics work because we fall for it.  And they won’t stop until we stop paying attention.  If you vote November 2, don’t do it because of some TV commercial you saw that appeals to the lowest common denominator.  Don’t do it because of a sound bite from a press conference obviously intended to offend your sensibilities and distract you from the issues.  Do some research.  Find out where people really stand.  And then, based on facts, and not innuendo, vote for the candidates that you honestly believe will do a better job.

The Torture is Over

3 October 2010

I know I’m not the first to say it.  But I can vouch for the accuracy of term torture when applied to the San Francisco Giants.

I attended all three Giants games this weekend, intend on being there when and if the Giants claimed the mantle as National League Division Champions, or to “clinch” their place in the playoffs.  I did see this happen once before.  But if you’re a baseball fan that follows just about anybody but the Yankees, this is pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Let me explain the torture of waiting to see a clinch happen.  First, your team has to clinch.  So that means they have to be the best team in their division.  For the Giant’s, this means they have to beat four other teams.  So, on average, this means that this only happens one in five years.

Next, they have to clinch at home.  Yes, if you’re a fanatic like me, you could follow them on the road to see them clinch.  But there is nothing like the excitement of the home crowd when your team wins the division.   So even if your team clinches, there’s a 50-50 chance that the game will be played on the road somewhere, and the best you can do is watch it on TV in a local sports bar.

To make matters worse, you don’t always clinch by winning.  Sometimes the clinch happens when the second place team loses.  So you could have tickets to what could be the game-of-a-lifetime.  But on the drive to the game the second place Dodgers lose to the Mets in New York, making the Giants the champions.  So now you’ve got tickets to an exhibition game that doesn’t mean anything to anybody.  Don’t turn around.  The pre-game festivities are going to be a ball.  (High and outside.)

So let me set the stage for this weekend’s torture.  On Thursday, the Giants finished a sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks (winning all three games in the three game series), and ended up three games ahead of the Padres with three games left in the season.  In any other season, this would mean that unless the Padres won every game left, and the Giants lost every game left, the Giants would win the division.  To make things even more interesting, the last three games would be against the Padres at home in San Francisco.  So if the Padres did win every game left, the Giants would have to lose every game left.

Friday night Matt Cain was on the mound, pitching on his birthday.  Cain is one of our most reliable pitchers, and one of my favorite players.  I was already to watch a victory and go home to relax the rest of the weekend.  In the second inning, Cain gave up a home run to Ryan Ludwick, and the Giants were immediately down 1-0.  In the third inning, Cain gave up three hits.  The last was another homer by Adrian Gonzalez.  The score was now 3-0.  The Giants never came back from this.  They lost the game 6-4.

Saturday’s pitcher was Barry Zito.  I’ve never really liked Zito, so I wasn’t nearly as optimistic.  But the pundits on the radio were talking about his experience as a veteran who has been there before, even claiming he was the best man to pitch today.  So I arrived at the ballpark with high hopes.

After facing four batters, Zito had the bases loaded with one out.  The only out was intentional by the Padres, coming on a sacrifice by Miguel Tejada.  This was scary, but we relaxed a little when he got the second out.  But with two outs, he walked the next two batters.  With the bases loaded, this means the Padres were able to score two runs without swinging a bat.  (Scott Hairston did swing once, but he missed.)  The Giants were already down 2-0, and two runs were all the Padres needed.  San Diego wins, 4-2.

Side-note:  Barry Zito was paid about $18,000,000 this year, about $90,000 an inning.  So he got more than $3000 a pitch for Saturday’s game.  Why are my tickets so expensive?

So we’re down to Sunday, the last game of the regular season.  Now things get really interesting.  The Giants still only need to win one game to clinch.  Even if they lose, all is not lost.  They can still tie.  To make things even more interesting, Atlanta is tied with the Padres for the wildcard spot in the playoffs.  If the Giants lose, and Atlanta wins, the season ends with a three-way tie.  If the Giants lose, they would have to fly to San Diego to play one last game with the Padres for the division championship.  Even if they lose that game, they have one more chance at the playoffs.  Then they’d have to fly to Atlanta to play a game versus the Braves to see who the wildcard team would be.

If Atlanta loses to the Phillies and the Padres win, the Giants still get to go to the playoffs.  But the Padres would be the division champions.  No championship, and no clinch.

Within the first couple of innings, we knew the Atlanta result.  The Braves won.  The Giants still needed to earn their own way into the playoffs.  If they lose today, I’m driving to San Diego tonight.

But today was a different game.  Jonathan Sanchez was on the mound.  He doesn’t have any experience in playoff atmospheres like this, but he’s one of my favorite players, and in the past it seems like he does better under pressure.

But the first inning seemed like déjà vu all over again.  The first batter, Chris Denorfin, got a hit.  He advanced to second on a sacrifice.  I was thinking, here we go again.  But Sanchez settled down, and things went smoothly from there.  He got out of the inning without a run scoring.

With the Giants at bat and no score in the third inning, a ball was hit to triples alley.  It took such a lucky bounce, that I thought I might even see my first inside-the-park home run.  I was astonished when the runner went into third standing up.  Why didn’t he at least round the bag toward home.  And then I understood.  The triple had been hit by the pitcher, Jonathon Sanchez, maybe the worst hitter on the team.  Of course they weren’t going to risk hurting the pitcher in a collision at home plate.  It was the first triple in Sanchez’ career.

Sanchez scored on a hit by Freddy Sanchez, and suddenly it didn’t feel like déjà vu no more.  The Giants were leading for the first time in the series.  That run proved to be all the Giants needed.  Brian Wilson, he of the beard, came on to pitch the ninth inning.  He retired the side in order.  He struck out pinch-hitter Luis Durango on three pitches.  Durango never swung the bat.  Giants win, 3-0.

Things got really fun from there.  The crowd was a sea of orange, waving their rally rags.  The Giants piled on each other on the infield, then ran a victory lap around the outfield, high fiving the fans in the front rows.  No one was running for their cars to get ahead of the stairway crush, to beat the rush out of the parking garages.  Nobody moved.

There’s nothing like a clinch at home.  And now I don’t have to drive to San Diego.  The torture is over.

Dreams of My Father

2 October 2010

For some reason today I’m thinking about my father.  My father was the smartest person I’ve ever met.  I’m told that he started playing serious chess before he started school.  There’s no way to confirm that story today, but I believe it.  I played many games of chess with my father.  I remember one time, not long after moving out.  It was one of my first trips home, probably about 1979.  I was about 18.  I’d been playing chess pretty seriously with some friends of mine, playing every day.  I even bought some chess books and was studying various openings.  Dad, on the other hand, hadn’t played in years.  We got out the chess board, and about an hour later, I was actually up material!  I was winning.  A few minutes later, I made a mistake, which he immediately capitalized on, and he beat me.  I never beat him.  Not once.

I only saw my father lose one game of chess ever.  We had some people staying with us.  A family friend Norman, was pretty good at chess.  I played him a number of times.  I won a couple of times.  But he was pretty good.  That night, we decided just for fun that Dad would play three games at the same time.  Typically for my dad, that wasn’t enough.  He had an hour talk to give the next day, so he was going over his outline.  And we were playing in the family room with the TV on.  Norman actually beat him.  He won the other two games, and gave a great talk the next day.

Dad put himself through college about the time that I was born.  He went to school full time while also working full time.  He had two kids before he was finished.  In less than four years he graduated from San Jose State with a CPA.

His first job out of college was as the interim controller at Stanford University Hospital.  This was a sign of things to come.  A few years later he became the chief financial officer of Children’s Hospital in San Francisco, which was the second largest hospital in California at the time.  Later in life, he was invited to be a federal judge on the Medicare Reimbursement board in Washington DC.  This is an appellate court that handles nothing but Medicare cases against or filed by hospitals.  It’s the only US federal court where you don’t have to be a lawyer to serve as a judge.  The cases that he handled either ended, or went next to the US Supreme Court.  On one such case, he had written the minority opinion for the case.  The Supreme Court reversed the decision of his board, citing the arguments in his minority opinion.

I’ve tried to find this case but can’t.  If any of you lawyers out there know how to go about it, I would love to read it for myself.

Dad was always thinking.  He had a system  for doing everything.  Like his chess game, he was always thinking several moves ahead.  For any trip, he knew six ways to get from point A to point B, and knew which one would be fastest at any time of day.  He kept lists of everything.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he kept lists of lists.

Dad loved all kinds of puzzles.  I remember when the Rubik’s Cube was the fad in the ‘70’s.  My dad was the only one I knew that could do it.  He did some reading about it, and commented that some were talking about its application to group theory.  I studied group theory in a class in abstract algebra some twenty-five years later.  I can see how they are related (or at least I did at the time), but I still couldn’t tell you how the Rubik’s Cube could help you understand group theory, or how group theory could help you solve the puzzle.  To my knowledge, dad never took a math class beyond calculus.

Like all of us, he had his flaws.  He had an explosive temper.  He was never physically or even emotionally abusive.  I don’t remember ever getting a spanking that didn’t come from my mother.  But there was plenty of shouting, and we kids learned to be wary of making Dad angry.  Thinking as he did about everything, I think it was really frustrating for him when people did things without thinking.  That’s how I look back at it now.  At the time, all I remember, is “Dad’s mad.”  He definitely mellowed as he got older.  Probably because he turned his thinking on his own behavior and came up with some system for dealing with his frustrations.

He was a good provider that always put his family’s material needs first.  Even with six kids, we never wanted for anything.  My mother never had to work outside of the house.  And with six kids, that was a blessing.  She had work enough to do.  We always lived in good neighborhoods, and most of us got our own bedrooms.

There’s a lot of my father in me, both the good and the bad.  I, too, have a system for everything.  I try different routes to places I go to regularly.  I don’t just think I know the fastest route to take.  I know the best lane to be in during rush hour.  (I think I actually got my aggressive driving skills from my mother.)  I definitely have Dad’s temper, and I definitely get frustrated when other people do dumb things because they haven’t thought about them.  Or maybe just because they haven’t arrived at the same solution I did.  I do understand that this is probably my perception, and definitely my problem, not theirs.  And, like my father, I definitely have gotten mellower over the years.

I love learning, and read voraciously.  I like to know something about everything, and everything about some things.  An impossible task, but I love the chase.  I don’t do it consciously, but I think I’m still competing with my father.  I know I’m not as smart as he was, and never will be.  But I am a better man with  the role model that he left for me.

My dad left us in 1995.  I went back to school a few years later.  In 2003, I graduated from UC Berkeley with degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science.  Now I work as a software engineer for one of the world’s largest software companies, which basically means that I get paid, probably too much, to think about problems and create systems to fix them.  I think Dad would have been proud.

I may have been thinking about Dad because I went to the Giants game today.  Most of the time I spent with Dad after leaving home was at Candlestick Park watching the Giants.  We were there together for the 87 playoffs, when the Giants won the pennant in 89, and when they lost the World Series the same year.

I’m going the game again tomorrow.  If the Giants win, they will again go to the playoffs.  If they lose, I’m glad he won’t be there to share the heartache.  But if they win, I’m sorry he won’t be there to share the joy.  Either way, I miss you Dad.

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