Rants

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

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.

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.

Blog-a-rhythm

1 October 2010

Welcome to my new month’s resolution.  Yes, I really have those.  Every month I try to set a goal that challenges me, just for that month.  I find that more of my monthly goals actually lead to long term habits than things like new year’s resolutions.  I think there are several reasons for this.  One of them might be that I get twelve chances a year.  But I think the main reason is that you can do just about anything for a month.  Doing something for a year, or worse, making a lifetime commitment, can be overwhelming.  Knowing that you can stop in a month makes it easier to keep the commitment.  And actually doing it for a month is long enough to actually develop some good habits.

Other times, I just find out that some ideas really suck and I don’t want to do them anymore.

Back to this month’s goal.  I plan to blog every day for the month of October.  I don’t usually tell everybody what my goal is going to be.  This saves the embarrassment if I don’t follow through.  And I also don’t get confused halfway through the month, thinking I’m doing this for somebody else, which can lead to silly resentment about something that they never asked me to do in the first place.  But I thought my one blog post in September followed by 31 in October might lead some to believe that something is up.  So the cat is out of the bag.  I have my doubts that anyone will be reading this after about October 3 anyway, so what’s the big deal?  I do thank the three of you that will be with my that long.

I’ve been intrigued with the blogging concept for a long time.  I’m a long time self-described frustrated writer.  I have done some professional writing.  But I’m always writing about what other people want written.  I seldom take the time to write about what is interesting to me.  I’m really pleased that this creative channel  has been open in our time.  I’m envious of those that have embraced it and run with it.  And I hope I can truly make a habit of it.  I think it will be a good thing unto itself even if nobody else ever reads it.

So what will I blog about?  I really have no idea.  I hope it won’t turn into one of those journals about what I had for lunch.  In my first post, I realized, after the fact, that I had taken on both the largest country in the world and the largest company in the world in one sitting.  That might have been a little ambitious.  Or maybe next I’ll take on the capybara, the world’s largest rodent.

There’s a big election coming up next month, so I doubt that I’ll avoid the instinct to talk about some politics.  If you’re wondering what my political affiliation is, you shouldn’t.  I’m not left.  I’m not right.  I’m not middle of the road.  I’m all over the road.  If you’re a democrat, you’ll be convinced I’m a republican.  If you’re a capitalist, I’ll convince you that I’m a socialist.  If you’re a moderate, you’ll be sure that I’m a radical.  If you’re a radical, you’ll wish someone declared a fatwa on me if you don’t do it yourself.

It looks like my beloved San Francisco Giants will be advancing to the post-season, if they can avoid choking four days in a row.  So there’s a good chance I’ll be talking about baseball.  I started my first blog when following Barry Bonds on the road when he was trying to break the home run record.  The travel and writing every night were so tiring that I didn’t even write about it when he actually broke the record.  Yes, I was there.

A couple of warnings might be in order if you don’t know me.  I have a very dry, frequently wicked sense of humor.  I’m not saying I’m wickedly funny.  I’m not even saying I’m funny.  But much of what I write will probably be tongue-in-cheek and I season my writing and my every day speech with sarcasm.  It’s intended to make you laugh.  If all I get is a groan, I’m satisfied.

I’m a big believer in challenging common assumptions, not following the crowd, and thinking outside of the box.  I believe in being respectful, but I don’t believe in being politically correct.  I’m going to write about my opinions on things.  Given an entire month, I’m sure that I’ll say something that will offend just about everybody.  It’s never personal, even when it’s personal.  If I say something that challenges your beliefs, take it to mean that I respect you enough to know that you’ll spend some time thinking about and considering another point of view.  If you do take the time to think about it, and decide you had it right in the first place, I’ll respect you even more.  If you take the time to share your thoughts, I’ll really respect you.  Any comments left in the same spirit will always be welcome.  This corner of the internet will be pretty boring without them.

I hope to hear from you soon.  And I hope to write to you tomorrow.  And I hope it’s after a Giants victory.

Walmart Nation

27 September 2010

Or, Unmade in America

The United States is in a state of economic crisis.  People are losing their jobs and can’t find new ones.  People are losing their homes.  Small businesses can no longer survive and have to close their doors.  There is much discussion about the causes.  There is even more discussion about the possible remedies.

There are many scapegoats in the current crisis:  Wall Street,  George W. Bush,   Barak Obama,  Congress,  the media, the Democrats, the Republicans, a lack of regulation,  too much regulation, Sean Hannity, Martha Stewart, Patrick Stewart, William Shatner…  Pick your culprit.

I’d like to point the finger at a different set of perpetrators:  You and me.  The cause is something I call, the Walmart Mentality.

Here’s what happens:  A new Walmart comes to town.  A hundred people get new jobs.  The people in town have been seeing the ads on TV for years, and now, it’s finally here!  They can see what the hype is about.  So as if as one, they go to the new store.  They have TVs.  They have microwave ovens.  They have socks, and shirts, and paper towels, and sometimes even groceries.  And everything costs less than what they used to cost in the stores in town.

Yeah, it’s hard to find a parking space.  Yes, it takes 30 minutes to get through the checkout line.  But we’re saving money!  Sure, the people there with new jobs are earning low wages, many part time, with little or no benefits.  But at least they have jobs, right?

Then business starts to drop off at the stores in town.  How can they compete with Walmart’s prices?  Even if they could, who’s coming to see them?  Walmart already has everything.  Who wants to make an extra trip to Main Street?  So one by one, the stores start to close their doors.  The people that work there lose their jobs.  No problem.  They can get jobs at Walmart.  The turnover rate is so high, there are always jobs to be had at Walmart.  Sure, the wages are lower, they may have fewer hours, with little or no benefits, but at least they have a job, right?

I’m sure at this point it seems like I’m picking on Walmart.  I’m not.  Walmart is used here as an example.  As the world’s largest corporation, they are an easy target.  And they are not without guilt in this story.  But you can substitute any of the big box stores for Walmart in this story.  As you will see, you may even be able to substitute any of the mom-and-pop stores still in business on Main Street.  As I suggested above, the villains of this story are you and me.  So let’s focus on me.

I decide that I need a new toaster.  My toaster isn’t quite working right.  The toast is either too light, or it’s burnt.  Plus, I’m no longer content with toasting two slices at a time.  I want one of those four slice toasters.  So I do what anybody else would do, I head to Walmart.

I head to the store and after some jostling and exploration, I find the toasters.  They don’t have a lot of options, but they do have a really hi-tech looking 4-slice toaster, just what I wanted.  I look at the box, and I see a label I’m not really comfortable with:  Made in China.

So I move on.  The next toaster is even better.  It will toast bagels!  How cool is that?  Then I look at the box.  Made in China.  Now I’m looking at all the boxes.  Every single toaster.  Made in China.

So I start looking through the rest of the store.   Barbecues.  Camping equipment.  Tools.  Clothing.  Almost everything I find was made in China.   I did find a shirt that was made in Vietnam.  I even found some ketchup that was made in U.S.A.

Discouraged, I head to Main Street, where I’d heard the music years before.  I went to the appliance store where we’d bought our vacuum cleaner and our sewing machine.  Surely they would have the toaster I needed.  Yes, they had a selection of toasters.  But they weren’t much different than the ones I’d seen at Walmart.  Every one:  Made in China.

Desperate, I asked the owner of the store what was going on?  He informed me that no one makes toasters in the United States anymore.  It would make no sense, since it’s so much cheaper to make them in China.  And even if they did, how could he afford to stock them?  They’d be more expensive.  How can he compete with the new Walmart if everything in his store is more expensive?  He’d already had to let most of his employees go.

Reluctantly, I did what everyone else does.  I bought a Chinese toaster.

How did this happen?  It happened an inch at a time.  There was a time when Sam Walton’s stores proudly sold American goods.  Then a well-meaning US company discovered that they can make toasters for less by having them made in China, since they were paying the union-backed employees in Ohio $20 an hour, and the Chinese company that could make the toasters could pay their workers $20 a week.  So a contract was signed, toasters were made, and after a two month journey on a slow boat from China, Chinese toasters went on display right next to their American made counterparts, but for $5 less.

Then well-meaning people like you and I marched into Walmart looking for a toaster.  Seeing two toasters that look pretty much the same, we bought the one that was $5 less.  We don’t care where it was made.  We want to know, how much does it cost?  And will it toast bread?  We went across the strip mall to the Starbucks and congratulated ourselves on saving our family $5 while sipping on our $3 latte.

With the cheap toasters flying of the shelves, the manager at Walmart could no longer justify the shelf spaced used by the more expensive, slow moving American model.  So it disappeared.  You might be able to find it on their web site, but it will never darken the display shelf again.

So some American toaster makers began to suffer.  With declining sales, they laid off workers, closed factories, and even went out of business.  Others, doing what they felt they had to do to survive, moved their manufacturing operations to China too.  They also had to close US factories and lay off those who had worked there.

This leads to another story that has happened over and over again.  John had been working in a plant for twenty years, proudly making the appliances that brown our bread, open our cans, and blend our margaritas.  He wasn’t rich, but he made a comfortable living and could afford to live in a home in a decent neighborhood with his wife and three kids.  He didn’t love his job, but he took pride in the fact that he did it well.  When he lost his job, he tried to find work elsewhere, but there was nothing to be found.  Manufacturing was what most people did in his town.  But all of the factories were closing.  The skills he had that were once so important were no longer needed anywhere.  He tried to sell his home before he defaulted on his mortgage, but with the industry disappearing in town, there was nobody in the market to buy.  When he lost his home, he and his family moved 300 miles away where they could afford the rent on a two-bedroom apartment with bars on the windows and three locks on the door.  At night, he drives a taxi.  During the day he is paid $8 an hour to stand at the front of a store and say “Welcome to Walmart.”

So what’s happened here?  Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost good paying jobs.  They are no longer paying income tax on the money they used to earn.  They can no longer afford what they used to, so the restaurants, retailers, and professionals that used to have their patronage are also paying less income tax.  The jobs that are disappearing the fastest are the union jobs with the nice benefit packages.  The jobs they are being replaced with are often part-time, low wage jobs with no health insurance.  So now Congress has to save the day by passing a bill that no one understands to make sure everybody has health insurance.  John still can’t afford health insurance, but now he’ll have an extra tax bill since he can’t.

But I saved $5.

In 2006 Walmart hired a research firm to find out how much money they were saving us.  The study found that Walmart’s lower prices had saved $957 per person.  Per person!  That sounds great, doesn’t it?  Our current national debt is $30,400 per person.  That’s money that you and I and our children and their children will have to pay back.  In the meantime, our tax dollars are paying the interest on that debt.  Who are we paying that interest to?  More than half of the debt is held by other countries.  For example, we owe $800 billion to the central bank of China.

What have we got for our money?  The products we buy are lower quality.  We no longer have anybody here with the skills needed to fix them when they break.  When my toaster stops working in a year or two, it will go into a landfill and I will buy another disposable toaster.  So I really haven’t even saved the five dollars.  In the meantime, we’re ending up with poison in our toothpaste, our dog food, and the toys that we buy for our children.

What about the environment?  How did my toaster get here?  It didn’t come six thousand miles across the Pacific on a sail boat.  It was manufactured in a factory in a country that doesn’t have our emissions standards.  It was taken by train to a port in China where it was put in a massive ship.  That ship then burned fossil fuels to bring it across an ocean to a port on the West Coast, polluting both the air and the ocean as it went.  When it gets here, it still needs to be transported to my local Walmart before I can buy it.  If you really want to do something about your carbon footprint, buy something that was made where you live.

I’m sure at this point that it seems I’m picking on China.  That’s because I am.  Let us remember that China is a communist country.  I’m not trying to get into the argument about capitalism versus socialism or the benefits or evils of both.  But this means that many of the factories that are producing goods there are the “people’s factories” owned by the Chinese government.  This is the same government that brought us the massacre at Tiananmen Square.  It’s the same government that puts people in prison, or even executes them, solely for the things they believe and the things they say.  Some of these prisoners are forced to work in factories.  That’s right, my toaster may have literally been produced by slave labor, produced by people who were deprived of their freedom solely because they believe in the same things that I believe in.  This is not a cause that I want to support with the money that I earn.  Not even to save $5.  Not even to save $957 a year.

At the same time, I can’t buy a cigar that was made in Cuba, our next-door neighbor.  What’s the difference?  The difference is that China can make lots of cheap toasters.

The net result is that our wealth is being systematically taken from the United States and taken to China.  This isn’t just our wealth.  It is our power.  The Cold War with the USSR was won without firing a missile.  How?  It is because Ronald Reagan started an initiative that became known as Star Wars, investing our wealth in better weapons systems.  The Soviet Union could not compete.  When they tried, what wealth they had dried up.  They lost their power.  And an empire became part of history.

Don’t think that that cannot happen to the United States.  When China believes it has the power to swallow us whole, it will.  We won’t have to do anything to provoke them.  What did Tibet ever do to China?

What about those businesses that have moved their manufacturing to other countries?  Aren’t they making more profit?  Aren’t their shareholders making more money because they’ve become more competitive?  Maybe so.  But these benefits are temporary.  Sure, you get an advantage when you can make your product for less than your competitor.  But that advantage goes away as soon as your competitor builds a factory next door to yours in China. 

What happens when everybody moves their operations to China?  The Dollar goes down, the Yuan goes up, while demand increases for Chinese workers.  Employees get harder to find, and more expensive to keep.  Chinese wages are already going up by more than 25% a year, while the spending power of the US consumer is going down.  It won’t be long before producing goods in China costs more than producing them here.  But by that time, our factories will be gone and we will no longer have the skilled workers available to run them.  The prices for goods will rise to what they were before, or higher.  But we’ll no longer have the means to afford them.

So let’s recap here:  We’re putting US companies out of business and losing US jobs.  We’re increasing the number of people that need public benefits and don’t have health insurance.  People are losing their homes.  We’re flooding the market with cheap products that are exactly that: cheap.  Low quality, and sometimes even dangerous.  We’re systematically moving the wealth of the United States to countries that don’t even like us.  We’re increasing the national debt, reducing our security, and ultimately raising taxes.  And what have we gained?  Cheap toasters.

“Live better, pay less.”  How is that working for you?

What can be done about this?  Since I am part of the problem, I’ll need to be part of the solution.  The next time I need a toaster, I’m going to find one that was made in the US.  It might cost me a little more.  But I won’t be wasting my money.  I believe I’ll get a better product.  If I have a problem with it, I believe I’ll get better service.  I’m investing my money.  Not just in myself, but in my community; in our economy.  The next time I call my bank because I have a question about my statement, and someone answers in India or the Philippines, I’m going to hang up the phone and find a different bank.  And when I invest my money, I’m going to try to invest in companies that are keeping their operations here instead of sending jobs to other countries.

Our corporations need to be part of the solution, too.  We need to stop sending our jobs overseas.  There are better ways to compete than just by price.  We can compete by providing better quality.  We can do what we’ve always done, and improve our products with American ingenuity.  With our operations here and not six thousand miles away, we can provide service that is better, faster, and more responsive.  We can cut months off of the lead time between when a product is ordered and when it is delivered.  We can respond faster to changing market needs.  Let’s try to compete by being the best, not the cheapest.  When our customers pick up the phone and call customer service, we can provide better customer service and improve customer loyalty by hiring people that speak and understand the same language that they do, maybe even someone who lives in the same city.

Even Walmart can help.  They can put the products made in the US back on the shelf.  They could prominently identify exactly which products are made in the US.  Maybe some in the Walton family could even invest some of their billions into some US manufacturing operations.

I almost hesitate to ask the government for help, since that almost always seems to make things worse.  But there are ways the government could help.  We could be a little more selective about who we trade with.  There are definitely disadvantages to imposing higher tariffs on imported goods, but they would have the effect of making it less attractive to make things overseas.  And could have the effect of reducing our debt.  We should remove any tax incentives that there might be to moving work overseas, and develop tax incentives for keeping business here.  How about eliminating the capital gains tax for investments in US businesses that don’t have operations in other countries?

There are other ways to show the Walmart Mentality.  As consumers, we show the Walmart Mentality when we use the self-checkout line at the grocery store; when we change banks to get a free blanket; when we switch to a phone company with lousy service to get a “free” phone; when we buy our produce at the supermarket instead of the farmer’s market; when we buy online without even going into the mom-and-pop store down the street.  Businesses show the Walmart Mentality anytime they outsource their work to other countries; when they answer their phones with machines; when they offer discounts for “self-service”; when they hire undocumented workers; when they offer internet-only discounts or charge fees for calling their 800 number; when they get rid of their loyal, experience mature workers to hire workers that are young, inexperienced, and get paid less.

Here’s the Ricky D economic stimulus program.  I want every US household to go out this month and buy an appliance that was made in America.  Don’t waste your money.  Buy something you need, have wanted for a while, or will need to replace soon.  Replace some product you bought because it was cheap, but isn’t doing the job.  This will employ other Americans.  It will show support for companies that have hung tough and kept their production here.  It will increase tax revenues and reduce our debt.  This one act would probably do more for our economy than any of the stimulus packages have done.

I call my plan “Pay Better, Live More.”