…assorted thoughts, musings, rants, etc…

General

Competing narratives of America

As a non-partisan observing the “Occupy Wall Street” protests (merely the latest salvos in a long barrage of rhetoric about the economy and the culture), it strikes me that a couple of basic narratives about America and her citizens are coming to blows. While public policy based on these narratives does tend to (more or less) fall along party lines, the fundamental narratives themselves are (I believe) less constrained to party affiliation. The narratives might be compared and contrasted as follows:

One Narrative Another Narrative
Views the government as being the answer to most problems in society Views individuals and private groups as being the answer to most problems in society
Believes that the government is the optimal provider for citizens in crisis Believes that individuals, private organizations, and religious groups are the most effective providers for citizens in crisis
Views citizens primarily within the context of groups and classes Views citizens primarily as individuals
Views citizens generally as helpless pawns Views citizens generally as people able to make and deal with their own decisions

Much of the “Occupy Wall Street” rage appears to be against the banks, who made loans to people who couldn’t afford them, but then got bailed out by the U.S. government. Now, I’m no apologist for the banks – many (not all) of them did undoubtedly get greedy and take advantage of uninformed borrowers. But if we’re looking to assign blame, it would appear to me that there are at least three parties to spread that blame among:

1. Certain members of congress, who threatened to sue (and/or regulate out of existence) banks who would not institute a policy of “affordable housing” for low income people. (Translation: Make mortgage loans to people who cannot afford a mortgage payment).

2. The aforementioned banks, who responded to the congressional blackmail by getting greedy (though, again, not all banks were guilty of predatory lending).

3. The borrowers, none of whom (at least as far as I can tell) was forced to sign the loan papers with a gun to their head.

The selective outrage displayed by the protesters is clearly targeted at people for whom passionate expression comes easier than critical thinking. It’s also clear that there are forces involved whose goal is to collapse the entire capitalist system, and replace freedom with totalitarianism. To that end, it appears they have no shortage of what Lenin derisively referred to as “useful idiots” to aid them in their cause.

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Blog Resurrection

I’ve decided it’s time to resume at least semi-regular posting. As I was faced with once again manually updating the WordPress installation on my host (which I was way behind on – I was running 2.1 and they’re already up to version 3), I decided to just move the blog over to wordpress.com where I won’t have to worry about security updates and such. Thankfully it was dead simple to export my stand-alone blog and import it at wordpress.com.

I’ve had a few potential posts floating around in my head for a while now. Time to convert brain synapses to bits and bytes.


Post-election thought…

As a non-partisan, I have no problem with party affiliation. But hyper-partisan people, regardless of party, are among the biggest threats to democracy and our republic. They are unable to deal with, and unwilling to even try to understand, people who don’t think exactly like they do. They bring a Jr. High level of maturity and sophistication to their political discourse. And they make it difficult to hold out much hope for the future.


Confluence

I’m trying for the umpteenth time to implement the principles from David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”. It’s a system for keeping track of obligations and projects, and while I’ve initiated the attempt several times in the past, I’ve never really followed through.

One of the main principles of GTD is to get all the “have to”, “should”, and “want to” items out of your head and into a trusted system that you’ll check regularly. Otherwise they keep floating around in the back (or forefront) of your mind and distract you from being able to focus on specific things you could and should be doing.

Allen defines a “project” as anything that will take more than one step to accomplish, and another principle of GTD is that you can’t really “do” a project – at any given time, you can only do one piece of the project. So he advises thinking about any given project and then identifying the “next action” that will move the project along. Doing so provides a sense of focus in the moment, without thinking or worrying about things which can wait or aren’t yet actionable.

So it was in that mental context that I read this morning’s “Deeper Walk” email devotional from Relevant magazine. The topic was “Simple Obedience”, and here’s an excerpt:

I want God to wave the magic wand and make me whole again. So far, He hasn’t. God will help me. God will guide me. But, as far as I can see, He plans to only tell me the next step, the next truth. The how and the where and the when of my redemption cannot be my concern. The question for me is this: When God speaks, will I obey?

I’m amazed and humbled when Big Concepts come together from disparate directions, like a light bulb clicking on inside my head. May I focus on what I can do TODAY, and not worry so much about tomorrow.


Precious time, less than worthy pursuits

Last evening I spent a whole lot of time on things that, in the grand scheme of things, really don’t matter.

For a while now I’ve been toying with the idea – and resisting the urge – of upgrading my cell phone to something newer, sexier. I currently have a Palm Treo 755p, the final Treo running the venerable PalmOS. I’ve had a PalmOS device of some kind since the mid-90s. In all honesty, the Treo is working just fine. It runs the Palm apps I’ve accumulated over the years. It has a rudimentary web browser. It allows me to make and receive calls, and to send and receive texts.

Yet I found myself driving to the Verizon store to look at phones. I currently have a grandfathered monthly plan from the Alltel days, and a sweet employee discount that was also grandfathered (probably beneath the notice of Verizon). So I was curious/concerned about whether switching phones would require changing plans, whether I would be able to keep my discount, etc. I waited 20 minutes in a mostly empty Verizon store before a salesperson came over to help me. By that time I had scoped out some phones and gained some hands-on experience of them. The salesperson couldn’t answer my questions and concerns to my satisfaction, so I left.

When I got home, rather than putting the issue aside, I called Verizon’s toll-free number to pose the same questions. I did eventually get a fairly helpful representative named Elizabeth, but that exploration led to a discovery of an anomaly on my forthcoming bill. Sorting out that anomaly took 20 minutes in and of itself. Then we spent another 20 minutes sorting through the what-ifs of changing phones/plans.

By the time I got done, I had spent nearly 2 hours of my life on the question of potentially replacing my phone, when my current phone really works OK. Technology, and the time spent chasing/acquiring/learning/troubleshooting it, can be a curse. There are thousand ways I could have better spent that 2 hours: attending to some overdue house cleaning, reading a worthwhile book, catching up with a friend.

Did I end up replacing my phone? Yep, it’s on order. Will I spend precious time learning to use it – time I could spend on more worthwhile things? Undoubtedly. Will I ever learn to be content with what I have? Lord, I hope so.


Windows 2000 – R.I.P.

Windows 2000 was officially retired this week. Long my favorite version of Windows for its down-to-business, no-nonsense GUI and its modest hardware requirements, I’m sad to see it go.

XP was basically a gussied-up version of Windows 2000, and shared most of the same code base. But where XP tried to be prettier and fancier for mainstream computer users, plain-jane 2000 was content to just get the job done.

Windows 2000 lost any additional feature upgrades starting in the summer of 2005, and was only getting security updates since that time. But on July 13th, 2010, Microsoft stopped issuing those as well.

While I generally prefer living in the linux world these days (PCLinuxOS, to be exact), I do still have some ties to Redmond. I’m running Windows 7 on my media center PC to take advantage of the integrated Netflix streaming in Windows Media Center. And I have found Windows 7 to be pretty solid as an operating system.

So I raise a toast to Windows 2000. It served me well for many years.


A new year…

OK, it’s been quite a while since I made a regular blog post here. The arrival of the new year seems like a good reason to establish a more regular habit, so here goes…

I just completed the setup of YNAB3. I’ve been using the basic version of YNAB (a spreadsheet that can be used in Excel or OpenOffice) for about 18 months. Even though there was a newer YNAB Windows app, I stayed with the basic version because I’ve been primarily using Linux during that time, and the spreadsheet file can be easily used cross-platform. YNAB3 is now cross platform as well since it runs on top of Adobe Air, so I decided to upgrade and take advantage of the extra features.

I’m also hoping it will serve as an impetus for making (and keeping) a commitment to staying with a budget. While I’ve been setting a budget each month, I’ve generally been lousy at keeping within the boundaries of my spending plan. I mean, I haven’t completely sucked – I did finally pay off all my debts except the house last month. But I could have done it sooner if I didn’t habitually over-spend each month in different categories, from groceries to entertainment to the catch-all “misc” category. So I’m striving to become a better steward.

After I get my recent cataract surgery bills finalized with the insurance company and paid in full, I’ll work to build up a solid emergency fund, start saving for a new (used) vehicle purchase in 2-3 years, increase my charitable giving, etc.

Here’s to some discipline in the new year!