Blog Soup 11/21/3013

Happy November and Happy Early Thanksgiving, everyone! I have a few moments and thought I would share a few thoughts and bits of news before I go tackle the huge pile of leaves in my front yard.


Since Facebook prematurely outed me (darn you, Facebook! ::shakes fist::), I’ll go ahead and share some house news. Once Jenny finishes school in May 2015, we are tentatively planning to move to Grand Prairie near Joe Pool Lake. There are two main reasons for the move:

  1. Family – We’ll live near my sister (currently 30+ minutes away) so our kids can go to school together. Instead of being 45 minutes from Jenny’s family, too far to see them very often, we’ll be 15 minutes away. It won’t put us too much farther from my parents and maternal grandparents, either.
  2. More Space – When we moved into our current house, we had nine-month-old Brenden and no Jonathan. Now that our family is complete and we have two very active boys, we’d like to have a bit more space, including a big game room upstairs where they can play, a study downstairs, and a media room where I can watch movies or play games late at night without worrying about waking anyone up. We can get a lot more house for the money in south Grand Prairie/Mansfield compared to the Mid-Cities.

With that plan in mind, we have been updating our current house to get it ready. I might share some more details in another post if that would interest you.

Things That Make Me Go Hmm

A few interesting observations:

  • I recently sent my ex-fiancee a babysitter recommendation. We are friends on Facebook, and when she posted a request for a good babysitter, I had one to offer. It was a bit odd, but it’s nice that we don’t hate each other despite the breakup.
  • A friend of mine got a bachelor’s from a private school, worked a bit, got a master’s in a really specialized field from another private school, and probably financed everything through student loans. Now she is married and staying home with her kids, but they are so strapped for cash that they’re selling every spare possession they can on Facebook to reduce their debt. I’m all for staying home with the kids if that’s what’s right for your family, but I don’t understand taking out massive loans for private colleges if you don’t plan to work.
  • Some people say you should rake and bag your leaves because they choke off your grass, blocking air, water, and nutrients from reaching your lawn. Others say you should mulch the leaves back into the soil. For years I’ve been mulching them, but I’ve had problems with thatch development. This year I’m going to compost the leaves instead of mulching them. Wish me luck. I need it!


As you probably figured, I am greatly enjoying the Bears’ football season. Jenny and I went to the Baylor-Oklahoma game in Waco earlier this month and had a blast. I’ve thought all along that our toughest test would come this Saturday in Stillwater, OK, against a tough Oklahoma State team. If we can win this, and Bama loses to Auburn or Mizzou, we have a chance at the national title game. That. Is. Crazy.


I held out high hopes for Obamacare despite my eventual decision to support Medicare for All instead. I defended it. I explained it to people. But now that the exchange website has experienced so many problems, and so many people are getting their policies canceled despite Obama’s foolish promises that “if you like your policy, you can keep your policy,” I have little appetite left for defending Obamacare. I love the new requirements – expanding coverage to the uninsured, no ban for preexisting conditions, keeping your children on your plan longer, coverage for contraception, etc. – but the overall scheme is too complicated to work well and isn’t going to draw in enough healthy young people to make it financially feasible. So in a sense, maybe the Republicans were right on many points. However, the answer isn’t going back to the old crappy system. The answer is expanding Medicare, a system that already works well for tens of millions of older Americans, to cover every single American, much like most other civilized countries do. But I fear that after the disaster of Obamacare, the country will have little appetite for further health care reform.

Blog Soup 9/26/2013

Hi! Things are a bit crazy in my house these days. I’m temporarily awake and free to blog, so here is an update on us.

  1. Except for me, my entire family is now in school full-time. Jenny has class all day Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday and also goes in sometimes on Thursday or Friday. Brenden is in kindergarten five days a week from 7:45-2:45. Jonathan is in preschool five days a week as well. I’m still trying to convince the boys that I really have spent many, many years in school and don’t need to go anymore.
  2. Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays are a bit tough for me. I get off work at 6:00, come home to help get the boys ready, take them to school, and crawl into bed around 8:15-8:30am. Then I get up at 2:00pm and pick them up. Plus Monday nights the boys have swim lessons at 5:45 and 6:45 in Southlake. So I’m usually pretty tired the first half of the week, not to mention the rest of the family.
  3. Jenny is probably studying more than she has in her entire school career. The material isn’t difficult for her, but the volume is staggering – tons of reading, video modules, and skills training. Despite the workload, she is keeping up and doing great. Starting in two weeks, she’ll be at Baylor Grapevine once a week working with real patients on a limited basis.
  4. I am embarrassed that Ted Cruz represents my state in the US Senate. If you’re not sure why, this editorial should help.
  5. The polls don’t show it since we haven’t played any tough opponents yet, but my Baylor Bears are one of the best teams in college football this year. They have a real shot at the Big 12 championship and a BCS bowl. Yes, it does feel a bit insane to write such things, but our defense is finally catching up to our ridiculous offense, and that should scare every team we’ll face this season. In our three games so far, our defense has scored more touchdowns (4) than it has allowed (3). We have tickets for the Oklahoma game Nov 7, our first real test of the season.
  6. I really want a media room / man cave with a nice projector, comfy seats, a wet bar, and soundproofed walls. You know, something like this. Since our current living room is open to the upstairs hallway where the bedrooms are and directly under our bedroom, my subwoofer doesn’t get much use when I have some downtime to watch movies or play games. Someday!
  7. Brenden is selling chocolate for his school’s PTA. I loathe cheesy fundraisers like this and would happily write the organization a big check rather than guilt-trip my family and friends and neighbors into buying overpriced junk they don’t want. I actually planned to refuse to participate. However, I forgot one crucial element: the fundraiser people give the kids incentives to sell. Brenden came home with his box of candy bars determined to sell two boxes so he could get get to play in the Game Truck (r) when it comes to his school. So guess what? I’m selling chocolate on his behalf. 🙂 To their credit, the chocolate company has improved its recipe, and the chocolate is now quite good.
  8. I did not sign up for the international desk at work next year. The international flights are interesting and the workload is light, but since you need a special qualification to work the desk, it’s difficult to trade an international shift away if needed. Since Jenny will have EARLY morning clinicals two days a week next year, I need to keep my trading flexibility. I might try it again in 2015 if I think we can make it work.
  9. Once we have the cash, I’d like to replace the Grand Caravan with a Mazda5 and the Fit with a Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt. However, right now we’re saving up for other things, so we’ll try to squeeze a few more years from our current vehicles.
  10. The boys now have passports! I’m not sure when we’ll use them yet, but they are ready. We might do an awesome cruise after Jenny finishes school in May 2015. Once the Wright Amendment restrictions are loosened in October 2014, flying to cruise ports from Dallas on SWA will become much easier.

Unbroken and the Mystery of Enemies Who Become Friends

I drive a Japanese car, a Honda Fit. Unlike some Japanese cars that are built by Japanese companies on American soil, my Fit was actually made in Japan and shipped over. One of my favorite foods is sushi. Another is anything prepared hibachi-style. My family plays video games on a Wii U, a Japanese system, with audio run through a receiver made by Sony, another Japanese company. I love the spare, haunting simplicity of Japanese music and art and the minimalist beauty of its architecture and furniture design. One of my favorite spas is a Japanese gem outside Santa Fe called Ten Thousand Waves. In my lifetime, Japan has always been a country full of innovation, great culture, and solid values that offer an interesting alternative to our Western individualism.

Obviously, had I been born half a century earlier, my perspective on Japan would have been radically different.

A Tale Worth Reading

This realization hit home for me while reading Laura Hillenbrand’s outstanding World War II biography called Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. It tells the story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who served in the Army Air Corps in the Pacific theater. After his plane crashed, he crawled into a life raft with two men from his crew and began drifting west toward Japanese-occupied territory. His story was one of the most extraordinary journeys I have ever encountered. The book taught me much about the Pacific side of World War II, a subject I sadly haven’t studied in depth even though both my grandfathers served in the Navy during the war. It also gave me a portrait of a will to live that is strong enough to endure unfathomable suffering, despite circumstances that would have made me want to give up many times over. Hillenbrand, also the author of Seabiscuit, spent seven years interviewing POWs, historians, and Zamperini himself, poring over scrapbooks and photographs and military records, and weaving together this mountain of information into one of the most compelling nonfiction books I have ever read.

Japan as a Hostile Nation

The disconnect between the 2013 Japan I know and the 1940s Japan in the book jarred me a bit. Without spoiling the book for you, I will say that Zamperini does eventually encounter some Japanese soldiers, and the results will make you squirm.

How can two countries go from being mortal enemies in the 1940s to being begrudging allies against the Communists the next decade, to say nothing of our strong relationship today and our affinity for Japanese culture and products? Political necessity certainly played a role initially, as the United States wanted all the allies it could get against the Soviet Union and China. Economic considerations also helped, as helping Japan to rebuild presented a large trade opportunity. The passage of time faded painful and fearful memories, and the millions of babies born in the post-war Baby Boom were already separated by time from the horrors of the war. For me, a child of two of those Baby Boomers, the idea of Japan as a hostile nation feels strange and out of place. And finally, as many of the World War II veterans learned after returning home, hatred and bitterness make a terrible burden to carry for the rest of one’s life.

Closing Your Eyes Is Easier, but Opening Them Is Worth It

Studying the horrors of World War II filled me with a variety of emotions: sorrow at the suffering and death of so many people on both sides of the conflict, anger at the people who started it, confusion at how so many people on the Axis side could believe in ideas like racial superiority, wonder at the amazing resilience and bravery of the soldiers and the civilians, and a wave of many types of gratitude.

I am thankful this brutal war ended as soon as it did. I am grateful that my grandfathers and so many others returned safely despite the enormous risks they faced. I am grateful that people, and nations, can change over time, that former enemies can shake hands and sometimes even form friendships, and that forgiveness is possible even in some of the worst situations imaginable.

Blog Soup 11/19/2012

Happy Thanksgiving, in case you don’t hear from me again this week. I wish you all mountains of sweet potatoes. With marshmallows. And no nuts. Here is today’s Blog Soup (r).

  • My Baylor Bears have had a disappointing season. When you combine one of the best offenses in college football with one of the worst defenses, you get a mediocre, .500-level team. So this weekend’s matchup between Baylor and BCS #1 Kansas State should have been a walkover for the Wildcats. Apparently, someone forgot to tell the Bears. Our offense took care of business as usual, and our much-maligned defense finally showed up. Final score: 52-24 Baylor, the first time we have ever beaten a #1-ranked team. SIC ‘EM!
  • I’m disappointed by the huge amount of media attention that the General Petraeus affair is getting. Yes, he made a mistake and owned up to it. Yes, affairs are bad news for all concerned. However, don’t we have more important issues to discuss than a guy who was cheating on his wife, even if that man happens to be in a high-level position? It’s like every newspaper in the country has turned into National Enquirer. The French are laughing at us.
  • Also on the Petraeus scandal…although I like to think that I am a strong person with high morals who can resist temptation, I’m only human. As such, I’m very glad that I am fortunate enough to live in the same home with my wife and kids instead of being stationed on the other side of the world for months at at time in a hostile environment. My freedom to do so results largely from the members of our military who volunteered to serve. I can only imagine how difficult a long deployment must be on our military personnel, especially those with spouses and children. A long absence certainly doesn’t excuse cheating, but in my mind it makes cheating easier to understand.
  • It was interesting to see a company (Hostess) cease operations due to a worker strike. Yes, I’ve laughed at the Twinkie memes circulating on Facebook, but the death of Hostess means thousands of people lost their jobs. Apparently the bakers found the struggling company’s contract proposal so unpleasant that the job just wasn’t worth it anymore. If your employer was trying to force pay, benefit, and work rule concessions on you, at what point would you choose to walk out? Would it make a difference if walking out meant burning down the entire company?
  • I can’t remember the last time I ate a Twinkie. I like Zingers, though. My coworkers run an honor-system concession stand in our office called the Recession Concession that sells various snacks and soft drinks. The day Hostess shut down, there was a run on Zingers, and I didn’t get to pick up a final package of them. I’ll bet I could find some on eBay. UPDATE: Recession Concession now has a limited supply of Zingers. Due to the shortage, the price has climbed from $0.75 to $8.00. I call shenanigans.
  • The U.S. government might stand with Israel, but I do not. Most Americans, particularly American Christians, seems to blindly support Israel because they view it as God’s chosen people. I disagree. The Jews might be God’s chosen people according to the Bible, but the modern nation of Israel was created by Western powers after World War II by, in many cases, displacing a people-group that had been on the land for generations. Yes, that is greatly oversimplified, but that’s basically how it went. The displaced people were robbed of their land by the West because they weren’t strong enough to resist. After the initial allocation, Israel gradually seized more of the Palestinians’ land, as shown here. As a result, the two sides have been fighting ever since. Both the Israeli government and the Palestinians have performed terrible acts that could be defined as terrorism. Both sides have rivers of blood on their hands. Yet our government props up one side with billions of dollars, military equipment, and other aid because we think we need an ally in the region. That support is one reason that many Muslim extremists hate our nation. As for the modern nation of Israel’s being God’s chosen people, also note that the nation today is not exclusively Jewish, partly because some of the displaced Arabs decided to stick around. It’s a melting pot, like most countries in a sense. I hurt for the millions of people caught in the crossfire on both sides, especially those who have been injured or have lost loved ones in this senseless, decades-old conflict. I wish our nation were energy independent so we didn’t feel the need to be involved in the Middle East. And I wish our government could understand a simple truth: we cannot fix the Middle East. Want to end anti-U.S. terrorism? Withdrawing all troops and foreign aid from all Middle Eastern countries would go a really long way toward that goal.
  • If the people (not the word I originally used, but I’m trying to be nice) who are petitioning for Texas to secede somehow win, which is impossible without a civil war, Jenny and I would be tempted to move. Likely destinations include Missouri, Washington, or Oregon. The biggest problems would be leaving our friends and family and giving up my awesome job. As tempting as Seattle or Portland might be to me, I hope this doesn’t happen.
  • I downloaded the latest album by British indie-rock band Florence and the Machine called Ceremonials. It is fantastic. You should buy it.
  • On a related note, do people still buy CDs anymore? I don’t buy much music, to be fair, but I really cannot remember the last time I bought an actual CD rather than simply downloading it. It might have been a few years ago when I picked up something on clearance at the Virgin Megastore (remember that place?) at Grapevine Mills.

A Few Final Thoughts on the Election

For those of you who hate politics, I promise this will be my last political post for a while. But several interesting things happened this week that deserve mention.

A Good Day for Gay Rights

Four states voted on proposals related to gay rights, and all four supported equality. Voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington State all approved same-sex marriage. Voters in Minnesota voted down a constitutional amendment that would have explicitly banned same-sex marriage. Gay marriage has appeared on ballots many times before across the country and lost every time until yesterday. Bravo to those states who approved equal treatment for all regardless of whom they love.

In related news, the voters of Wisconsin elected Tammy Baldwin as the first openly gay U.S. Senator. According to the article, the campaign focused on political issues rather than Baldwin’s sexual orientation, which is exactly how it should be. Congratulations, Senator Baldwin.

Obama’s Second Term

Although I voted for Stein knowing she wouldn’t win, I was hoping Obama would win rather than Romney. While I am pleased with the outcome, this is no time to gloat. I disagreed with many of his positions, but Romney seems like a good man who cares about our nation and would have worked hard to make things better.

More importantly, Washington is still broken and paralyzed by partisan bickering. We have serious problems and need serious solutions. Both Obama and the mostly-unchanged Congress have a huge amount of work to do, and most of it will be arduous. Obama and the top leaders in Congress have all committed to work together and listen to each other’s ideas to get some things done, the big thing being avoidance of the fiscal cliff. Obama even said he wants to get input from Romney. I want to believe them. Compromise is the only way to solve the problems we face. But I will remain a skeptic until I see some real progress. Best wishes to all involved on both sides of the aisle.

The Makeup of Our Nation is Changing

During the election coverage Tuesday night and in reading the analysis before and after, I was fascinated by all the data being hurled at me. USA Today compiled a great breakdown of the results by a variety of demographic divisions. A few things stood out, many of which do not bode well for the Republicans unless they change their approach and platform significantly:

  1. Rural and small-town voters tend to vote Republican, even in swing states and some largely Democratic states. Except in heavily Republican states, urban voters tend vote Democratic. Virginia was a great example. On the map, the vast majority of counties went red, but there were so many blue voters concentrated in the big cities that the state went to Obama.
  2. Whites, rural people, older people, rich people, evangelicals, and men lean Republican. Pretty much everyone else leans Democratic, including nonwhites, gay people, gay sympathizers, city dwellers, middle- and lower-class people, people of no faith, Catholics, mainline Christians, women, and younger people.

I say these tendencies are bad news for Republicans because the demographics of our nation are shifting in favor of the Democrats. The percentage of whites is dropping as the minority population is rising, particularly the Latino population. People continue to move from rural areas to larger cities. Gay acceptance is rising. Evangelicals are losing people to the “spiritual but not religious” movement, and some believe they are already losing influence. If our young people continue to lean Democratic once they reach voting age, the general population will skew bluer over time. Obviously, not all of these trends apply here in deep-red Texas right now, but our Latino population is growing rapidly, which could end Republican dominance here.

Mixed Reactions

Regarding the presidential race, about half the country is happy, the other half sad. I saw a few jubilant posts on Facebook. I also heard one guy at work say we were in for “four more years of Islamic communism”. I have hidden or unfriended most of my politically obnoxious Facebook friends, but I still saw some negative comments right after Obama was declared the winner. Interestingly, the Romney supporters I know probably voted mostly for Republicans, which means most of their candidates were victorious. Yet some of them are devastated, even “physically ill” according to one friend, over the one race at the top of the ballot that they lost, as if a Romney victory would solve all our problems. It makes me even more convinced that many people, even some of the ones who get really worked up about politics, don’t really understand how our government works.

As for me, I voted for a mix of Greens and Dems, not a good combination here in Texas. Every single one of them lost. Sure, I disagree on many issues with Senator-Elect Ted Cruz and Congressman Kenny Marchant, but I’m not freaking out because they won, either. As I wrote earlier this week, life will go on regardless of who won.

There is one thing all of us can do whether our candidates won or lost on Tuesday: when appropriate, contact them regarding our views on an issue we care about. For now, that’s about the most we can do to influence them. Contacting your representatives or the President is easy. No, they can’t read every message they receive, but their staffers capture and track the general sentiment of all the messages to know how their constituents feel. If you aren’t happy about who won, contact him or her and speak up. It’s more effective than whining on Facebook or complaining to the people around you.

Thanks to all of you who voted, regardless of whom you chose.

Things That Won’t Change After Today

We’re finally here at Election Day 2012. Like some of you, I have followed some of these races closely and for a long, long time. Are you tired? I certainly am, and I don’t even live in a swing state that’s been getting bombarded with propaganda for months. Are you nervous about the results? I’ll certainly be disappointed if certain people win, but I think some perspective might be helpful.

Not much is actually going to change no matter who wins.

For example:

  • The sun will rise on Wednesday just like it did today.
  • If the projections are correct, Congress will remain divided, dysfunctional, and incapable of getting much done.
  • The economy will continue to slowly improve no matter who is elected. Presidents don’t get issued a magic wand at their inaugurations that gives them control over the economy. Their policies can steer the ship a bit, but the U.S. economy is a very big ship, and no single person or institution has much control over it.
  • The federal deficit will continue to grow at an alarming rate. Neither Obama nor Romney plans to balance the budget for several years.
  • Climate change will continue. Neither candidate has made significantly reducing greenhouse gasses a top priority, and Congress wouldn’t let them do it if they tried.
  • Chipotle will remain king of all fast-food burrito joints. No, I can’t prove that. Just go with it.
  • Abortion will remain legal and widely available. I still don’t understand why so many people vote based on abortion rights. Is saving the unborn a noble goal? I think it is. However, to my knowledge, no significant changes have been made to abortion rights since Roe versus Wade back in the 1970s, even after eight years under Reagan and eight more under Bush, both Republicans. I doubt any big changes will occur anytime soon. Like it or not, the fight against abortion rights is as unwinnable as the war in Afghanistan. Let’s move on to a cause that can make a difference, like reducing unwanted pregnancies.
  • The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will not appear, nor will the world end. (That happens next month, remember?)
  • Some Republicans and some Democrats will remain convinced that their party is God’s party and the other party is a tool of Satan. All of them are wrong. Democracy isn’t even a Christian concept. Those pagan Greeks invented it centuries before the birth of Jesus. Israel’s rulers, when they had a single ruler, were kings. The people in the early church in Acts pooled all their resources so that everyone had enough, which sounds a bit socialistic to me. I hope someday we can all ditch the idea that Americans are God’s chosen people and that one political party can accurately represent God’s will.
  • At least 25 million Americans will remain without health insurance even if Obama wins and Obamacare is fully implemented. Remember, it’s not universal coverage or a government takeover of the entire healthcare system. It’s a major reform of the health insurance industry. That 25 million number could be much higher if Romney wins and somehow manages to repeal Obamacare despite a Democratic Senate, which is highly unlikely despite Romney’s promises.
  • Progress toward gay rights and acceptance will continue. Why? The majority of Americans now support them, even if that view isn’t as popular here in the Bible Belt. Support has risen significantly over the last decade.
  • The war in Afghanistan will continue at least into 2014 since both Obama and Romney think it’s worthwhile to keep troops there.
  • The people who claim that they’ll move to Canada if the wrong person wins…won’t actually go anywhere.
  • Birds will sing, autumn leaves will fall, my sons will remain adorable, I’ll run and then go to work, Jenny will go to school, and I’ll continue spending too much time on Facebook.

Yes, some things might change once the new people take office, but I think the media’s relentless focus on the election gives us a distorted view of the actual impact of the government on our lives. So if your candidates win, celebrate with them. But if they lose, shake it off along with me. (I voted for Jill Stein. Her odds are long, and that’s being generous.)

Life will go on either way.