Thursday, March 30, 2017

Conservative? Democrat? NoLabel

I … intend to volunteer my time to the greater good.

I have flirted with the idea of working in politics for a while … not as a candidate for office, but in some other capacity. Hopefully not knocking on doors and/or making phone calls, either. In the back office, or something. Donald Trump’s election to the presidency has heightened my desire to do that, to make some contribution to our republic.

While I consider myself an independent thinker and voter, I usually find myself voting for the Democrat, so my first instinct was working for the Democratic Party. And this has its appeal / except it’s working for the Democrats. The Dems do not excite me. Their nomination of Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Presidential Election … “blooming” sad. She ran against one of the least popular and clearly the least qualified GOP candidate in a long time and could not win.

Clearly we need change, she talked change, but didn’t embody it — or something. I believe Trump called it properly when he said her program would take the failed initiatives of upper New York ( full disclosure, which I knew {next to} nothing about ) to the whole country. The Democrats’ plan(s), as experienced and anticipated by me, felt heavy-handed and restricting in very important ways.

Like passing a law in Minneapolis to make the minimum wage $15 per hour and require all employers to give eight weeks of pregnancy leave to all mothers. These may be fine ideas, but if St Paul and surrounding communities don’t have similar requirements Minneapolis’s businesses will dry up in a hurry. Democrats do not seem to get that. At all. I am not saying they don’t get it; I am saying they don’t seem to. And that is the party I normally vote for.

I believe the country needs change … we voted for Trump, we must be in bad need of something. Clearly, I think, Hillary didn’t have it; but the Democrats put her out there. Neither she nor they, apparently, knew she didn’t have what we’re in bad need of. As I told in my back-story, I held my nose and pulled her lever.

Sometime last year, I discovered an organization that struck me as possibly being able to facilitate working on the common good from ground somewhere between the polar right and polar left. I previously wrote about this group relative to giving Neal Gorsuch a full hearing versus making it impossible to get a hearing in the first place. The organization is NoLabels. I interpret the name to mean labeling those with whom we disagree with any label is to make them less than human and not worth talking to. The use of labels, then, does nothing save polarize the populace.

Its internet home page pops up this window

and its premise is that it is possible to get divergent groups working together to solve this country’s real problems. The first step in such a task is to get the people to talk to one another.

I heard a NYTimes columnist speaking to a group of NPR listeners say something like, “NoLabels, and a couple other groups, are trying to do the impossible … make working from the center as sexy and exciting as working from the extreme ends.” While it might be that difficult, working for/with NoLabels excites me. I have become a member and intend to donate my time to the greater good.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

New Plan Progress #2

Or should I say "regress"?  No.  Not really.  But this month was no victory.

The month started with a plateau.  That's where your body panics after a quick weight loss, and tries to stop you from losing more.  Having lost 10 pounds in 5 weeks, this was not a surprise.  Plateaus do pass after 2 or 3 weeks though.  The short story is, I wasn't going to lose a lot of weight this month.

Then I worked a very exhausting 11 days, where these goals had to take a backseat.  That was followed by a 10 day cold where I completely gave up on them, and focused on keeping my job and social commitments.  I know I ate about the amount of calories to maintain my current weight, but I didn't document anything, and haven't been on the scale in weeks.

Speaking of not documenting things, I haven't been documenting my budget either.  I know I took in $500 more than I spent, but that's about all I know.  And I only did that well because I earned some extra pay from working all that overtime.

As for my speaking goals, I gave them zero effort.

But my major goals are looking great coming out of a bad month.  I did reduce my debt by $500, which is what I need to do each month.  My weight is about the same, but there isn't anything I was going to do about that during a plateau anyways.  And I'm feeling better, and ready to tackle those goals anew next month.

Next month I'll also be:
1. Moving closer to work, so I'll have lots of free time.
2. Moving to a place with pools, yoga classes, and workout equipment.
3. Getting a tan.  I got 5 sessions for $40 to get me started, and plan to tan the natural way after that.  I think getting and maintaining a tan will improve my overall health, appearance, and outlook.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Stepping Back from the Brink

"I want to rock and roll... until a reasonable hour, then get a good night's sleep before work on Monday," will never be a the lyrics of a hit single.  This is what I've been telling people for years when they go on about their favorite entertainer's political opinions.  The fact is, we do want to rock 'n' roll all night, and party ever-ry day, and there's noting wrong with wanting that.  Actually doing that is a whole 'nother matter.  Conservative values are not entertaining, and entertainers rarely espouse conservative values.

This idea never hits me so hard as it does every March when a group of friends and I go to Acme Comedy Club in Minneapolis for a friends birthday.  Because the other side of forgetting we shouldn't be getting our life advice from entertainers, is entertainers forgetting they're here to entertain, and not give life advice.  Over the years the more conservative among us have spent hours paying to have professional entertainers berate us, and everything we care about, which is not especially entertaining.

Until this year, that is.  This time was a little different.  These comedians got that not everyone agreed with them.  They saw a need to re-institute that line themselves.  They knew that some people would agree with hardcore insults to conservative people and values, but enough wouldn't to have a real effect on the audience.  I guess this is an unexpected upside to electing Trump.

I think so many thought that he couldn't possibly win that when he did people really had to reevaluate who it is we interact with everyday.  My other thought is, there have been so many people wildly over reacting that the average person, even the people who agree, just don't want to hear it any more.

The other day I read a comment from an entertainer saying something like, "It's hard to comment on the sofa when the drapes are on fire."  I'd agree... if the drapes were on fire.  I think we've elected the most embarrassing president we possibly could have, but this one guy isn't going to break the country.  I don't like this guy, I didn't like the last guy, and I probably won't like the next.  Now I'd like to pay to be entertained please.  Any takers?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

An Eye-Opener

“Please try something else.”

A couple of months ago, I began to pay my water bill and saw the city had not credited me with paying my prior bill. I checked my payments for the prior month … could not find one for Minneapolis water. I searched both the bills to be paid and the paid bills bins. Nothing. Ooops! Using my online tool, I paid both bills as quickly as possible.

Remembering that this had happened once before I called the office. They didn’t think they had a problem getting the bill out, saw that I, with one exception, always pay on time and rescinded the late fee.

I began thinking about how to prevent this from happening again. I decided to create a matrix, with months across the top and bills to be paid along the side, and put an X in each cell when the bill for that month for that entity arrived. “What is the best way to do this?” I wondered. “What’s the best tool? Excel? A text editor?” I am a techie and rather enjoyed thinking about how to do this. “Paper and Pencil? Digital? An iPad? My phone? Paper and pencil on a form created digitally?”

As I played with these options, it dawned on me … this had happened twice, with a long time in between. Both times with the same supplier. Both times he removed the late fee. I had decided to add a heavy administrative burden to solve a practically non-existent problem.

Further reflection revealed a far more important truth: the administrative burden I was about to place on myself feels — somehow, please work with me —  in many ways like the burden many people, especially business people, feel in our country today. Government’s response to everything is: regulate. Require reports. Make.people.behave.

I absolutely believe in regulations. I also believe some regulations are unnecessarily burdensome while others are life-savers. But it takes wisdom to distinguish these differences and I don’t believe adequate wisdom has ever been applied. I sometimes wonder if it’s even available.

A couple of current examples illustrate why I wonder:
The sounds-good-let’s-do-it desire to raise the minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour — in Minneapolis. It seems obvious that this would be a huge negative influence to anyone considering opening or expanding a business in Minneapolis.

At the national level, in early 2017, the Department of Justice initiated a lawsuit against a neighborhood bank; its crime seems to be making business decisions different from ones the DOJ would make.

We have managed the legislative and regulatory practices in the same way for a long time. The result is layers of bureaucratic burden. Happily, some of these necessarily impinge on the way some would live. Unhappily, some of them just impinge.

In the 2016 presidential election, both major candidates promised change. As reported previously ( political meanderings, election reflections, if hillary wins, more political angst, this election year, and our democracy is fragile )
, Donald Trump scared the bejesus out of me. Unreported previously, Hilary Clinton’s message of change struck me as possibly trying different things, but with the same methodology that has gotten us where we are. Nothing fresh. I pulled her lever even while my gut, along with Donald Trump, was hollering, “This will result in more of the same. Enough is enough; please try something else.”
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Monday, March 13, 2017

Gift Giver Surplus

A while back I wrote about consumer surplus.  This is the money a consumer would pay for something, but didn't have to because it was being sold for less than that.  I spent weeks mulling it over at the time.  It really did have an impact on me.  During that time I caught a clip from Adam Ruins Everything.  That's a show that tries to illustrate the hidden truth of things you may have a misconception about.  I love content that does this well; Freakonomics for example.

Adam Ruins Everything does bring up some great points and facts you may not be aware of.  It is worth watching.  In my opinion, they have some twisted takes on reality though, and sometimes leave out important facts that don't fit the narrative they're telling.  Not the best example, but the reason I brought them up, is their take on gift giving.

The argument they put forth is basically this:
Premise #1, you know what things are worth to you.
Premise #2, you don't know how much things are worth to people who are not you.
Conclusion, gift giving is like throwing money away because of the consumer deficit you're creating.

I think this is wrong on every level.  For starters, premises 1 and 2 are flawed.  There are certainly times where we are wrong about what we want, and times someone we know has better ideas.  An example Walter once gave was clogs.  He never considered buying himself a pair, but when his wife did, he soon realized they were often a great choice of footwear for him.  Assuming all purchases beneficial to your life must come from you is very narrow minded.

But my biggest complaint is the form of the argument.  It assumes the only value in a gift is in owning that item.  To calculate the total value of a gift, you would need to add what it's worth for the receiver to own it, the joy the giver received to give it, and the joy the receiver received to receive it.  Okay, that sentence looks crazy, but it does make sense.

As I stated in my last post on consumer surplus, experiences usually have more total value than items.  This is because most objects are only temporary or temporarily useful, when the memory of events can last a lifetime.  These people completely ignored two of the three aspects of gift giving, and they were the important two.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Humility on Demand

"Did you go to Cost Rica?"

I was recently speaking with a friend of mine. The subject drifted to this shared blog. He had previously told me he likes reading my material here and he likes my writing. The conversation included his telling me he likes the state and stability of my mind, my humor, the way I can make a teaching point with humor. I was basking in the sentiment.

Then, a little quizzically, "Did you go to Costa Rica?"
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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

We've Got Spirit, Yes we Do!

And now a tale of glorious redemption.  A few weeks ago I wrote about a $367 typo.  In a nutshell, I had purchased two of my four tickets for Costa Rica incorrectly, and they needed to be repurchased.  That was a very unfortunate mistake on my part.  But in addition to my mistake, the person at the ticket counter told me I would need to repurchase one of the other tickets as well.  Something about not being allowed to use a ticket for a connecting flight if I hadn't also used the ticket for the flight I was connecting from.

So that's how I ended up buying two tickets for the exact same flight.  Now at the time I didn't name names.  I was unhappy to say the least, but I wanted to talk to the airline, and give them a chance to sort this out before I said something publicly.  Now I can say, the airline is Spirit, and they totally redeemed themselves, and then some.  Not only did they refund that last flight, but they refunded the first two, the two that were entirely my mistake.

What more can I say?  They are a no frills airline, but they are the cheapest, and they did the right thing when they didn't have to.  And how much time do you spend up in the air anyways?  My advice is to take Spirit, especially if you can get way with a large "personal carry-on" instead of paying for a traditional carry-on.  Then spend all the money you saved on your vacation.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Another Purse Story

“It’s got all my credit cards in it.”

It started innocently enough; Ellie and I planned to meet Jane at the Machine Shed restaurant. As I pulled up to the door, Jane was walking up the parking lane. She and Ellie hugged and went in. Looking for a parking space, I noticed there was an unusually large number of cars, so I had to go farther from the door than typical. I backed into the place, exited the car and walked to the restaurant.

Hungry and in a hurry, I walked briskly to the hostess’s desk; she was looking for me and said, “Come with me,” when I assented I was with two women.

We walked through a smaller dining area, our customary location, and into the larger dining area behind it. The larger area was very crowded and noisy, not the environment we would have chosen. “Hmmm … ,” my hostess said, “they’re not here.” We walked back to the smaller area.

I saw Ellie standing next to a booth, said, “There they are,” to my guide, and walked over to Ellie.

Looking a little distressed, she said, “Jane’s lost her purse.”

Before I could respond Jane came hustling in from the larger dining area. “It’s not in there, where she was going to seat us,” Jane said, breathlessly.

“It wasn’t?” Ellie replied.

“No. I must’ve left it in the car,” she said as she began moving quickly, somewhere between a fast walk and a slow run, down the hall.

Wow, when she’s in a hurry, she can really move,” I thought.

“Go with her.”

I followed. I am a fast walker, but she stayed well ahead. “She keeps her keys in her purse; how’s she going to react when she realizes she’s locked out of her car?” I wondered. “Jane,” I called; she kept moving. I passed our car and she was at hers. She peered in the front passenger window. “I am amazed she’s not panicking at being locked out.” She opened the door, “Oh, she’s got her keys … the purse must be in there … thank goodness,” irrationally poured through me.

This gratitude ground to a halt, “It’s not in there.” I looked in the driver’s side windows, both front and back, as if Jane could possibly miss seeing her purse. We trudged back to the restaurant. “I must have left it in church,” she said.

Not knowing we had just done this, a waitress offered to walk her to her car.

We returned to the booth, Ellie was waiting for us. Jane went underneath the table – this is a long booth, easily able to accommodate three people on a side. “It’s got all my credit cards in it … my checkbook. Ohhhh ohhh.” She has had at least one encounter with credit card fraud, so knows that nightmare.

Another waitress, wanting to be helpful, got down on all fours and, without any luck, poked into the inky blackness under our booth.

We decided to go to the church Jane had just attended. Once again Jane was scurrying down the hall toward the exit; Ellie took a quick look under the bench and followed. I hadn’t looked, and thought I should, too. On a whim, I got out my penlight and pointed it at the inkiness.

I couldn’t believe my eyes; my penlight spotlighted her purse, upside down, under the bench as close to the far end of the bench as was possible to be. Banging my head as I rose, I called to Ellie, who, fittingly, was well behind Jane on the way out. She didn’t hear. I quickly walked a bit further, “Ellie,” more loudly, “Ellie.” She turned; I gesticulated madly; I walked to the booth.

A young waitress came, “Would you like me to retrieve the purse?”

“I would like that very much. Thanks.”

When she emerged, Ellie and Jane had returned to the table and everyone was breathing again.

I thanked the young waitress, Ellie and Jane did, too, and we sat down to the nice dinner we had come to have.
PS: The following day we realized how special it was that the various staff people took such an interest in Jane’s lost purse; we sent them a thank you note for creating a caring environment.

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