Monday, July 13, 2009

A Piece Of Gum Stuck To the Bottom of a Shoe

My daughter was asked to write about what it would feel like to be a piece of gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe. Here is what she wrote - I think it's hilarious:

"I am a piece of bubble gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe. I am being squished every two seconds. It really hurts my...whole body. I think I was just dipped in mud. Now I feel as if I am flying and landing on grass and dirt every once in a while.

As the shoe I am on is being lifted up, I see a girl behind me, running. She seems to be chasing me. I can't really see anything on the ground because I am smushed down too quickly. When whoever owns the shoe walks slowly, I sometimes get quick glimpses of carpet or pavement. When my shoe is taken off, it is thrown down, so I can see what the inside of a person's house looks like.

Inside the house, I hear a dog barking. It sounds like it is coming closer. Thankfully, I hear a girl say, "No Pixie, don't lick my shoes!" Now the girl walks over and puts her shoes on. I hear a "thwack!" as her other shoe goes down.

It smells like french fries in this car. When the girl gets out, I get a big breath of fresh air. She walks in an open door and suddenly a whiff of Italian food comes at me. It smells delicious. I hope I can get a taste.

While the girl, whose name I learned is Amy, walks to her table, I taste some spaghetti that had fallen on the floor. It tastes a lot better than my usual dinner menu - mud soup. I just figured out that if I wanted a snack, I could just lick myself. I am JuicyFruit bubble gum. Being gum on the bottom of Amy's shoe is a full-time job."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Are you happy with your life?

I ask myself this question sometimes. Recently, I heard the most beautiful rendition of an old song by Tears For Fears - Mad World - sung by Adam Lambert on American Idol. For some reason, the melancholic, almost chilling lyrics caused me to think about the topic of happiness again. I came up with some observations and conclusions. I'm not schooled in philosophy and don't know too much about the various religions of the world, so I can't comment on how unique these notions are, but by writing them down in this blog, I hope to at least share them.

What is happiness anyway? I don't know if anyone can answer this question completely, authoritatively. I choose to define it as a state of being in which a person's mind is at peace with his surroundings. Thus, happiness has little to do with positive things such as how much a person laughs or smiles at others, how much time he spends helping the unfortunate, how successful his career, or how much material wealth he accumulates. I think happiness can also be achieved when coming to grips with the darker moments of life - e.g. the death of a loved one or the realization that ones disease is incurable. The key is acceptance. And we can accept anything.

But society doesn't often teach us this. More likely, society advocates that we can only be happy if our lives have "purpose" - and for most this means achieving certain things: a good career, wife, children, money, material possessions, helping the less fortunate, etc. But is such a life of "purpose" really the way to achieve happiness? To me, it seems, that for most people it leads to lots and lots of disappointments - after all, in a world of shrinking resources, not everyone can be rich, famous, parent, etc. The "purpose-driven life" inevitably leads to competition and, thus, to the unhappiness of others. To boot, if you are not successful at accomplishing your purpose(s), it also leads to your unhappiness.

I think the religions of the world may be able to teach us something in this regard (even if's not an intended goal): Hinduism, via the concept of karma (everything is pre-determined) advocates acceptance. Christianity, by proposing a heaven, promotes the acceptance of the current life (everything's ok here, as long as we get to heaven eventually!) My thesis is that such an "accepting life", if not combined with a "purpose", has a much better chance to not negatively impact the lives of others. It has a much better chance to make you happy.

I can imagine that you're still rumbling about how one could combine acceptance with a purpose-filled life. After all, isn't that what some of our greatest people (Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Mandella, etc.) did? I don't know. Sure, these people accomplished great things - but was it their goal, their purpose to achieve them? Isn't it just as likely that "greatness" was a side-effect of the activity (making others' lives easier) these people felt compelled to partake in? Somehow I find it difficult to believe that these people woke up one morning and said to themselves, "I will make black people free" or "I will feed the hungry". But, then again, perhaps they did...

When I speak of the virtues of an "accepting" life, I, in no way, am advocating living an uneventful one. A life without experience is a life truly wasted. Today, I'm happily sitting here on the patio writing this blog, nursing a cold, while a bird is on a nearby bird feeder selectively choosing among the different kinds of seeds we've provided. Tomorrow my wife and daughter want to go hiking - I'll have to see if I'll be over the cold by then. If so, I'll be experiencing hiking on the Appalachian Trail for the first time; if not, I'll be experiencing more cold symptoms and maybe my friend the bird again :-) Most times, you don't have to look for experiences - life brings them to you!

I try to live every day with eyes open and pursue whatever fancies me at that moment. I have no grand plan, no career goals, no grudges to grind...and I am happy - most of the time (and these are the times that I forget to be accepting :-)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Government Employment - The New Welfare

Government is the fastest growing employer in the US - no small feat, given that it's already the largest employer (counting both federal and local government). It makes you wonder what all these employees actually do! Well, even years ago, when government was a lot smaller than it is today, most people believed: not too much! So, as people are drowning in debt, losing their jobs, their home's value is decreasing along with their salaries, it is not surprising that they don't take too kindly to the ever increasing cost of government.

The fact that government employ is a safe haven from the crumbling economy has not gone unnoticed by the masses: more and more people are flocking to Uncle Sam's warm employment embrace. Why not? They're hiring. Government workers are still getting pay increases. People working for Uncle Sam (or for the State) don't have to worry about health-care costs! The government doesn't have to live on a budget - it can either increase taxes on its citizens or borrow money (which will eventually increase taxes on a future generation).

Since most government workers don't do much at all, it can be described as an extremely lucrative form of Welfare. It's extremely nice for the people on it, but not so nice for the people having to pay for it. And it can't go on forever. Before this great recession, the parasites growing within government went unnoticed - the population was relatively upbeat about the future - salaries were increasing faster than inflation and they people's prime asset - their home - appeared to be increasing in value even faster than that! But now, things have changed. Citizens in financial straits do tend to notice when their disappearing wealth goes even faster thanks to the unrestrained spending in government.

I am amazed that US citizens are not up in arms over their government's lack of financial restraint. Although I'm an Obama supporter, I'm beginning to doubt even he can restructure this growing house of cards. Think about it: if 1/3 of the US population works for the government and they all vote NO on legislation that would cause them to lose benefits, what chance does such legislation have of passing? Voter turnout in the US is too low to compete with such an enormous "special interest group".

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The US can be a great country again - if it addresses some fundamental problems. Below is my list of problems and possible solutions:

Problem #1: Too many "leeches" and not enough "producers".
An economy cannot survive if not enough of its citizens produce useful goods or services. Government workers do not produce anything. Why, then, is government (federal and state) the biggest employer in the country? Because everyone is flocking to government employ as a way to make a cushy, stable, and lucrative living. Some, don't even do any useful work whatsoever - betting on the fact that one rarely gets fired by the government. Government is not the only place where "leeches" have proliferated. Just look at the number of lawyers and tax accountants in this country. There's a saying - we have 5% of the world population but 95% of the world's lawyers. And most of them only exist off the backs of "producers". Tax accountants exist mainly because of our overly complex tax system - created by "leech" government workers trying to justify their salary.

Solution: make government workers as accountable for their work as private workers. If workers don't perform, let them go! If workers have no meaningful work to do, let them go or re-assign them!

Problem #2: Too many lawsuits.
With the government as our shining light of proper behavior (see #1 above), we've become a country of unresponsible people. Nothing is our fault - everything is someone else's. So why not "leech" off others and make a quick fortune by suing them for perceived wrongs?

Solution: Tort reform. If someone brings on a lawsuit and loses, they need to pay the defendants' legal fees. This would immediately eliminate the many frivolous lawsuits clogging our legal system. Lawyers would have to start pursuing more productive pursuits.

Problem #3: An inferior K-12 educational system.
This is due to a combination of no accountability on the teachers (bad teachers can't be fired - they just stay on 'til they get to retire) and insufficient funds due to "leech" workers around them (e.g. superintendents of only 1-2 schools sipphoning off monies that should go to the teachers.

Solution: Just as with problem #1, accountability is the answer: teachers who don't teach effectively (as measured by national, standardized tests), should be let go. Similarly, superintendents need to show that they're managing a sufficient number of schools to justify their job (e.g. as managers, they have to manage at least 5-7 schools!) On the other hand, pay the most effective teachers and administrators more!

Problem #4: An unhealthy healthcare system. Many inefficiencies due to lack of computerization raise costs. Even more so, frivolous lawsuits (see problem #2) tremendously raise costs (costs of litigation, settlement, resultant liability insurance for doctors, etc.)

Solution: Some of the high costs would be brought down by fixing problem #2. Computerization is also pretty straight-forward with the only "stumbling block" being the need to keep citizen data private. Perhaps the solution is one in which the government keeps citizens' medical data on an ultra-secure data center which can only be accessed by the citizen! They would be able to download their medical data onto a portable device (e.g. flash drive) to take it to their doctor. Updates by the doctor are also stored on the device and, at the citizen's convenience uploaded back to the government's data center. In other words, the citizens have full control over their medical data and the government's servers act as a "backup".