Monday, October 30, 2006

The Google makes me giggle

I know it's been said by everybody else already, but - I just can't stop myself from giggling every time I think about George Bush's "the Google" quote:

Maria Bartiromo: I’m curious, have you ever googled anybody? Do you use Google?

George Bush: Occasionally. One of the things I’ve used on the Google is to pull up maps. It’s very interesting to see — I’ve forgot the name of the program — but you get the satellite, and you can — like, I kinda like to look at the ranch. It reminds me of where I wanna be sometimes.

Oh my gosh, could he POSSIBLY sound more like a doddering, out-of-touch old geezer? It reminds me of that time Ronald Reagan was a guest commentator at a Cubs game, after he was no longer president and his Alzheimers was already advancing. He just sounded like a sweet old grampa, a little overwhelmed by all the hubub. But of course, George Bush does not have Alzheimers. He's just a doofus.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Sometimes I don't know what to think

A friend of mine is getting sued. She's getting sued because she declined to extend a contract that expired. Or more precisely, she only extended it 12 times, and then declined to extend it a 13th time. It's a nuisance lawsuit. They have no case. They thought they could scare her into capitulating - BOY did they ever back the wrong horse on that one - and now they can't pull out. She won't settle, because she knows she'll win in court. If they go to court and lose, they'll have to pay her (considerable) legal bills. If they have any brains, they are quaking in their boots because she is, bar none, the last person I would ever want to back into a corner. Nothing brings out her steely, resolute calm like facing down a bully.

Meanwhile, they all spend hours in a tiny room, listening to depositions. I don't envy the opposing counsel. My friend recounted that at one point, the opposing counsel asked her what she was told, by a certin subject-matter expert, about how long a specific process would likely take. She replied, 12 months. He repeated this question four different ways. Then he showed her an email between herself and the Subject Matter Expert, in which SME explained that Part A of the process would take about 6 months, and Part B of the process would also take about 6 months.

"Does seeing this email cause you to want to change your previous answer?" he leered triumphantly.

She looked at him in genuine bafflement. "No...because 6 plus 12?"

I don't understand why anyone would want to work this way, I truly don't. When I think of what better things could be done with the tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees that will get spent on this just burns me up.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

"By week three, I couldn't take it any more"

I was at a conference last week where I was giving a workshop on CEO transitions, and afterwards I stepped into another session already in progress which was a poverty similation. Participants role-play the lives of low-income families, from parents trying to care for their children to senior citizens trying to get by on Social Security. The task of each family is to provide food, shelter and other basic necessities during the simulation. To do so, they interact with various institutions - schools, clinics, social service providers, utility companies, child care providers, employers, banks, pawn shops and payday lenders, transportation systems - which are "staffed" by low-income volunteers from the community.

Each person and family has a profile outlining their situation, and the simulation takes place over four fictional weeks. The simulation has been used broadly around the US, and I have always heard it described as powerful, eye-opening, transforming. Participants learn how complicated everything becomes in a cash economy, the illogic of the social service systems, the mass transit system that can't get you from your babysitter to your job on time.

This was the first time I've seen it in person, and the quotes from the participants during the debriefing discussion bore that out. I paraphrase:

  • "I pay my bills online, and it takes me 10 minutes. I had no concept that it can take a whole week just to pay a utility bill, because of the extra hoops and the need for cash and the lousy bus system. It was exhausting."
  • "The first thing I did was go to the bank to open a bank account - and I was told I couldn't. I had no idea what to do next."
  • (From a volunteer): "I thought it was so interesting that before we even opened up the first week of the simulation, we looked around the room and every single one of you had a calculator out. It was like, this is just a math challenge; if I work the numbers right I can make it all work."
  • By the third week, half of the children were no longer attending school. Said one teenage "student:" "Learning the state flower of Missouri had absolutely no relevance to my life. Going to school was not a useful choice when my family had so many crises to deal with."
  • "I was a drug dealer, and I felt like I actually had some options, both for myself and to help others. Crime seemed like a pretty good option."
And so I've been wondering - is it possible to design a similar simulation that would help people understand the situation of someone living in a poor, oppressed community in another country, and how it comes to be that violence "seems like a pretty good option?" Perhaps one of the Israeli-Palestinian collaborative organizations has developed such a thing. Because it seems to me that empathy goes a long way toward finding better solutions to problems, and there are reasons that most people decide that violence, or crime, are better options than just obediently going to school and doing what the system tells them to do. Maybe if we come to understand those reasons better, we'll be more inclined to help those people and less inclined to hate them, lock them up, or shoot them.

Anybody know of such a thing?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Million Dollar Flora

Where have I been? Right here, but not blogging, apparently. Today I'm off to Denver for a few days.

We had our phone interviews as part of the life insurance application process. They asked all kinds of questions that make me bristle, but which I suppose have bearing on what kind of life insurance risk you are. Health care questions, what doctors you've seen. They get to look at your medical records. I hate that. I also got asked a whole slew of financial questions, which Enrico did not. About our financial assets, my business, how much it makes, how much of it I own. Ironically I was less perturbed by these questions, as for some reason I've never had the reservations about discussing money that most people seem to have. I'm very aware that I'm an outlier in this regard, but to me - well, it's just money. A person's financial circumstances have no bearing on their virtue, just their fortunes. But, whatever. So I thought it was a little ironic that I was the only one getting these questions. Puzzing, but apt.

Then all was explained by an email from our insurance agent, apologizing that she had, through a typo, accidentally requested one million dollars in life insurance coverage for me. Which was, shall we say, many many times more than we actually wanted. I guess that's why I was flagged for a more extensive questionnaire. They were trying to figure out - why on earth does this chick think she's worth a million dollars?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Miscellaneous Shellfish

Enrico and I recently applied for life insurance, which was an odd experience. Do we engage in skydiving? Parasailing? Scuba diving? Mountain climbing? Piloting small aircraft? Bear wrassling?

Getting life insurance is one of those things that makes me question so-called reality in modern American society. For two years, our financial advisor has been telling us to get life insurance. It's conventional wisdom, that you should have it. And yet, as Enrico likes to point out, insurance is a gamble that we are designed to lose, statistically speaking. Between homeowners' insurance, car insurance, disability insurance, and now life insurance, we're spending well over $3,000 a year on insurances of various sorts - and that doesn't count medical/dental insurance which is fully covered by Enrico's employer but probably costs six grand a year. Would we be better off just setting all that aside for a rainy day?

Not that it's really an option. I'd never go without the medical, the homeowner's is required by our mortgage lender, and auto is required by law. But it's more than the money - is the conventional wisdom about insurance just a scam? Something that everybody has misguidedly accepted as unavoidable, like the wedding industry and the two-party political system? Have we been pushed unthinkingly into yet another cattle chute of the modern world?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld

For my fellow Seattlites: Next Saturday, October 7 at 7:00 pm, University Unitarian Church, ACLU of Washington and others* are sponsoring an event you won't want to miss:

The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld

A mock trial with dramatized testimony and cross-examination, featuring:

  • Jennifery Harbury, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee STOP Torture Campaign, and author of Truth, Torture and the American Way
  • Pramila Jayapal, Executive Director, Hate Free Zone Washington
  • Ron Slye, Professor, Seattle University School of Law
At Pigott Auditorium, Seattle University, 901 12th Ave. For more information visit or email

"These events occurred on my watch. As Secretary of Defense, I am accountable for them and I take full responsibility." - - Donald Rumsfeld, 2004 testimony to the Senate Arms Services Committee

* University Unitarian Church, ACLU of Washington, Amnesty International Puget Sound, Hate Free Zone Washington, American Constitution Society-Puget Sound Chapter, the Legacy of Equality, Leadership and Organization (LELO), Seattle Fellowship of Reconciliation, Sound Nonviolent Opponents of War, Rainier Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation.

Maybe I was born in the wrong century

Thomas Jefferson is said to have predicted, in 1822, that "there is not a young man now living in the US who will not die an Unitarian." He was wrong, of course.

This weekend my Unitarian Universalist church celebrated the 25th anniversary of our minister's ordination. Because he dislikes this sort of pomp and circumstance, he agreed to the festivities only on the condition that we use it as an impetus to dramatically ramp up our social justice commitment - specifically, the establishment of a Social Justice Fund and a staff person dedicated to social justice work. In one weekend, we raised $130,000, plus a challenge commitment from a single parishoner to fund a half-time staff position for four years.

I've only been a member of this church for about three years, but I'm proud to have joined a long line of illustrious Unitarians and Universalists who worked to make this country, and the world, a better and more just place. Including Thomas Jefferson, of course. But also:

  • U.S. Founding fathers and mothers such as John, Abigail and John Quincy Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine.
  • A slew of abolitionists, women's suffragists and humanitarians, including Clara Barton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Jane Addams, Dorothea Dix, Margaret Fuller, Mary Wollstonecraft, Julia Ward Howe and Adlai Stevenson.
  • Famous scientists and healers such as Charles Darwin, Florence Nightengale, Buckminster Fuller, Linus Pauling and Albert Schweitzer
  • Innumerable great writers, philosophers and artists, not least Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Louisa May Alcott, Herman Melville, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Horatio Alger, e. e. cummings, T. S. Eliot, Carl Sandberg, Frank Lloyd Wright, and my distant Boston cousins, Amy and Robert Lowell.
I'm sure the world would be a better place if Jefferson had been right. I don't mean that to denigrate anyone's theology, just a comment on how this country might look if this list of people had left the strongest lasting impact on our political life and social conscience today. But as as sideways as things got, every now and then I have a glimmer of hope that it just might not be too late to get back on track.