Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Good Times!


The Circus Is In Town

These are not good times. As Dicken’s stated, “they are the worst of times.”

Many states are going through some rough budget sessions now. The recession isn’t over, and it appears that it may be lingering for a long, long time.

It appears that the rest of the country is finally starting to catch up to where my wife and I live. We live in Arizona.

Arizona has long been known to its residence as a bit of a backwater in politics. Much of the rest of the United States knows Arizona by its national political leaders that have risen to power. People with names like Goldwater, Babbit and Napolitano. But these are the exception.

Most of the people that run Arizona are idiots. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. I am speaking literally here. They are idiots, their IQs on average, must be below 50.

So with state budgets being hit hard, it appears that folks in Wisconsin, California and New York are finally starting to catch up with Arizona. When times are good, the electorate tends to turn a blind eye to the politics in their region. Sure, we know they are corrupt and possibly inept, but we let it slide because there isn’t any real ‘affect’ on the rest of us.

Then times get really bad, and we come to realize that these yahoos actually control large sums of money and jobs. Much to our horror they start slashing positions or withholding funds and pretty soon the domino effect starts hurting us all. It is times like these that the electorate really starts to see how messed up the process really is.

Welcome to MY world America.

In the past 15 years, here in Arizona, the State Government had come close to bankrupting the state three times prior to the current recession. The laws were so poorly written and badly thought out that the State Senate and House couldn’t even figure out their impact on the state budget.

One of the problems we have in Arizona is that there are really TWO Arizonas. There is the Phoenix-Metro area (where we live) and there is rest of the Arizona which is very, very rural. Phoenix is is the 5th largest urban center in the country. In rural Arizona, you can drive for hours and never even see a cow.

The problem here, is that in the State Senate and House, the representatives from the rural areas have as much power as those from Phoenix. Give a local yokal with 250 acres of land and a grade school education a seat in the State Senate and you can guess what happens.

If uncle Billy-Bob wants a stop light in front of his Circle-K in Jerome, all State Senate work stops until he darn well gets it. (this happens a lot at the Capital, seriously).

But in all fairness, it happens in almost all state politics, we just don’t notice it, until times are bad.

So, that is why I find this time of year so entertaining. That picture at the top of the blog was taken on 3/29/2011. It shows the State Capital with a tent in front of it.

The circus is in town! Every day for the next two months (when the government is in session, we have a ‘part-time’ legislature that only meets for 6 months out of the year), there will be a tent (or tents) out there. The tents are erected by lobbyists and special interest groups to ‘persuade’ and ‘influence’ the legislature with lunches and presentations. Lots of smoozing, back-slapping and promises inside those tents....and I bet they are all tax deductable!

So far this year, some of the better high points in the Capital debates are: trying to get schools and hospitals to ‘snitch’ on illegal immigrants, banning gays and lesbians from being able to adopt, requiring all Presidential candidates to ‘personally’ come to the state with their birth certificate and present it to the government if they want to be on the ballot, allowing ‘anyone’ to carry a concealed weapon, even into bars (they just can’t drink) and making it illegal for dogs to ride in the bed of a pickup truck, but not humans. All the while trying to figure out a way to close that two billion dollar budget gap in State funding.

Good Times Indeed.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The New Model-T

Ask my wife, and she will tell you that I over-analyze things. Everything has an action/re-action effect that sometimes stumbles and sometimes rolls into the future.

Changes affect us in different ways. Sometimes change is good. Sometimes, change is bad. We don’t tend to know that change was bad until long after the affect has taken hold.

Predicting how change will affect us is a tricky thing. It is basically guess work based on past experience. I started thinking about this recently when I was looking at a picture of pony dung. You know, mare droppings, used oats, horse shit.

If we study history, and I don’t mean just ‘read’ about it, but really study it, we learn that things really don’t change. Only the trappings that we live in change, and they in-turn change our perception of how we see and interact with the world around us.

The picture below is a crop of a much larger image taken with a film camera circa 1909. It shows an urban street somewhere in the mid-west. A halycon image that looks tranquil and serene. See that street there? That is horse dung in the middle of the road.


Ya see, back before Henry Ford and General Motors burdened us with the concept of ‘personal’ transportation, everything in the world was horse (animal) powered. There was a huge industry in this country related to the stabling and upkeep of horses. There were breeders, oat suppliers, farthers (horse shoe repairmen), black smiths, horse reapers that would come and take your dead horse away and yes.....guys whose job it was to go around and scoop up the horse shit off the street.

Then along came mass production and internal combustion and everything changed. Check out the next cropped image form another photograph taken about 15 years later. Notice the difference? No more horse poop. No more horses period. In the span of two decades everything changed. All those jobs that related to the horse industry....gone. I don’t know what the guys that worked for the city shoveling horse shit did after they lost their jobs, but they had to do something.


So was the car better than the horse? Certainly more powerful and less temperamental. Definitely not as organic or user friendly though. There were only so many things that could go wrong with a horse.....numerous thing could go wrong with a car. It was probably harder to get drunk on a horse and mow down people in a cross walk, but it also took a lot longer to get to the next county, much less the next state.

So what is the point of all this? Change is happening again. Change always does. And when the change is complete, there will be a lot of people looking for new jobs and some jobs are never coming back.

So what is the new Model-T? What didn’t we have 10 years ago that everyone is going to have in 5 years?


They are coming, there is no question about that. Are they a good thing? Time will tell. The affect they will have on how we perceive the world and relate to each other is going to be profound.

Cars seemed like a great thing back in the 20s. Everyone wanted one. But I assume that most folks burdened with car payments, while they sit in stop and go traffic on the expressway today might have a different opinion. I wonder how much we will love / curse the iPad in 20 years. Anyone have any thoughts on the matter?

(All of the images referenced here along with many others can be found at the Shorpy Website.)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Voices From The Past


To set the stage here. Many of my readers will recall that I often mention my dissatisfaction with the way things are going these days. We appear to have lost our national and world focus and seem to be devolving into partisanship, religious rhetoric, and capitalist driven greed.

I was listening to portions of Robert F. Kennedy's inauguration speech the other day. We have all heard it. The one where he states

“...let the world know, that a new generation has come forth...”

”....ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.....”

”....we chose to go to the moon and the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.....”

All wonderful sound bites and very inspirational. These are words that defined my generation while we were growing up, but words that I fear most of the Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers have no clue about. Somewhere, between here and there, we lost our way.

This all got me thinking about the speech that no one else talks about much. The one that was given the day before Kennedy made his. It was the farewell address by President Eisenhower given on the eve of Kennedy’s inauguration. This is something that President’s no longer do and it is a sobering speech to read. It is eloquent, but he warns of things that he sees on the horizon. Things that he could not have known about, but that he comes very close to getting right.

Keep in mind that at the time, President Eisenhower was the oldest living President to serve in office and Kennedy was the youngest President ever to be elected. Eisenhower was the vested leader, West Point Graduate, Supreme Commander in WWII, College Dean, NATO Commander and President for eight years. Kennedy was the up and coming charismatic Navy Captain that got his boat shot out form under him in WWII.

In his speech, Eisenhower emphasises ‘balance’ in the public and private sectors. He warns of the looming influence of the ‘Military Industrial Complex’, and fears that ‘the one quick fix mentality that will solve all our problems’ was leading the nation to a ‘live now, be happy’ sort of mindset which was mortgaging our children’s future.

This is sort of chilling when taken in the context of today’s world of multi-national arms dealers, Enron and Bernie Madoff.

Eisenhower had the slow and steady, pragmatic approach of a victorious soldier that had seen far too much carnage and too many mistakes in his life. Our current leaders appear to have lost this mindset. This worries me, it worries me a lot.

To read the entire transcript of Eisenhower’s farewell address, click here. It really is interesting stuff, that shows a style and eloquence that is rare these days.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Teach-Able Moment

Mr. Face-Plant

We went hiking last weekend. By ‘we’, I mean my wife and our 8 year old grandson.

My step-daughter just had her third child last month and in order to give the proud new parents quality time with ‘Bubba #2’, the wife and I agreed to take ‘Bubba #1’ off their hands for one weekend a month. Bubba #1 is named “Connor” and the wife and I are determined to give the little tyke some real world experience outside the Cartoon Network and his iPod Touch.

So we decided to take him hiking in a Phoenix Park to look for a Geocache. For those that don’t know what Geocaching is, go to the website and read up on it. In a nutshell, it is using a GPS device to find a hidden container. Sort of like high-tech treasure hunting. It teaches a lot of skills, such as math, spacial coordination, problem solving and exercise. Things that you just can’t get from a video game.

So we set off on a mile long hike along a rocky path in a Phoenix Mountain preserve with our GPS units. Connor was busy working off all his hyper 8 year old energy, chattering away, looking at the scenery and generally having a grand old time. So much so, that I could tell he was not paying attention.

So we stopped hiking and sat him down for a ‘teach-able’ moment. We explained to him that the wilderness is a dangerous place. The rocks are sharp, there are lizards and snakes, and if he falls down and sprains and ankle or breaks a bone, there is no one there that can help him in the short term. In short, we impressed upon him how dangerous the wilderness is and that he had to ‘focus’ on where he was going and what he was doing.

Being all of 8 years old, he listened and then forgot what we told him in about 3 minutes. Once again, he was lolly-gagging along the trail, not looking where he was going and not paying attention. We stopped and corrected him several times along the way and told him to ‘focus’ on what he was doing and where he was going.

After finding the geocache, we headed back to the parking lot along the same route that we came. About ⅓ of the way back, while Connor was jabbering away and looking off at the horizon, his left foot slipped on a rock, his right foot tripped over another rock and you guessed it......FACE-PLANT right into the trail. No sooner did his face (literally) bite the dust, than he started whaling and crying. The wife and I just stood there for a second with the classic, “This is what happens when you don’t listen.” look on our face.

Bubba #1 was no worse for wear after the spill and forgot all about it 10 minutes later as he continued down the trail.....still not focusing.

When you fail playing a video game, you just hit the reset button. When you fail in real life.....it hurts.

We need to take Connor hiking more often.

See more of the adventure here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

If you hang around long enough...


You get to see Karma in action.

My friends are always pointing out that I complain about my job too much. In reality, I like the job, albeit, it is a bit more frustrating than it has to be some of the time. However, this is a feel good story about my job.

I have been at my job for 15 years performing various duties. One of my jobs here is to ride heard over volunteer committees who review state policies. This is a state mandated ‘safety net’ and they are referred to as Review Boards. Each Board is made up of five volunteers that donate one day a month to this task. One of my jobs is to coordinate and facilitate these monthly Boards.

I have facilitated in excess of 1,500 of these Boards since signing on here in 1997. Some Boards are easy, others are rather contentious.

After 14 years of doing this, none of the volunteer Review Board members has ever complained about my ability to do my job. That is, until last year.

I was assigned a Review Board comprised of older women that flat out just did not like me. For some unknown reason, I was the lone man sitting in the ladies room and I was not welcome.

The longest serving volunteer of the Review Board proceeded to fire off a series of e-mails to my supervisor complaining about my ability to conduct the Review Board in the way she was accustomed. None of the previous 1,499 Review Boards had a problem, but this Board did.

I sucked it up and carried on because I knew that this is how life goes sometimes. If you walk through the garden long enough, you are bound to get something smelly stuck on the bottom of your shoe. This Board is the fertilizer among all the flowers.

The Board and I sort of reached a truce for the last several months and carried on with our job duties in the reviews as best we could. Then, last month, due to some staffing changes, I had to cover a co-workers Board and she was assigned to cover my happy-happy-joy-joy Board.

I emailed the Board members that I wouldn’t be facilitating the Board for the coming month and my co-worker would be there in my place. Several of the Board members responded via email and thanked me for the update and provided me some scheduling updates for the Review Board in April. However, the long-serving volunteer replied to “all’ of the people on the cc-list (of which I was also attached) with the following response:

“Good news, guys. Bruce won't be facilitating the March review--he's covering for CXXXXX SXXXXX, who resigned. AXXXXX will be our facilitator!”

Just to make sure that I wasn’t reading this the wrong way, I showed the email to several of my fellow co-workers and manager. They all agreed. There is unprofessional, and then there is REALLY unprofessional.

I don’t think I have to worry about any more complaints from this Board. They might make them, but at this point, I don’t think anyone is going to pay attention to them.

This e-mail, really made my day. I couldn’t stop laughing at it for about 30 minutes.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


From EV1

I have been watching the saga of the Chevrolet Volt unfold.

For some readers that don’t know what this is. It is a new car from Chevrolet, that is sort of a reverse hybrid vehicle. It is an all electric car (electric drive-train) that has an on-board gas motor to power the batteries if they get low.

So far, the Volt hasn’t been selling too well. At $40,000 a pop, I am not surprised. A tad bit pricey for a car that does not have killer performance and does not get really great gas mileage. When introduced late last year, they had only sold about 400 of them nationwide by the end of the sales year. I don’t think those sales figures are going to boost GM’s bottom line too much.

The Volt was supposed to be ‘radical’ in its design which is one of the reasons that it took so long to get into production. By all accounts it is supposed to be a ‘thinking’ car that is a technological marvel. There is just one problem with this whole concept.

GM has already done this before.

Back in 1995 I got to drive one of these:
From EV1

It was the General Motors EV-1 (also known as the Impact). It was an all electric coupe that GM leased to the public for a whooping $700 a month, (which was the cost to lease a new Cadallac or Mercedes at the time). Again, their pricing strategy didn’t seem to be too in-line with reality.

This little car was a ‘rocket’. I mean it was fast. It made NO noise and recharged overnight in my garage. It had full regenerative braking and an on-board computer that told you what your range was based on your driving habits.

To be understated, this car was Super-Cool.

To be depressing, they are all gone. GM scraped every last one of them. They even tore down the production facility that made them.....and this was 15 years before the Chevy Volt.

I won’t go into all the reasons why GM made this colossal blunder. If you want to know the whole sordid story, check out the documentary “Who Killed The Electric Car”. It lays it all out in painful detail.

So all I have left is the sales brochure for the EV-1, which I have preserved as a reminder of how American Industry can do things right, and how they can do things terribly wrong.

I won’t be saving my pennies to buy a Chevy Volt anytime soon. I took my money and bought a Segway instead. You had your chance GM, and you blew it.

If you want to see what all of us 'could' be driving today, here are the links to the sales borchure for the electric car that no longer exists: