Musings, Thoughts and Creations

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Benevolent Dictatorship

I’ve decided to become the benevolent dictator of California. I’ve realized that the US is far to big to save, so it’s going to have to be a state thing. Which is no small task either, given that California is probably bigger than most countries anyway.

First decree of my dictatorship, we follow our Hawaiian brethren (and a part of Arizona) and get rid of daylight savings time. There will be no more falling back. We’ll spring forward in March and stay that way.

That’s an easy one and now that it’s out of the way, it’s time to tackle the real issues. Healthcare, education, and the economy.

I’m going to need to hire a lot of experts, but ultimately I will make the decisions. I have some pretty clear goals, it’s just a matter of making the money work to achieve them.

1. We’re getting universal healthcare. It will be a statewide healthcare system based on the best aspects of nationalized healthcare in Canada and Europe. Conservatives, don’t worry about paying for illegals and uninsured – we already do. I guarantee this will all cost businesses and taxpayers less in the long run.

2. We’re going to need more medical schools and more doctors. We don’t have the infrastructure to support all these newly insured people, so the thousands of qualified applicants that are turned away from medical school admission every year will now get a chance. We’ll probably need more nursing schools as well. Throw a few more of those in there too.

3. Legalize and tax drugs. I’m not sure about all of them, but definitely marijuana. This will bring in additional revenue that we can use for our…

4. Brand spankin’ new amazing education system. No more will we be at the bottom of every list for spending and achievement. I’m taking a cue from France, we will take care of our children from the very beginning. Public day care centers for the tots, public preschool, and quality elementary schools. Vocational classes that teach skills to high school students tied to what businesses actually need. I could really go on and on about all the ways that our educations system will be better, but this post will never end. There will be a lot of very smart people devoted to making sure our education system works for children and families.

5. There will be less people in prisons. It’s going to take some time, possibly even a decade or so, but I’m a dictator, and not worried about reelection, so I’ve got time. With the improved education system, with improved health care (including mental health care), and without all the drug convictions, there’s just going to be less people locked up. This means less money spent on prisons.

6. How will I pay for everything? Well, healthcare will all even out in the wash. When you take out the bureaucracies and inefficiencies of private health insurance and the government run agencies, we can make our money go a lot farther. We might actually save some money in the long run. Which is good because we’ll need it to fix our infrastructure and parks and everything else in this state that’s totally whacked right now. I’ll be honest, even if I’m able to trim a lot of fat, I still might need to raise taxes. We have a lot of work to do in our education system and that’s going to take some cash initially. But, I think the improvement in our collective quality of life will more than make up for the pinch on your pocket. Also, this will be a short term expense. Sort of a spend money to make money theory. We have to invest in our state now, so that we can improve it and pay less taxes later.

7. There’s bound to be problems. I won’t promise perfection right away. But without a squabbling congress, problems can be solved swiftly. Remember I will be hiring lots of experts to keep an eye on things.

So that’s my general plan. Feel free to peacefully stand behind me as I take this big, beautiful state over and make it a shining beacon of what the country should be in the 21st century.

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I hate leafblowers

You know that you’re home way too much when small things start to drive you nuts. Every week, we have two sets of gardeners come to our condo complex. One tends the plants and borders of our condo complex and one mows the big lawn that is between the condos and the marina right below us. I’m not sure if the marina or the condo complex mantains the lawn and hires the gardener, but the guy who blows at the end of the day drives me insane.

So they mow, and edge, and do all the normal lawn maintenance. Not lovely noises, but it’s pretty expected and necessary. I have no problem with that part of the routine. But at around 3:30, just when you want to open up the sliding glass doors and catch the afternoon breeze, I hear the rrrrrrnnnrr rr rr rr rrrrrrnnrrrr… of the leaf blower. It goes on for an eternity (an hour).

As a general rule, I hate leaf blowers. Whatever happened to rakes? They’re quiet, they don’t require power, and let’s be honest, most people today could use the extra exercise rakes require. And they don’t disturb anyone’s morning or afternoon.

We’ve lived in the suburbs long enough to hear those damn things every Saturday/Sunday morning when someone does their own yard maintenance. Rob would get woken up every Monday by the gardeners who came to our duplex. But for a lot of the week, I was at work and blissfully unaware of all the blowing and edging and mowing going on.

Now that I’m home all the time, I hear it. All the time. And the worst is the blowing, because it’s so pointless and futile. We live in what has got to be one of the windiest places in California. Give it half a day and whatever lawn clippings or scant leaves (it’s June for God’s sake!) remain on the sidewalk will be naturally scattered away.

I think someone told this guy, “Hey go blow until I come pick you up.” So that’s what he does, whether it needs it or not. I will stand on the balcony watching this portly Latino guy blow 15 leaves around for 15 minutes. He blows whatever is on the sidwalk onto the grass or into the water. Because that’s better apparently. Efficiency or expediency is not the goal. I’m pretty sure the goal is to kill time and to look busy.

I feel so helpless against this scourge. I can’t ask the guy to stop – he’s just doing his job. I want to contact the manager. Tell them it’s not necessary. Save the time and money. But they’re just following the gardening protocol as well. I want to be annoying and go to the homeowner’s association and ask to ban all leaf blowers from the premises. Or maybe I just need to go to the ocean, achieve Blue Mind and get over it.

Suggestions?

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Work ethic

At my niece’s graduation party this weekend, Rob talked to an older man who had been a plumber for over 60 years before retiring. He told Rob how his wife complained that he never took a day off. He worked for 60 years and never just took the day off. I’m sure he took vacations, but didn’t wake up one morning, not feel like working and call in sick. Whether this is an exaggeration or not, and whether that’s healthy or not, it’s certainly admirable. He talked about growing up during the depression, and that everyone in his family, no matter how young, worked. Everyone could make a buck here or there to contribute.

That was definitely the work ethic of his generation. My grandfather moved out of his parents’ house when he was 14, and bought a vineyard that he would farm himself, when he was 90. We worked until he just physically couldn’t do it anymore. And I was just reading in the Benicia Magazine about a 93 year old man talking about his life. Same story. He worked until retirement, but then got involved in preserving the history of Benicia. He started the Benicia Historical Society and helped to start the museum. He wasn’t getting a paycheck, but he was volunteering and doing something meaningful.

This generation grew up in a time before the automation of household chores, modern conveniences, and government assistance. They grew up in a time where you worked. You just did. Everyone did.

We have some of that work ethic still. I see mothers who are raising kids with limited help from working husbands, doing household work, running businesses, running social groups. I am impressed by these super moms with an incredible work ethic.

And clearly there are men and women in the world of paid work that put in 12 hour days, then come home and read stories and do the dishes.

So I won’t say that we don’t have that Great Depression work ethic anymore.

But… I definitely see a lot of people who don’t. And I’m not sure who’s at fault for this. The goverment, for creating groups of people that live off government aid with little contribution to society in return. The baby boomers for having an easier life and spoiling their kids. The subsequent generations that spend way too much time in front of a screen.

This is not a good direction to be heading. If we want our country to get out of this economic slump, we are going to have to force people off their butts.

Don’t do away with government assistance, but make people work for it. I think unemployment is the biggest joke. When able bodied 20 year olds with no dependents are collecting unemployment, there is something wrong with that system. So you were a white collar worker who got laid off and can’t find a similarly paid job. Well, there are farmers whose fields need to be picked. There are tables that need to be bussed. No job is beneath you. 100 years ago you would take anything you could get and be thankful for it.

If there are literally no jobs in the town, then by all means collect unemployment and here is a list of community service jobs you can do while you wait for the paid stuff to come in.

So there are no jobs for uneducated, unskilled workers in your town. Well, you can move or you can gain a skill. The government can help you out while you are gaining that skill with education grants or welfare, but only if you are putting in the work.

And our education system needs to change in order to go along with this newer, better America I’m planning, but that’s another post (or 5o) for another day.

 

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Obesity: Societal solutions vs. individual’s choices

A friend of mine posted this link on Facebook and asked for people’s thoughts. It sparked a big debate on whether people are obese because of the way our society has become, or as a result of their personal choices. To me it’s a little of both.

Let’s start with children and schools, because these are the members of our obese society that have the least personal choice.

Societal problem: We’ve eliminated a lot of physical activity in schools because of the lack of time and an emphasis on other more academic subjects. Societal solution: Extend school days to include 45 minutes of PE a day, taught by PE instructors (not teachers).

Societal problem: Children do not play as much at recess. They are not used to it. They play indoors a lot because of parental fears for safety. Societal solution: Continue to fund/improve open spaces and parks, especially in urban areas. Fund community activities that get people out of their houses. Fund open gyms like Natalie has in Amsterdam and I have in Benicia, safe places to bring children to play indoors and out. Make these place available in the evenings and on weekends too. Personal choice: Parents need to limit the amount of time their kids spend watching TV and playing video games. They need to say, “Here’s a kickball. Go outside and play.” I don’t know how to force parents to do this.

Societal problem: Children are being served processed and packaged food in the cafeteria. It meets the bare minimum of nutrition guidelines, but fosters a love for generally unhealthy foods such as burgers, waffles, pizza, and chicken nuggets. Societal solution: Increase funding to schools with the condition that it be spent on more food workers and on healthy ingredients so that every child is served healthy food everyday. Do away with 5 choices. A child has so many choices in the cafeteria and their both loaded with vegetables and whole grains.

Societal problem: Children eat the junk that they’re parents buy for them. Societal solution: Educate parents at the beginning of every school year about what their child should bring to school for snacks and lunch and ban unhealthy drinks and foods. Encourage them to follow the same guidelines at home. Personal choice: You cannot really make a parent feed their child healthy foods. Part of me wants to punish the parents of obese children, but part of me is repelled by the idea of that much government influence. I think the solution is just more education and creating an environment where it’s possible and even easy to feed your child healthy foods.

Can I make an adult eat less and exercise more? No. And I don’t think I should. They are an adult and they can make their own choices. But children do not have a choice, and all should be given the same healthy start in life. Therefore we do need to make societal changes so that those with the least power and control over their lives are given more of a chance.

To do this, we should:

– End government subsidies on crops that make high-fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and other obesity-promoting foods very cheap.

– Ban food ads on children’s television programs.

– Fund obesity fighting programs in schools and communities.

Here are some more controversial ideas that I’m not sure how I feel about:

– A tax on sodas

– Subsidizing organic farmers to grow more fruits and vegetables

– Health insurance discounts for people at a normal weight and who don’t smoke

– Special loans and funding for a new type of fast food restaurant that provides low cost, healthy foods or tax deductions for existing companies to offer healthier alternatives on their existing menus

– Mandating some healthy food/drink options at malls, sports arenas, and amusement parks

So while I think that a lot of the problem is caused by personal choice, it is also due to the environment we live in. We need to fix certain aspects of our society (starting with children) to make it possible for people to make better choices.

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Planet Money

I love this podcast.  It’s a show on NPR, but I never listen to it live.  I subscribe to the podcast. Like a lot of public radio programs, they are informative while still being entertaining. And I need all the help I can get when it comes to understanding matters of finance, money, and the economy.

They provide a look at all things having to do with the economy and explain it in human terms. They tackled the mortgage and banking crises, the global economy, China’s economy, Europe’s issues, and little/fun stuff too, like whatever happened to the dollar coin, or why a NY taxi medallion sold for 1 million dollars.

There have been so, so many podcasts I’ve loved, but I’ve especially loved their recent series on money in politics and a live show they did on how to fix the broken part of America.  The premise of the show was that there are two Americas.  There is one America who is educated and will be fine, they will continue to live The American Dream.  But there is another America, made up of people with a high school diploma or less, that are not going to be fine unless changes are made.  As factory jobs dry up, there is less and less of a demand for an unskilled workforce. So they put forth a three step plan to improve this segment of America, and therefore the country as a whole.

Step 1: Fix our nation’s education system.

Step 2: Fix government finances.

Step 3: Fix our nation’s healthcare system.

Simple right?

No, that all sounds incredibly daunting. These three areas seem broken beyond repair. But what I love about this show is that they put forth three achievable ways to do this. #1 Education – Provide preschool to all children. #2 Finances – Quit the partisan infighting and reduce debt by cutting government spending, raising taxes, and closing loopholes. #3 Healthcare – Pick any other system besides employer based health insurance (single payer where the government provides, a market driven system where we can all buy our own insurance) and costs will decrease dramatically.

Our problems are solvable.  The trouble is, they’re being solved by intelligent people on podcasts, instead of by the people in charge.  But maybe if we start demanding these types of solutions, our elected officials will start providing them.

If you’d like to listen to the show, you can download it or listen to it on the internet here:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2011/08/01/138818388/the-friday-podcast-planet-money-live

They actually did an entire show on why providing preschool would be so beneficial, so if you’d just like to listen to that (it’s basically the same as in the live podcast) here is the link to that show.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2011/06/13/137109349/the-friday-podcast-the-case-for-preschool

Why can’t smart people like this run our country?

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Riverdog Farms

We have been wanting to subscribe to a weekly box of produce for a while.  My cousin has been getting one in Amsterdam, and it looks like so much fun.  I like how it sort of forces you to try new things, and of course, it’s wonderful to support local farmers, to eat fresh, organic produce, and to add healthy veggies to our diet.  Rob looked into it and we decided to get our box from Riverdog Farms.  We also liked Shooting Star CSA, but it was slightly more expensive and limited, so we thought we’d try Riverdog Farms first.  I think it was also their pictures of chickens scratching around in the fields that swayed me into picking them.

There’s so, so much that I love about all this.  Okay, first off, health.  I don’t think anyone is surprised that eating vegetables is good for you, but with Rob attending lectures and reading all these studies about cancer and heart disease, we just get that message over and over again.  Vegetable, exercise.  Vegetable, exercise.  Not only will eating your leafy greens decrease cancer risks, and improve heart health, it will also allow you to punch burly villains named Bluto through a wall.  We’re paying for this box, so by god we’re going to eat it.  And we’re going to be reeeeeeallllllly realllly healthy as a result.

Second thing that I love is the farm itself.  They have the crops, but they also have chickens and pigs.  The chickens eat the insects and grubs that would harm the crops, and the pigs eat the scraps of food that aren’t sellable.  Then we eat the chickens and pigs.  You’d think with all that free food around the farm, they would cost less, but apparently such well raised animals cost more.  I’m going to guess because they are so delicious and good for you.  We will have to test this theory one day (but not every week or we will no longer be able to afford iPhones. Priorities.).

And finally, I love how fun it is.  Some might be skeptical that a box of vegetables could be fun, and maybe it’s just my own quirk, but it feels like getting a present.  One that I pay for and pick up myself, but exciting nonetheless.

Looking forward to the first fruits of summer in the box and saving up for that $25 chicken (heads and feet still attached – bonus!).

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