Saturday, May 30, 2009

An art related post. No, really!

Last weekend found me installing and unveiling a garden sculpture for Jenny Yamate. This piece has a great history. At the art show we did last Fall at Jenny's gym I had another pumice sculpture that sold to one of her clients. But before it left it was at the gym for some time and Jenny got attached to it.

Well, a bunch of her clients got together and commissioned another stone from me to go where the first one had been.

I had the raw materials already, and needed only the time. Going back to work made things slip, but the piece was done something like two months ago. In an interesting twist, this piece got it's name - Flexibility - before it was even complete. Usually I wait until it's done to name something, but this one clearly had a name right away.

Jenny wanted to have a party for the unveiling, so we did that last weekend. I had a great time, and I hope everyone else did too. Big thanks to everyone who helped make this possible, and to Jenny for being both patient and appreciative!

Here are a couple of pictures courtesy of Neil Wiley, Mountain Network News. That's me and Jenny in the first one.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Politics Again. Sure to Upset Everyone Somehow.

This morning as I was leaving for work the phone rang. I picked up only to hear a robo-call from some (I assume) right wing lunatic asking me if I was aware of the tea parties and "what was happening with our government." It closed by asking me to "pay attention."

Well, I have been paying attention. There are many things going on at both the state and federal level, and I have opinions about some of them. Mostly I'm disgusted.

At the state level the recent news is the CA supreme court upholding Prop 8. I've seen blog posts and Facebook status updates from people - including friends - on both sides of this issue, and I'm afraid I have to come down on the side against prop 8. Strongly. I know this may upset some of my friends and coworkers, but here's the thing. I know several gay couples, and marriage - real marriage, with all the attendant rights and responsibilities - matters to them. And you know what? They deserve it.

These people are just as much a part of America as any other citizen, and they are - or should be - the equals of any of us. But no, they're not. Not here in California. Instead of equality we get a slim majority voting away the rights of a minority, and that is appalling. This nation's founding fathers were afraid of the tyranny of the majority, and here we have a textbook example of the principle, in one of the (supposedly) most progressive states in the union.

Here's a thought: next time around let's modify the constitution so that left handed people can't get married. It's a nice narrow subclass - much like gays & lesbians - so the supreme court should have no problem upholding that too. And then, the election after that, we'll stop bald people from getting married. Don't want them to raise children. And then brown eyed people, after all, you can't trust people with brown eyes. And after that? Jews? Non-whites? Gee, for some reason this is starting to sound familiar.

There is no threat to anyone in gay marriage. All prop 8 does is legalize discrimination. So much for the land of the free.

And as if that wasn't bad enough the state's economy continues to crumble. There isn't enough money to go around and there aren't any places to cut without hurting people - a lot of people. California has been ungovernable for a long time and it's only going to get worse in the coming years. I am not optimistic, but I don't know what to do about it. Moving - thanks to our jobs and the roots we've put down in the community - is not an option we like thinking about. I suppose it could come to that, though.

On the federal level - which is what this morning's stupid robo-call was about, I guess - the picture is slightly more mixed. President Obama has changed a number of policies from the Bush administration for the better, and I appreciate that. Even better, the Republicans are being forced to call themselves a "regional party" now, and their falling support is something I can only call a "good thing."

On the other hand I'm not so sure I like the government owning large chunks of major banks and auto manufacturers, but that might have been inevitable. Or not. The bailout is an enormously complicated thing and I can see arguments on all sides of it. I can even appreciate and agree with many of them, and I have to admit that I don't know what the "correct" solution is, or if there even is such a thing.

What disturbs me is we're starting to hear that the Obama administration is doing some things in the way that the Bush administration did. In the most recent example I know of, they are essentially following a Bush administration policy of denying that the list of visitors to the White House is public knowledge.

Excuse me? Didn't we have screaming lawsuits about this when Cheney didn't want to release his list of visitors while he was setting up his "energy policy"? And don't I recall Obama saying he was going to do things differently, starting with a reversal of the "don't disclose it if you don't have to" crap that the Bush administration was doing? They were going to be more open, or so we were told.

Well, it appears the Obama administration isn't quite living up to it's own ideals in all cases. But then again we knew that already, didn't we? We were told "no lobbyists", but there were all those exceptions for key positions. And then there were all the appointments of people who had "tax issues" discovered only after their selections were announced.

How completely unsurprising. People in power abuse that power, regardless of their party affiliation. We saw it - in spades - in the Bush administration and now we're starting to see it in the current crop of politicians as well.

The Obama administration may be more to my liking - on any number of fronts - but they're still politicians, and we should all know what that means by now. Cynicism, I'm sad to say, is the only defensible position when it comes to politics.

And with that I've probably alienated the last three friends I had. That's a shame, but I have this honesty problem...

Monday, May 18, 2009

I'm About Not To Vote...

I think this will be the first time I haven't gone to the polls since moving to California.

I kind of hate myself for not voting, but I've got my reasons.

First of all I live in something of a media vacuum, and so the dire predictions of disaster if the various things on this special election fail have only slowly been getting to me. This has been made worse by my local NPR station - which has been in pledge hell for the last 1.5 weeks, which means I turn it off immediately after hearing it - so I'm less informed than usual.

But beyond that, I'm truly of mixed mind about the mess we're in.

I may be the only person in the state who think the legislators aren't responsible for this mess. No, we, the citizens are, and I can sum up why quite simply:
  • We hate paying taxes
  • We don't want to give up services
  • We keep tying our legislator's hands with rules and initiatives
  • We require that every decision of consequence be encoded in the constitution and therefore go before the people for a vote
That set of choices - and they are (or were) choices - leads to disaster every time.

So here we sit staring at a huge budget deficit. If we pass these silly measures it's going to be bad. If we don't pass them it's going to be worse.

Some claim the measures were all written at the last minute with no review. Maybe true. Some claim we'll be letting child rapists out of prison if we don't pass them. Also possibly true.

All I know is that I'm sick of the games. If we haven't got the money to pay for things there are only a few valid choices:
  • Pay for less
  • Pay less for what you get
  • Get more money to pay for what you need
That's it, people. Nothing else is sustainable in the long term. Either you spend less in some way or bring in more money. It really, really, (REALLY!) is that simple.

From my - admittedly too brief thanks to work - review, every last one of these measures is a shell game. We're moving money from one year to the next or borrowing now and will have to pay it back later (with interest), or something similar. Frankly it's crap.

It is basically impossible to look at any one state program and say "that's a waste of money." It's possible I feel that way about some programs, but others will always legitimately disagree. I assure you that no one ever said "here's a really stupid way to spend the state's money!" and then we all voted for it. No, it never happens that way. The expenses are all good in and of themselves. There may be some unintended consequences of these things, but actual fraud of intent at the creation of a given law or bill is exceptionally rare.

And of course no one ever wants to admit that they get any value for their tax dollar. "I pay too much in taxes" is all I hear - from everyone, nominally on the left or the right. And then the complaints follow. "Have you noticed the roads? They stink! So many potholes! And my kid's teacher has 43 students in her 4th grade classroom. And my friend just lost his unemployment benefits because he still can't find a job. What kind of system lets those things happen? They must be wasting all our money somewhere." Oh the irony of it all.

In any case we're stuck with it. The economy sucks, people are hurting, and we're being dragged back to the polls to vote on a series of measures that are so complicated no one can predict what they will mean for the budget just a couple of years from now.

Well, I've had it. I am no expert at this, and I can't make informed decisions about it, and for that reason I am not going to vote tomorrow. Part of me wants to avoid damage to the system, but part of me also wants the state to see some shock therapy.

That said, the people that really, really need to get zapped are the voters. The initiative process has gotten entirely out of hand and we've handcuffed our legislators at every turn. They have no money to play with, people. X% for K-14 education (prop 98, right?). No, you can't raise property taxes (prop 13). Y% for roads (some other proposition that was approved a few years back). And so on.

We, collectively, deserve everything that goes wrong as a result of this budget crisis. A smarter electorate would have given their legislators the tools to solve the problem and let them do it, not actively prevented it.

The next few years are going to be ugly. There will be fewer police, fire fighters, teachers, and so on. Taxes will be high and services will be low. The standard of living is going to go down.

Maybe that's necessary, though. Maybe - just maybe - if we all suffer enough someone will start telling people the truth: this is our fault, people. Get it through your thick skulls. We need to spend less or take in more money. Anything else just causes the kind of issues we're seeing now.

Happy suffering.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Conversation You Don't Want To Have

Paraphrased a bit, but more or less accurate, and the gist is definitely real:
Hey Jeff.

Hey Name.

You have a pickup, right?


Any chance I could borrow it?

Uh, sure, but when? I've got some commitments and...

This afternoon?

Well, I'm using it right now, but maybe when I am done. What's up?

I've gotta pack up all my stuff and get it into storage.

You're moving?

Yeah, but I don't know where I'm going yet.
I am not making this up. Someone I know is moving out - with no place to go - thanks to the economy and the loss of a job some time ago.

I'm hearing noise about how things may be bottoming out. I sure hope so. This sort of thing is getting really depressing.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A rough time...

Yes, I've been away for a while again. Sorry about that.

Have you ever had to interrupt some one's vacation to give them awful news? When they were travelling? In another country? With a nine hour time difference? Well, I hadn't either until just a couple of weeks ago.

My other grandmother died. It's been a hard year for my family on that front, as that makes two.

The first to die, however, had been in poor health for some time and it was mostly a relief to have it finally end. This one, though, was another matter entirely. A completely unexpected event in a woman of reasonable health for her age of 90. And her son - my father - was travelling in Europe with my mom when things started to go bad.

They managed to talk to her on the phone before she died, but they couldn't get back fast enough. Aortic dissection can do that, and it's actually pretty good they talked to her at all.

I found myself travelling as a result, assisting with funeral arrangements, helping clean out her apartment, and so on. Not a fun way to spend a week, but necessary.

I cannot claim that's the only reason I haven't written here lately. There are other factors.

First and foremost it seems that all I do these days is work or come home so tired I have no energy left for anything else. As a programmer you know it isn't physical exhaustion that's the problem, but rather mental stress. I wish I could write about that, but I can't. It's enough to know that it's a job and the checks still clear.

In addition there aren't many mundane things to write about lately. The overhead of life rarely makes for good blog posts. The few interesting things that happen tend to wind up in Facebook lately. Of course that's a totally different format. Assuming you're someone I know - and why else would you be reading this? - if you're also Facebook user and we haven't "friended" (I hate that word) each other yet, please do so.

One bit of recent news is that I am embarking on a writing project with some of my stone carving students to document what we teach in our classes. This will wind up online one of these days, and there are at least two of us working on it, so maybe we'll keep each other going and it will actually get finished.

If there's something you think I should be writing about, please let me know. I know I still owe the next post in the water saga, and I will get to it one of these days. But other than that suggestions are welcome.