Keynes and Hayek – East Side! West Side!

I can’t help it, this is awesome.

The premise? A music video featuring Lord Keynes and F. A. Hayek, arguing their philosophies rap style. Yes, the rap isn’t going to win any hip hop awards, but by far this is the most entertaining distillation of modern economic philosophies I’ve seen.

Just Awesome!

Here’s A Tip: I’m Easily Amused

I’m all excited because I just discovered that my cell phone has a tip calculator.

Not that I would normally need it. When restaurant tipping, our default 20% is easily calculated in the head: take two 10 percents (which most third graders can calculate), and add them together.  Even I can do it.

But there are (rare) times when less than stellar service means will merit a 15% tip.  Although I THINK I can figure it out on the fly (one ten percent + half again), it’s nice to have a little electronic help.  Plus the thing helps you calculate how to split the tip if you have more than one person in your party.  What a neat toy.

IF the waiter slapped my dog and called my momma a Nazi cow, I’d have to lower the tip to 10 percent.  I do not tip below ten percent, ever.  I will not have a person who brought me food, no matter how bad or rude they are, be paid $2 wages for the entire time I am requiring their services.  Your mileage may vary, I just won’t do it.

Which of course, brings us to those everlasting controversies about tipping.  There are always questions:

  1. Would you ever NOT leave a tip?
  2. What are your tipping rules for buffets (assuming the wait staff still bring your drinks)? 
  3. Do you tip the girls at Sonic – and how much? 
  4. Is 10% a decent pizza delivery tip? Or do you just make it a flat 2 or three bucks?
  5. Do you tip more if the waiter/waitress flirts with you? (think Hooters).  Men, if the Hooters waitress takes forever bringing your food, but regularly brushes up against you and leans over the table strategically, do you still tip big?  Be honest.  BTW, women, I was once a waiter.  If you think we men don’t play these games with you (albeit more subtly), you are mistaken.  And you do tip more when we flirt with you.

Anyway, I am so happy to know I have a tip calculator in my cell phone.

Just in case, you know, I ever, like,  go back to Hooters.

Would Jesus Be An Enabler?

Josh Tinley wrote a great post.  So great, I tried to write a comment, and ended up with something so long I felt it would best be its own post.  You see, we’ve been talking a lot at MCB and other places about extending Christian mercy to those who are suffering, even those who are in the situations they are in due to unwise decisions.  I think the conversation is specifically about certain elements of the homeless population.

We have actually discussed this in Sunday School before, without coming to any kind of consensus:

As followers of Christ, what do we do when we suspect someone receiving our aid is gaming the system, or at the very least, taking advantage?  I know what common sense says, but what does Christ say?  Are we supposed to care if we strongly suspect we are, basically, giving a drunk a drink?  Do we even give any consideration to the thought that we’re possibly doing more harm than good, that we’re enabling a person in a way that will keep them in misery, instead of getting them out of it?

I ask, because I struggle with this.

I have no problem extending mercy to even to criminals who have committed what could be awful crimes; I’ve prayed with such men many times before, and made many friends behind prison walls.  Same goes for just about any situation a person gets himself into.  There but for the grace of God go I.

Yet, I have this blind spot about people who I know, or very strongly suspect, COULD work, but do not. 

The backdrop to this is that I come from pretty humble beginnings.  Everything I say has the backdrop behind it of where I come from, where I am now, and the concepts that got me from there to here.

My father never really preached religion to his three sons; he just sent us to church and let us get our religion by osmosis.  But, he preached nonetheless.

The only thing my blue collar father ever preached about, what he did drill into me was sermon after sermon on the value of work.  He would preach, “If you don’t have a job, and aren’t spending every waking moment looking for a job, you have shamed your name.”  Well, he didn’t say it like THAT, but I got the meaning loud and clear.

He believed that if you have a condition that keeps you from working, do everything possible to alleviate that condition – make it your number one priority – so you can WORK.  The work is the most important thing a man can do. Not the getting paid part – working itself.   Always work, and if you can’t, make a job of looking for work.

He taught me not to turn turn my nose up at ANY job, whether I found it beneath me or not, whether it could support me or not – the act of working was more important than the pay.  He taught me that taking a menial job, and outworking everyone, is the way to having a job that DOES support you and your family.  Other rules include never being late, that sick time is NOT “Not Feeling Well” time, that volunteering for the hardest tasks will get you ahead.  No matter what you do, be the best there is at that job, outwork EVERYONE, and prosperity will follow.  Approach the world of work with the attitude that you have something to prove, because you do. 

And my life has taught me that he was right.

I always have this voice in the back of my head telling me that a well spoken person in an area with 4% unemployment should be working.  He just should, period.   I can see my dad, shaking his head. And I just can’t shake that voice.

So, I have to square this teaching with my Christian beliefs. 

And, let me tell you, it’s hard.  Paul had some things to say about the slothful, and Jesus used them as a “bad example”, but we are not told if Jesus was ever taken advantage of, and if so, what he did about it.  Something tells me that he would have helped.  His prodigal son parable makes me think that; although I wonder: the son had given up “riotous living” – Jesus never makes it clear that the father did not go to the faraway country and help the son financially while he was still living in a way that would just mean his help was wasted.  So, I don’t know.

I am torn.  You can’t just throw away 20 years of paternal teaching – it kind of gets under your skin.  And it has served me well.  So, sometimes, I guess, this Christian has what appears to be an unmerciful attitude.  I’m not proud of it – but now you know why.

I guess all I can do is pray about it.

Saturday Randomness

I feel much better today, much more at peace.  Interestingly, that which was causing me so much stress at work is also the root of much satisfaction, something I haven’t had from work in quite a while.  My boss’ boss, the one who accused me of a coffee crime,has to be the most fickle boss ever.  Whatever shiny object is in front of him at the moment is “the most important thing on earth”, and whatever we are working on currently (which, not long ago was “the most important thing on earth” for which we dropped everything) must be put aside to make room for the new most important thing on earth.

This makes for a never boring work environment, but also puts my boss under a lot of stress.  Dancing as fast as you can gets a little tiring after a while.  Me? I seem to thrive in chaos, but if I have to work with people that don’t, their stress rubs off on me.

So, crazy boss man last week decided that all the extremely important projects we were working on (due in late June or early July) must be put aside do work on the latest most important thing on earth.  For you developers out there, he is asking for a major point upgrade to an existing complex system, coded, tested, user acceptance tested and moved to production in three weeks.  He wanted two, but logistically, that’s not possible (that doesn’t give the change control departments time to do what they do).

What gives me happiness is the fact that my group is so good, we’re going to be able to fulfill this unreasonable request.  Watching these folks work, being a part of it, has been a thing of beauty.  People who are so good at what they do they can accomplish the impossible are just fun to watch.  It’s even more satisfying when you know you are one of those people.

It’s a danged shame they’re going to break us up.  And I still think I need a change.  But the general unease I’ve had following me around the last two weeks has now abated.

We get our new xB today.  We think we have a private buyer for our old car; he is supposed to meet us at the car dealer (who will take care of all the paperwork, thank goodness).  However, we haven’t heard from him yet today.  If he follows through, it will save us about $2000.

We are going to make the switch to Vonage today.  It feels good to feel in control of these things; to have a little power over the big, bad company.  And it’ll save us about $40 a month, so that’s a good thing, too.

As of today, I’ve lost 45 and a half pounds.   My goal was 50 lbs before we go on vacation, so the chances of my reaching that goal are slim.  I will not weigh next Saturday, I’ll save that for our departure day.  More than likely, I’ll be off by 1 or two pounds.  But 48 lbs is no small feat, so I’m not going to nitpick.  If I lose at least 3 this week, I can say with confidence that I reached my goal.

And that was just the first goal.  Not that I’m going to lose much more weight, but I have some firming up to do.  I was hoping that getting down to 175 would mean no more love handles, but alas…  I can pinch an inch. (Remember those ads?)  Well, maybe 3/4 inch.  It’s much better than the three inches of fat I used to be able to pinch, but we all have this picture in our heads of what we’d look like if we were totally in shape, and little love handles are not what I had in mind.

But, I’m not sure if even an “in shape” almost 43-year-old man can have a sculpted body like a 23 year old.  It may be impossible; this might be as good as it gets.  But, I’m going to keep trying and see what happens.

I’ve gone from 225 to 179 (hopefully 175 by the 5th).  I’ve gone from wearing size 42 – 44 to size 36 – 38 .  I’d bet I could wear some 34’s, especially by July 5th.  My face looks like “me” again (abeit a little older).  So, I’m not going to beat myself up, and I think what I’ve accomplished should be celebrated.  It just doesn’t mean I’m “done”.

When I do break the 50 lbs lost mark, I’ll post several “how I did it” posts, unless y’all say they are too annoying.  You’d be amazed how non-drastic the changes in my life were.

I will say this:  if you are a man without health conditions that keep you from exercising, you definitely don’t need allii or surgery to lose significant amounts of weight.  I can’t speak for the women, but I daresay 20-30 lbs isn’t out of the question, using the same methods I did.

But, keep in mind, I’m not saying I think that certain sizes are ugly or not healthy.  Anybody that knows me knows that I don’t feel that way.  This was something I wanted to do, to see if I could do it.  Yes, it seems like I obsess about my body, but that’s because I’m a goal-oriented person.  I set a goal, and by golly, I was going to meet it come hell or high water.

Plus, in general, the way skinny Slarti is treated is astoundingly different from the way fat Slarti is treated.  Especially by strangers.  I suspect (how the heck should I know ?) that I do not wear extra weight well, that I am quite the unattractive “big” person, and a not too bad looking when I’m smaller.  I don’t know, but that theory might explain things.  And it may be shallow for me to want that (good treatment and courtesy), but I want it nonetheless.

Ford Prefect, his wife, Brooke and I are singing the offertory at “big church” (the two traditional services) at Belle Meade UMC tomorrow.  Considering the drama of the last two years, this is a big step toward healing long-held wounds. 

X-Alt is playing next Saturday at TBG Coffeehouse in Ashland City at 8:00, for those interested.

 Anyway, I think that’s enough news for a Saturday.

I Get By With A Little Help


I have a good friend, bandmate, and commenter here, Susie.  Her and her husband Jeff saved my sanity yesterday.  Let me back up a little.

Some of you know that one of my water heaters died a couple of days ago.  Most of you know that I am absolutely worthless at fixing stuff around the house.  So,we called a very popular plumbing company here in town to come out and look at things.  “When you see the happy face…”

Let me tell you, our experience with this company was right about what we expected. They are exactly what they say they are: very courteous, knowledgeable, and prompt.  The technician they sent out looked a lot like Greg Biffle, NASCAR Nextel Cup driver number 16.  He found the problem (the danged thing had actually caught on fire) , and told us we’d need to replace the water heater.  Now, this company is all those wonderful things, I descibed above, plus one more thing: expensive.  They wanted a thousand dollars.

Uh, no.

He told us we could get a new water heater at Home Depot (the original was still under warranty) – we’d have to go get it, and they’d do the installation for about $500 – better.  Well, to accomplish getting uninstalling the old water heater, I called Susie.  I did this because, like I said, I’m pretty worthless with this kind of thing, and, I have no tools.  I was hoping her husband Jeff (a local contractor) could loan me the proper tools.

Well, being incredible friends and great people altogether, they hopped in the car and came right over.  Jeff helped me unhook the old heater,and told me that it would be ridiculous to pay $1000+ to replace a water heater.  He convinced me that I, with proper supervision, could install the heater myself.  He gave me instructions for what to ask for at Home Depot, and then he and Susie left for a while to do stuff they had to do.

Of course, I had to call Jeff again when getting the hookup parts, and he guided me though.  We get the new heater back (after GE fought with us unsuccessfully about whether the warranty applied), and Lintilla and I, with some struggle, got the heater in place and partially hooked up (thank God for compression connectors).  I call Susie, and she told me they’d be coming around dark.  Why?

They were also bringing us their kids’ trampoline.  Their kids are teenagers now, and they no longer use the trampoline.  It’s got a net and everything.  Folks, this trampoline is HUGE!  Jeff had it on his trailer, and it was hanging off the sides, causing him to use up most of the road on a two lane road.  It was easy to see why they wanted to come after dark.  It was quite an effort just getting it off the trailer and into our sideyard.

But, we get that done (after Jeff reassembled a couple of net poles they had to take off for transport), and then it was onto the water heater.  It turned out to be just like when my dad “helps” me with this kind of stuff: Jeff ended up doing all the work.  Well,  (he) finished the hookups lickety-split, we filled it, and what-do-you-know, it works!  In fact, our hot water in the front of the house (which this water heater supplies) is hotter than it ever was before.

To top it all off? Jeff thinks he may know someone who might want to buy the xB.

Anyway, we just can’t thank Susie and Jeff for not only helping us out of the water heater mess, saving us a LOT of money, but also for the trampoline.  I mean, who has friends THAT wonderful?  At first I was going to cook them a meal to thank them, then it didn’t seem like enough.  So, we’re going to take them to Monell’s.  It still doesn’t seem like enough, but it’s a start.

I’ll post a photo of the trampoline later, after I mow the lawn.  All this weirdness yesterday prevented me from mowing, and I’m afraid the neighbors are going to call codes soon if I don’t get out there.

Susie, Jeff – thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!  Y’all are such wonderful people.  I thank God for your wonderful family and our friendship.  If there’s anything I can do (I’m pretty good with computers 🙂  ) , let me know.

So, that was my Saturday.

Today is “For My Own Good” Day

I have an early workout with the Redneck Canadian today because some yahoo at Sirius Cybernetics decided that it would be a good idea to call a meeting during lunch hour.  Even though last Monday hurt, Thursday didn’t do much for me.  It’s time to take off the training wheels.  I’ll raise the weight, or the reps (probably the weight because I’ll be short on time because of the yahoo).

Then, early this afternoon, I have my yearly physical (which I haven’t bothered to attend in two years).  Men, when you reach that magical age of 40, the doc adds a new element to your yearly physical.  It is at this point that it would be a good idea to have either a female doctor, or a jockey-sized male doctor.  Why?

Smaller Fingers.

[…and all the women said “you big baby – you should see what WE have to go through!”]. 

Everything is relative.  I never had to deal with this before, so to me, it’s a big deal.

Finally, I tried something for my own financial good last night.  I had been eating a South Beach Diet Southwestern breakfast wrap every morning for breakfast.  At $3 bucks a box (contains 2), this makes for some expensive breakfast.  So, last night, I decided to assemble my own. 

I got some of those very low calorie whole wheat tortillas ($2.85), two packs of Kroger brand “Egg Beaters” ($2.50) , and frozen pepper & onions mix.  At home, I already had a bag of Costco-sized crumbled bacon, 2% shredded cheddar cheese, and hot sauce.  I scrambled the eggs with everything else but the cheese, then spooned into a cheese-lined tortilla.  I froze them, and I got 2 weeks worth  (10) of breakfast tortillas for the price of 4 singles of the South Beach variety.  AND, I estimate that the calories are actually about 30 lower than the South Beach wraps (which are 160 cals).

The verdict?  Next time, I’ll use fresh pepper and onions (the frozen ones water down the scrambled eggs a little too much to my liking).  And more hot sauce.  Otherwise, I have no complaints.  Was it worth the hour of effort?  Time will tell.

The Unblinking Mirror (Stuff Edition)

The interesting thing about being a moralist:  the minute you point to something in the world and say “This is wrong”, hordes of people line up, waiting for that day when they can gleefully point out the fact that you have failed to live up to your own morality.  Religious people know this all too well.  But it isn’t just a religious thing.  I think Al Gore has recently discovered this concept.  They may say that hypocrisy is the compliment that vice pays to virtue, but the sting is nevertheless strong – if you are the one who is falling short.

The cool thing about being a Christian, though, is that our failings actually validate our worldview.  We believe that man is incurably corrupted, and we prove it at every turn.  I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.  Being at home with my children this week of spring break has made me acutely aware of one of my biggest failings, and one of my biggest regrets.

After my home and all my possessions were destroyed by fire, I became acutely aware of the message that Jesus was teaching us in Matthew 6, verses 19-34.  Jesus says: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.

Jesus then goes on to tell us to quit worrying about “stuff”.

At the time, in prayer, I would repeat the “moth and rust” verse back to Jesus, reminding him jokingly that he forgot to add fire.  But, the important thing was, I not only understood the meaning of the passage, i felt it in my very soul.  We had lost everything, but we were OK.  God provided, just as He said He would.  I truly, for the first time, understood just how unimportant and temporal “stuff” is.  I swore, I’d never look at it the same way again.

Here’s where it gets interesting.  I had always given this concept lip service.  Then, on that fateful day in July, 2002, God called my bluff.  He wiped the slate clean.  If I chose, i would no longer be slave to my “stuff”, because, well, I didn’t have any stuff anymore. 

Oh, we were insured.  But, here’s the thing: when we moved back into our house in January 2003, we had the perfect opportunity to live Matthew 6:19.  We had used the insurance money to replace exactly that which we needed (even that is relative).  We had all new furniture and appliances.  We had five days’ clothing for each of us.  We had rugs and decorations so our house almost looked like “a home”.  We had three (the big-screen HDTV, and two little bedroom TVs), surround sound, computers.  Everything brand new.  Certainly, this was enough. 

That’s what we told ourselves.  We swore, now that we had learned how unimportant stuff was, we wouldn’t clutter our house again with stuff we didn’t need.

I look around me this week, and I see just how wrong we were.  I’d swear we have more junk cluttering our house than we had before the fire.  It snuck up on us; it’s not like we went on some shopping spree and brought home tons of junk at one time.  We had said that God, ourselves, and what few possessions we started with were enough.  We believed it. 

We were lying.

To God, to others, to ourselves, I don’t know.  And I know we didn’t mean to lie – we truly believed this time would be different.  Yet, here we are; the folks from “Clean Sweep” would have a heyday with us.  It’s actually hard to keep the house clean when there just isn’t room to put all the stuff “we had to have”.

But I’m not worried about the practical side of things.  I’m worried about my soul, the soul of my wife, those of my children.  We are obviously broken.  We could say, “we’re turning over a new leaf, we’re going to get rid of all this stuff and just keep what we need to get by”, but, well we’ve been there, done that.  The slate will never be as clean as it was when we moved back into our house.

It’s just so insidious, this little voice that whispers to you while you’re in a store or online.  If only you had this, it whispers, you’d be happy.  Wait till such and such  sees that you’ve bought this! Won’t he be impressed!  It doesn’t matter that you know intellectually that what the voice is telling you is untrue.  Its seduction is stronger than any under-dressed temptress.

And then later, the voice mocks you as you’re trying to clean your overcluttered house, wondering to yourself why on earth you bought all this junk, and wondering where the happiness was you thought you’d have if only you possessed it. 

So, all I can do is pray that I one day can ignore the voice.  I could ask God to take away all my stuff and let me start over again, but I know how that story ends.  Jesus always stressed that the heart was more important that the deed, and now I know why.  I feel trapped within my own evil heart – and I know that even that feeling is of the Enemy, because no one who is in Christ is trapped.  I just don’t know how to let Him fix this.

So yeah, I’ve been in a rotten mood.  The Unblinking Mirror, if you have the courage to look into it, has a way of doing that to you.  The only consolation I have s that this whole thing reminds me of my second favorite episode of Mary Tyler Moore (the first being the “Chuckles the Clown” episode).

Ted has a heart attack.  He survives, but he has a whole new outlook on life. He stops to smell the roses, much to the consternation of his co-workers.  But his attitude finally rubs off on them.  When  the episode ends, they are all admiring a sunset.  But Ted asks them why they are wasting their time; he’s back to being the old Ted.

So am I.  And I hate it.