Sunday, June 29, 2014

#167 - Still Life

I think most people - at one level or another - have a need to be creative in some way. For some, it may be working with wood or tying flies or painting. Me, I have an almost constant need to be creative. My creativity (such as it is) takes many forms. Often, I express myself creatively through this or my other blog, My Wordsmithing. Other times, I express myself through writing song lyrics.

Sometimes, I try to express myself creatively through photography. Now, I don't claim to be a great photographer. I'll never be confused with Ansel Adams, Richard Avedon, or Anne Geddes. Heck, my wife Teresa has a much better eye than I do when it comes to photography. Still, from time to time, things do catch my eye and inspire me to get out my camera. Tonight while making dinner was one of those times.

I was cutting up vegetables for dinner, a little stir fry to go with some rice. I finished chopping up some garlic, then set the knife I was using down on the cutting board. As I did, I looked down at the arrangement of cut vegetables on the board and thought, this looks like a picture. So I decided it should be.

I pulled out my trusty Pentax K-r, slapped my 50-millimeter, f2 prime lens on it, and here is the result. I took two versions, one with and one without flash. let me know what you think.

Taken with in-camera flash

Taken without flash

The angle is slightly different, but the arrangement is the same in each image, both of them taken with a lens I bought on eBay for $25. I ran both images through a program to auto-correct the exposure, and I cropped the flash version a little. Then I re-sized each image to one-fifth its original size for this blog entry. Otherwise, I did nothing to either image.

If I had been thinking, I might have moved the chopped garlic closer to the other vegetables or moved the knife a little further away for the sake of symmetry. Be that as it may, I kind of like how these pictures came out.

I guess if there is a message here it is that one never knows when or where the creative muse will show herself. The question is: will you be ready when she does?

Monday, June 9, 2014

#166 - Born To Be Punched?

Men, if over time you have come to the point that you feel like punching bags, it apparently means you have evolved. Men, apparently, are designed to be punched.

At least that is one way of looking at a new theory on the evolution of men. As reported on BBC News, this theory, published in the June issue of Biological Reviews, our early male ancestors (the australopiths) evolved “beefy facial features” as a defense against fist fights. The article argues that this “beefing up” of men’s faces occurred as a result of fighting over women and resources. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The areas that were protected the most by evolutionary changes, according to this theory, the jaw, cheek, eye, and nose structures, are those most prone to damage in a fist fight. Does that mean someone with a “glass jaw” is less evolved than, say, Hulk Hogan? You make that argument and, at least in certain circles, you could well have a fight on your hands.

According to this same article, men are apparently devolving when it comes to having a beefed up face. One of the authors, Professor David Carrier of the University of Utah, says this is because we have less need of such protection. The professor obviously does not watch professional wrestling, mixed martial arts, or daytime soap operas.

Perhaps this theory at long last explains our apparent need to go to war. We were born to fight or at least evolved that way. It is certainly a convenient explanation. It might even be correct. Many of the disputes of the past several years have, at some level, had a resource component involved, whether it be the battles in Iraq and Kuwait (oil) or the standoff in Nevada between ranchers and the federal government (grazing rights) or the legal battles between Alabama and Georgia (water).

What? You say you don’t get into fights? Never have? Are you single? Are you alone? Your failure to fight could be the reason. Men, the next time you want to show a woman you’re interested, go out and get punched, preferably in the face. It’s the least you can do. Besides, it’s what your face was made for. Years of evolution don't lie.

Friday, June 6, 2014

#165 - What's Happened to Us?

I should learn my lesson; I really should. At my age, with my level of education, I should know better that to try and discuss serious issues on social networking sites, such as Facebook. (I imagine Twitter, with its 140-character tweet limit, would be even worse, but I don’t have a Twitter account.) Yet I persist.

I must be a glutton for punishment. Almost never do I encounter consistent and thoughtful discussion, particularly when it comes to political issues. Instead, I see name-calling along the lines of “(insert the name of your least favorite President) is the worst (insert favorite derogatory phrase) EVER!” Opposing views are seen as disrespectful, and each side becomes polarized against the other with no space for discussion, no room for compromise (which is itself seen as a dirty word), and no middle or common ground to be found.

Social networking venues, such as Facebook and Twitter were heralded as great democratizing forces. Personally, I think Facebook is great for keeping up with the goings-on of family and friends. As far as democracy goes, however, I think social networking sites, so-called “citizen journalism,” and the 24-hour news cycle have each done more to polarize this nation than perhaps anything since the battle over Civil Rights in the 1960s. 

Each of these, in its own way, is more about “instant gratification” than it is about meaningful discussion. There are repeated instances of erroneous information being distributed, widely read, widely believed, and widely available for several hours before it was shown to be wrong. The correction gets lost or missed in the avalanche of response to the original report.

The 24-hour news cycle, with its pressure to be first, is largely to blame for this. Social networking, with its ability to quickly and widely share such information, is not blameless. Such instantaneous dissemination of information encourages and even demands instantaneous response. 

I would argue that at no time in history has an instant response to anything ever been well thought out. Thoughtful response and instant reaction are mutually exclusive to one another by nature. (Let's not even talk about the fact that something posted by Joe Schmo potentially carries the same authority and weight as something posted by NBC's Brian Williams since the internet has no way to discern which voice is more trustworthy or authoritative aside from measuring web traffic.)

As I mentioned, compromise has become a dirty word in today’s political arena. Yet for years, give and take by both sides was how anything in this country got done. Today, action is replaced by gridlock caused in large measure by both political parties mapping out positions increasingly at the extreme edge of their respective ideologies in order to even further differentiate themselves from the other side. The President then gets blamed for inaction, unless he actually tries to do something through Executive Order, in which case he gets accused of bypassing Congress and acting like a dictator.

Some of this I have touched upon before, but if anything, things have gotten even worse. I’ve concluded the wisest thing (or at least the safest) is to disengage from politics and political discussion. Such an act is seen as capitulating to the opposite side and as being part of the problem rather than the solution. However, I have now lived long enough to see that people will believe even the most outrageous lies if they are repeated often enough just as many people, for whatever reason, seem inclined to vote against their own base interests based on some faceless group’s assertions that “X (whether it be reduced coal emission, a higher minimum wage, clean air, etc.) is bad for America.”
I am increasingly convinced that America as we know it is nearing the end of its life cycle. We should not be surprised; no empire or democracy lasts forever, and America has had a pretty good run. Not as good as the Roman empire, but not bad. I don’t think the end of America will come because of its failure to address the national debt or because of its failure to protect its environment or a failure to transition to alternative fuels or because of a decline in the nation’s morals or an abandonment of “the American ideal," whatever that ideal is.

No, when American as we know it is no longer, it will be due to the fact that we have lost the ability to talk with one another on the national stage in a meaningful and respectful manner. We have lost the willingness to compromise and the desire to search for common ground with one another. That, more than anything else I can think of, will be our undoing.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

#164 - Are We Having Fun Yet?

Are we having fun yet? I hear that question fairly often at work and have asked it myself from time to time. Oddly enough, though, the question seems to invariably be asked when the answer is anticipated to be either a sarcastic “yes” or a definite “no.” Why is it that question never seems to get asked when the answer might really be “yes?”

A related question when it comes to the workplace might be what actually constitutes “fun” where work is concerned. I suspect a great many people are not having fun yet where their jobs are concerned. They are, as the band Loverboy put it in the 1980s, "Working For The Weekend." People lucky enough to work in jobs or fields they truly enjoy are likely a minority, although they may enjoy aspects of their jobs such as the ability to work from home, the short commute to work, the people they work with, the benefits, or perhaps some mixture of these.

Of course, all of this begs the question of job satisfaction and what it really means. For some, I imagine it means truly being engaged in their work and not being able to wait to go in to work each and every day. For others, it may well mean having work that is not too demanding (physically or mentally or both) that allows those people to maintain or enjoy a certain lifestyle, either because of the income from the job or the flexibility of the work schedule. For others, it is likely some combination of factors.

I suspect that for many of us the question of job satisfaction does not arise until we are already working in a position and have several months or years under our belts. For others, job satisfaction may not be something they think about until they feel it is “too late.” They may be years (or decades) into a line of work they no longer enjoy, if they ever did. Or they may be at an age where they feel they are “too old” to “start over.” Regardless, they may not feel able to change career path and may feel trapped in their current line of work, which I think most would agree is the antithesis of job satisfaction.

If, as I suspect, most people do not experience true job satisfaction, it then becomes a matter of whether one can find satisfaction through the lifestyle the job allows one to maintain. If you have a low-paying job that you do not enjoy, my condolences, as it is extremely likely you have a lifestyle you do not enjoy on top of a job you do not like. People in high-paying jobs may well have lifestyles they enjoy even if they do not particularly like the work. However, there are potential trade-offs there as well: pressure to keep a position in order to maintain a certain lifestyle, the possibility of increased stress, as well as other potential health risks.

Perhaps that is why so many “experts” stress the need to strike a balance between work and play. However, that can be very hard to achieve, especially when you consider that there is “work,” the kind that brings in an income, and there is “work,” the kind required to maintain a home – dishes, shopping, laundry, yard work, and so on. On the surface, that does not seem to leave much space or time for play. Unless you are one of those sick, twisted souls who actually thinks yard work is "fun."

I think some of our European brethren may have the right idea. Many in Europe enjoy four to six weeks of vacation a year – without having to be in a job for 20 years or more as in the U. S. People in Europe work, on average, fewer hours per year than do their American counterparts, and more jobs are part-time (but with benefits). At least one Swedish city is experimenting with shorter work days in hopes of creating a “happier, healthier, and cheaper” workforce. 

The idea of a shorter workweek also gets support in a 2013 book called “Time on Our Side” from the New Economics Foundation. One of the co-authors of that book and the Foundation’s Head of Social Policy argues that longer work hours are associated with decreased productivity and that part-time workers are actually more productive on an hour-by-hour basis.

Our American/Puritan work ethic dictates that we work longer and harder, so such ideas are usually dismissed out of hand. However, with the rising cost of living and of health care, coupled with what will likely be decreased Social Security benefits in the years to come, this may be an idea whose time is about to come. If that happens, we may or may not experience greater job satisfaction, but we could well experience increased satisfaction with our time away from work. Instead of everybody working for the weekend, we could end up working for a longer weekend. I’m all for that.

Are we having fun yet?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

#163 - Am I Certifiable?

Please note that I am not talking about being insane, although I suppose a strong case for insanity could be made for anyone who puts themselves through the process I am about to describe.

We are in the midst of trying to acquire Certified Family Home (CFH) status for our now 18-year old son in order to be able to get and provide him with the services that we hope will help him to one day live a more independent life. I say “in the midst” rather than “in the middle” because I honestly have no idea how far into the process we are or how close we are to the finish line. I suspect no one else involved (particularly the powers that be) knows either.

For the most part, I have been a spectator on this crawl to certification, mainly providing moral support and encouragement to Teresa as she tries to maneuver the maze of bureaucracy and jumps through the numerous hoops required to reach the finish line. One of the more daunting of those is the paperwork required in order to become a Certified Family Home, followed closely by repeated demands for documentation of our son’s status, documentation the state of Idaho has now received in roughly the same form and number of pages perhaps half a dozen times, most if not all of them sent to the same state agency. To be fair, we began maneuvering through this  paperwork jungle even before trying for CFH status.

As for the requirements I think are specific to CFH certification, one of the strangest to me (at least on the surface) was the requirement that we have a dryer. Prior to this, we had not seen the need to own a dryer during our ten-plus years in Idaho, primarily because Idaho is a desert with low humidity, meaning clothing air dries fairly quickly, even in winter. Apparently that is not fast enough for the state, or else they have some sort of agreement with the various appliance retailers in Idaho. I’m sure there must be a rational reason for requiring a dryer, but it has never been made clear to me.

Other requirements:
·         Smoke alarms (and according to at least one HVAC technician, Carbon Monoxide detectors) in every room where sleeping does or can take place (i.e., there’s a bed or something that can be made into a bed)
·         A 5 LB. fire extinguisher, wall-mounted, located somewhere near the kitchen
·         An electrical inspection
·         Fingerprinting and Criminal background checks
·         CPR and First Aid training
·         Passage of a class in assisting with medications
·         Doctor’s written approval of all of the resident’s (our son in this case) medications, including over-the-counter meds
·         Storage of said medications (including over-the-counter) under lock and key in their original containers (not sure how that applies if the resident does not need assistance with medications)

There are also requirements for the minimum amount of sleeping space a resident can have, along with a requirement for a minimum amount of spending cash (if the resident receives Supplemental Security Income, in which case they also cannot keep too much cash on hand). I’m sure I’ve left plenty of other requirements out.

These requirements apply whether the resident on whose behalf certification is sought is a family member or someone you contract to bring into the home. I think that may be part of the problem or reason behind the seemingly massive amount of paperwork and the numerous regulations. From the outside looking in, as it were, I’m not sure such a one regulatory size fits all approach is the most efficient way to go about this, thought I certainly could be wrong.

Deep down, I'm sure there are good reasons for the numerous rules and regulations surrounding acquisition of CFH status. I know that, above all, the rights and the needs of the person receiving care must be protected. At this point, however, all I know is that we are somewhere along the journey with no apparent end in sight. I also feel like I'm taking part in and witnessing a circus, only it lacks the fun and excitement (and maybe the clowns) of the real thing. Are we crazy or what?