Friday, January 30, 2009

Roosevelt the Great

Recently, I finished this book about FDR, and I loved how it ended. I loved it so much, I'm going to share it with you:

"It had been a remarkable accomplishment, reflecting a unique bond between the president and the American people. They put their faith in Roosevelt because he put his faith in them. He believed in democracy - in the capacity of ordinary Americans, exercising their collective judgement, to address the ills that afflicted their society. He refused to rely on the invisible hand of the marketplace, for the compelling reason that during his lifetime the invisible hand had wreaked very visible havoc on millions of unoffending Americans. He refused to accept that government invariably bungled whatever it attempted, and his refusal inspired government efforts that had a tremendous positive effect on millions of marginal farmers, furloughed workers, and struggling merchants - the very people who now lined his train route north.

Did he get everything right? By no means, and he never claimed he did. But he got a great deal right. He caught the banking system in free fall and guided it to a soft landing. He sponsored rules that helped prevent a recurrence of the banking collapse and of the stock market crash that preceded it. The programs that his administration formulated furnished jobs and experience to much of a generation of young people. He helped the parents of these young people keep their homes and farms. He showed their grandparents that old age need not be accompanied by poverty. He gave workers a hand in their efforts to rebalance relations between labor and capital.

Beyond everything else, he provided hope. He didn't end the Great Depression, which was too large and complex for any elected official to conquer. But he banished despair the depression engendered. He understood intuitively - or perhaps he learned from Uncle Ted and Woodrow Wilson - that the presidency is above all a moral office. A president who speaks to the hopes and dreams of the people can change the nation. Roosevelt did speak to the people's hopes and dreams, and together they changed America.

They changed the world as well. Just as he trusted democracy to reach the right decisions regarding America, so he trusted democracy to reach the right decisions about the rest of the planet, if perhaps more slowly. He concluded, long before most other Americans did, that the United States must take responsibility for the defeat of international aggression. Yet he understood that he was merely a president, not a czar, and that until the Americans came to share his view any efforts to intervene in the struggles unfolding in Europe and Asia would be worse than wasted. He patiently, and sometimes deceptively, guided American opinion, through public statements and carefully measured actions, until the leader became the led and the country demanded what he had wanted - what he knew the country needed - all along.

His performance during the war was no more perfect than his New Deal policies had been. The fiasco of Pearl Harbor was neither a crime nor a conspiracy, but it was a fiasco nevertheless. The insufficient coordination of America's war production impeded the efforts of the armies of the Grand Alliance. The repeated delays in opening the second front antagonized the Russians and perhaps prolonged the war.

But even more than in domestic matters, he got the big issues right. He held the alliance together. Contemporaries and historians often credit Hitler with providing the cement that kept Americans, British, and Russians working in concert. That assessment wasn't wrong, but it was incomplete. Without Roosevelt to mediate between Churchill and Stalin, to dole out American supplies in sufficient quantities to keep British and Russians fighting, the alliance might have splintered before the Axis did. Did Stalin trust Roosevelt? Probably not; the Soviet dictator hadn't gotten to where he was by trusting others. But the more important question was whether he trusted Roosevelt's judgment - Roosevelt's judgment of the degree to which American and Russian interests coincided during the war and would continue to coincide after the war. The evidence suggests that Stalin did trust Roosevelt's judgment. He tolerated the backsliding on the second front, and he had little difficulty coming to terms with the president on the fate of Germany.

Did Roosevelt trust Stalin? Probably more than the reverse. But if the president was less cynical than the Soviet strongman, he was no less pragmatic. He understood that Russia could insist on controlling Poland and that there wasn't much he could do about it - because there wasn't much the American people were willing to do about it. Had Roosevelt lived, he would have been obliged to lay out the facts of great-power life to the Poles and their American partisans. Had he lived, he would have had to manage the inevitable loosening of bonds among the Grand Allies. He would have had to face the emotional exhaustion that follows every great sacrifice and the fiscal tightening required to bring means and ends more closely into alignment. He didn't choose the moment of his death, but had he scripted this part of his performance he couldn't have timed his exit better. He left on a high note, before the predictable discord set in."

And the last paragraph of the book ends with Churchill describing his feelings of Roosevelt right after the last time he would ever see Roosevelt:

"As the door of the aircraft closed, Churchill turned to the American vice consul, Kenneth Pendar. 'Come, Pendar, let's go home,' he said. 'I don't like to see them take off.' The car carrying the prime minister and the diplomat began to pull away. Pendar watched through the rear window as the president's plane gained speed. Churchill couldn't look. 'Don't tell me when they take off. It makes me nervous.' He touched Pendar's arm. 'If anything happened to that man, I couldn't stand it. He is the truest friend; he has the farthest vision; he is the greatest man I've ever known."

My general impressions of Roosevelts to come in another post.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

My Wife's Birthday

Saturday was my wife's birthday. So, if you see her wish her a belated Happy Birthday (if you haven't done so and many of you have, she is loved). I came into it scared because I was unprepared. True I had bought her a nice gift, something she wanted, something she helped me pick out, but I felt like if that's all I did, that would be pretty lame for her. And going in, that's all I had, and I suspected thats all she expected. I did not want her day to be just another typical day.

Work has been unbelievably busy lately (I know the universal excuse all men make to their wives), but its true. Its actually somewhat comforting to be this busy with work while much of the rest of the economy is rapidly grinding to a gut-wrenching hault, but we're full speed ahead. But there I was, working late on Friday night, barely thinking about Saturday, knowing that every hour I was awake past midnight was going to drain a bit more energy away I needed to make Saturday nice.

I finally went to bed, setting the alarm for 6am, knowing that was probably pretty much impossible. Our daughter's violin group class was at 9am and she was scheduled to perform in the recital portion of the class, so we were all planning on being there. We also have this tradition that on birthdays, the birthday person gets breakfast in bed. To make my wife breakfast in bed (meaning it had to be ready before she was up), I had to be up early, and that turned out to be impossible. I set the alarm, but I have no recollection of it going off. We were finally awoken by our kids at 7:30.

So, what do you do on your wife's birthday when you have nothing else planned? You basically volunteer to do everything possible, I rushed into the kitchen and made waffles for the family, while my wife got ready. With breakfast out of the way, we rushed to violin class.

Quick aside, the violin class is interesting, its broken up into three portions, the first is a classical violin group class. (There are many classes at different levels happening at the same time). In the second, all the students and their families gather together in the gym for a student recital - and some of the more advance students were darn impressive that day, the third portion involves a non-violin specific music class. All run by volunteers who are generally pretty amazing teachers. We pay a measly $140 for the entire year. But our daughter played well, and I did my best to hold our newborn and keep our son in check so that my wife could have a bit more relaxing time enjoying our daughter.

Ok, so nothing much has happened yet.

After violin, it was lunch time. I made lunch, of course. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids, leftovers for the adults. Yeah, yeah, again nothing special. But I did make sure I remembered and administered many of the blood sugar tests and insulin shots for the day, so my wife had a little break from diabetes.

After that, I volunteered to take the kids and my wife's grocery list with me and shop for groceries for the upcoming two weeks. All she had to do is get our new-born to sleep, then she could have some personal time alone. After compiling the list, she handed it to me laughing, "Good luck with that, you'll be wandering the aisles for hours, call me if you have questions".

So, off we went, but I had an extra-special secret plan. We drove off to the coolest strip mall in Tempe, probably in all of Arizona, the one with "Changing Hands Bookstore", "Trader Joe's", and surprisingly a cool, previously unrecognized record store and a few small little interesting restaurants.

First stop, Changing Hands.

Let me tell you about this bookstore. It is independent, locally owned, but very large and always very busy. It was originally located in downtown Mill Avenue in Tempe, but they moved, both to get bigger and because Mill Ave did not have the foot traffic they wanted. They often host book readings, Hillary Clinton has read there, they have first Friday poetry nights, that I have enjoyed in the distant past, and it has this hippy, politically liberal feel that every good bookstore should have. (What would a conservative bookstore be like - I guess Deseret Books qualify - nothing wrong with that store, but I really appreciate Changing Hands).

Here's the thing about books as gifts. My wife just finished reading a book, and she was drawn into it. She read and read, even if it meant ignoring the kids or household responsibilities. I found this so refreshing because she is often the epitome of self-sacrifice. I really, really enjoyed seeing her indulge in herself during times other than when our kids are asleep. I wanted to get her another book that she could keep this going.

And books are such a great way to self-indulge. They draw you into another world for an extended period of time that no other medium can do. You are carried into people's heads, you experience another's life you can experience in no other way. My wife loves to read, and I hoping to keep the experience going for her with another book.

But what book to buy? I wanted it to be a novel, I wanted it to be a good author. But its hard to find novels, I am not in the literature loop and I have no idea who the great modern writers are. I didn't want to buy her something boring like a Jane Austin classic. I wanted a book she had never heard of before. If only I could go to the library and ask a librarian for some advice. But I settled on a newly published book by Toni Morrison, who we have both enjoyed reading before. It was the best I could do. So, I bout the book, a couple of nice birthday cards, and some chocolate assortments, and we were off.

Done with gifts, off to Trader Joe's, a really cool, one of a kind grocery store chain. They have these little shopping carts for the kids, so they could help with the shopping too. The store is nice, tidy, and small so you don't get too overwhelmed. And what's up with the workers? Those folks have this aura of cool and hip (I know it doesn't take much to be considered hip and cool with me), what were they doing bagging my groceries. It's a weird place. I know they get paid more than they would working at Safeway, but not that much more. But they seem to thoroughly enjoy working there. And admittedly, its actually a nice, enjoyable place to shop. At least if you don't have two kids and a shopping list a mile long.

Look, I'm pretty good at math. I get math. My brain works well with numbers. But finding obscure items (like avacados or sour cream) at the grocery store is beyond me, way beyond me. Maybe if the shopping list had ten items on it I would have been ok. But there must have been like 50. Every single item was a chore. I would go down the same aisle multiple times before I found what I was looking for. And in the meantime, my kids were grabbing for cookies, or spinning donuts with their mini-shopping carts around other patrons, or generally complaining about being tired or hungry, or wandering off. It was exhausting, for them and for me.

After at least an hour of this, I looked at the list and thought I must have at least 80% of this stuff, so I decided it was time to check out, drop the kids off at home to watch a promised movie, and head back to Fry's to polish this list off. And so I did. But first, I crossed off all of the groceries I bought, and to my horror, I still had half the list left, and my wife was adding more items to the list.

Before I left, I did quickly wrapped up the book, had my children quickly right nice notes on the purchased birthday cards, and we presented everything to my wife waiting patiently in the bedroom. Obvious and unplanned, but it was better than nothing, and she loved the book.

I then got the kids settled into a movie, and I was at Fry's for another solid hour or more until I finally found every last one of those items (except peanut butter crackers of course - Trader Joe's was the best spot for those and I wasn't going back there - and wasn't there a salemena outbreak in peanut butter anyway?).

Back at home with all of the remaining food. I began dinner the never before accomplished task of parallel cooking. Normally, I like to do things one at a time. Trying to do too many things at once is a recipe for disaster - did I already put two tablespoons of sugar in the bowl, I can't remember... But, I was ready for this (it helped that the dinner was pretty easy). I had corn on the cob boiling in the pot. I had the barbecue grill heating up outside. I had my store bought potato salad all ready to go. I had a cake mix getting stirred up in a bowl. I was cooking away. We did had a nice dinner with my parents, veggie burgers for them (they prefer no meat), steak for the wife and I, and burgers for the kids. I cleaned up dinner escorted my parents to their car, got the kids ready for bed, and then I collapsed on the couch exhausted.

I know, I know, my wife gets all of this and much, much, much more done every single day of the week. I know I would be lost without her. I know I was lost without her in my single days. I'm glad I have her now, and I think, hope, feel she had a nice, relaxing birthday.

So message to my wife, if you're reading this: Happy Birthday.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Yet Another Education Post

Well, I just wanted to point you to interesting essay about education.

He starts off the essay describing some countries where the university entrance exam has an incredible effect on how the rest of your life goes. And the university you graduated from becomes your credential that affects how you are treated for the rest of your career:

"The use of credentials was an attempt to seal off the direct transmission of power between generations, and cram schools represent that power finding holes in the seal. Cram schools turn wealth in one generation into credentials in the next."

A cram school is a sort of college preparatory school that enables parents with money to drill their kids into getting into a credentialed school. An easy way to transfer power and influence from one generation to another.

But this is not good for society:

"History suggests that, all other things being equal, a society prospers in proportion to its ability to prevent parents from influencing their children's success directly. It's a fine thing for parents to help their children indirectly—for example, by helping them to become smarter or more disciplined, which then makes them more successful. The problem comes when parents use direct methods: when they are able to use their own wealth or power as a substitute for their children's qualities"

But America is ahead of this game (not completely) but especially in my field:

"In a world of small companies, performance is all anyone cares about. People hiring for a startup don't care whether you've even graduated from college, let alone which one. All they care about is what you can do. Which is in fact all that should matter, even in a large organization. The reason credentials have such prestige is that for so long the large organizations in a society tended to be the most powerful. But in the US at least they don't have the monopoly on power they once did, precisely because they can't measure (and thus reward) individual performance. Why spend twenty years climbing the corporate ladder when you can get rewarded directly by the market?"

This is exacerbated in the high-tech world. It is becoming easier and cheaper to start your own software business, and start-ups abound. And largely, its very much merit based. Many large companies still require a college degree, but you can do very well without one. Again, its based on what you can do not what piece of paper you have in your hand.

Another cool thing about our country (and I am ripping this idea off from an article I read a while back but would have a hard time finding now) is that we are literally the land of second, third, fourth, and fifth chances. You messed around in high school and didn't get into college. Not a problem. There is always time and opportunity to get a degree, to get educated. And access to university education is getting easier and easier in many important ways.

And this is a good thing. We have a very dynamic economy in this free country of ours and its getting more dynamic all the time.

There are two sides to this coin. Say you worked your tail off to get into an Ivy league school, you expect that once you entered that door, the rest of your life should be smooth sailing. There's still some truth to that.

But, largely, and I think this is a good thing, there is room for many more of us to really, truly excel, and I believe that most of us are more capable than we realize.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My Politics

Regular readers of this blog should have a pretty good idea of my politics by now, and its actually rather startling to see how I've far I've changed over the years, from a hard right conservative to a moderate to pretty mainstream Democrat. I look back to where I was at during the 1980s (high school), 1990s (college and beyond), and the early part of this decade, and compare that with how I'm feeling now, and I can't say that I was necessarily wrong then or obviously that I'm right now.

Really, I think the reality of the world has fundamentally changed, and obviously my understanding of the world has deepened, having more experience now than I did then. But I would like to believe that if I could inject my current self back into the 1980's I would still have been a Reagan supporter and a Republican (though not nearly as enthusiastic of one as I was back then) because I still believe Ronald Reagan was a good president, a man for the moment. Or if I could have transported myself back to the 1990's, I still believe I would have been disgusted by Clinton's moral failings and his lack of a core conviction, although I think I would have been against the impeachment attempts at the time, and maybe would have been more inclined to vote for him (over Dole) in 1996, although I still believe Bush Sr. was a good president and deserved another term.

But back to Reagan because he really defines the modern Republican party. He was the president that popularized this idea of denigrating the government institution and formalized into an election strategy this idea of low tax rates, small government, and free commerce.

Despite some of Reagan's most egregious problems - certainly you could make the case that Iran/Contra was the black eye that invalidated every other success he had as a president, or his ignoring the AIDS problem for as long as he did, or his alarming nuclear buildups. Despite all of that, he was the perfect anecdote for what ailed America at the time. The 1970's, America was in a funk. Vietnam sunk our confidence in our own ability that we can be a force for good in this world, the 1960's plunged us into a massive cultural civil war that has split our country in half politically. The 1970's was the decade of the Nixon impeachment, and a largely ineffectual Ford presidency, and a Carter presidency that made us ashamed to be an American.

Reagan brought in a gust of optimism and pro-American certitude. He successfully stared down the Russians and then he artfully transitioned toward embracing them which basically ushered in the end of the Cold War. He cut taxes on the richest of us true, but it needed to be done. Taxes were way too high and needed to be cut. He democratized stock ownership, the 401K as it is known today began during the Reagan administration. He opened trade and increased competition which most notably helped bring Japanese automobiles into America and by as a result, helped to improve drastically on automotive quality. He laid the groundwork for a society of individual accountability. He popularized the notion that the government largely needed to stay out of people's way, and that living in a free and open society, anybody could succeed based on their merits.

This sense of optimism was a perfect anecdote for the 1970's doldrums and was necessary as government bureaurocracy grew heavy as Lyndon Johnson's Great Society (and the like) were layered on top of Roosevelt's New Deal. I've heard that the richest Americans, for example, endured above a 80% income tax penalty which only encouraged those richest of Americans to spend money to dodge this tax.

The problem with the Republican party is that it has not evolved, at least not successfully. Republicans still evoke Reagan today, but the conditions of today are nothing like the conditions that existed 30 years ago. McCain tried very half-heartedly to leap back hundred years ago to progressive Republican mentality of Teddy Roosevelt. Bush Jr. tried to come up with a modern incarnation he termed "compassionate conservatism", but nobody really knew what any of this meant, and there was no intellectual meat behind these movements.

But Obama understands in his gut how much the world has changed, and how much we need a new approach. The best part of his inauguration speech:

"What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good."

And that is at the heart of where we're at in America today. The old battle lines of big government of Democrats versus small government Republicans has largely played out. The dirty fact is that even under Reagan, government grew. Its really difficult to get elected into office and then cut off your own arms and legs. Small government conservatism was never realistic in practice. The emphasis should have always been and will be now in instituting effective government.

Now, one argument I get tired of is how critics will always cite cases of government waste and corruption as a reason to cut government programs. But they always forget to about all of the waste, inefficiencies, corruption, and injustices in the private sector. Business is only effective when government is effective, and neither is effective unless we as individuals are effective. We are all important and need to work together and balance each other's excesses, and strengthen each other.

On that note, many people I've heard who have criticized the bailouts or the proposed stimulus plans also want to blame our economic problems on too much government. They blame Freddie and Fannie for giving out too many loans to the unqualified and the poor. They blame Greenspan for keeping interest rates too low and pine for the Federal Reserve to keep its hands off of our monetary system. They argue that largely our economy needs to be left alone, so that it can recover on its own terms.

I believe that this is a misguided, narrow, and partisan understanding of what is happening in our economy. I'm not saying that the government is not to blame. And that the Bush administration has hardly been a model overseer of our financial institutions. But when you elect a political party built on the idea that government is part of the problem and not the solution, its hard not to imagine that they will be less than fully engaged in those solutions.

When our government fails or misbehaves its not necessarily an excuse to throw the whole institution down the toilet, its time to replace the bad with something better.

And that, in my hope, is exactly what we've done. Obama is running on pragmatism and on believe that government can be effective and necessary in ensuring our economy runs smooth, to ensure that we have enough of a safety net to allow individuals the breathing room to take risks, to borrow, to invest, to improve their lives.

And so, my politics, now is based on a belief that the world has changed. We need government now more than ever, but we need a government that understand that its job fundamentally is to create an environment where institutions and individuals can thrive and find prosperity. And for that to happen, we need a strong, engaged, and well funded government.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Obama the Great

This Tuesday is the inaugration of Barack Obama. Finally we will see the end of on of the most disastrous, destructive, and lately, inneffective presidents in memory. Finally, we'll see the beginning of the president who comes in with incredible expectations and incredible challenges.

Read this article about him from a guy who turned my heart toward Obama over a year ago.

Some quotes:

"The goal, it now seems clear, is what some deduced many months ago: Obama wants to become the leader of an American version of the national governments that Britain relied on in the depths of the last Great Depression. "

"We cannot know whether he will succeed, whether partisanship and America’s culture war will slowly eat him up, or whether in government, as he makes decisions with winners and losers, his aura will evaporate. But what we can say is that, so far, he shows every sign of meaning what he said about leaving that divisive, destructive froth behind. Just reading the papers every morning, we see every sign that the gravity of the crisis his predecessor bequeaths him makes this necessary. "

"What he gets, what he seems to intuit, is how to make others feel as if they are being heard. This is simple enough in theory but hard to pull off consistently in practice. His model is to figure out what another person needs and, if it helps Obama to get what he wants, to provide it. "

And he writes eloquently about the challenges and the real and expected approaches to those challenges, from our current economic troubles, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to Afghanistan and Iraq.

And concludes it this way:

"If you close your eyes and imagine what this combination of fiscal and foreign policy realism portends, you will come to a pretty obvious conclusion. This Democratic liberal is actually, when it comes down to it, a man almost entirely within the mainstream spectrum of the European centre right. Imagine a Cameron-style Tory becoming president of the United States and try to come up with something he would do differently.

This blend of pragmatism and realism reminds me in the American context of Eisenhower more than any other recent president. Obama has the unerring instincts of a conciliator and a moderate Tory. But he has the rhetorical skills of a Kennedy or a Churchill. That’s a potent combination.

It may be, of course, that the relief at the end of the Bush era is colouring our hopes. It may also be that events conspire to derail the man, or that the habits of the past two decades in Washington will return with a vengeance and do to Obama what was done to Clinton, another centrist Democrat who came to office on a tide of goodwill. But I don’t think that, given the immense crises we all face, it is unreasonable to hope for more.

There is something about Obama’s willingness to give others credit, to approach so many issues with such dispassionate pragmatism, and to shift by symbols and speeches the mood and tenor of an entire country that gives one a modest form of optimism. Even now, as the outlook seems so dark, and as the inheritance seems so insuperable, three words linger in the mind.

Yes, he can.

And two words echo back at me.

Can we?"

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The People United Will Never Be Defeated!

Our new Bishop got up today to discuss the goals for our congregration (the Mormon church is very goal oriented), and he said that he wanted to establish Zion in our ward, quoting a most recent general authority talk in last October's conference for inspiration. This is a "most excellent" idea. The word Zion has many different connotations depending on your perspective, but for us it means three things:

1) The people who reside in Zion are of one heart and one mind.
2) Each person individually is holy, pure in heart.
3) And in Zion because of 1) and 2), poverty is completely eliminated, no poor live in their midst (and not because they kicked all the poor people out, either).

So, effectively, our Bishop has set a goal to establish a little utopian community within our segment of Tempe, Arizona. This is an exciting goal for me because it will be really exciting to be part of trying to do this.

And it got me thinking about a podcast I've heard recently on Dianne Rehm interviewing the author of a recent book called Music Quickens Time. The author Daniel Barenboim is a famous pianist and composer who has assembled the West-Eastern Divine Orchestra with members spanning the middle east, Israel and Arabs who come together to make music.

What follows are some scattered quotes from the interview, finished up by a performance of a piece whose title I borrowed for this blog post.

Zion and music

This quote by Barenboim, in particular, kept ringing in my ears long after I heard it almost perfectly describes Zion:

"The way that people should play in an orchestra, when you sit in the orchestra, you have to give everything of yourself, everything you know, everything you feel, whatever comes to you, you have to give the maximum, otherwise you're not contributing to the collective effort, but at the same time, simultaneously, you have to listen to what others are playing, and what you say is in permanent relation to what they are saying. What you play in relation to what they are playing. If you are too loud, they won't be heard, if you are too soft, you won't support them. What better lesson for life do you want? Can you imagine if our politicians have to really contribute everything that they think and feel and at the same time listen to others."

The nature of sound

He also had some very, blow me over, exceptional concept of the unique nature of sound and music:

"The beginning of a concert is more privileged then the beginning of a book. One can say that sound itself is more priviledged than words. A book is filled with words I use every day, day after day to explain, describe, demand, argue, beg, enthuse, tell the truth, and to lie. Our thoughts take shape in words. Therefore, the words on a page must compete with the thoughts in our mind. Music has a much larger world of association at its disposal precisely because of its ambivalent nature. It is both inside and outside the world."

"Music is not separated from the world. It can make us forget and understand the world at the same time."

"There is nothing I can think and feel that I can't think and feel with sound."

"Sound is extraordinary because it doesn't live in this world. Whoever makes a sound, he is literally bringing this sound into the world. And yet when it comes to this world, it suddenly acquires a human dimension, it acquires a dimension that makes humans move. I know know of no other phenomenon that is a purely physical phenomenon that takes another dimension.

"Sound does not remain, sound has a tendency to drop into silence. Therefore, sound has with silence is the equivalent of life and death. I think the fact that sound is drawn to silence, therefore sound has a tendency to die, that means that every note that you play or sing has a tendency to die puts you in direct contact with the feeling of death more than anything I can think of because its not in your imagination only because its physically in front of you whether you are playing or listening."

On education

"Music is universal. Every baby that is born is born with a certain amount of talent or receptiveness to music, and therefore, I'm very saddened by the lack of music education in so many societies, and the poor quality of music education in societies where there is some. You cannot grow up in a home where no music is played, where you don't hear music as a baby, go to kindergarten where there's no music, go to primary school and to high school where there is no music, then go to university become a lawyer or doctor, go back to your city, get married and have children, get famous become a very important lawyer or doctor, and the age of 32 or 33 go for the first time in your life to a concert, and expect to get something out of it. You will only get the feeling of going to a place where lots of people go to, you will not get anything out of the music."

By the way, he has a pretty skewed sense of how long it can take someone to get "famous", he gave his first formal concert at age 7.

"Music education is our civic duty, government, civic society, to give children from a very early age, an understanding and education in music. It has proved that children that come into contact with music, and play something, even a simple song, have a much better balance psychic life, because music forces you, it comes quite naturally. You have to use all your faculties in that moment, your feelings and your thinking. You cannot separate this."

Finally, an explanation of the title of this post

When I met my wife, she was working furiously toward her Master's degree music recital at ASU. It was through her, that I was introduced, really and truly, to classical music. It was through her that I was exposed to the piece composed by Rzewski entitled "The People United Will Never be Defeated." The piece starts out in a most straight forward and very inspiring way. And then there are literally 36 variations to it, that are all fantastic, some harder to listen to than others.

What follows is a youtube performance of it, enjoy.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Yet another economic post, and a little critique on "The Secret"

If I keep on this track, I'll probably drop my readers from one (yes I count you H, I can't even get my wife to read my blog lately), to zero, but oh well, the act of writing and publishing is intoxicating, addictive, and a massive learning experience. Just the thought that somebody out there may be reading this is a bit exciting, especially if I have no idea who that person might be.

Anyway, here's an e-mail I wrote someone who really believes in "The Secret" (I do too):

To say that we are 100% in control of our own well being, I don't feel is right. It ignores our interconnectedness in our world. It ignores that fact the behavior of my neighbor affects me, and my behavior affects my neighbor.

During the 1930's, for example, Hoover felt this very strong confidence in the free market economy. He was a legitimate self made man, and he felt that because he was able to rise from obscurity to achieve financial success, everyone else should be able to as well. So, the government did practically nothing while the country burned.

Roosevelt, by contrast, was not self made at all. He inherited his own charisma, his wealth, his opportunity, his education. Practically everything was given to him. But it was his polio that struck him out of the blue that made him the politician he became. He understood that sometimes bad things happen completely out of our control. That hard working, dedicated, and optimistic people lost everything during the depression, many were literally living in boxes. And it was not their fault. He understood that the government could and should step in to make lives better for everyone.

Roosevelt took us off of the gold standard, allowing the central government more opportunity to manipulate the currency. He instituted social security, minimum wages. He took control of farming so that farmers were not over-producing driving down prices. He instituted a bank holiday that lasted a week that allowed people to come to their senses and kept more banks from failing.

One way to look at life is that we're a surfer riding powerful ocean waves. We have virtually no control over the waves, we're powerless to fight against it. But if we understand the waves and ourselves, we can position ourselves correctly to take advantage of its strength to our own advantage.

So, in some ways I agree, we can make the best of bad times by having absolute optimism and working hard on our passions, and not losing our nerve. Right now, we should be donating money to our causes, making sound and wise purchases, building our lives.

But if the masses completely lose confidence in each other and in our institutions, the collective choices of the whole will be that wave that will affect us. We can ride the wave as best as we can, but we don't have total control, and it could wipe us out just like everyone else.

Its the great wonder of our existence, we are both all powerful and completely vulnerable all at the same time. We are completely independent but also completely interdependent. The biggest complaint I have with the philosophy behind The Secret (or maybe I don't understand it well enough), is that it ignores that second part of our existence, how completely vulnerable we are in this world. This world is both full of abundance and full of want. We are both immortal and painfully mortal.

People dying in Sudan are not dying because of their own lack of optimism, they are dying because they are affected by a sea of negativity and fear surrounding them.

So, we do need Obama and our government to step up and do what it can do. And we have a responsibility to call our congressman to make sure he does it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Economic Lessons to be Learned from "It's a Wonderful Life"

This is a really cool little article in the latest New Yorker.

It's comparing our financial crisis and our current moment to the time when a child bumps her head right before she bursts out her scream, she's just pausing long enough to figure out what to do. The world has stopped spending for the same reason that a child cries. We've been hurt and we want everyone to pay attention.

A really great quote:

"Far from adjusting our expenditures to the needs of the moment, it seems, we tend to wildly overswing, according to our mood. The difference between the provident ant, who cautiously saves up for winter, and the carefree grasshopper, dancing and hopping, is a matter of what Keynes called “animal spirits.” It is better for the common lot if each of us is a hopper (and a shopper) rather than a hoarder. Being a nation of grasshoppers is allied to being a nation of hope."


"The seasonal classics demonstrate the same truth. In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey’s Building & Loan is, let us recall, the reckless banker of Bedford Falls, giving what would now be called subprime mortgages to people like Mr. Martini, who would be better off renting. And it is mean, miserable old Mr. Potter who berates Bailey for the practice. “And what does that get us?” Potter asks. “A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class.” But George’s answer speaks to the larger emotional notion of what makes economies work and what economies are for: 'Doesn’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers? . . . Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about . . . they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?'"

But in reality, Potter was right. Or to quote a recent home schooling lecture I recently listened to where the speaker encouraged her listeners not to take out loans for a college education because "debt is bondage". Can you imagine if we took the "debt is evil" to an absurd extreme? If we went back to (as we are now) to 20% down payments on home loans? Where people waited until they can buy a car with cash. We would all be poorer. Far fewer of us would be home owners, we would be driving miserable cars with high maintenance costs until much later in our lives.

Going into debt is an act of faith, both in ourselves and in the larger community. It's a "hope rooted in a common purpose". I'm not saying that we should go back to a nation where we don't save at all. We should scale back, but we're scaling back way too much.

"What makes Bedford Falls thrive is people feeling good about its future. George Bailey is a Capraesque Keynesian through and through, encouraging consumption rather than thrift, and hope rooted in the common purpose rather than fear rooted in the impoverishment of capital. "

Saturday, January 3, 2009

What I got for Christmas/New Years Resolution

I've been consumed by consumer confidence, the economy, and how our purchasing effects the overall economy lately, and Christmas is the peak consumerism, all of this is on my mind.

But I love how the holiday's are laid out to tell you the truth. The year ends with a bang as we celebrate and remember God's gift to mankind by giving gifts to each other. And this rush to shop for one another puts a lot of people to work. People work all year with the Christmas season in mind. People should save all year, to then plunge without guilt to the shopping malls with wads of cash in their pocket to buy gifts for one another. Instead, we tend to come into the Christmas season a little short and plan on paying off our shopping the next year.

But its all a great time because if its done right, we get gifts we would never or could never buy for ourselves. How boring would life be if every possession we owned was purchased by ourself for ourself. My life, for one, would be less full. So yes, I love getting gifts for Christmas. And I love giving gifts for Christmas. And this Christmas was extra nice.

Here's what I got:

1) Clothes. I have an interesting relationship with clothes. Growing up, money was scarce, but I had to fit in with my peers, so I made deep sacrifices in quantity for quality. I would literally get by the year with two pair of pants, and rotate them each day, and my mom was forced to wash them every single day. And how did I get those pants? Well, my birthday is in August, just as the school year begins, and my Grandma would always give me a wad of cash as a gift. So, that money was used, every year (with some help with my parents) and clothes for the school year. And that kind of upbringing just sticks. I have a really hard time buying clothes for the year, so my wife supplements my wardrobe with Christmas presents. But she buys me clothes I would never pick out myself (for good or bad), but this year, I sincerely enjoy the clothes she bought for me. So, yes, my life is richer.

2) Scriptures, a scripture case large enough to carry more than just scriptures, and a journal. I really want to have a little personal time each and every day where I can study the scriptures. I really want to finish the Old Testament, the lone book of Scripture I have yet to read. And I want to write down notes in my journal. And I want all of this to be together in one place. I have started doing this, and I crave the experience. Its hard to do every day because there are so many ways I get diverted, but I feel that 2009 is the year to be doing this. So, I'm excited for this gift.

3) "The Audacity of Hope" by Barack Obama. I've started reading this book and it is really good. Reminds me of all the reasons I was blown over with excitement about Obama the president. He's started the book with the bitter partisanship of our politics, our obsession over wedge issues, and our failure to concede that the other side my have a point. He talks about how his mother was a early 1960's liberal, and how because of the way he was raised, he basically sidestepped all of the divisive Vietnam era toxins that have poisoned our politics ever since. Good to read a book written by our current president, good to have a president that writes.

4) A gift certificate to Barnes and Noble. I plan on buying this Algorithms computer science book, and I plan on beefing up my data structure and algorithm design skills in my spare time... I learned about trees, and lists, and hashes, and graphs, and other sorts of data structures, but I rarely use them at work, but when I interview, questions on these things get asked, so I want to find some proficiency. And if I'm proficient, I might find more uses for them in my every day work, and the code I write will be better.

Gifts that my wife got (that I enjoy):

1) The iPod touch. I have seriously enjoyed this gift more than she has, but it is so much better as an iPod than mine. Its interface is so much better, it has features mine doesn't. And we have been using it to track our daughter's diabetes. I hope my wife finds uses for it, but I'm really excited to have it in our lives.

2) Two ColdPlay albums. My wife really wanted a ColdPlay album, and she received two. I've listened to them as well, and I'm not a huge fan, but I am a fan. I love music, and I love new music.

The holiday season is even better because Christmas, my most favorite time of the year is followed closely with the beginning of the new year, a time to make goals, a time for hope for a better world. I have some great hopes for 2009.

This year I hope to:

1) Read scriptures/write in my journal most every day.

2) Pray for specific people in my life most every day.

3) Make specific home improvements, spend $6000 on those repairs, making my house at least $6000 better to live in.

4) Save additional dollars in my "I can take more risks in my career because I can live for a period of time without a job" fund. Yes, at some point it would be nice to take a risk and work for a startup, my own or another, but I need two things to happen. I need universal (or close to it) access to health care (come on Obama I'm counting on you), and I need more money in the bank.

5) Attend the temple once/month. Yes, we have a newborn, so yes this would count as at least doubling my temple attendance.

6) Have a significant something to contribute to next year's talent show. Not sure yet what that will be. I would like it to be something computer science related - a website? - a game? We'll see.

7) Gain some proficiency in Haskell (a functional computer language).

8) Make specific and more significant contributions to my wife's home schooling (not sure in what way yet).

Yes, I tend to get overly ambitious with my goals, but I feel these are achievable. The key is that I need to finish my complete abandonment of sports to free up time. And also place a bit more limits on my politicizing. We'll see.

But I do have a lot of excitement for the new year.

I hope your holidays were as good as mine.