Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Religion - essential qualities

There are two essential ingredients that any religion must have for me to take it all seriously or to consider it a "true faith"

1) Must reject the concept of the Trinity

2) Can not consider the Church the source of Truth and/or Salvation - Truth must come from God directly, from some source other then man or his creations (the Church being such a man-made creation), and personal prayer and reflection.

A third nice to have - not too much reliance on ritual. Ritual is not the path to a relationship with God (Eternal Life). Or at least not the only only one, and certainly not for me. But I recognize that for some people, ritual is valuable. For instance, I do have an appreciation for the power of Communion. Even though I don't really agree with the doctrine, I do feel the connectedness with God that it provides.

One other thing that is seen in some Christian religions (Catholics and Lutherans for instance) that bothers me is the believe that you can not enter heaven unless you have been baptized. Which is why they practice infant baptism. That belief is ludicrous and undermines the power of baptism. Baptism is a declaration to the world - I have accepted God into my heart. It has to be based on an intentional choice. Certainly, a baby is incapable of making that choice. Frankly, I am skeptical of even teen baptisms - a teenager doesn't know themselves well enough to make a decision like that. I always just roll my eyes when someone says they were saved at the age of six or something ridiculous like that. To me, that clearly indicates that they became a member of that religion because of social expectations, not a personal revelation.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Health Care

I like this article. Yet another reason to move to Canada - their health system actually makes sense.

Debunking Canadian health care myths

I'm lucky, I actually have good health care. Our doctor has never had to adjust what she wanted to do because insurance wouldn't cover it. Not true for many people. And that's not right. I do have issues with my son's need for mental health - insurance companies are more reluctant to pay for that. And the doctor is so conditioned by insurance and it's limitations that even though we are willing to pay for it out of pocket if it will help our son be happy, healthy and safe, the doctor didn't send us to do the testing.

It has always struck me as fundamentally wrong that money gets brought up AT ALL when you are trying to deal with health issues. As if the health issues weren't bad enough. It's just not right. One of the things that struck me was a clip of Nixon talking to an aide about HMO's (saw it in the movie Sicko). He liked the idea that people could make money off of healthcare and that is why he supported it. Now we are stuck with it - a system driven by money and profit instead of taking care of people.

Another statement that always struck me is a something Dick Devos said during his run for governor. He said it is the responsibility of employers to provide health insurance. That is not right. It is true with the current system, but it's an indication of how the system is flawed. Employers should not be in the business of providing healthcare. It becomes a cost to them. And what do responsible, effective companies do? Try to minimize cost. By making healthcare the responsibility of employers, you are building a system that encourages minimum and poor healthcare. In addition, it directly drives up the cost of goods, which will lead to higher prices, lower profits, or both. Which leads to cutting costs in other areas, which leads to lower quality and less innovation. Which leads to bankruptcies and layoffs and going out of business. Automotive industry is the glaring example. Of course, not all of any company's woes can be blamed on healthcare, but it certainly doesn't help and can play a significant role.

The current system favors profit over health every step of the way. You go to a medical center, which is most likely run by a corporation that is trying to make a profit. The care will be paid for by a health insurance company (assuming you have insurance), which will try to control costs by paying as little as possible. The medical facility gets paid for services rendered, not the outcome, so they end up focusing on what services they can get the insurance company to pay for instead of taking care of the patient. The insurance company was picked by the employer, who will pick the most cost effective option, not necessarily the best option for the patient. Prescription drug companies are inserting themselves into the process as well, trying to sell their products.

Canada and Europe have systems that work. We have a system that even the clueless conservative will admit does not work. Ultimately, the fix will have to involve taking money out of the equation and provide incentives that are based on quality of care and positive outcomes instead of profits. In the meantime, we have to take whatever steps we can to get healthcare out of the control of insurance companies and other profit driven industries and in to the hands of Doctors and patients.

Future installment: Why I think all advertising for prescription drugs should be banned.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

online presence

Listened to a story on NPR this morning about the modern job search. They said using LinkedIn and having an online presence is essential. They also said it can be difficult to take seriously anyone who sends in a paper resume. My wife uses Facebook all the time, I'll have to get her to use LinkedIn as well, apparently. She's looking for a job as a teacher. Of course, I doubt school administrators are LinkedIn. After all, they still think the same way they did in the 1950's. More on that later, complaining about the miserable state of the education system is one of my favorite soap boxes.

I recently was involved in a hiring process. It was for an intern and it was part of an organized program, so I'm not sure how similar that is to a normal full time hire. But it consisted of picking from a list of candidates on an internal SharePoint site, reviewing the electronic resumes that had been attached, and arranging interviews. The resumes were traditional resumes, just in electronic form.

One of the things that bothered me a little bit about that process was there was a minimum GPA requirement for the program. That doesn't seem right. Personally, I would rather not even know a candidates GPA. Because it's a basically meaningless number. So you can jump through the hoops and fit the higher educational mold of testing. So what? What does that have to do with skills you need in the real world? Nothing. I was talking to a relative who is a manager at another company and he said he never even considers anyone with below a certain Grade point average. That's just stupid, I see no reason why that would benefit either the employer or the candidates. It's just a lazy way to narrow down the list of potential candidates. Especially considering college is just a money making scheme that does very little to prepare you for your actual career.

Just so you know: I was one of those people who considered a C a failing grade and rarely saw a B. My grade point was 3.7 something. I fit the educational mold of testing. My experience was that as long as you showed up to class, payed attention, and made sure you completed the graded assignments, you would get at least a C and in most cases an A or B. But some people don't test well or aren't willing/able to pay attention and get work done. Or perhaps have some sort of learning disorder. Should those people be punished by being excluded from job market?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Social rules

I hate many social "rules". They are silly and pointless. Like if I don't say hi to someone I pass in the hall, I'm considered rude or antisocial. Maybe I am thinking about something or distracted, but most likely I just figure you have better things to do then talk to everyone you meet. I've always said the Golden Rule is BS. Whenever I follow it, I get in trouble. I don't chat with people in the lunchroom because I wouldn't want them to chat with me. But my manager says I come off wrong, so now I chat. Especially with certain people that I know are sensitive about that.

But the one that has always bugged me is the polite/courtesy dance where nobody really does what they want because they are worried about "offending" someone. The classic example is giving money for a neighborly deed like watching a kid for a few hours or doing some yard chore. The person doing the nice thing is offered money, refuses it, the person insists, it just becomes a ridiculous spectacle. My rule is: if you offer me money, I'm going to take it because you would be offended or feel embarrassed if I did something for free. If you don't really want me to take the money, then don't offer it. Another similar example is sending someone a check that you know they will most likely not cash. Again, I'll cash it because I don't want to screw up their checking account, in addition to the reasons stated above. I'll admit to being on the sending end of that one - the dance is a bit more bearable via mail. The flip side is the person who does something that they should do as a good neighbor and don't want to get paid, so would refuse if you offered. But they get offended if you don't. HUH? WTF? These people are stupid. It's all part of the silly social dance us humans sometimes fall prey to.

Another one that really goes beyond annoying and into hurtful. When someone doesn't say what they are thinking or what they want because they "don't want to hurt any one's feelings". HUH? You think I would prefer that you lie to me? Omissions are just as dishonest as outright lies. Lying to me is less hurtful then being honest? 2 reasons why this is stupid: 1) you could be wrong, it might not hurt their feelings, if you just tell them with a little tact 2) if they find out anyway, their feelings will be MORE hurt then if you had just had the courage to be honest to begin with. And don't pull this you were supposed to get the hint crap either. If you want me to do something, not do something, or say something - tell me! Don't assume that I'll figure it out. 1) I probably won't 2) even if I do, I will be uncertain if I am "taking the hint" correctly (could be misinterpreting or "taking a hint" that was not intended) 3) It's all a silly waste of time, effort and aggravation that could have been avoided if you had just told me what you want/felt to begin with. I've always been a firm believer in stab me in the front, not in the back. That and never make assumptions. Occasionally, you might be right to hesitate and you do end up hurting their feelings. But it is far better to know you can trust a person to tell you how it is then to never really trust any feedback they give you because they might be "trying not to hurt your feelings".

Don't be afraid to give honest feedback. If you have something to say that you are pretty sure your audience won't like, take 2 steps. 1) Is this really that important to you, to risk the possible harm to your relationship? Will it bother you if nothing is said and nothing changes? If not, then remind yourself that you decided you could live with it and don't let it become a point of resentment. 2)If it is important to you, then you need to find a way to tactfully say it. If tact is not your thing or you just can't find the tactful way to say it, you just have to say it anyway. Don't be afraid of the confrontation. Remember, you never know what the other person feels about it - they might be ready and willing to adapt their position to be consistent with your desires and feelings or maybe didn't even feel that strongly about their position anyway and easily change. Perhaps the immediate reaction will be intense and negative, but most likely they will eventually figure out a way to accept your position. Certainly, they can only do so if they are aware of it. Ultimately, confrontation is much preferred to simmering resentment or constant frustration.

One final thing that is not really a social rule, but a related major relationship thorn: be aware of the difference between advice and judgement. Some people have a very hard time accepting the fact that just because someone makes a choice different then that which they would have made, it does not mean it is wrong. Or even if it is - everyone has to make their own choices and their own mistakes, deciding for themselves if it was wrong. Usually, many of the "mistakes" that they continue to bring up were not really mistakes at all, but just different choices. You could point to several mistakes they have made, some of which they would acknowledge, but many of which they are completely oblivious. I don't point these out though, because not only would it be be pointless, but I try very hard to remember that any conclusion could be incorrect. In contrast, they think their opinions and perspectives are facts and that anyone who does things differently is being foolish. They can't help it, they think that their way is the only way. Not in their head perhaps (I hope!), but in their hearts. It ranges from the big things in life like what religion to follow to the little things like which bait to use when fishing. A good rule of thumb for this: say it once, if they heed the "advice" then that's fine and dandy, if not - then let it go and move on.

random thoughts on Jesus

The heart of Jesus' message: It is not the letter of the law that matters, but the intent. He reminded people that what matters is what in your heart, that you have to form a relationship with God through prayer and study. He spent a lot of time fighting against the established religion. Any religion that lasts more then a few generations becomes about the Church and its leaders. God and the true message gets lost. That is why the Jewish leaders wanted him dead - he threatened their power by reminding the people that it is God that matters, not them. Unfortunately, Jesus did not take enough steps to avoid the same fate for future generations of those who followed his message. If he spent any effort denying that he himself is not God, that effort has been lost. It's been edited out. For some reason, the religious feel the need to make their most important leaders into gods. So 300 years later, the Church created the concept of the Trinity so that they could make their irrational belief kinda sorta fit within the only one God as taught in their holy book. This was the beginning of Church over God and the loss of Jesus' message. The first Council of Nicea was the turning point at which the Christian Church began to lose it's connection to God and His message.

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Communication Methods

After a struggle communicating with my taciturn father-in-law, I've made some observations about forms of communication. In my professional and personal experience, some forms of communication are more effective then others.

1) Document sharing/ emails. In many cases, this is the only effective means of communication. It is certainly the most flexible and is almost always available as an option. It gives you time to compose your thoughts and make sure everything is covered. In addition, you can read and respond at a time when you have the time to do so in the right frame of mind. It also allows for the opportunity to reduce emotion. I'm not talking about quick notes - I'm talking about documents that you have taken time to write and proof read at least once. Although it does occasionally need to be followed up with face to face or phone call, just to confirm understanding. Also, if it gets beyond 3 or 4 replies, then something is not working correctly. Usually it's because someone isn't taking the time to think about what they say rather then a problem with the method of communication. Anyone who thinks that E-mails are never the best way to address an issue have clearly not learned how to use the medium correctly. They just haven't figured it out yet. Or are just plain poor communicators, no matter the medium. Or possibly have some sort of technical hangup or legitimate reading disorder, in which case I'm sorry and I hope you find some way of surviving the digital age. Emails are almost always a safe and effective option. Sometimes less proficient users let a thread go on too long, can't express themselves clearly, or clutter up inbox with unneccesary information. However, in the hands of an experienced, concientious user, emailing is by far the best way to address any issue more complicated then what to eat for dinner tonight. It is difficult to imagine anyone being successful in business or in life without learning effective email techniques.

In my experience as a business professional, emails and document sharing are the backbone of all communication. Any other form of communication is supplemental and secondary to email/document sharing.

2) face to face, preferably with Whiteboard and/or computer available. This is usually the most effective, unless you are talking about something complicated and/or involving multiple steps with each step requiring research and thought. In that case, face to face will not work very well unless it has been preceded and followed up by document sharing/emails. In some cases, with certain individuals, emails work better because they can't think on their feet and/or emotional distance is required. The only reason face to face is superior to email is because it allows you to see body language, gestures and experience the "vibe" of the conversation, as well as allow a back and forth to help make sure the message is understood. Even that advantage can be cancelled out if someone is difficult to read or if the issue requires careful thought.

3) instant messaging - very effective for informal communication. It has the back and forth of a conversation, while allowing time for composing thoughts and/or breaks for when you are otherwise occupied. It's flaws include a lack of nuances like sarcasm and a tendency to type lazily or poorly.

4) video conference - marginal improvement on a phone call, but usually plagued by technical problems and usually the first 5-10 minutes of video conference is spent trying to get everything to work. Assuming it's even available as an option.

5) phone calls - only to be used for quick questions or when nothing else is available. If it can't be covered in less then 5 minutes and with less then 3 or 4 inquiries, then it shouldn't be a phone call. It does work well as follow up to email or face to face, but is pretty much worthless as primary means of communication. It does not allow you time to compose your thoughts, does not capture nuances very well, does not allow the use of visual aids, and can be difficult to even carry on a basic conversation due to technical difficulties and/or distractions in the environment. Not to mention if either party has some sort of accent or speech pattern that makes it difficult to understand. Basically, only to be used when communicating with someone that is still stuck in the 1980's or earlier. Be prepared to deal with multiple failed attempts before understanding is achieved (if it ever is). If you're stuck using the phone to communicate, your primary goal should be to either conclude quickly and/or setup some other means of communicating. Unless of course, you're not actually trying to get anything accomplished and just desire to talk for no particular reason.

6) facebook/twitter/online forums/blogs. Obviously not intended to be a serious form of communication and cluttered with tons of garbage. But occasionally can be effective, if you manage to find the right posting.

The incident with my father-in-law is the perfect example of how emails are extremely effective and phones are completely worthless. We are trying to plan a fishing trip. After a couple of phone calls where nothing was accomplished and nothing was resolved, I took the time to compose an email sharing all my concerns and ideas. It took me a couple of hours to compose it and I managed to cover everything. He responded with a simple - I'm not big on emails, call me. THAT made me furious! I was fuming about that for the entire day (still am, I supposse). So we had a few phone conversations, had the wives deal with it instead of us, and still couldn't get it resolved. So he finally read my email that I wrote and took the time to compose a response. We still don't have everything resolved, because that man has issues with planning in addition to communicating, but I finally know where he's coming from and what he is thinking (somewhat). I feel sorry for anyone he contacts in his professional capacity. But maybe it's just me he can't communicate with.

I admit - personal preference does play a role. I am in love with the written word. It is how I best process information. I struggle with verbal communication, both giving and receiving. It's just so difficult to figure out what is really being said and there is so much noise and irrelevancy that has to be filtered out on the fly. And I am completely uncomfortable with using the phone. I almost always screw up a phone conversation and will put it off as long as possible because I dread that stupid contraption. I would rather go to a store and find it closed then call ahead. I have been known to make phone calls at a time when I expect to get voicemail so that I can control my message without getting confused. That gives us both time to think and compose a response. I will do everything I can to avoid a phone call. For instance, just the other day, I was ordering something online and had a question that wasn't clear on the website. I called the order by phone number, asked my question, and then hung up and continued my order online. I have been called by my congressman several times to participate in a phone based town hall. I would love to participate in a Town hall, but no way would I do it over the phone. (Besides, he is a clueless conservative Republican, I could talk to an alien from Mars and have a better chance of being listened to and understood). Basically, the phone is one of those inventions that I wish had never been invented or that I wish would stop working now that superior methods of long distance communication have been invented.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Meaning of Christmas

I've been thinking - Christmas is not a Christian holiday. Never hasbeen and certainly is not now. First of all, it is not the date ofJesus' birth. Also, it certainly is not a holiday mentioned or recommended in the Bible. It was created by the Catholic church hundreds of years later as part of anti-pagan propaganda. It is is not a religious holiday at all. And should not be considered one.

I think the best way to think of Christmas is similar to George Washington's Birthday. It's a day set aside to remember the example set by an excellent role model and founder of our way of life. In the case of Jesus, the man is one designed by God at the beginning of time to be the perfect servant - to show us all how he wants us to serve him.

That's why I think it's more appropriate to say "Happy Holidays" then"Merry Christmas". Because it's not really about one day. It's about a time of year, a time of renewal. A time when the days reach their shortest and turn to become longer. A time when the calendar rolls over to a new year. A time when one thinks about the future. A time when everyone should think about others more then themselves.

Christmas is also a time to spend with family and friends. It's a time to think about our relationships with family, friends, and God. It's a time to think about our life and whether we are the person we should be. A time to think about whether there is something more that we can do to improve the world and our place in it.

Presents are also important. They remind you of what you have. It allows you to be grateful and not take things for granted. It's the only time of year where it's appropriate to celebrate material things. To get things you wouldn't normally get - that you might not actually need - just because it's fun. A reminder that it is OK to be happy here on Earth because God wants us to be happy. It's important to remember that there are others that don't have as much. It's the time of year when you feel obligated to do something to help others that aren't as blessed as you.

So I thank God for giving me wisdom and understanding. I am grateful that I can have a relationship with Him. I have been blessed with a stronger relationship with God then that which pretty much everyone I know has (or at least it seems that way to me). I thank him for that. As always, I pray that Christians will someday learn to abandon the violation of the first commandment that is the Trinity and form a true relationship with God. Thank you for listening and may God be with you.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Al Queda

Michael Hirsh wrote an excellent article for Newsweek. It explains how al Queda before 9/11 was a group of thugs that got lucky. The administration which allowed them an unexpected success then proceeded to change al Queda from a loosely organized group of extremists into a power created by US policy.

Hirsh's summary paragraph pretty much sums up the so called "war on terror":
The ultimate tragedy of the Iraq war was not only that it diverted the U.S. from
the knockout blow against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan—the deaths of bin
Laden and Zawahiri would likely have persuaded most jihadis it was wiser to
focus on the near enemy—but that Iraq also altered the outcome of Al Qaeda's
internal debate, tipping it in bin Laden's favor. "Iraq ended that debate
because it fused the near and the far enemy," as Arquilla puts it succinctly.
America ventured into the lands of jihad and willingly offered itself as a
target in place of the local regimes. And as a new cause that revived the
flagging Al Qaeda movement. It is, no doubt, bin Laden's greatest victory.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Americans don't have a problem with immigrants being here. We are not afraid of them taking our jobs or anything like that. We have a problem with them not accepting our culture, not learning our language. Even in my small community way up here in Michigan, I routinely encounter spanish speakers and their is a spanish speaking grocery store. This is a country known to be the great melting pot. The current generation of spanish speaking immigrants often refuse to melt into the pot. They keep their own culture, their own language, and their own social group. When they protest, they wave the flag of their former country. They want to be here to take advantage of opportunities here but refuse to integrate into society. That is unacceptable by any American standard. If your here, you speak English and do everything you can to be American. Oh, and we'd prefer if you follow the rules when getting here.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Capital Punishment

I don't have any moral objections to capital punishment. I just think it's ineffective and silly. Someone who is contemplating murder isn't going to stop and reconsider because they are afraid of being executed. Prison is much scarier then death. Life in Prison without any possibility of getting out is the Ultimate Punishment, not Death. Capital Punishment is a couple of decades of death row as lawyers clog up the legal system followed by the relief of death. Unless the lawyers find a technicality, in which case it becomes life in prison anyway. Capital Punishment is not a deterrent or the ultimate punishment. It is a cost savings measure. It's cheaper to execute a person after 10-20 years of appeals then it is to keep them in prison for 30 or more years. And if the lawyers were kept in line, it would save even more money - less time waiting for death. It's also mostly revenge, which is healthy for nobody.

The Moussaoui case is a good example. He got the ultimate punishment. He's going to spend the rest of his life in a cell. For 23 hours a day, he'll be completely by himself. Even for the one hour of "recreation" time, he'll be alone. That's a hell of a lot worse then execution and going wherever it is we go after death. Especially when the person wants death, when the person believes it would make them a martyr and help their cause. Yes, there is no doubt in my mind that he got the worst possible punishment. Since he was really just a wannabe and not an actual terrorist, it may be a bit harsh. He gets to be the scapegoat. But the punishment is still appropriate.

Capital Punishment is a pointless practice. It serves no purpose and accomplishes nothing positive. It should be discontinued, not because it's immoral or wrong, but because the way it is carried out in this country is stupid and pointless. Caters to the need for revenge and saves a little money, that's the only benefit.