Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

(un)Sexual Morality

The Wall Street Journal had a piece on the op-ed page recently that had an interesting hypothesis: people's notions of morality had become so focused on sexual issues (abortion, gay rights, gay marriage, premarital sex, etc.) that everyone had completely neglected basic honesty and integrity, which has left us with our recent flood of scandals: Enron, WorldCom, HealthSouth, Barry Bonds, Jack Abrimov, etc.

I think they're on to something here. There are certain values that the schools try to teach these days -- tolerance, diversity, environmentalism -- but they never get into the most basic notions of honesty. No wonder cheating is rampant in the schools these days.

The worst casualty in a world with less and less honesty is the basic glue of all society: trust. Trust is what allows all cooperation. Trust is the essence of all mutually beneficial relationships -- I keep my promises, and I trust you to keep yours. When trust is eroded, then all kinds of needless conflict arises. Divorce, lawsuits, audits, investigations . . . pretty soon we spend all our time watching our backs and no time getting anything done. It breeds a society of fear.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Whole Internet . . . or at least what your ISP likes

What if you discovered that BellSouth was blocking its customers from reaching the websites of its biggest competitor, Time Warner Cable? Or that Time Warner was selectively slowing or restricting access to particular blogs that were critical of its operations?

Well, it hasn't happened yet . . . but if it strikes you as blatently unfair and illegal, better pay attention.

I've recently been reading in the New Yorker and elsewhere about how Internet providers are trying to do away with "common carriage" regulations that require them to give everyone equivalent service. This would allow the phone and cable companies to charge for "tiered access" -- that is, someone who pays a premium could get faster performance for their website than others who don't pay premium. The providers argue that this will create a more competitive marketplace in which providers can charge what the market will bear for their services. Opponents see this as the beginning of monopolistic power of providers over Internet content, in which they get to choose which websites get seen and have complete power to snuff out whatever they see fit.

It's a tribute to how well the internet has been managed that almost everyone has a "common carriage" notion about how it should work . . . even those of us who never heard the term before and never gave it any thought. The mere idea that some cable ape or telephone bureacrat can decide what websites are available to you is so unthinkable . . . it ranks right up there with the notion of charging a tax on emails. A complete non-starter, politically. But only if people really are aware of what it means and what's at stake.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Do a little good

Augie came over tonight. It is always impossible to be with Aug without questioning your life's direction; as Mark Uland said, "He makes you feel like you should be staring harder at your cornflakes or something." So after he left, it was only natural that Janet would say, "Sometimes I wonder how much I'm really doing . . . I mean, I know the AP motto is 'Peaceful parenting for a peaceful world', but are we going to usher in world peace? C'mon."

And yet . . . I think about the Founding Fathers. There was once a relatively small, finite number of men who gave "lives, fortunes, and sacred honor" to this American experiment . . . and they gave rise to the most powerful, prosperous and peaceful society the world has ever known. Philosophies do change the world. American values -- a free society, a secular society, a capitalist free market -- have not rid the world of war or disease or poverty, that's true. But even our poor are better off than most of the rest of the world. We're a heck of a lot better off for the sake of those ideas.

So, whatever gospel we are bringing to our tiny corner of the world . . . keep bringing it.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What did you bring me?

So tonight I went through one of the proto-typical American male experiences: airport shopping. My five-year-old caught on, after one or two trips, that an overnight trip away from home was pretense enough for presents. This was not a precendent that I intended to set, and yet somehow it still happened.

Airports understand this little ritual -- that's why the terminals are looking more and more like shopping malls, with a few pricey botique stores but an equivalent number of kitschy newstands that all the sell the same two dozen souvenirs. Most of these stores do not put price tags on the merchandise, hoping that you will look at some keychain and assume it could be no more than three dollars, and only at the cash register find out that it's $6.50. Six bucks seems to be the magic price point on almost all the items in these stores -- just enough to feel like a gift, but no more.

I only wish more of the stores would realize they could get a premium for smaller gifts. I struggled to find the smallest thing I could that would still interest my kids. They already have enough toys, and I don't want to go filling up even more space with things they don't need. So, for God's sake, give me small gifts, even tiny gifts. Ideally it should fit in my pants pocket.

Fortunately I hit pay dirt, ten minutes before it was time to board. A small Beanie Baby gibbon for Aidan, and a moose finger puppet for Mal.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The RGI Crash

Back when I was working for RGI when it was just a little start-up, one of the salesmen coined the term "RGI crash." That meant that, at the end of the day when you came home, all you did was flop down on your bed and instantly fall asleep -- you didn't even eat or take your clothes off, you just passed out.

I just had an RGI crash.

After my first day on a consulting gig, when I had to get up at 3:30 pm to catch the flights, and still somehow only got to the customer site by 1 pm, and still somehow managed to cram in everything I needed to that day, I went back to the hotel and . . . crashed. I did manage to call home and hear about Aidan's swim lesson before losing consciousness . . . but only barely.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Thank you for not flying United

I've had a new project that's supposed to start fairly soon, in a city near Pittsburgh. We had a lot of last-minute contract negotiations that had dragged on for several days, so I've been trying to handle the travel plans without really knowing whether I would be going. Finally, I got the go-ahed from my boss, and I booked a flight to go up to Pittsburgh this evening via Washington-Dulles.

I had the flight booked at 5:45 pm.
I had the itinerary printed and in my hands at 6:00 pm.
I was standing in the terminal at 6:45 pm.
At 6:50 pm I was informed by people in line that the flight to Washington was delayed three hours and everybody was getting new connections booked.
So, my flight was already at least two hours late before I even bought the ticket.

Now, as a software consultant I am sympathetic to the challenges of complex systems, and I'm especially aware of the gargantuan complexity of airline bookings. But . . . how could they sell me a ticket for a flight that was already so late no one would probably want to fly on it?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Chronic Fatigue

Ok, so in the course of my flu I have been alternatively sympathetic to the dying, the perpetually sick, and the chronically pained. Now that I'm pulling out of it, my thoughts move to another class I never really gave much credit to, before: the chronically fatigued.

I never gave much thought to the whole chronic-fatigue thing, though I was mildly suspicious of it, like probably 90% of the American populace. "Shuuuure you're feeling tired all the time. Uh-huh. That must be terrible. Now why don't you get out of bed and get a job?" I felt reasonably safe in assuming it was a mental thing. But then a friend of mine, who was neither lazy nor stupid, came down with it, and I had to reevaluate. And recently I found my college roommate's wife is similarly afflicted.

Now my heart really goes out to them, because it's been three or four days since I've been hacking-coughing-sneezing sick, but I still feel as weak as a kitten. I managed to work on Thursday and Friday ok, but I could barely keep up with the kids in the back yard. I spent a couple hours with them today, and was so beat I had to sleep an hour and a half to recover. So I keep telling myself I'll get better . . . but days go by and I'm not better, and I'm starting to think, jeez, what if I never pull out of this. What if I stay tired forever?

Cherish your vitality while you've got it.