03052013 Existential Words to Ponder (“The Departed” and “No Country For Old Men)

Sometimes, a great quote can set my brain on fire with truth and simplicity. I think this is very common for most people. The problem is that we too often have weak memories or don’t understand that a great quote has just expressed a sublime truth to us.

Frank Costello: [laughs] … How’s your mother?
Man in Costello’s Bar: Oh… I’m afraid she’s on her way out.
Frank Costello: [walks away] We all are. Act accordingly.
[smiles and his straightens tie]
            From “The Departed”

Sergeant Dignam: I’m the guy who does his job. You must be the other guy.
            From “The Departed”

“All the time you spend tryin to get back what’s been took from you there’s more goin out the door. After a while you just try and get a tourniquet on it.”
― Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men 

 “I think sometimes people would rather have a bad answer about things than no answer at all.”
― Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

“Ever step you take is forever. You cant make it go away. None of it. You understand what I’m sayin?”
― Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

“If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?”
― Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

How Good Does a Broom Need to Be?

How good does a broom need to be?
I saw this phrase somewhere recently. It resonated with me. Does your broom easily get at dirt? Is the handle long enough?

We spend a LOT of time, energy and money needlessly. If you need a computer to surf the internet, why does it need a dvd burner and 8 gigs of RAM? Shouldn’t you focus on whether you need a larger monitor to see better or built-in wi-fi to lessen the cable clutter in your house?

If you honestly feel like you need another 1000 square feet for your house, then go ahead and try to have it. But don’t pay for all that space (and heat/cool it) if you don’t want it, much less need it.

Years ago, in another life, when I was teaching a “Quality” course, part of my job was to beat into people’s heads that quality = conformance to requirements. Nothing more. Using that formula, the USER or consumer determines whether a device is “higher quality” or not – not the manufacturer, salespeople or advertiser
Yet, look at many of our interactions with our choices and you will certainly see “feature creep” or “quality blindness.” Just because BMW bills itself as unbeatable quality doesn’t make it true, even if we do pay an extra $30,000 for the logo. Is it great? Sure it is, but not when I can buy 3 reliable cars with all my desired features for the same price.

If appearance is a critical factor in your decision to buy one piece of furniture over another, by all means, lean toward the purchase of the prettier furniture – but only if appearance outweighs cost, sturdiness, size, etc. Is it really a quality choice if it doesn’t fit well into your room or if it breaks under normal usage? And buying a chair or recliner because it’s a known brand or made of genuine Gazelle leather is a terrible buying decision.

If you’ve got plenty of money, focus on what you want. If you have less money, focus on the best balance of usability versus cost. If you are broke, buy plastic chairs from Dollar General and go on with your life.

Besides, you can always deliberately pick the ugliest item and then hang really weird art in your house. You’ll be okay and considered to be ‘artistic.’

A Guaranteed Basic Income?

Guaranteeing A Basic Income

Hmmm… I know that there are many, many problems with this ‘crazy’ idea. But I like it. I like the sheer audacity of this kind of idea. Obviously, it would cause many conservatives to implode but if you read the entire short article, it might give them pause, too.

As I’ve previously mentioned, it horrifies me that we don’t have a guaranteed social safety net in place for everyone. Or health care for everyone. Oh, and don’t forget education.

“If investments in the banks fail, ‘Oh, it’s a tragedy,’ but if people die of hunger or don’t have food or health, nothing happens. This is our crisis today.” – that crazy Pope Francis telling it like it is.

The Chronicles of Narnia – One Powerful Memory

The Chronicles of Narnia are, of course, a christian story. The spectacular thing about this is that many religious people seem don’t know this. Even though it sounds critical of me to say so, I think that anyone aspiring to be christian should read these books. C.S. Lewis had a huge impact on modern christianity, for good or for bad. His Chronicles of Narnia are easily the most easy-to-understand allegory for the bible and Jesus.

I probably read the entire 7-book series a dozen times when I was younger. The stories of Aslan and other-world wardrobes was a true fascination to me. I’ve given a dozen sets of the books to several people who I thought would love them as I did.

I’ve read the books 3 or 4 times as an adult. Even now, knowing that books serve as a story version of the bible’s main themes, I still love the books. I’m sure that much of my love for the series rests on my memories of reading as a kid, letting the books take me away from the horridness of my childhood.

These books are one of the few hallmark memories of my childhood. I don’t have many things that can evoke a remembrance of happy things. If I go to a bookstore and see them, I have an instantaneous reaction to grab one and either read it standing there or to buy it and take it home to read, a cup of coffee in my hand. 

06072013 Euthanasia, Right to Die (From 2013)

Before reading, you should read the basics on euthanasia, doctor-assisted suicide, etc. It is easy to assume an understanding of what is being discussed.A recent case in Indiana involving a hunter who fell from a tree and was revived from sedation to make a decision about ending his own life brought this to me again. (He chose to die despite just having become a father.)

Striving for clarity and conciseness, I see no problem overall with euthanasia. Anyone who is aware of himself and choosing (or having chosen) to end his own life should be able to do so, independent of society’s ability to deny him the ability. I certainly don’t agree with any religious arguments which attempt to deny a person the ability to end his or her own life. Each person and family has the right toward self-determination. Having said that, my right trumps my family if a disagreement ensues.

After years of thought, I still have no moral argument that would persuade me that society is harmed by an individual choosing to end his own life in certain circumstances. We tend to offer more compassion toward our animals and pets than we do our fellow human beings. Unlike most people, I’m not limited to believing that only medical issues are grounds for choosing one’s own death, either. As with all defensible arguments, my beliefs are based on anyone choosing her or own death must be mentally capable of making such a decision or of making one in advance of circumstances arising, much like a living will.

(I’m always confused by the death penalty advocates who scream and wail about the necessity of killing criminals who balk at the suggestion that euthanasia is sometimes a worthwhile policy to support. They tend to stretch and exaggerate to include forced euthanasia as an objection. A reasonable middle ground is usually difficult for them to grasp.)

How Doctors Choose To Die

I’m specifically not speaking from my personal work history but rather generalizing from what I’ve seen in life. With my family and friends who have passed, the doctors who earn my greatest respect are the ones who will speak plainly and honestly about a person’s expectations and longevity. Almost without exception, these doctors have told me that they would not choose further treatment or excessive efforts for themselves or for their loved ones. Recognizing this and acting on it is not to be taken as a lack of respect or love for your loved ones; rather being able to make hard choices is the utmost in admiration in my opinion. It is possible to be both supportive and uplifting without being unrealistic. I see no reason that I can’t take it one step further and have someone end my life peacefully if I have made that choice clear. The last few weeks of many of the deaths I have witnessed have been anything but tranquil. We must live our lives prepared to pass out of existence, whether we enjoy the idea or fight it tooth and nail.

Passive euthanasia evidently is very common. In these cases, treatment is withheld. No direct action is taken to end someone’s life. I know that people can’t agree on the differences between passive and active euthanasia and voluntary/involuntary euthanasia. Without getting caught in the sinkhole of wordplay, I’m referring to someone’s right to end his or her own life, regardless of the semantics people enjoy using to complicate the issue. Should we do everything possible to extend someone’s life? How much is too much? Should cost ever be a factor? If not, who pays?

As for the entire “unfinished business” argument that many people try to use to dissuade people from being able to end their own lives, I think it is utterly without merit. Each of us has the right to chart our own course without concern for the interference of other people’s viewpoints. Each of us lives our lives from our own mental window. Thus, only you or I should be determining whether we feel our life is ending at the appropriate time.

If I have made arrangements to be allowed to die in certain circumstances, I would like to be able to make that decision. If my loved ones have made a similar decision, it should not be a public spectacle that occurs when I can do as they ask no matter how difficult it is for me. Our ability to leave when we wish to is one of the fundamental choices we have in life.

You can be certain that my general sense for me personally is that I would choose to die rather than degenerate slowly and inexorably, becoming a costly and prolonged coda to my own life.

Scott Adams Dilbert Blog Post

A Wish for the “Hoarders” Show

(A post from 2012)

Since hoarding is so closely intertwined with addictive behaviors, I wish that Hoarders would try to use the 1st step in Addiction Treatment for a season, instead of TV-friendly drama.

That step would be removal of the addiction immediately and cold turkey. Instead of a drug, the addiction in a Hoarder’s case is stuff.

A meth addict doesn’t get to go to rehab with his stash of meth. It’s taken from him and he is basically locked away for forced withdrawal.

It is disingenuous and illogical of the Hoarders shows to claim that even though Hoarders suffer from a psychological addiction, they should not be treated in the same way as chemical addicts are.

I want  to see a season of Hoarders wherein they use the XMove system. Instead of worrying about condemning the houses, removing the occupants, taking away the children and all the extraneous stuff, they should remove the Hoarder from the house. From there, the teams of helpers go in. If it is contaminated, throw it away, even if it is sentimental in nature. Otherwise, the team should preserve valuables that can be cleaned and made safe, photos and clothing. Everything else goes. Everything, no matter what it is. Family members and friends will be there to moderate the process. One person will be appointed to make all final decisions. All food will leave the house. Items that can be sold will be sold and the proceeds used toward cleanup and repair of the property.

The XMove system will shorten the cleanup by several multiples of time, be more safe, and allow the Hoarder to immediately begin treatment for his disorder, instead of allowing the drama of his or her behavior in denial being the focus. We will still have an interesting TV show – but not one that distorts the Hoarder’s dramatic denial and efforts to avoid change.

Removing the Hoarder from the house will make code inspections easier as well as allow family and friends to discuss how to move forward once the Hoarder returns from addiction therapy.

If a network wants to produce a show based on Hoarding psychology, it should pay for off-site residential therapy for the Hoarder. They can film and air footage of the Hoarder at rehab, talking to family, planning for the future, etc.

If the house is livable after cleanup, it should be made livable for when the Hoarder exits rehab. If it needs electricity, the production company should have to provide that if the family and friends won’t. If the residence isn’t livable, they need to have a place to live after rehab.

We want the Hoarder to be treated like our own family. If they need treatment, provide it. If we are going to be voyeurs into their lives, we must help them, not just make them a spectacle to be viewed and forgotten.
We want to see them a year after the treatment to see how effective it was and how the family is responding.

Impasse For Minimalists

“…Less stuff = less stress. The fewer possessions you have, the less you need to worry about maintaining, repairing, insuring, protecting, and paying for them…”

I understand that minimalism isn’t just about getting rid of stuff just to be getting rid of it. That’s just reduction.

Minimalism is the focus on removing unwanted or dumb distractions from our lives and constantly considering whether stuff is adding or detracting from our lives. Stuff is not harmless, as most people lull themselves into believing.

If you watch Hoarders, you know that almost all sufferers of hoarding believe that their stuff somehow insulates them from the world and captures the essence of their lives and/or the people who’ve been in it, and that this essence will survive forever. As we all intellectually know, this is just plain crazy talk. Even if our piles of stuff live with us 56 years, it will immediately lose relevance once we are gone. Most of it will go to the trash.

Or fire, floor and disaster will remove it and us from the face of the earth.

The tough part of the journey is when you have reduced across all levels of your life – and still need to go further. Much of the resistance is inside us, while some of it resides with our family sharing our lives.

The Roebke Rule (Real-Time Accountability)

Over the years, I’ve been adamant about requiring accountability as soon as expedient. Don’t try to discipline me for something that happened a month ago – or last week. If it bothers you as a friend, co-worker or family member, bring it up. Most organizations have systems to address wrong-doing; people are paid to enforce standards of performance and behavior. Failure to promptly address wrongs only serve to endorse the behavior. (Justice delayed isn’t justice.)

Just as you don’t hit your dog with a newspaper for peeing on the carpet last week, I can’t stand it when someone is being held accountable for things that should have been addressed in the past. One’s memory of details fades quickly, especially in regards to trivial matters. If an issue isn’t addresses as important, it gets filed under “trivial” without consideration. Historically, societies have reached a general consensus as to what time frames are acceptable for coming forward. People’s memories are untrustworthy under ideal circumstances; memories tainted by personal dislike, individual agendas and simple time lapses can cause avoidable harm to everyone involved. We must also come to terms with the fact that many people lie frequently, for a multitude of reasons.

The “Roebke Rule” is the official name I added to this sentiment. While I’ve quoted this rule for years, I first put it in a blog in 2011.

You must bring up the alleged deviation, crime or injustice as soon as convenient. If it is important, you will use the myriad methods of discussion at your disposal to bring it up. You cannot wait until you are on the hot seat to shift the blame to someone else. If you didn’t bring it up at the time it happened, it’s problematic at best to dredge it out later.

I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve wanted to shake someone’s eyeballs out of their head for violating the Roebke Rule. When someone gets called on the carpet to be held accountable, one of the tried-and-true responses is to point the finger at someone else as a distraction.

It is such a pleasure to repeat this frequently and then observe the next person on the hot seat as he/she realizes that he/she can’t get by with trying to dredge up the past.

Further, when an alleged miscreant claims that he can’t trust those to whom he might have reported another person’s misdeeds to, I always invoke a list of alternate people with which they could have spoken. If they insist that no one was trustworthy, I point out that perhaps either they have an unhealthy cynicism toward their superiors OR they might not be in the right place. If someone has mistreated you, find a means to hit the aggressor in the face. We can’t sustain a society in which no one can be trusted with reports of misbehavior. It’s an unsustainable complaint when taken to its logical conclusion.

The Roebke Rule name originates from a supervisor I knew. As you can guess, his downfall was due to total disregard for the rule named on his behalf. He was held accountable for things that should have been addressed before, by people who already knew it was going on. A witch hunt ensued after-the-fact. People who demonstrated no interest in the subject came out of the woodwork once it seemed as if the powers-that-be had a scapegoat to pin much of their issues on. Those who should have taken their duty to protect everyone seriously failed to do their jobs. Please note that I’m not even addressing whether all the allegations were true or not – just that people knew at the time of the transgressions and fell silent, even those who would not have suffered any ill effects for speaking up, talking or taking action. This is doubly true for the supervisor’s superiors, people with the power to address issues without fear or reprisal.

Sidenote: This is another reason why anonymous surveys or critiques can be such a huge waste and cause harm to people and organizations. We must provide outlets for commentary without reprisal. Serious allegations, however, need a different method for resolution. Each of us must find a way to come forward when we witness or experience undesirable behavior. We also need to support people’s ability to do so.


P.S. Please note that issues such as sexual harassment can be much more complex than meets the eye. As with all generalizations, please avoid stretching this rule to encompass all possible scenarios. We must create a better system to address wrong-doing in our society. I know that there is an cyclical emphasis on these issues, however. I’m not unilaterally judging people who are mistreated by those with power. Those are shoes I can’t fairly wear. Each person and situation is unique. I cringe when I hear of people who knew of a sociopath or predator 5, 10 or 20 years before the perpetrator is exposed.



*Originally posted Feb, 2011…

If You Die Today, Imagine For A Moment Where Every Single Thing Must Go

This idea makes minimalism all the more attractive, doesn’t it?

It’s one thing to imagine leaving your stuff to a specific friend or loved one, knowing in general where it might land once you’re gone.

It’s another to think so long about this and to conclude that almost all of it is going in the trash. Not donated, not relegated to someone who can make use of it – but in the landfill.

Granted, much of your stuff won’t immediately go to the trash because people feel mostly guilty about doing that. It will go in boxes or in a pile in someone’s garage, attic, or storage. After a respectable time being piled up, it will be noticeably in the way and discarded.

It’s useful to note that much of it won’t be used because it duplicates what your friends and loved ones already have. Everything else, though, most of what you think is important, is simply toast waiting to be burned.

06052012 Better Way to Give Gift Cards

Gift cards can be great presents for friends or family. They can be bought specifically to cater to the tastes of the recipient.

One aspect that everybody overlooks is how simple they are to wrap. Most people do the most boring option possible: they use the included little envelope or put the gift card in another simple envelope.

How about a more interesting and creative option?

One of my favorite ways to wrap a gift card involves pictures. Whether I use colored paper or black and white photos, I print off anywhere from 10 to 50 pictures, ranging in size from very small all the way through 5X7 and 8X10. Printing on colored paper but yet using black and white images is the easiest method. I place the gift card flat and create “layers” by wrapping the card with one of the smaller images. I carefully tape the first picture around the card and then flip it. I then put the second picture over the card. To add stability, sometimes I use increasingly larger envelopes. It makes unwrapping the gift card even more interesting. I continue to layer pictures one at a time, flipping the card/envelope stack as I go.

There have been times when I have layered 50+ images to the gift card! I’ve never had someone getting a gift wrapped like this not be totally excited by the process. Yes, they will often joke and laugh, but as each picture comes off the stack, they will look at the picture and talk about the memory of the image on it. Many times, my “ordinary” gift card becomes the one gift people will remember years later, even if they don’t remember any of the other gifts given, or the amount of the gift card.

Warning: this method I’m describing is VERY time consuming. But if it true that it’s the thought that counts, it shouldn’t be too difficult for you to spend some time wrapping a card like this, as it shows a commitment to the surprise. (Either that, or that you are crazy for spending so much time wrapping something.)

Above is an example of the resulting mess, about 10 minutes and 50 pictures later, she finally got to the center of the gift. 🙂

The left half of the picture above is someone holding one these “layered gift card” surprises before opening it. The right half is a picture of it after I finished it. The finished picture shows another detail that I sometimes do: I take little contact pictures and affix them to colored slivers of paper, which I attach to the main envelope with the gift card. Again, this takes a while, but it is fun watching a person get one of these gifts, especially a kid. Sometimes, they get frustrated at having to peel their present like an onion, but it always pays off for them at the end. (I’ve had kids almost refuse to tear into the gift cards wrapped this way because they are fascinated by how it looks when it’s not opened.)