Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Don't "Cheap Out" on Kids' Medicine

Having a sick kid sucks. Having a sick kid who won't take her medicine because it tastes icky is even worse. After several long years, I've finally learned this important lesson.

When I was a kid, there was no such thing as medicine that tasted good. Now even the generic stuff comes in more flavors than Willy Wonka candy. Unfortunately, the cherry flavored generic brand tastes way different from the cherry flavored name brand stuff. I used to buy the generic stuff because it was cheaper, and because I didn't want the kids taking strong medicine at the first cough. (There's a reason medicine tastes nasty. It keeps the kids from eating it like candy.)

The problem is, the kids know there's stuff out there that isn't quite so nasty. So now, they're whiny because they're sick and they're whiny because they know they got the nasty-tasting medicine. Ugh! Okay kids, I've learned my lesson. No more cheap medicine. Just quit your belly-aching and get better already.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sometimes It's Just "Cold"

When I was a kid, I played in the snow all day long, regardless of how cold it was. Once I became a teenager I started spending a little more time indoors during the winter months, and by the time I was a young adult I was definitely a summer creature. Iowa isn't the ideal place for someone like me to live, but I chose to live here knowing full well that it gets cold during the winter. Not exactly Canada cold, but it's chilly enough that I'm perfectly content to hybernate for a few months.

Though I prefer warm weather, I have adapted to the cold... mainly by layering up but also by toughening up a little bit. With the latest cold snap, I've been innundated with the inevitable "Is it cold enough for you?" The smart-ass in me wants to snap back with "No, I'd rather be dipped in liquid nitrogen... then it'd be cold enough for me." My actual response is "yes."

That "Yes" isn't really an adequate answer though. Once it hits about zero, the actual temperature doesn't matter. It's just cold. If it's zero, ten below or 40 below, it's all the same to me. It's just "cold."

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Just Keep Writing

I hesitate to call myself a writer per se. After all, what I write is much closer to a semi-private journal than epic novel, short story or even newspaper article. That said though, I can proudly say and honestly say that "writer" is part of who I am. I may not be prolific like King, my words do not change the world, and I certainly lack the linguistic genius of Shakespeare, but nonetheless, I write for the sake of writing, I write relatively frequently, and I (usually) do it to the best of my ability.

Like all writers, I sometimes can't write regardless of how badly I want to. Other times, I want to do something else -- like sleep -- and the words come unbidden, refusing to be denied, unwilling to be set aside for a more convenient time. This morning, I realized that it had been a few days since I last "published" anything and wondered if I would be inspired today, or if I would have to do one of those "Gee, sorry I didn't write, but I couldn't think of anything" posts. Or maybe I'd be hyper-inspired and write up an entire week of posts in one marathon session. (Did I just divulge a secret of periodical writers everywhere? I sure hope not. Oh well.)

Before I finished with my thought, I started wondering what inspires me to write, and before the "I wonder what makes me want to write" thought had completely expressed itself, I had a laundry list of creative sources. (Isn't it funny how the mind works?? Thoughts are processed faster than you can even form the words, which occurs far more quickly than you can verbally express yourself.)

To put it in a nutshell, humanity is what inspires me, though humanity isn't exactly an accurate word for the source of my creative outlet. I write based on knowledge, observation, curiosity and feeling. Out of these aforementioned foundations, only feeling is critical. I can know something, but not care about it, I can observe something and be unmoved, and if I don't care about something I cannot be curious. If I don't feel inspired about something, I certainly won't waste my time writing about it, because writing requires some sort of analysis. Why would I spend time analyzing something that doesn't interest me?

And it can't just mildly interest me, it's got to MOVE me. It must be something that brings me joy, anger, sorrow, righteous indnigation or whatever. The subject of my writing has to be something that impacts me on a spiritual or emotional level, not just intellectually.

What inspires me? I am inspired by the same things that have inspired writers, musicians and painters for ages untold... beautiful things like love, nature and family... the pain and misery of death and war... the love of learning, through travel, education, human experience or observation... the injustices of society, such as corruption, hate, intolerence and moral ambiguity... the amusement that comes from watching stupid humans (myself included) doing stupid things... and other personal obsessions like motorcycle riding, cooking, the family experience and yes, writing.

Oddly enough, you may not end up writing directly about your inspiration. Today's entry is a perfect example. How did I end up with this entry? Well, it was because I thought about writing, while eating something I cooked, reading the news on the internet, seeing a bouquet of flowers I bought for my wife, thinking about how she's still peacefully sleeping as I write this, and looking at the scenery out of my back window as I figure out how to put all of my random, untamed thoughts into words. (Actually, the wife just now woke up, but that's not the point.)

In the end, I guess it really doesn't matter what inspires me. And it really doesn't matter what inspires you either. What matters is that you write, if that's what you've set out to do. It doesn't matter if you're writing a school assignment, a blog that nobody reads, or the next great novel; what matters is that you keep writing.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Waddaya Mean I Can't Spank My Kid!?!

I'm sure that by now most Americans have heard about California Assemblywoman Sally Lieber's upcoming bill to outlaw spankings in California, but for those of you who haven't I'll give you a quick synopsis. Ms. Lieber has promised to introduce a bill outlawing the spanking of children under three or four -- I've seen conflicting reports on the exact age. Violation of this law would be a misdemeanor offense, with a maximum penalty of $1000 fine and 1 year in jail. As you can imagine, this proposal has drawn a lot of attention from people on both sides of the issue. Part of me wonders if she's not doing this just for the publicity, but that's not my point. I want to discuss the issue. Right up front, I will say that I disagree with her position.

Proponents of this proposal assert that spanking teaches kids that it's okay to hit in anger. I will concede that point, but only to a certain extent. If, as a parent, you spank your kid out of anger and frustration, then yes, it can teach that violent anger is acceptable. But I want to point out a few counter-points.

Look, mankind has survived and evolved for thousands of years with spankings. The no-spanking idea didn't even start becoming popular until the 1950's at the earliest. Who are these bleeding-heart liberals to say that thousands of years of parenting is immoral and wrong?

Spanking should not be used as a first level of punishment for every minor infraction, but I have experienced firsthand (both as the parent and as the child) that sometimes spanking is the only remaining option... the nuclear option if you will. Picture this: I'm a parent and my child is misbehaving. I tell the kid that what they're doing is unacceptable and that they must stop, yet they continue with the unacceptable behavior. I explain that if the behavior continues, I will put the kid in time-out. Nothing changes and I put the kid in the corner, at which point the kid simply walks out of the corner and continues doing whatever. I put the kid back in the corner, and he refuses to stay there. Okay, I take away his favorite toy, but he simply throws a temper tantrum. My point is, eventually there needs to be a nuclear option... something the kid cannot overcome. Spanking is this option.

Like I said, you can't use spanking as the first line of defense, and you probably shouldn't spank the kid because you're frustrated yourself. But if you say to the kid "Look, if you don't do what I expect, then I'll spank you," this isn't physical punishment out of anger. This is a logical consequence of unacceptable behavior, explained beforehand. If spanking is done right, it's something that you need to do infrequently, and only when the child is very young.

The philosophical support of spanking is only part of my rationale though. There's also the practical aspect. How would such a law be practically enforced? Our prisons and courts are already overcrowded by rapists, murders and drug abusers. How are we possibly going to support the additional burden to our legal system and our prisons? Furthermore, there are already plenty of laws on the books against child abuse -- bona fide child abuse. Look, don't we need to focus on the real abuse? I'll tell you this... I'll pit my kids' (who, by the way, are old enough that spanking is no longer an appropriate punishment) manners, psychological health and overall well being against any non-spanked kid, any day of the week. Simply put, spanking works.

Governmental interference has already screwed up this society enough. Keep your laws off of my family.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bush's Latest Foreign Policy Strategy

"Hey Nancy, I'll arm wrestle you over who gets their way in Iraq."

"Okay George, but only if I can use both hands."

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Influence of Others

Have you ever noticed how much your family's mood can impact your own day? My kids were both cranky, argumentative and fighting all morning. By the time I left the house, I was more than a little cranky myself and wanted nothing more than to get away from them. I love my kids, but they really don't get how their fighting impacts my mood.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

An Open Letter to Alice In Chains

Hey guys. I heard several months back that you're touring again, with William DuVall stepping into Layne's shoes. At first I was nothing but skeptical. After all, how could anyone take Layne's place? I kept an open mind though, and between reviews I read and the teaser clips I saw or heard on the internet, I am convinced.

Look, AC/DC lost Bonn Scott and they were devastated but they continued. I am humbly asking you to do the same. Though I was never fortunate enough to see you live, I can honestly say I've been with you since the beginning... okay, not exactly the beginning because I didn't live in Seattle, but I distinctly remember the first time I heard "Man in the Box." It was within months of the release of the CD and I was floored. I've been a fan ever since.

There's a part of me that mourns and misses Layne; there will never be anyone like him, and the world lost a creative genius when he died. At the same time, there's a part of me that thinks he's selfish. He not only let his addiction prematurely remove his talent and charisma from the world, he took you with him. Layne Staley is a huge part of Alice in Chains, but AIC is more than Layne. I hope that your tour this summer helped you realize and remember this.

Gentlemen, you have a lot to offer fans such as me. With this in mind, I humbly ask that you honor your past, but remember your fans and embrace your future. It would be a shame if you never again performed the music you created. It would be a tragedy if Layne's death was truly the death of one of the greatest musical groups of all time.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Take a Seat

Winter is finally coming to my little corner of the world, which means it's time to reluctantly put my bike away for a while. However, I may not be able to ride her, but I can still play with her. Winter is the perfect time to personalize your ride by adding some functionality or a little bling.

For those of you who aren't aware, I bought my 2006 Sportster with no frills. I did this partially to keep the costs down and partially because I'm a function over form kind of guy.

One element that was missing when I bought the bike was a passenger seat. This brought the cost down a bit, but I did a little less riding over the summer as a result. It's kind of tough to take off for the entire day when you're leaving the family behind. In retrospect though, I believe I made the right choice. The two-person seat that comes standard on a Sportster is okay for the rider, but I can't see how it's comfortable for the passenger. It's very narrow and incredibly thin. I don't know the exact specs, but I'd estimate that the stock seat is about five inches wide and probably two inches thick. It would be okay for a quick ride across town, but not much more.

If you want a thicker seat, there are several options, but the vast majority will set you back a couple of hundred dollars. After weeks of detailed research, I decided to purchase the OEM passenger pillion for my 2006 Sportster. It's very cost-effective and it provides a reasonable amount of support for the passenger. It's approximately 9 1/2 inches wide and about four inches high.

I haven't taken a passenger out yet, but so far I'm happy with the purchase. The seat retails for about $85... by far the cheapest option around, and it's easy to install. A true two-person seat would have a slightly tighter look and fit, but I am satisfied with the result.

There's one thing I want to point out to anyone who's considering a seat purchase, and this is something I discovered when I was installing the passenger pillion. Your seat - any seat you purchase - will scuff the paint on your fender ever-so-slightly. This means that you should seriously think about your seat before you buy it, because once you mount a seat on your bike, you can't subsequently install a smaller seat without either getting the fender repainted or revealing the scuffs.

My next purchase is going to be a passenger backrest, and then I'm going to buy a short windscreen after that. In order to help me visualize how it will look, Harley-Davidson has built an awesome customizer for their newer models. This was a stroke of genius on their part.

Here's my vision.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

...For Example

Yesterday I restated my position regarding child support in joint custody situations. I explained that my stance is based not merely on personal experience, but also factored in the experiences of friends and relatives. Though I am a divorced father of two children, my opinion was formed long before I parted ways with my kids’ mom. However, I will concede that personal experience has strongly reinforced my belief that joint custody and no child support is usually the best solution. Today, I would like to use a real-life example to illustrate my point.

Someone I know very well divorced his wife a few years back. They were awarded joint custody of the kids, and despite the fact that their income was similar, he was ordered to pay his ex-wife child support. The court-division of assets was relatively equitable. He got more assets, but he also retained more of the debt. He kept the house, but the mortgage and other debts were high enough that he barely scraped by.

The ex-wife on the other hand, had very few bills, lived in a small two-bedroom apartment, and received a large cash settlement from the divorce. She was flush with cash and he could barely make ends meet – mainly due to the mortgage payment on the house that he kept primarily for the benefit of the kids. Despite all of this, the court ordered him to pay her child support.

Although he was terminally short on cash, he always took care of the kids. They ate well at his house, he made sure they got to the doctor when the kids were sick, they had a nice place to live, and the kids had loving, meaningful relationships with both parents. By mutual agreement, the kids’ mom bought and paid for most of the clothing, and dad took care of most of the other stuff. Time passed, and things changed.

Eventually, he paid off a couple of his older debts, got a couple of small raises at work and started getting ahead in life. He fell in love and got remarried, and her income provided him a little extra relief. And since his new wife loved her step-children, she contributed significantly to the kids’ quality of life.

The ex-wife was a slightly different story. She lost her job. Nobody knows for sure if she was laid off, quit, or was fired for cause. The large cash settlement she received – a settlement that was large enough to sustain her for over six months, even without unemployment – had already disappeared. She got a new job, but it didn’t pay quite as much. He understood this, and in an attempt to do what was best for the kids, he agreed to take on even more of the kids’ expenses. Money was still a little tight for him, but doing what’s right for the kids was more important.

A year or two later, opportunity knocked and he landed a new job. He got a noticeable pay increase, and finally started thinking that his life was back on track. He could contribute to his retirement fund, go on vacations with the family and do even more for the kids. Unfortunately, his ex-wife also heard about his new job and took him back to court for more child support. Despite the fact that he already paid for virtually all of the kids’ expenses, regardless of the fact that he already paid her child support, she wanted more. Why? Because she was entitled to it; because it was “free.”

I know both of these people pretty well. I will freely admit that I’m a little biased toward his position, especially since it’s so strikingly similar to mine. With that aside though, where is the justice in this? He’s worked to get ahead, and she hasn’t really done anything to improve her lot in life. Her child support increased, but she didn’t spend more on the kids; she spent it on herself. She took money out of his pocket – money that he used to spend on the kids – and she spent it on herself. How did that serve anyone, other than her selfish interest?

Unfortunately, this tends to be the status quo when it comes to child support. The paying parent barely makes ends meet, while the recipient receives “free” money, and frequently this money doesn’t ever benefit the kids. The kids wonder why they can’t do more with the paying parent; the parent understands but remains silent because it’s what’s best for the kids. Where is the justice in this system? I certainly don’t see it.

For the record, I understand that not every case is like this one. I realize that there are many deadbeat parents who don’t pay anything. I know there are some cases where one parent rakes in the bucks and never sees the kid, while the other parent struggles to make the rent. The thing is, my experience tells me that my example above is the status quo and these horror stories are the exception. This is why things need to change… at least in the cases of joint custody.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Child Support, Revisited

Quite a while back, I discussed my position on child support. My perception of child support is based on personal experience and interaction with other divorced parents – both male and female. To recap my stance on child support, I am against any form of child support in situations where both parents spend equal time with the child(ren). In cases where on parent is absent in order to pursue a career (or to be a shiftless drifter, or whatever) and the other parent sacrifices a career in order to do what’s best for the kid, child support is absolutely in order. But in cases where both parents are equally involved in raising their offspring, child support should not be an issue.

Eliminating child support in joint custody cases could provide a multitude of benefits. It would encourage both parents to be actively involved in child-raising, it would benefit the economy by encouraging both parents to work, and it would streamline the bloated bureaucracy that is our child support recovery system.

For many years, the court system had a bias toward granting the mother custody of children in divorce situations, and business had a bias toward giving men more pay for the same job. The result was that divorced mothers were often left as single parents, barely making ends meet, and the current child support system was enacted to offset this disparity. This change addressed the financial disparity and made things “fair” toward the custodial parent (usually the mother), but it did nothing to address the needs of the non-custodial parent (usually the father), or the emotional needs of the child. Over time, the court began to realize that having both parents actively involved was better for the child, and the court began awarding joint custody.

The premise behind joint custody is that both parents are equally responsible for the care and upbringing of the child, but closer scrutiny shows this isn’t exactly the case. Inevitably, one parent has more income than the other, and the court still awards child support. This means that the parent with the higher income is de facto more responsible for the care of the child. Abolishing child support in joint custody would be beneficial for everyone involved. It would encourage joint custody, which has been demonstrated to benefit the child. It would benefit the parent paying support by effectively increasing income, and it would benefit the parent receiving support by removing the stigma of having to rely on an ex-spouse for support.

For all intents and purposes, the child support system is a microcosm of the welfare state. Child support is a “tax” on the income of the parent with the higher income, which in turn is granted as an “entitlement” to the parent with the lower income. This tax can range from 10% to over 50%, depending on the number of children involved, the specific custody arrangement, and the incomes of the parents. The majority of the scenarios I’m personally familiar with have the fathers paying the mothers over 20% of their income. This is on top of the roughly 1/3 of our income taken by the government. Between the government and the ex-spouses, these fathers are seeing over half of their income go up in smoke. Isn’t this a disincentive to work? Doesn’t this undermine the desire to move ahead in life and society?

Child support not only discourages advancement on the part of the parent with the greater income, it also deters the parent with lower income from working and advancing. Since child support is tied to the income of both parents, if the poorer of the two parents receives a pay increase, the child support drops proportionally, and in its worst case scenario, this miniature welfare state can cause a “why work when I can get it for free” mentality. Not only does this cause a disincentive for both parents to work toward their maximum potential, this mentality can be passed to the children.

Child support doesn’t impact just the parents. As a result of our child support laws, a huge, nationwide bureaucracy has been established in the form of state child support recovery offices. These bureaucracies are not funded by the parents; they are funded by all taxpayers. By eliminating child support in joint-custody situations, this bureaucracy could be tremendously reduced. This, in turn could allow for a reduced tax burden for all Americans, and it would free up the existing child support case workers to focus on the real deadbeats.

While I agree that child support is warranted in some cases, I am firmly of the opinion that it is counterproductive in joint custody circumstances. Eliminating child support in these instances will benefit children by encouraging both parents to be actively involved in their child’s life. By encouraging both parents to advance economically it will help the adults and provide a positive example for the child, and by reducing the caseload, it would allow existing case-workers to focus on real issues and reduce bureaucracy. Eliminating child support in joint custody cases is a winning solution for everyone.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Who Says Global Warming Sucks?

Anyone who thinks that Global Warming sucks has not visited my little corner of the world. Here in the Midwest, we take pride in our hardy ability to withstand virtually anything that Mother Nature throws our way. The winters can be bitterly cold, the summers bring blistering heat and mosquitoes the size of small airplanes, rivers flood in the spring, and let’s not forget the tornadoes.

Since the planet has been warming up though, the harsh Midwestern weather seems to be losing a bit of its rough edge. The winters in particular have been progressively milder, the floods have been less severe, the mosquitoes have returned to their normal insect proportions and there have been fewer tornadoes. Who would have thought that I’d be able to ride my motorcycle in December and January in Iowa? Before long, Iowa will be the next hot spot for baby boomers to retire and our real estate values will skyrocket. If this is the type of long-term impact I can expect, I say bring it on.

Hey, somebody’s got to benefit from global warming… why not me?

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Let Me Evaluate Your Product

According to a Yahoo article, Microsoft has sent out new laptops preloaded with Windows Vista to 90 lucky bloggers. Common sense would dictate that Microsoft did this in an attempt to generate some additional excitement about its new operating system. According to the article, Microsoft "has made it clear that it did not expect the bloggers to give Vista glowing reviews -- or even review Vista at all." That said though, it's pretty obvious what the software company was hoping for.

While some people are bashing on Microsoft, hinting that this act was nothing more than a transparent attempt at generating buzz, I believe it was a stroke of genius. I'll gladly concede that it's a marketing ploy, but it's still smart because they're getting free publicity on several fronts. First, I'll guarantee that a few people will review the new systems, and I'm sure that some people will relay a positive experience. Second, they're generating buzz merely by giving the machines away, and finally, the anti-Microsoft bigots are unwittingly furthering the software giant's goals by spreading the word even further.

This article got me thinking though. Why couldn't I do reviews like that? After thinking long and hard, I couldn't come up with a single reason. With that said, I'm officially throwing my hat in to the "Let Me Evaluate Your Product" ring. This is a dead-serious offer. If you would like someone to evaluate your product and write a review, then let me know! I've got a few rules though...

-I will not evaluate anything and everything that comes my way. I will not test anything that I deem dangerous, that's illegal, or violates American law.

-I will provide an honest evaluation, based on my personal experience. These reviews are mine and mine alone. I will not guarantee any pre-determined review.

-I will state any possible biases or conflicts of interest at the outset of my review.

-I do not necessarily expect to be financially compensated for my reviews, but I do expect some sort of payment. For example, if I evaluate a game, let me have a free copy. If I test a phone, let me keep it for a couple of weeks, and maybe give me the option to keep one permanently. If I test a new computer, let me keep it if I like it.

-If I experience a problem, I will not automatically pan the product. I am willing to work with support personnel as needed, but it cannot cause permanent damage to anything I currently own. (In other words, a new software package cannot require me to reformat my PC due to data corruption, and a new fuel additive cannot require me to rebuild my engine. If this happens, you will pay for said damages.)

-I will sign non-disclosure agreements if I am beta testing a product, but expect to be able to write a longer review and publish the review when the product is released.

If you are interested in hiring me to evaluate your goods, products or services, please leave a comment on this post, letting me know how to contact you.