Thursday, November 22, 2007

Grateful

This is the time of year when many people express thanks for what they are grateful for. I am not usually one to jump at these types of activities, but a few recent events got me in the mood.

The first is, as I have mentioned in a previous post, that I have linked up with a number of old friends through online social networks. This has caused some reminicing and exposed me to some of their writings. Some of the writings have been quite inspirational for me. My previous blog post on influencial people also stirred up some thoughts in this area. But the biggest motivator of all to put this post together was my yoga instructor in yesterday morning's class. During the final pose of the class he talked of focusing our energy on the positive. To search out the positive seeds within our body. As I went for a run later in the day, I thought about this advice and decided to write this post.

Don't worry, my cynical engineering mind is not going to let this blog evolve into a continuing sappy lovefest.

Things I am grateful for:

  • I am grateful to my parents for getting me started in a good direction.
  • I am grateful to my older brother for providing me inspiration.
  • I am grateful that I have had great opportunities in my life.
  • I am grateful that I have had a good education.
  • I am grateful that I have been healthy.
  • I am grateful that my life has been surrounded by great people who I can call my friends.
  • I am grateful that I have re-connected with some old friends.
  • I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to help endangered species.
  • I am grateful that I have made a positive difference in people's lives.
  • I am grateful for every day I spend in the mountains.
  • I am grateful for every wild thing I see.
  • Most important of all, I am grateful to my lovely wife Karyn, who has put up with me, shares in my experiences, has made me a better person, and provides daily meaning to my life.

As a tribute to her, I dug up an old story that I wrote back in the year 2000. Its called First Date and describes our early days together, now over 16 years ago.

What seems like an eternity ago, I met the chortler (Karyn). She was working a part time job at my place of employment while completing her art degree at Boise State University. I worked up the nerve to ask her out for a first date. Being the chortler, she could not give me the psychological advantage of accepting my first request. She conjured up a lousy excuse that a friend was getting married out of town. She claims to this day that this story was true. As it would end up, she did not go to a wedding, she went to a funeral instead.

The very next week, being somewhat masochistic in nature, I decided to ask again. This time she used the work excuse. She claimed to have a night job at the bank. It would have been easier if she had just told me to stop asking. Insistent on teaching her a lesson, I decided to ask again. As luck would have it, I happened to pick the one night which she had not yet committed to other activities. She said, "Yes."

The official date was an outdoor Shakespeare play. I had acquired our picnic dinner, and bought her a single rose. To this day the memory remains. She still reminds me of this thoughtful gesture, "You used to bring me flowers!"

The play was proceeding nicely until the thunderstorm passed through. As the rain began to fall, I contemplated the possibility that this was a sign. In hindsight...

We survived the weather. The play was great. At the end of the play the actors came onto the stage and applauded the audience for persevering the conditions. I drove the chortler to her apartment where she asked if I wanted to come up stairs. I contemplated this for a fraction of a nano-second before replying, "YES!" (No it's not that kind of date! This story is rated PG!)

We continued to ignore our better judgment, as we agreed to continue seeing each other. We sat in the park until the sprinklers came on, we rode mountain bikes between Karyn's jobs, and then came the time for the first overnighter. I invited Karyn to go camping with myself and some friends. After pointing out that we would be sleeping in separate sleeping bags, she agreed. I told you that this was PG!

Since Karyn had to work Friday night, I went up alone. The plan was to meet in downtown Fairfield at noon on Saturday. Others camping with us were a friend of mine from College, Dola, and one of my college professors. A number of us went out for a morning mountain bike ride. The trip was fairly uneventful until I was following Gary up a steep technical section. His bike had lower gears than mine which allowed him to ride more slowly. I was struggling to keep my balance. On my right was a steep drop off down to the river, some 50 feet below. If Gary would only speed up. He didn't. I hit a rock on the left side of the trail bouncing my front wheel to the right and over the rocky edge. I dove to the left to grab a rock with my left hand. My right hand remained on the handlebars of the bike as it dangled over the rocky edge. My water bottle bounced three times before splashing in the river below. Gary continued up the trail oblivious to my perils. Doug, riding behind me came up to my rescue. All turned out ok, except for my right mountain bike shoe. In the crash I tore the cleat from the base of my shoe leaving a large gaping hole in the bottom. It also made it impossible to clip my foot into my pedals. We rode a little further until we found two moose standing in the trail. They refused to yield. Since my time was running out, and the stubborn beasts would not give way, we turned back toward camp. I jumped in my vehicle and drove faster than I should to get to Fairfield on time. Karyn still claims I was late, but I know better.

That afternoon Karyn, Dola, and I decided to go for a short mountain bike ride. The chosen route, included an uphill on a logging road with a 2 mile decent next to a river. After riding the uphill section we turned off on what resembled a trail. The trail descended steeply down to the river, where it appeared that we needed to cross. We wait as Dola carefully removed his shoes and socks to cross the river. After we crossed we waited for Dola to put his shoes and socks back on. The going was rough as we were dragging our bikes through the dense brush. Realizing that this trip could take longer than planned, I tried to encourage the group to make better time. Soon, we arrived at another river crossing. Dola once again removed his shoes and socks for the crossing. The light was starting to fade. We were then walking through a large section of downed trees. As I moved more quickly through the brush, Dola and Karyn lagged behind. They were talking between themselves regarding my leadership abilities. I suspected mutiny. Dola and Karyn were clearly plotting against me. The question was asked on more than one occasion if I truly knew where we were going. I pushed them more to make more forward progress. At that point I had determined that my relationship with Karyn was over. There was no way that we could recover. I had made a critical mistake my choosing this 'trail'.

As I knew it would, the trail took us to the main road back to camp. We arrived back in camp just before dark. To my surprise, Karyn did not hold the trail choice against me. The mutiny was over. Little did she know that this would not be the last adventure we would have together.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Influential People

When I started this blog I thought of adding a sequence of posts highlighting influential people in my life. Well, nearly two years have passed and I haven't started it yet. Its about time! This is the first post in a sequence on this topic.

The topic of most influential is a very difficult proposition as different people have played very different roles at different points in my life. It is also hard to nominate anyone as more influential than your parents as they had near exclusive influence during those most impressionable child development years. Karyn, my wife, has notably had a very significant and positive influence through our years of daily co-dependence. Excluding these relationships, I would like to nominate the "most influential" to an individual who I respect very deeply, who played a critical role in my life at a critical point of time. That individual was my high school football coach - Coach Lutero.

I first need to qualify this article by saying that I was not the best football player. In fact, I was at best average among all of the players on the team. Regardless, Coach Lutero demonstrated true leadership, caring, and personal commitment to myself as well as many others, football players and non-players alike.

What impresses me most about Coach Lutero is that he not only held a position of leadership, but demonstrated it through his actions on a daily basis. The world could use a few more leaders like him. I'll provide you a few specific examples of this leadership.

The most important lesson I learned from Coach Lutero was about giving people a chance. I remember a new kid moved into town. He had been in trouble in the past and came from a broken family. His path through school was not destined for success. This kid wasn't a football player, but coach mentored him regardless. He gave him a position helping with the team. And he arranged for me to give him a ride home after practice and events. This of course, was not something I was overly excited about, as he wasn't "cool". Coach then mentored me on the importance of giving people a chance, and that is what I did. I wish this story had a happy ending for the kid, but it doesn't. After the time invested by the coach and a number of additional chances, the kid drifted away. What didn't drift away was the lesson for me. I was very impressed about Coach's willingness to invest the time in an individual which provided little benefit back to him, other than knowing that he made a difference.

Coach was very connected within our high school. I went to a school with about 350 students, so it wasn't too difficult to do so. I was still amazed about how much he knew about what went on there (I am sure that his daughters weren't overly impressed by this!). Whenever I would get into trouble, which on occasion occurred, Coach would take me aside and have a discussion about it. He wouldn't tell me that I was wrong, but instead asked me to compare my actions against my values and commitments. He didn't have to invest this time, but it definitely limited the trouble that I got into. I know that I wasn't the only person who received this mentoring.

Coach also tutored individuals in their studies. Before school or lunchtime, it didn't matter. He was constantly challenging people to do more, to learn more, and to apply themselves more. I remember he kept pushing me to apply to the best universities in the country. Having no idea what I wanted to do, I ignored his input and went to a local school. I remember once when I was home on break he asked how school was going. After informing him that I was having no difficulties, he interrupted me and asked why then I was wasting my time there. He encouraged me to once again transfer to a more difficult school. This time I listened and made the change that had the single most profound positive impact on the direction of my life.

I wish I had been more mature to receive these lessons at the time. I was not. But most importantly, they stuck with me since then. I think and act on them often. I owe a great deal to Coach Lutero as I expect many others do as well.

The last time I saw Coach was at my fathers funeral 15 years ago. It meant a great deal to me that he came. I think it is about time that I get back in touch with him.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Thanksgiving Reality

A college friend of mine, Marina, writes a daily blog of short stories and poetry. I am a big fan of much of her work, but was particularly moved by a recent timely post about Thanksgiving Dinner.  I have reposted it here with her permission, but I encourage you to take a look at all of her work at the link below. Something to think about as we head into the holiday season.

Thanksgiving Dinner
The roar of a crackling fire.
The smell of wet leaves and wood smoke.
A nip from the bottle
Helps you forget the chill
The salvation army handed out warm coats
And socks today.
Soon it will be time to line up
For food and prayers.
Families drive by, terrified more
Only by the prospect of death.

Here is her MySpace blog - http://www.myspace.com/marina_jane.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Cost of War in Iraq and Afghanistan

The Washington Post has an interesting article today on the costs of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The new estimate is nearly double the official spending as it includes higher oil prices, expense of treating injured soldiers, and paying interest on the debt. What is the estimated cost for the taxpayer? The cost for a family of four is in excess of $20,000!  Unbelievable!

Of course, this is almost entirely funded through debt, so the impact on our future generations is huge. I would also point out that this increased number still does not include all of the costs of this war. A few of my examples that I did not see included in the report:

  • The decreased stature of the United States in the world for launching an unjust war in Iraq. This is impacting our economy, our ability to promote democracy in the world, our ability to use our values to influence peace, etc.
  • The future security costs associated with the rise of terrorism specifically spawned by our unjust war in Iraq.
  • The costs of other developments that have occurred in the world while we have been distracted in Iraq.

I am sure there are many other costs as well. When will we look at these costs and our failed Iraq strategy and determine we have thrown enough down the drain? When will we realize the world is less safe as a result of our actions? When will we realize that it is time to change our course to a more positive direction? I hope for ourselves and the world, that answer to these questions is soon.

Thanks to ThinkProgress for the link.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

College Connections via Social Networks

I recently connected with a number of college friends via a social network - LinkedIn (BTW, my LinkedIn profile can be accessed here). I found the responses very interesting and somewhat humorous. No guarantee that you will agree.

I knew each of the individuals reasonably well, although I wasn't extremely close to any of them. I sent a similar greeting to each of them, but the responses were very telling, and matched very closely to my expectations. The audience was two women and one guy. The guy's response was what I would expect from a guy - three sentences - one saying thanks for contacting him, one saying he was doing fine, and one question back to me. What else would you expect? The two women's responses were very much in line with their personalities as I knew them nearly 20 years ago. One was deep, contemplative, and much more personal in nature which matches her quiet and calm demeanor. The other was frantic and hectic - some words in ALL CAPS, many and multiple exclamation marks!!!, and multiple question marks???. This also matches her personality. I had to laugh at the contrast between the three responses. It was also telling that while I haven't interacted with some of these individuals in 15 years, the structure of the responses was right in line with what I expected.

I am sure that email communication and social network communication/connections are providing deep research opportunities for psychologists, sociologists and social anthropologists.  I think the real challenge for the researchers to get a complete picture is to bridge all of the various social networks, blogs, email, IM, and then direct communication (does anyone really do this anymore?). More and more aggregation services are becoming available, but each one in turn introduces more options to the equation.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Upcoming Legislative Priorities

Governor Butch Otter,

Senator Mike Burkett,

Representative Anne Pasley-Struat,

Representative Nicole LeFavour

In advance of the upcoming legislative session I wanted to express my personal priorities to you, my representatives in the Idaho State government. As with all of my communication, if you would like to follow up with me, or ask me to volunteer to work on any of the described issues, please feel free to contact me.

1. Transit - The Treasure Valley is in desperate need of funding for public transportation. The continued decline of the valley's air quality, the increase in traffic congestion, and the decreased efficiency of all forms of transportation are but a few critical reasons that this should be addressed. An increase in funding for public transportation can lead a significant increase in ridership and economic development advantages as it has in Reno, Spokane, Salt Lake City, and Portland. I have tracked this issue for some time and am aware of the objections from representatives not from the Treasure Valley. While I am sympathetic to those concerns, I have the following response. The health of the state of Idaho is dependent upon the health of our metropolitan centers. Reasonable proposals have been made to address the concerns of those outside the valley while also providing the funding.  Fundamentally I believe that public transportation should be funded partially at a state wide level as it has state wide benefits and partially at a local level where most of the benefit will be realized. At a minimum the local option must be available. My preference is to pay for public transportation through the combination of payroll taxes and an increase in the gasoline tax. These methods have been very successful in other communities across the nation.  I acknowledge the near constitutional impossibility of accomplishing a gas tax increase for public transportation.  I therefore endorse the Coalition for Regional Public Transportation's proposed legislation of a sales tax increase for public transportation and local road projects. If this proposal is unacceptable, please work to find one that is.

2. Global Warming - Global warming is an issue that is at least contributed to by each of our actions.  The result also effects us all daily.  The health and prosperity of all citizens is at risk. I believe that actions are required at a global, national, state, local, and individual levels. There are significant actions which could be taken at a state level that would help with our contribution and show our commitment to be part of the global community. Actions could range from personal massaging from the governor encouraging a change in lifestyle, education programs, incentives to decrease energy use, alternative energy installation  incentives, R&D incentives for alternative energy technologies, or any combination of these. It is time that the state shows some leadership on this issue.

3. Protection of wild lands and wildlife - Our wild lands and wildlife are the most precious assets within our state. The biodiversity in our state is extraordinary in the United States and the world. Significant measures should be taken to protect these resources and maintain healthy ecosystems. State investment is required to increase preservation, to increase enforcement of the laws protecting these resources, and shifting the state toward economies and values which allow us to co-exist with nature instead of destroying it.

4. Property Taxes - Stop lowering property taxes! The shift of tax burden from property tax to sales tax is not appropriate.  Many of our most expensive services are tied to the property we choose to own. Thus it is most fair to apply the tax for those services onto the property in which they serve.   What we see in this state is wealthy individuals purchasing large land and houses then lobbying to shift the tax burden to those that are more efficient with our resources. If someone chooses to buy an expensive house that requires expensive services, they should be prepared to pay for them. Shifting this burden to sales tax is negatively effecting the poor, students, and those with a greater sense of social responsibility. Its just not right. I do believe there are some issues with the property tax system, specifically as it applies to the poor and elderly. Thus I do support tying the property tax exemption to land value inflation.

Pet Peeves

The following are items that I often wished would be addressed in legislation, but I am realistic enough to know that the effort would not be applied.

1. Leaf Blowers - I view leaf blowers as the most ridiculous invention and believe that they should be banned. They are a significant source of pollution - air pollution, chemical pollution, and noise pollution. They are very inefficient in their processing of fuels making them a top producer of exhaust. We should remember that more fuel is spilled refueling lawn equipment in America per year than the entire Exxon Valdez oil spill. The noise pollution is much more obvious as you can hear these devices many blocks away. Leaf blowers also provide minimal advantage over the manual method of using a rake. Its time that we look at these issues from a society perspective instead of our individual preferences.

2. Phone books - I don't use a phone book, but I  have the honor of picking up 4 to 8 of them per year off of my front step.  I then must take them to a local recycling facility for disposal. This is a tremendous waste of our natural resources and my time. Why do we allow companies to litter our yards in this manner? Citizens should at least have the legal opportunity to request a stop to this delivery as we do with direct mail.

This letter will be posted on my public blog at http://wolf21m.blogspot.com/ . If you choose to reply to this letter, please let me know if your reply can also be posted on my blog. If you don't specify, I will assume that you grant such permission. I, of course, will honor you specified preference.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

In the Valley of the Wolves

The Nature program, In the Valley of the Wolves, air this Sunday night on PBS (at least here in Idaho). The movie trailer included at the above link shows some amazing footage of wolves and other wildlife. It also features an interview with the filmmaker Bob Landis. I highly recommend you watch as Bob's work is amazing.

The movie trailer talks of Bob's dedication to filming, over 300 days a year for 4 years! I can attest to that fact that Bob has been out there filming on every occasion that I have been in Yellowstone National Park. I've watched some of his raw footage which is simply spectacular. This promises to be the best of his films on the Yellowstone wolves (this is his 3rd film on wolves).

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