Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Government Shutdowns and Children with Toys

I am an avid Facebook user where I find brief daily escapes to interact with friends faith, family, wine, science and other things about which I have passion.  The topic I NEVER discuss Facebook is politics because there is no other topic so polarizing and frankly damaging to friendships as political opinion.  Sadly the inability of the human race to engage in meaningful discussion with the purpose of true solution for the whole of society (particularly regarding anything government....at any level) is at the root of all societal problems.  It is heartbreaking.

Today (October 1, 2013) the Federal government shut down.  It is the first government shutdown in 17 years.  In reality the entire government hasn't shut down as the shutdown does not impact "essential" services (although how what is or isn't "essential" is determined in not clear to me).  I do know that Congress is still "working" while hundreds of thousands of Federal employees are for the time being will not get paid salaries essential for the care of their and their family's well being.

At some level I feel I should be angry about our government's ability to work this out.  After all, they are adults.....right?  However, the reality is....for good or for bad....I am simply numbed to our government's dysfunctionality and if anything find it cynically funny.  This is an attitude perhaps spawned by any real ability to do anything about the dysfunctionality.  Yes, I can write, call, stand on a rooftop and make noise at my "elected" officials.  The problem is I experience enough form letters, spam email, and computer generated voices from people who really don't listen to me as it is.

This current shutdown is largely a tug-o-war about healthcare reform (i.e. "Obamacare").  A core group of republicans want to do away with it while the president and most democrats see the reform as a step towards improving healthcare for the masses.  One extreme tugging against the other with no real desire for compromise.  A snapshot of the human race.  I am not totally sold on Obamacare.  There are a lot of things about it I do not like.  However, it is difficult to argue against the fact that healthcare in American needs to be addressed.  With this in mind the logical thing would be for Congress and the President to roll up their sleeves and begin the process of tweaking the plan to make it better.  Instead, everyone decides to take their toys and go home.  In the end nothing gets done.

It is a mistake to place blame on one side or the other (democrats vs. republicans).  This is everyones fault.  It is the fault of elected officials on both sides for effectively not doing what they were elected to do......govern effectively.  Instead this is a choice to govern by not governing.  It is the fault of the American people.  We as a society do not take our elections seriously enough.  We vote selfishly, with our decisions largely driven by single issues without consideration of the totality of how someone will actually conduct an office.  It may be that we have gotten to the point where the resulting dysfunctionality is cemented in place.

There is, I believe, a fix for all this but I have no clue how it would be implemented.  The fix requires that we change our system to open up meaningful political office to a broader range of people (i.e. non-millionaires) and remove the economic influence of special interest groups.  Both could be accomplished by outlawing private political contributions to campaigns.  Get rid of the war chests designed to support or defeat single selfish issues.  Common forums, accessible to any candidate where we can learn about their thoughts and philosophies would even the playing field and allow anyone with a vision, like it or not, to participate.  Second, be proactive in promoting (even requiring execution of) the right to vote.  My youngest son has often complained about the political climate and my common response is that if his generation actively exercised their right to vote they could change the country.  After all, there are a lot more voters in his age group than in mine.  Could we begin programs that would both educate young voters and promote (actually allow) voting on high school and college campuses?  Universal term limits might be a third change that would help but I need to think about this a bit more.

Okay, I think I have written enough for this morning.  Apologies if my thoughts lacked some linearity...but after all.....these are random thought.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Lack of Objectivity in Local Media: The Example of Lance Armstrong

Yesterday on my way home from walking my dog at Champoeg State Park I was listening to a sports talk show called The Bald Face Truth (BFT) hosted by John Canzano, a sports writer for the Oregonian newspaper.  A major topic on yesterday’s show was USADA’s decision to ban Lance Armstrong for life from competitive cycling and to strip him of his seven Tour de France titles.  While listening to the BFT Canzano ran a segment called the BFT Jury where Lance Armstrong was put on “trial.”  Canzano essentially asked a panel made up in part of local media personalities whether or not they thought Lance Armstrong got what he deserved.  Let me be clear that I have little interest in competitive cycling, have never attended or watched a competitive cycling event, and what ultimately happens to Lance Armstrong will have little impact on my life.  Even so the response of these media personalities to Canzano’s question yesterday left me wondering if they can be trusted to accurately provide information on newsworthy events.

The first, and probably the worst panelest, was Craig Birnbach, sports director at KATU TV in Portland, OR.  For several minutes Birnbach ranted negatively about Lance Armstrong emphatically stating that Armstrong got what he deserved that the suggestion that USADA was on a “witch hunt” was absurd.  I kept waiting for Birnbach to lay out a factual basis for his opinion but when all was said and done his opinion was nothing more that that….an opinion.  Certainly Birnbach is entitled to have an opinion, but when he participates in such a public forum and is represented as a member of the media shouldn’t we expect his positions to be built and based on responsible journalism?  As a side note maybe I expect too much from individuals in the realm of television media which perhaps is more about entertainment than true journalism.  Even so at the end of Birnbach’s rant my conclusion was that his “facts” came from the same source as mine…..the national media.  He really knew nothing about the true factual basis of the case against Lance Armstrong.  His very cliché conclusion that “where there is smoke there is fire” is one I wonder if he would be willing to apply to himself if he is ever exposed to public scrutiny. 

Lance Armstrong might indeed by guilty.  Yet again, based on what I have read he might not be guilty.  I haven’t a clue and don’t really care.  I am a scientist.  My successes and failures are centered on my ability to demonstrate natural events on the basis of indisputable facts.  My work must pass the scrutiny of my peers before it ever reaches the public eye.  Below I will look at what we actually know with regard to Lance Armstrong.  I hesitate to do this because I really didn’t want this blog to be about Lance Armstrong as much as how members of the local media had delivered the information, but it is important so here we go:

1.  Lance Armstrong is being sanctioned by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).

I found it interesting that many sources I looked at referred to USADA as the “self-proclaimed” watchdog for doping violations in many high-level competitive sports the United States.  While they have been recognized by Congress in reality they are not overseen or managed by anyone.  When sanctioning athletes they serve in essence as the prosecution, judge, and jury.  This certainly makes it possible, if not highly likely, that evidence for or against an accused athlete will be biased by emotion and/or agenda.  Further, after so many years is it not understandable that Armstrong would decline to involve himself in an arbitration process run totally by the organization levying the sanctions?  This is strikingly different from professional baseball where at least the players union has say in arbitrator selection (although Major League Baseball fired Shyam Das the arbitrator who found in favor of Ryan Braun).

2.  USADA has 10 witnesses that will testify against Lance Armstrong

Birnbach seemed impressed by the fact that USADA claimed to have 10 witnesses.  I’m wondering if Birnbach has ever served on a real jury?  I have multiple time and I can say from experience that the term “witness” seems to have an incredibly broad definition.  No one but USADA knows what these “witnesses” actually observed.  For that matter based on what I know neither does Lance Armstrong (I admit that this might not be the case but I do not know otherwise).  I think back to the Roger Clemens trial where Andy Pettit, when put on the stand, clearly stated that what he knew about Clemons’s use of drugs could have an alternative explanation that was not favorable to the prosecutions case yet the prosecutors up to that point touted him as a star witness.  Guilty or not Clemons would never have survived USADA.  Finally, I can assure you that no real jury would ever believe Floyd Landis.

3.  Lance Armstrong never failed a drug test…..and he took many.

Sure, he could have been doping and been good at covering it up.  To emphatically state that he was on drugs and was good at covering it up is nothing more than an opinion based on unsupported assumption.  At the end of the day this is the only undisputable factual evidence we have.  Yes, there are examples of athletes who have never tested positive but later admitted they were taking performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), but Armstrong has never admitted to taking anything so it is not really fair to arbitrarily put him in this category.

My conclusion is that Craig Birnbach is no more qualified or competent to judge Lance Armstrong than I am.

I have picked on Craig Birnbach but in reality I find the ability of members of local TV and radio media to build an opinion around real facts often to be limited. A few years ago Isaac Ropp and Jason Scukanec of KFXX sports radio in Portland, OR were doing a piece on PEDs at a time when Barry Bonds was big in the news.  They engaged in a discussion involving the difference between steroids and human growth hormone (HGH) and gave information on the difficulties associated with testing for HGH that was simply wrong (they did not understand that HGH is a protein, not a steroid, and thus could not be excreted in urine).  As a physiologist this jumped out at me immediately but the average person was simply misinformed.  A 5-minute Google search would have made them more informed.  This bothered me so I wrote them an email and explained the fundamental difference between steroids and HGH.

I found it interesting that John Canzano was much more tempered in his opinion.  My take on Canzano is that he probably thinks Armstrong might have used PEDs but recognizes the weakness of the available information.  This is a reasonable perspective.  Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that he is a seasoned newspaper man who happens to host a radio show rather than someone born and bred into audio/visual media.  Perhaps this is why I listen to him rather than his 30+-year-old teenage competitors.  As I have thought about this I am convinced that reporters with a newspaper background are perhaps much closer to true journalists than those whose training is primarily in TV and radio.  Sadly, in this visual/audio age it is the latter that is shaping the opinion of America.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Is Renting an RV Really Worth It?

A few months ago my wife and I got the bright idea to rent an RV and take a casual trip down the Oregon and California coast to my niece's wedding in Oxnard, CA.  We both enjoy the outdoors but typical tent camping is no longer a restful experience for my wife so this seemed like a good compromise.  Further, it was a good option that would allow us to travel with our lovable labrador retriever Zoie who is simply a part of the family.  The fact that I would even do this was a big step for me because I have in the past sworn that I would never be an RV owner.  However, as I have aged I guess my perspective and thoughts on this sort of thing have softened.

When my wife and I first discussed an RV trip I was a bit surprised at her high level of excitement.  In fact, within 15 minutes of our first conversation she was on the web looking at rental options of which there are many.  One of the things I learned is that there are a number of private individuals out there that rent their rigs presumably to offset the cost of maintaining and storing them.  Most private individuals seem to sour on pets, and since taking Zoie along was a requirement, we ended up renting from one of the big RV rental companies (there are 3-4 of them) Cruise America which has a liberal pet policy.  Basically if you return the RV to them in the same condition that you received it you can travel with a zoo.  Since there were only two of us and the dog (which in reality makes it three of us since Zoie is basically at big as my wife) we opted for Cruise America's compact RV the C19.  For those of you who are not RV savvy the "C" refers to a class C  RV which basically means it is a camper style where a primary sleeping area extends over the cab (alternatively a class A is the "bus" style RV).  The "19" refers to the fact that the RV is 19' long.

As is my habit I read a number of reviews regarding the Cruise America experience of others.  Reading the reviews scared me a bit because many were extremely negative particularly with regard to customer service.  However, my experience at the Portland, OR Cruise America site was pleasant and efficient.  I arrived before the stated pickup time to take care of paperwork and was on my only 15 minutes their stated earliest pickup time.  I suspect that service issues are highly site specific (e.g. from what I have read NEVER rent from Cruise America in Las Vegas).  My only criticism is that while I was given a tour of the vehicle I really was not given much explanation of how to use the vehicle.  Cruise America does have a 23 minutes video on YouTube that goes over the basics of how an RV works and a pdf users manual on their web site.  The problem is that these instruction materials were for a larger unit, not what I was renting (there were differences).  Since I had done my homework I was armed with questions to make sure I knew what I was dong before I drove off their lot.  Doing homework ahead of time is a good idea if you ever rent an RV.

Our trip lasted 8 days and covered a total of 2400 miles.  So, was it worth it?  Renting the RV turned out to be quite expensive.  To start the actual cost of the RV for 9 days was about $2,500.  Even though our trip lasted only 8 days you really need the extra day to clean the RV before you return it.  According to Cruise America's rental agreement the RV needs to be returned exactly as you receive it both inside and outside.  In a few minutes I will be taking our C19 home for the past 8 days to a self-serve car wash to give it a bath.  Last night my wife and I spent roughly 5 hours cleaning the inside.  The penalty for not returning the RV in an acceptable state of cleanliness (judged solely by Cruise America) is a $50/hour cleaning fee.  I'll let you know later today if we passed the test.  The $2,500 rental fee does not include unlimited milage.  Cruise America gave us 900 free miles (not sure how that is calculated but they knew where we were going).  Beyond that you pay $0.34/mile.  So, based on our total milage about $440 will be added to our bill bringing the total to roughly $2,940 for our 8-day trip. There is also a fee for using the on-board generator ($3/hour + fuel which they estimated to be 1 gallon/hour).  If you are what seasoned RVers call "boondockiong" (i.e. staying in places where there are no services or hookups) this can add up.  Fortunately for us we only had 8 hours of generator use (mostly to run the air conditioner for Zoie while were doing some wine tasting).  So for us the cost of using the generator should be $24 plus about $32 in fuel.  The total cost of the RV for our trip is now $2,996.  This morning I refilled the LP (liquid propane) tank at a cost of $7 for 0.6 gallons.  We only used 1/3 of the LP tank on our trip so I suspect you can go a long way on a tank of propane.  This brings the cost of the trip to $3,003.  Last but not least is fuel.  Cruise American gives an estimate for the C19 of 14-15 mpg.  We got between 11 and 11.6 mpg throughout the trip regardless of what type of driving we were doing.  Conservatively I would estimate that we spent $1,000 in fuel.  So, when all is totaled the cost for just operating our rented C19 for 8 days covering 2,400 miles was about $4,000!  Keep in mind that this does not count the cost of RV parks/campgrounds which were on average $40/night (range $33 - $65 based more on location rather than what is offered).  Thus this was an additional $320.

What I learned from the trip is that I actually did enjoy traveling in the RV.  We did not eat out a single time on the trip (actually took too much food), was able to stop along the road for a casual lunch sitting in our chairs overlooking the ocean, and never had to worry about finding rest stops (really important since I drink a lot of soda).  Even so I don't think I would do this sort of trip again in a rented RV.  The cost is simply too high.  For $4,000 you can live pretty high on the hog for 8 days.  That's not to say that I would never again rent an RV.  Actually I could easily see myself renting again if I were not traveling far and planned to stay put for some period of time.  Alternatively if I wanted to go someplace that was some distance away from our home we could drive our car to the destination and rent the RV there to cut costs.

I should say a few things of note about the C19 we rented from Cruise America.  While the C19 worked just fine the interior is a bit cheap and the unit we rented was a bit beat up.  I don't blame Cruise America for this since the care people take with their units is likely highly variable.  The beds have seat cushions that are only a couple inches thick rather than matresses which are not horribly comfortable and we ended up bringing a heavily padded mattress cover to make the overhead bed usable.  Also, I question if the design of the bed would hold up with a large person (I am over 200 lbs and where I slept sagged by the end of the trip).  Cruise America's literature gives the distinct impression that its units are equipped with a combo convection/microwave oven.  The C19 came with only a microwave which would have been problematic if we had planned to do any oven cooking.  Finally, the tanks in the C19 are entirely too small.  The "black" water tank (septic) was manageable.  However, the "gray" water tank (water that goes down the drains) and the freshwater tank were both under 20 gallons and did not last long at all.  We had great difficulty making the gray-water tank last an entire day.  If you are in a position to have to take showers in the RV this can be really problematic if you have no place to dump. My sister and brother-in-law, who have owned an RV for years, just upgraded largely to get something with bigger tanks.  I totally understand why.

I apologize of my descriptions are a bit random, but after all these are random thoughts!  If you have questions that I have not addressed let me know and I'll try to answer them from my experience.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I Want to Pump My Own Gas!!!

Whenever I travel by car beyond the Oregon boarder I find myself breathing kind of a weird sigh of relief when I make my first stop for fuel.  I actually get to pump my own gas!  It's not that I have some strange fuel fetish, but I live in the great state of Oregon where self-serve fuel is illegal and I am required to be filled up at the whim of a service-station employee.  If the station is busy it generally means that I wait, often an extended period of time, while the station's single employee makes the round between cars, chats with friends, sips on their soda, or stops for a smoke.  Apologies for this stereotype....I know there are exceptions....but truthfully this is the more common experience.  I'm old enough to remember when service stations offered full-service where each time you got gas your windows were cleaned, oil checked, tires filled, etc.  This is not what the Oregon law demands.  In fairness once in a great while an attendant at a service station will clean my front window.  It is sad that whenever this happens I feel like I've been given a special treat.

The Oregon law give several specific reasons why I should not pump my own gas.  Lets evaluate each of them:

1.  People with training in pumping are better at keeping down fire risk.

Exactly what kind of training do service-station attendants get?  As far as I can tell the training is on-the-job.  I can find no state statute that spells this out.  Because the position of "service-station attendant" is often a minimum-wage job you are not likely to find many attendants with post-high school educations.  These things suggest that this would not be considered a "skilled" position.  I've also looked for statistics that demonstrate that self service is more dangerous.  I can find nothing to support this in spite of the fact that most of the country allows self service (large sample size).  This is a silly reason for the law.  If lawmakers were serious all attendants ought to be required to take and pass a meaningful course in pump safety and fire prevention.

2.  It is nearly impossible to enforce safety standards on the driving public.

I would argue it is nearly impossible to enforce safety standards on attendants.  Since most stations are severely understaffed it is more likely an attendant will make a mistake during busy times when they "hustling" between cars and impatient patrons.  I do not know this for a fact but my guess is that the understaffing is by choice to control expenses.  If lawmakers were serious service stations ought to require a specified number of attendants to safely serve customers during peak business.

3.  Seniors and disabled drivers can’t get adequate help at self-serve stations, and are instead forced to find a full-service outlet and pay a higher price.

This is certainly an important need.  However, common courtesy rather than a state-wide law could deal with this issue.

4.  Oregon’s rainy climate leads to more slick spots at gas stations, meaning higher liability insurance rates.

That's why the state of Washington also has this law......wait...the state of Washington doesn't have this law.  Further, they do not have higher gas prices.  Throw this reason out as well

5.  Decreased maintenance of pumps because they aren’t regularly monitored.

If this were a concern then such a law would be more common in our country.  Frankly how much damage can one do to a pump by pushing buttons and squeezing a nozzle?  It is not rocket science.  Again, show me the data!  

6.  Self-service contributes to unemployment – especially among young people.

I suppose this is true.  I've tried to find out just how many service stations there are in the state of Oregon to construct some sort of estimate on the true impact but was unsuccessful.  My guess is that impact would not be as substantial as some make it out to be but I have no hard data to back up my opinion.

7.  Exposure to toxic fumes is a health hazard.

The state actually listed this.  So, we hire a bunch of young people to absorb the entire exposure to "toxic fumes?"  Makes sense.  Perhaps you must be immune to toxic fumes to actually get one of these jobs

8.  Toxic fume exposure is heightened for pregnant women.

I'd start laughing except I'm still laughing from #7.  Really, how many times a week do pregnant women gas up their cars?  The state is starting to reach here.

9.  Gas drive-off thefts are cut down with the law.

In this day and age I doubt this is true.  Most stations require prepayment for gas which eliminates this problem all together.  Even in states where drive offs are possible the estimated annual loss in 2009 was somewhere around $1000 per station.  Sounds like a lot but my guess is that is less than the annual cost of an employee plus benefits.

10.  Children are sometimes left unattended when customers go to make payment.

The fact that there are many many stations that require customers to "go inside" to pay for their fuel, particularly if they are paying cash, negates any advantage here.  The truth is that station owners do not thing about this, or anything else in this list, when they do business.  I strongly suspect most station owners would like to do away with the law.

Bottom line is that this law is outdated and none of the issues listed in the law exist.  Since I have lived in Oregon the proposed change to this law have come up and been defeated twice.  Not really sure why.  I would very much like to see it come before the voters again.  Since the last vote traffic issues and congestion at popular stations (those with the lowest price) has increased dramatically.  My guess is many would no longer mind serving themselves.  However, Oregon seems to have this desire to be different for the sake of differences.  My hope is that changes one day.  For now I can only sit back and wait until the people of this state decide it is okay for me to pump my own gas.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Do Wine Ratings Mean Anything At All?

This afternoon I came across a paper published in The Journal of Wine Economics (JWE) 3-4 years ago that reported a study where blind tasting was used to test whether expensive wines tasted better than less expensive wines.  I was interested in this study because of my long belief that the plethora of wine raters in the world single handedly discourage the success of many really good wines and, at least to some degree, assign ratings for reasons other than quality.  In fact, the paper cites a prior study (Hadj Ali et al. 2007) that claimed to find a strongly positive correlation between the price of wine and its Robert Parker rating.  In fairness I have not read this paper but it is highly likely that the claim is true.

The blind tastings used to collect data in the JWE paper were well designed and the authors were generally honest about the sample's limitations.  When the authors analyzed their data two key findings emerged:

1) There was absolutely no relationship between the price of wine and the quality of the wine as perceived by the tasters.

The authors were honest about the fact that even though the sample was fairly large (more than 500 tasters) most likely had greater than an average level of education and an interest in wine.  What this means is that the sample did not represent "average America" but rather those who generally enjoy wine.  The authors assessment of the sample is certainly true but my guess is that the sample adequately represents the segment of the population that is most likely to buy wine (at least something other than Ripple).  In actuality the data  suggested that more expensive wines are less preferred than less expensive wines in the sample but the regression coefficient is so small that I doubt this is meaningful.  It is more likely that the variety of individual pallets in wine drinkers does not process a price variable in determining what they like or don't like.  While this analysis is not directly related to wine ratings I suspect it is fair to say that if this study were repeated substituting wine rating for price you would get similar results.  Face it.  Those that rate wines cannot possibly speak for every enophile in the country and likely speak only for one or a few people.

2)  Expert wine tasters rated more expensive wines higher than less expensive wines.

On the surface this result suggests that if you have a trained pallet that you are better able to distinguish good from bad wine.  Here is where the author's data set breaks down a bit.  First, the statistics associated with this conclusion are far less concrete than the first conclusion above.  I won't bore you with the details but the way the regression model (yes, now I'm talking like a scientist) falls out leaves some uncertainty.  The authors are honest about this.  My other concern, not addressed by the authors is how the subsample of  experts was defined.  An individual in the sample was considered an expert based on profession (e.g. sommelier; about 12% of the total sample).  However, I would contend that what one actually tastes when drinking wine is stingily influenced by genetics (the physiologist in me is talking here) as anything else.  If this result is true it is equally likely that a trained person is good at recognizing an expensive wine, which adds bias to the result. Further, it is highly likely that many in the remaining component of the sample were skilled tasters with pallets developed equally to those defined as experts.  Bottom line is that this separation is pretty artificial.

Another issue I would have with this study is that the wines used were broadly drawn from various varietals and countries.  Thus, individual preference for varietal and place of origin were not controlled for. When this is considered the sample size no longer looks big enough to swamp out the error that could result from this omission.  Since I live in the Willamette Valley I would very much like to repeat this study focusing solely on Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs (for example) and see how the results hold up.  Maybe I will one of these days.

It has been said many times that wines fall into two categories:  wines you like and wines you don't like.  I honestly believe this to be true.  I also believe that the plethora of wine ratings out there today discourage many from trying new things and broadly exploring what the growing wine industry has to offer.  There is something for everybody out there because we are all different.  Wineries go after ratings because like it or not it drives sales.  However, if we can ever convince ourselves to ignore the Robert Parkers of the world I think we would discover wines that are more diverse that we ever imagined and also wine prices that reflected production costs rather than someone else's opinion of quality.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

It's No Secret....Just Get Over Yourself

I'm sitting at McDonald's this morning (seems I write a lot of these at McDonald's) doing my normal morning thing (reading the news, taking care of odd tasks, etc.) and for whatever reason was thinking about all the praise and accolade I have received over the past several weeks for being married to one woman for 32 years.  Until today I hadn't really thought much of it.  Being married to the love of my life and best friend Theo is as natural to me as breathing so the fact that our marriage continues after 32 years just didn't seem like a big deal.  After all, isn't that the way it is supposed to be?

My 32 years of marriage is far from a record.  Yesterday I was filing away some old newspaper clippings and came across a short article from 1999 announcing Theo's aunt and uncle's 60th anniversary.  I am barely half way there.  Yet the reality is that marriages that endure "till death we do part" are quickly going the way of the dinosaur.  Last Friday on the front page of USA Today one headline reported that 41% of children born in this era are born to single mothers or are raised for some period of time in a single-parent home.  Having grown up without a father at home and knowing first hand the holes this creates in ones life I could not help but feel sadness when I saw this statistic.  This statistic is of course related at least in part to the rising divorce rate in this country.  Exact statistics on divorce rate vary depending on the source, but most sources generally agree that up to 50% of all first marriages will end in divorce.  It is easy to blame this on poor preparation of our youth for marriage (more on that later) but if you dissect the statistics the divorce rate actually rises to as much as 75% for a third marriage.  This suggests that "practice makes perfect" rarely applies to relationships.  Understand that I am well aware that there instances of special circumstance that make walking away from a marriage unavoidable and perhaps even the right thing to do. Even so the trend is alarming.

My expertise on marriage is confined to my knowledge on what has made mine work.  As a man of faith I grew up with the clear understanding that marriage was intended to last the duration of ones life.  Whether or not one shares my faith understanding the marriage is intended to be a lifelong commitment it where it all starts.  A solid marriage is not built on emotions, hormones, and other physiological components of attraction.  Not that these things are bad, but they are simply the rewards and sometimes consequences of a healthy marriage relationship.  Over the years I've had some interesting conversations with my sons regarding "finding the one."  My advice has always been (this is the Reader's Digest version) that there is nothing wrong with physical attraction, but in the end they better have a deep friendship with their life partner because that is what the love that solidifies a marriage is base upon.  The wonderful benefit that comes from this foundation is that the physical attraction never goes away because your life partner never deviates from perfect.

In my view the number one reason why marriages fail is selfishness.  As a spouse I can never evaluate the success of my marriage based on the meeting of my needs.  Instead I base the success of my marriage on whether or not I am meeting the needs of my spouse.  I can never give with the expectation of getting something back.  If both partners pursue their relationship in this way it is pretty easy to see how healthy balance is achieved.  Instead of a 50:50 proposition you benefit from a 100:100 proposition.  If you owned a business wouldn't you jump all over that?  As strange as it sounds in many ways marriage is like a business because it is all about managing resources in such a way that it grows and prospers (you can define resources any way you like).  It takes work.  You have good times and bad.  If you do it well it just gets better and better and less susceptible perturbations.  If one or both partners in marriage approaches the relationship selfishly it simply does not work because in my experience selfish people's personal needs are never satisfied.  If you want to have a good marriage..get over yourself...and focus on building the partnership so the marriage will endure.

I will conclude by saying that saving the institution of marriage has importance beyond the quality of life for husband and wife.  If you look at what is happening to our youth today one would be hard pressed to argue that growing up without a true family is healthy.  I could write a lot on this just from my own experience but won't do that today.  Suffice to say that there are periods in a child's life where mentoring, by both mother and father, set the course to adulthood.  With so many children being raised today by single parents I'm left to wonder if our next generation will be equipped to mentor the generation that follows.  Single parents are not necessarily bad people, but as I witnessed with my own mother rarely have the time to make life work and still be a full-time mom or dad.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Life's Elusive Balance

Yesterday afternoon my wife Theo required me to put down my paint brush (been trying to get the trim on my house painted all Summer) and join her for an afternoon of relaxing somewhere with a view.  We ended up at Methven Family Vineyards where we (including the dog) sat for a couple hours on their shaded patio which overlooks a lovely vineyard sharing a bottle of their 2007 Reserve Pinot Noir, crackers, and some emmentaler cheese.  As much as I resisted giving up one of the few "unscheduled" weekend days I've had to get work done around the house I found our afternoon escape refreshing and a stark reminder of what I have missed from my life the past few years.

About three years I vividly remember standing next to Theo in the kitchen when she informed me that she planned to apply to a Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA) program at Mt. Hood Community College (Portland, OR).  She was going to change careers.  Theo had been a medical laboratory technologist for more than 30 years and had a good paying job at a large oncology practice.  However, the culture associated with her work environment had severely soured over the years to the point where she loathed going to work.  I could see the stress and dread associated with the job creeping into all aspects of her life.  She needed to make a change and I needed to support the move.

Sending Theo back to school was not a trivial venture.  The problem with the Mt. Hood program was that it would require Theo to quit working for two years while she completed the program.  When I sat down and did the math (i.e. the mortgage for whatever reason wasn't willing to pay itself) it was clear the Mt. Hood program was not going to work.  I had been dabbling in hybrid education and thought that perhaps someone out there in cyberspace might offer a hybrid PTA program where Theo good do coursework at home.  As it worked out there one such program in the entire country.  It was offered through Whatcom Community College in Bellingham, WA.  This was really too good to be true because our son Sean was in graduate school at Western Washington University (also in Bellingham).  We went up for a visit and Theo actually liked the Whatcom program better than the program at Mt. Hood.  Thus began our intense two and a half year venture.

Theo's motivation for our relaxing venture to Methven's patio yesterday was simply to clear her mind because this morning she sits for her national PTA board exam.  This marks the end of a journey in which she endured nine quarters of full-time employment and full-time school.  It marks the end of my having to carry extra responsibilities so that Theo had the time to be successful at both work and school.  Yesterday we had time to dump some stress by intentionally taking down time in a way that we had not done in several years.  Our simple excursion made clear just how critical all the walks, McDonald's dates, and other "escapes" were to all aspects of our health.  After today we have the opportunity to once again have them as part of our lives.

I was talking to one of the administrators at the university a while back and mentioned to him that our job responsibilities were constantly added to but that I could never recall any responsibilities being taken away.  In retrospect it seems as if this is true of life in general.  We constantly seem to have "things" added to our lives whether or not it be by choice.  In the end the adjustments we most often make result in the reduction of our personal space which will eventually threaten our physical and emotional health, our relationships, and our spiritual lives.  When this happens life is no longer in balance.  The results of this lack of balance can be seen in the faces of those we encounter each and every day.  Reclaiming personal space sometimes involves tough and difficult choices.  For Theo it meant leaving a secure, high-paying job.  For me it meant cutting administrative responsibilities at the university which became a parasite on my time (another story).  I truly believe that the caring service you provide to others whether it be professional or out of compassion is important and necessary.  But the effectiveness and motivation for such service will always be tainted and degraded if your own life is in poor repair.

Theo and I have not yet achieved the balance we desire but after today are one step further down the road to getting there.  Good luck in your own journey towards that often elusive state.