A Christian Response to Newtown

newtownPerhaps Facebook, Twitter, blogs and the news media are right about the Newtown tragedy. Maybe this is about gun control. Or prayer in schools. Or mental health. Or freedom to carry guns. Or something else.

But I don’t think any of this is appropriate right now.

The proper response is this:

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
Romans 12:15

Debate the policy, but do it later. Nothing good comes while trying to take advantage of a grieving people.

A Trip to Galveston (Vacationing with an Infant & Toddler)

After traveling to Colorado last year, Kari and I opted to stay closer to home this year. After Emmy’s arrival last fall, we knew that traveling via car was a better option. Wise choice.

Like our journey last year, we learned much about traveling with kiddos. First, there is a big different between trips and vacations. Last year’s journey to Colorado was a trip masquerading as a vacation. It was fun, but there were so many cool things to see and do, and we were rushed the entire time. Since we have both been to Galveston (and Galveston is not be as beautiful as Colorado), we had no plans to sight-see and have a hectic schedule. Our plan was to get away and rest. It was a wildly different and just as wonderful.

Earlier this year, we upgraded from a small sedan (Honda Civic) to a minivan (Honda Odyssey). Although we managed to visit family and pack what we needed in the Civic, our needs have grown:

Lesson two: “needs” rise to the level of available space.

The ride down was great, and we stopped at Gringo’s for lunch. Lesson three: Waco needs a Gringo’s. We breezed through Houston with only one slowdown and were in Galveston early in the afternoon. The beach house was nice and only 1,000 feet from the gulf.

After settling in, we made an obligatory trip to Walmart. For some reason, we frequent shady Walmarts on trips (lesson four). After checking my pockets to make sure no one absconded with my wallet, we went back to the house for dinner and bed time.

Lesson five: kids who don’t nap fall asleep so quickly. With our crazy schedule driving down, neither girl napped much. As a result, they didn’t fuss at bed time. Win. For those of you with kids, you know that sleeping in weird places can sometimes be difficult. After putting the girls down, Kari and I enjoyed a little cable. Which brings me to lesson six: absence makes the heart grow fond. Since we no longer have cable at home, our 30 minutes of HGTV was very enjoyable.

On Tuesday, Kari’s parents drove down for lunch. We had a delicious lunch, and I made the terrible mistake of turning down dessert. Lesson seven: never turn down dessert when offered. Lunch was great, and it was nice seeing them for a little while. They departed at nap time.

Following naps, the four of us wheeled down to the beach for the girls’ first ever trip to the beach. They both loved it. Abby loved the water, putting her face into the surf and smiling from ear to ear. Emmy loved it too. That is until she tried to eat it. And rub it into her eyes. Lesson eight: kids who love the water hate getting out:

She calmed down rather quickly. The weather turned bad, so we packed up and headed back to the beach house. I see many more trips to the beach in our future.

The weather was mostly gray and rainy for the rest of the trip, but that was ok. In between storms on Wednesday, we went to the candy shop on the Strand. We also learned that suckers are a parent’s friend (lesson nine). After getting candy, we took the girls to the Rainforest Cafe. Abby loved the fish but hated the simulated storms.

The rain continued on Thursday, and we went through numerous storms on our way home. We stopped to visit some friends in Houston and eat at Smashburger (lesson ten: Waco needs a Smashburger). Our journey home was capped by a low-water crossing on HWY 6 just north of Hearne.

It was a wonderful vacation.

Romney’s 47% Gaffe

Huffington Post, MSNBC, and others have excoriated Mitt Romney for remarking that 47% of Americans don’t pay taxes and therefore won’t vote for him. The statement was unfortunate in many respects, although I don’t see it as negative as what is portrayed. Is anyone surprised to hear that 47% of the country won’t vote for Romney? I suspect this controversy will die down shortly, but in the mean time, the Romeny campaign should go on the offensive:

Romney should issue a statement along these lines:

“After watching the recently released video, some members of my campaign staff informed me of factual errors within my speech. I, like most Americans, hate when politicians say things that are not 100% true. I am deeply sorry that these off-the-cuff comments were not factually accurate. As president I would serve all Americans, regardless of their viewpoints.

“There are many folks who do indeed rely on the government–my running mate’s mother is one of them, and we have a responsibility to them. We must continue to support our seniors who worked so hard to make the country is what it is. We must also continue to offer temporary support for those who have fallen on hard times.

“Make no mistake, these comments do reflect our belief that the Federal Government has grown too large and supports people who need no support. President Obama’s recent proposal to drop welfare work requirements is another example of this and something my campaign strongly opposes.”

And from Romney surrogates:

“I think this video is a refreshing reminder that government has grown too big and is trying to do too many things. The Federal Government must not subsidize laziness.”

And:

“I think this video proves that Mitt Romney is human and makes mistakes. Mr. Obama’s humanity was established long ago when he condemned rural, religious people and again when he promised the Russians flexibility. The core issues of this campaign remain the same: will the U.S. be subject to the current administrations failed policies for another four years?”

What do you think?

On Obamacare

This is the third in a series on healthcare in America. For context, see the first and the second posts in the series.

After the Supreme Court ruling last week, the world has been abuzz with commentary on the ruling. Here are my thoughts.

The Ruling

I’m glad to read the the Supreme Court did not strike down another law. It seems to me like a shortcut for the non-ruling party to get what they want. It’s a get-out-of-jail-free card used too often.

That being said, the logic behind the ruling is bizarre to me:

  • The law is not a tax, therefore the Supreme Court has jurisdiction to listen to the case.
  • But the law was ruled a tax and is a Constitutionally permissible. It is not regulating commerce, per se, but imposing taxes on a certain group.

Go figure. Does this mean someone could challenge the law in 2014 as an unconstitutional tax?

“I just remind conservative commentators that for years we’ve heard that the biggest problem is judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint. That a group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law. Well, this is a good example. And I’m pretty confident that this court will recognize that and not take that step.” [Source]
— President Obama, April 2, 2012

Last week, the Court ruled on several issues:

  • National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (Obamacare). Verdict – Constitutional.
  • Stolen Valor Act. Verdict – Unconstitutional. [Source]

In both cases a “duly constituted and passed law” was contested before the court. One was upheld, and one was not. Clearly there’s some sort bias here. It doesn’t matter how a law us passed (seems to me like all follow the same basic path), but what you believe about the philosophy of law.

Could you imagine is the rulings were reversed? I sure can, and the President who is both happy/unhappy with the Court would be unhappy. But he’s happy because one was upheld and the other wasn’t. Go figure.

Disclosure: I don’t tend to think the Stole Valor Act was needed. All it takes is an internet connection to prove someone’s a fraud. Shame the perpetrator and move on.

On Idealogy

For the last time, yes, Supreme Court Justices make decisions based on their judicial philosophy. Is anyone shocked to read this? John Roberts performed legal limbo to declare the law Constitutional (see above) because of a prevailing philosophy. Perhaps it was in this line that explains his thinking the most:

“Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.”
— John Roberts, Chief Justice, U.S. Supreme Court

And there you have it from the Chief: don’t blame me, elect new people. I agree–this should be the way democracies work. Sending laws before the Supreme Court to have them overturned isn’t ideal. And lastly, did anyone expect the four liberal judges to strike the law down? Uh, no.

The Good

Obamacare has a number of beneficial regulations (here’s a truncated list):

  • No lifetime maximums for coverage amounts (how can you put a value on human life?).
  • Minors are covered under their parents plan through age 26 (this will be good for us in about 20 years or so).
  • Pre-Existing conditions won’t preclude an individual from coverage (the same as above, how do we value human life?).
  • Lapse in coverage won’t hinder your future coverage (once again, a moral question).

The Bad

New taxes and many government guidelines are bad–the tax burden on our nation is already tremendous.

  • Taxes
    • Medical Equipment Excise Tax
    • Non-payer “feetax” (I should trademark this word!)
    • Capital gains (investment) surtax.
  • Regulations
    • Conscience violating provisions (abortifacients and birth control, mainly).
    • Perhaps other conscience violating guidelines to be issued by HHS later: sex change operations, abortions, etc.

Note: I’m not making an argument for- or against- these specific regulations. What am I saying is that government should not be a position of forcing people to violate their faith. The issue is compulsion.

The Sophistry (or the really bad)

My heavens: is this a fee, a tax, or a feetax? I don’t know. Democrats say one. Republicans another. The Court has its opinion, and since they decided the law is legal, it’s officially a tax. Let’s be honest and call it a tax. If you’re happy with the ruling, just be honest.

I don’t know how adding 50 million plus people to the insurance roles is going to provide us with better, lower-cost healthcare. If demand increases, so does the price. Someone has to pay for this (see taxes above).

I think the moral argument for the necessity of universal health insurance is crazy. The goal isn’t for people to have health insurance, the goal is to create an excellent health care system. All of the insurance in the world won’t due you any good if you still can’t afford a $2,000 surgery (after insurance). Someone still eats that figure.

The insurance market is so regulated and filled with intricate laws that it prevents the market from working properly. Have you ever gotten a doctor’s bill for a non-covered procedure? I have. It’s expensive. If the insurance company chose to cover it, the amount paid to the doctor would plummet. That’s right, if I pay out of pocket, it’s one number, but if the insurance company pays, it’s lower. Something smells rotten in the state of healthcare.

The other bizarre part of health insurance is the lack of natural penalties for bad behavior. Take car insurance, for example. If I have a wreck, my premiums will increase. I have become riskier to insure. If I were a smoker or obese, should my insurance rates be higher? These are voluntary behaviors that adversely affect my health.

It’ll be interesting to watch this unfold between now and November.

Chime in. What do you think?

2011 by the Numbers

12 – New teeth in Abby’s mouth.

11 – Number of mealtimes in the day (Abby – 5, Emmy – 6)

10 – Hair bows Kari made & sold.

9 – Trips to visit family.

8 – Inches of snow on vacation in May.

7 – Trees removed from our back yard.

6 – The time I get up almost every morning.

5 – Days spent in Colorado on vacation.

4 – Nights spent in the hospital.

3 – Years of wedded bliss.

2 – Number of kiddos.

1 – New Baby.

0 – Moves.

Disney Intros: Design Evolution and Technical Improvement

As a kid, I loved Disney movies–particularly the animated ones. I remember the opening blue screen with Cinderella’s Castle. In the context of 2-D animation, it was a perfect opening–simple but recognizable.

As Pixar’s 3-D prowess increased, they updated the original blue opening and added a few three-dimensional flourishes. It was a literal reinterpretation of the Disney opening.

The requisite blue background remained, but the flags waved and a slightly more realistic castle floated in mid-air awaiting the introduction of the title. The original was iconic and in many ways, not subject to reality; however the rudimentary 3-D work in the follow-up lost the simplicity and magic.

Enter version three:

The latest iteration captures the magic of Disney in ways 2-D animation could only dream: a mystical start in the heavens, a moving camera point, fireworks and lighting complexity. This is the perfect introduction to the magical world of Disney.

Whereas the first 3-D version captured all of the requisite elements of the original, the design was constrained based on past considerations. Instead of rethinking what made a Disney movie (and intro) great, they simply slapped a new coat of paint on the intro.

A proper re-imagining of the intro led to something that captured the essence of Disney while taking advantage of technological improvements. It was everything that the original offered but appropriately updated.

As designers, I wonder if we fall prey to the ease of slapping paint on something old. Technology has opened up new worlds for designers, and it would be a shame to miss what the new allows us to do.

Choke

At dinner in the not-too-distant past, Abby grabbed a piece of banana and shoved it in her mouth. Normally one to bite off a piece at a time, she decided that she wanted it all. She wanted a bite that mommy or daddy would take.

Shocked to discover that her mouth was now uncomfortably full, she chewed in vain, but it was no use. She choked. Mommy and daddy came to the rescue and extricated the banana from her mouth. To prevent a repeat occurrence, mommy sliced smaller pieces for her. She pushed them away. She had her fill.

Choking changes future behavior.

It’s the fourth quarter, and the Cowboys are poised to take a seemingly insurmountable lead. On the verge of a touchdown, the ball pops from quarterback Tony Romo’s hands. No score. The Cowboys make countless mistakes in the final 10 minutes. They lose by three.

Mistakes lead to more mistakes.

Travel to Flushing Meadows for the 2011 U.S. Open Men’s Semifinals. Roger Federer has taken a commanding two sets to zero lead over Novak Djokovic. One more set to win. Federer crumbles as Djokovic mounts an unrelenting comeback. Crushing victories followed in sets three and four. The final set appears to be headed for extra games, but Federer errs at the end, losing the final set 5-7.

Easing up before the finish opens doors for opponents.

In what many believe will be the last NBA finals for several years, the Miami Heat take a double digit lead into the final minutes of the game. The players jump and scream on the court, celebrating their near-certain victory. Stunningly, this display lights a fire in the Mavericks who reel off an impressive 22-5 run to steal the victory.

Celebrating victory prematurely is foolish.

America’s past-time, 2011. The historically inept Rangers are poised to take their first world series crown over the Cardinals. Two outs, two strikes. One more pitch and a victory for the nine fielders. Unless, of course, that pitch leads to a run. Hours later, players wonder how they let that game get away.

Intense pressure distorts execution.

Choking is a reflexive behavior. Abby choked because she tried to eat too much at once. The Cowboys choked because they feared making more mistakes would cost them the game. Roger Federer choked when he let up before finishing the match. The Heat choked after celebrating their victory instead of finishing the game. The Rangers choked because they let the pressure get to them.

In Abby’s case, well, she’s only one and gets a free pass for choking. For the rest of the evening, she was banana-averse–and for good reason, in her mind it was a dangerous behavior not worth trying again. As a one-year-old, she’s well suited for failure. She quickly forgets and tries again. The next morning, she returned to her normal, banana-loving self. Of course, mommy, daddy, and Abby are all more mindful to prevent this from happening again.

Well-paid athletes don’t get the same luxuries as small children. They are expected to perform under pressure and forget what happened in the past. The Cowboys have been dogged by their mental demons all year. Federer has been in steady decline after losing the edge to Nadal and Djokovic. The Heat came back, won game 3, but then lost the following three to cede the championship to the Mavericks. And so the question is: what will become of the Rangers?

Smart people choke from time to time. It’s inevitable. The foolish ones don’t learn from the past and relive it time and time again. The smart ones learn from the past and change their actions.

Here’s to the chokers.

Welcomes and Goodbyes

Today, Kari and I welcomed Emmaline Grace Maddox into our lives. She weighed in at just over 8 pounds and nearly 20 inches in length. The process of her birth was largely uneventful aside from some bruising. Considering the miracle of birth, we can’t ask for more.

It is always thrilling to welcome a new child, and even more so to meet your child. Every kid has a vastly different personality in spite of their genetic similarities. We waited months for this day and have been amply rewarded with a beautiful baby girl.

Goodbyes are of a different sort. We don’t welcome them–we endure them. Today, we all said goodbye to a man whose influence is undeniable. From CGI to UI, Steve Jobs impacted our world. His innovative presence will be missed.

Several years ago, Steve gave a oft-quoted speech at Stanford University:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

 

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. [Link]

Today, Steve lived his axiom. Someone else now has the chance to create. His speech was brilliant for students embarking upon a future filled with great things. His speech is hollow for people who say goodbye.

We all face goodbyes, either with those we love or with the realization of our own fragility. Our hope then is either in what we have done, as Steve says, or what someone else has done. Steve was mostly right: no one has ever escaped [death]. But he’s wrong because One escaped death. This One made goodbyes bearable because of the hope that there’s more to life than death.

Tonight, we said goodbye to Steve. More importantly, I said hello to Emmaline. I want the best for her; like Steve, I want her to avoid false thinking that hinders. I want her to do great things and change the world. Most importantly, I want her to know the One who makes goodbyes bearable. I want her to know the hope of life in spite of death.

Goodbyes are inevitable. Hope is either central or peripheral. Let our hope be central–not in the things we create but the One who created all.

Welcome to the world, Emmaline, you have much to look forward to.

An Open Letter to the U.S. Government

Dear Mr. President and Congresspeople,
Over the past few months, I have watched you bicker about the national debt. To deal with the crisis, a bipartisan panel was selected to devise a plan. Most of you decided it was a bad idea, and you punted on the issue. Thankfully, some people in Congress have made a stink about the debt, and once again, talks are ongoing. The biggest shame is that if any of you operated a business like this, you’d either be fired or in jail.

Doesn’t our country deserve better than this?

Who came up with the idea that enormous loans are necessary for operating the federal government? I know this is neither a red nor a blue issue: both political parties are culpable. It’s time that you make some hard decisions and balance the federal budget. The premise is simple: revenue must meet or exceed expenditures.

This graph illustrates the absurdity of our system. Remember, revenue must exceed expenditures. To fix this, you must either increase taxes or reduce spending. Considering that governmental spending is at an all-time (peace-time) high, I think spending may be the issue.

Here’s what you could do:

Pass a balanced budget amendment that takes effect in 2015. This will give the government four years years to get things in order.

Eliminate corporate and agricultural subsidies. Allow the market to determine which products are best.

Reduce the regulatory burden on companies–particularly in the health care and energy industries. The last thing we need is for rules to prevent innovation.

Simplify the tax system. This will allow people to better estimate their tax burden and will reduce the chance for people to avoid paying taxes.

Deal with Social Security and Medicare. The costs for these programs are going to rise unless Congress addresses the structural issues of funding and expenses. People live longer, and medical expenses are high. Either the eligibility age must rise or coverage must decrease.

Pay off the national debt. We should dedicate 1% GDP to reducing our debt.

From a non-budgetary perspective:

Reduce our country’s dependence on imported energy. Allow companies to extract oil, gas, and coal from our country that is environmentally friendly and economically feasible. This puts men and women back to work and adds to our GDP.

Reform the immigration system. Intelligent people from other countries study in our universities and work in our technology firms. Provide a way for these folks to become permanent residents or citizens.

Elected officials: it’s time to fix the problem. Please, take care of this issue for us and for future generations.

Yours Truly,

Andrew