Monday, April 26, 2010

Weekend Recap

What a weekend.

I went to the Flaming Lips show Friday night. My level of busy-ness in recent weeks and the threat of nasty weather caused me to be less than stoked for this show.

That was a mistake.

The Flaming Lips, if you like their music even a tiny bit, are a must-see. Their show is just a visual and sonic onslaught on your senses. Fabulous stuff. It is a truly joyful experience.

I didn't care much for the Dead Weather, Jack White's current project. He's the drummer for the band, and all the energy and charisma he brings to a show is wasted when he's at the back of the stage behind a drum kit.

Those were the only two bands we saw, as the show started at 4:15pm and we didn't have 7+ hours of music in us.

Saturday was my bachelor party, and it was a blast. BBQ was ingested, beer was consumed, and we may have seen a couple things not appropriate for a family blog. It was wonderful to just be taken care of for an evening. Thanks to all who came out, particularly my brother Jarod and brother-from-another-mother Pete for organizing everything. I couldn't have asked for/hoped for a better time.

And speaking of bachelorhood, this will be my final post as a single man. I am going to marry the love of my life next week.

I am beyond happy.

I am beyond excited.

I never thought I could have it so good.

I occasionally have that wonderful Talking Heads "Once In a Lifetime" moment--you know, the beautiful house, beautiful wife, how did I get here moment?

She's how I got here. She has changed my life immeasurably, and I never want to be without her.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Head v. Heart: The Economy Edition, Pt. 3

Part 1 here
Part 2 here

There are people with obvious advantages. Dad owns a business; son is hired as a manager. Family is wealthy; daughter’s college years are paid for.

People like me had less tangible and less obvious advantages; however, ultimately these are the most important ones.

I didn’t have a lot in terms of material items or wealth. My advantages came in the expectations placed upon me, both internal and external.

My mom nurtured my intellectual curiosity, starting when I was a toddler. My dad provided for our family.

They both expected me to behave. For the most part, I did.

They both expected me to succeed. For the most part, I have.

I had high-quality teachers for most of my classes, from kindergarten through high school.

I chose friends, consciously or not, who wouldn’t steer me down a dangerous path. When I found a friend who tried, I quietly distanced myself from him.

Most of all, I expected myself to succeed.

So why the soft spot for those whose lives get derailed?

Because most kids who grew up where I grew up didn’t have these advantages.


When my brother graduated from Schlagle (KCK) in 2000, the friends and family of many of the graduates made huge spectacles of themselves as the names were called. It annoyed the hell out of me at the time…but not long after, I realized: a lot of these kids would be the first in the families to graduate high school. Not college. HIGH SCHOOL. Getting through the 12th grade was a monumental achievement for a lot of those kids.

Also of note? The valedictorian had a 3.5 GPA. Seriously. Out of 250 graduates, in the age of AP courses with extra grade points attached, the top graduate had a 3.5.

Another example--when I was a substitute teacher my last semester of college, I distinctly remember my first day teaching high school. I was at Wyandotte High, and we had those Scantron attendance forms to track attendance.

There were 27 kids enrolled in my first hour Spanish class. As I called attendance, only 13 were present. The other 14 had been “bubbled out” on the Scantron form for two weeks.

Point being, over half the class had dropped out of school.

That was in 1998. Things have only gotten worse.

Sumner Academy is a double-edged sword for the KCK school district, in my opinion. Yes, it provides a great educational opportunity for the top 20% of the district, but it robs the other four high schools of talent that is sorely needed to push other students and set examples.

KCK’s graduation rate is 49%, and that INCLUDES Sumner’s 90%+ rate.

Blue Valley is at 99%. Expectations, people.

Result: If you aren’t expected to graduate, you probably won’t.

The inner city culture, by and large, does not promote education. In fact, school is often ridiculed as a waste of time (and money, if you’re talking about college). If you thought studious kids got picked on in suburban schools….

And never mind that money for college is available in abundance to low-income kids--if a kid is told he’s too dumb for college even once, that kid probably never has the confidence to bother.

Besides, what wins out when you’re 16: the teacher you think is a punk, telling you about Pell Grants? Or your friends who have already dropped out of school and drive cars financed by bags of weed and “pre-owned” Alpine car stereos?

Forget about having a long-term perspective. No one has more than a year of foresight at age 16.

Do you see how early and easily a life can start to derail?

At least 6 kids around my age (that I know of) who grew up within a couple blocks of me were felons before they turned 20, and these are just the ones who got caught. One of them shot and killed someone. Another was shot and killed by someone else.

I can’t begin to count how many have given their lives to drugs.

Result: When education is not valued, something else is valued in its place. That alternative is not likely to be very good.


Based on family income, some children qualify to have their school lunch costs reduced or waived completely.

The percentage of kids in the Shawnee Mission School District receiving free or reduced lunch is 21%.

Olathe? 13%

Blue Valley? 4.3%

Before I start, no one is claiming life is rosy for every kid in the suburbs. Far from it.

However, in terms of having a path to becoming the proverbial “productive member of society”, even the least wealthy of these kids have some or all of the advantages I did.

They have an educational system with high expectations and graduation rates. That’s institutional support.

They are much more likely to have parents who expect them to succeed; their mere presence in the superior suburban schools is at least in part due to their parents consciously moving there. That’s familial support.

The vast majority of these kids are not surrounded by drug dealers and gangs, digging their claws into them and pulling them out of the classroom. That’s societal support.

The poor in Johnson County are surrounded by people who have made good lives for themselves. Over half of the adult population has at least a bachelor’s degree. Those are examples to which they can aspire.

90% of the KCK district is on free or reduced lunch. Yep. NINE out of TEN kids.

A family of 4 must gross less than $40k to get reduced lunch (and $28k to get free lunch).

Think about that for a second.

Socioeconomic cues, while not all-important, are still significant. When the family is scraping, it’s because the parents have not found gainful employment. They have not found gainful employment because…well, because of the reasons above. They weren’t expected to succeed or get educated (less than 12% of KCK adults have bachelor’s degrees). They didn’t have the role models—the good examples…which means they tend not to be good examples themselves. The people next door, across the street, and down the street are all in the same boat.

Thus perpetuating the cycle. Where are those kids’ examples?

That’s the reason I can’t be angry about subsidizing things—health insurance, college, housing—for those who didn’t get the best breaks.

It’s not all their fault. Most of the people who will read this are unaware of what some people have to deal with to even make it to adulthood unscathed.

If you didn’t grow up in the sort of environment I've described, you’re fortunate.

It’s a 99% positive thing for you. Just know the 1% downside is comprised exclusively of YOU DON’T F*&@ING GET TO ACT AS IF YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO GROW UP UNDER THOSE CIRCUMSTANCES.

I’ve seen it. Hell, I was surrounded by it. And it really affected my perspective.

I can’t lavish a world of blame on people for poor decisions made that early in life based on such faulty cues and information.

Do I agree with all government programs? Absolutely not. Do people abuse the “system”? Sure.

But when it comes down to it, I prefer to judge my society based on how it treats its least fortunate citizens—not its wealthiest.

And as tax day cometh in America, I’m happy to pay my share.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Head v. Heart: The Economy Edition, Pt. 2

(Continued from here)

Quick background: I grew up in Kansas City, KS and lived there until last June. I never lived in an area that I would consider full-blown “ghetto” for KCK, but that’s all relative: those from JoCo call far nicer areas of their county “ghetto” without a hint of irony, so keep that in mind.

I attended Kansas City, KS schools and graduated from Sumner Academy.

Socioeconomically, it’s hard to say where we stood. Relative to those around us, we were probably near the middle. (Again, emphasis on "relative".) We were a single income family until my youngest brother was old enough to be in school all day (I was 13 or 14 at the time). At that point, my mom dove into getting her teaching degree and subbed along the way. She graduated college a year or two before I graduated high school.

My dad, who is now retired, did grueling work as a laborer at a sand and gravel quarry. He was an incredibly hard worker, probably to a fault (dude – bronchitis means you should probably stay home).

I say all this to give you perspective. I didn’t usually get the things I wanted. I always got the things I needed. I never went hungry. We didn’t have extra money at the end of the month, but (unless they did a great job of hiding it) we weren’t upside down either.

Result: I appreciate all of life’s little luxuries that I enjoy now—steak instead of Hamburger Helper, Great Divide instead of Natty Light--more than most people. My tastes still haven’t even bothered with life’s big luxuries.

My father was a great example of the importance of work and earning an honest living. My mother was a great example of budgeting and handling money responsibly. Of course, I didn’t understand or appreciate any of this as a selfish youngster, but it definitely rubbed off.

Result: My mom taught me not to spend frivolously, and to keep track of where my money was going. I’ve never bounced a check, even in my broke-est college days. I’ve been late on a utility bill only once in my life. Though I’m half the worker my father is/was, I treat my job with respect and do what it takes to maintain a high standing at the office.

Sumner Academy is a magnet high school (grades 8-12) in KCK. It is a public school, but you must be invited to attend. This invitation was based entirely on standardized test scores when I was there; my understanding is that they’ve added some GPA and behavioral considerations in recent years.

The focus of Sumner is a college preparatory curriculum. Put another way, your race, background, or socioeconomic status didn’t matter—if you went to Sumner, you were expected to go to college. Your parents expected it, and the faculty expected it. With few exceptions, my entire graduating class at least started college.

Result: From age 13 to age 17, I was more or less surrounded by kids who were going to college and adults who expected me to go to college. It was never a question of IF I would go, but rather WHERE I would go.

I’ve never had a long-term, disabling health problem that has caused me to miss out on significant amounts of income or cough up a huge pile of money. Neither have my parents. This is mostly just good fortune, though the importance of having a job with benefits factors in.

I selected my major (mechanical engineering) partly due to my math/science aptitude and partly due to future employment and salary projections. I will admit up front that I was not at all happy with my career choice for the first 7 years or so, but it got better after that (and significantly better once I took my current job).

Result: I’m covered if my health heads south, and I have the education and skills that are likely to help me find another good job if I need one.

Now, I would be well within my rights to simply say, “I came from a low-income area. I worked hard. I made something of myself. I made good decisions. Why am I picking up the tab for those who haven’t done those things?”

But there's a reason I don't say those things. I’ll tell you why shortly.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Marcia Merrick

I read about Marcia Merrick on the Plog yesterday, and it was a great story (featured on NBC Nightly News) about a selfless woman who has prepared and delivered food to homeless people for 40 years. Happy stuff, right?

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Well, reality isn't so rosy.

Marcia Merrick herself is on the verge of being homeless.

Victoria Hudgins profiled Marcia and describes her situation--the one that didn't appear on NBC. In a nutshell, she has the option to either buy out her ex-husband's half of their home or move out. She doesn't have anywhere to go. Her alimony is only enough to cover her health insurance premiums.

Bottom line? The story touched me and I wanted to help. I am sending a donation and spreading the story so others, if they feel so compelled, can do the same.

Click here and scroll down for info.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Head v. Heart: The Economy Edition

Get a job.

Heard that derisive phrase recently? I would guess not, with the jobless rate persistently hovering near 10%. The stigma attached to collecting an unemployment check has evaporated for society as a whole, even if the individual getting the check worries how he or she will be seen.

But what happens in (2? 5?) years when the rate drops back to the level of “full employment”?

Do we go back to making all those unfortunate enough to be assisted by the government feel like second-rate citizens?

This is where my life experiences and circumstances crash into my economic and moral ideologies and make a big ol’ mess.

First off, I am fiscally conservative. My beliefs bear this out, and the way I live my life bears this out.

I despised the bank and auto bailout plans (though it now appears it will cost us far less than originally thought). The thought of rescuing individuals who leveraged themselves to the hilt to buy houses and toys with asinine credit “products” makes my stomach churn.

I believe in the antiquated notion of balanced budgets, be they individual or federal. My fianceƩ and I practice what we preach. Aside from our (15 year) mortgage, we have zero debt. We live well, but we live below our means. We save and invest a substantial portion of our incomes. We have both made thoughtful career decisions (education and job changes) to enable us to earn healthy salaries.

However--and this is key-—we have three major things going for us:

-We have had no unfortunate interruptions in our earnings

-We educated ourselves on the finer points of personal finance, which gave us the know-how to build this type of life for ourselves

-We had internal and external expectations (and examples) that led us to do the things that made this type of life possible

This is where the empathy comes in.

This is why the first 34 years of my life--surrounded by unintended consequences, abysmally low expectations, bad examples, and sketchy education--made me understand that we don’t all have the same road to the good life.

This is why I believe strongly in financial responsibility, yet have a difficult time finding fault in government programs that benefit the poor.

To be continued…

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Long Time, No Blog

Yeah,'s been happening the last couple of weeks. Between wedding planning (we leave in 3 weeks!), houseguests last weekend, a trip to Staten Island last week, and trying to get a roof contract wrapped up, there's been little time to write.

However, I figured I should share this.

Here at work, we had to take an online ethics training course. It was fairly ridiculous, with lousy voiceover actors talking about how they might have a hot inside stock tip, or maybe a country club membership if the other lousy voiceover actor could just make sure that contract gets signed or that PO pushed back into last fiscal year.

It was an hour of inanity I'll never get back.

Now, full disclosure here: I'm a dynamite test taker. I'm sure this won't apply to many of you out there, but I think I could have answered all these questions without even listening to the lousy actors. You're welcome to try.

If you learn that laws or regulations have been violated, you should:

( ) wait and see if anyone finds out about it.

( ) make sure you're not involved and get rid of any troublesome documents before a real investigation starts.

( ) report it to your supervisor or through appropriate Company channels immediately.

( ) launch your own investigation to gather more information and to avoid wasting the Company's time.

A coworker has recently made jokes about shooting up the Company. He seems angry a lot. What should you do?

( ) Transfer to a different department.

( ) Talk to him and try to calm him down.

( ) Make a note of it so there's a record in case something happens.

( ) Report the jokes to management.

What should you do if you notice a safety hazard in the workplace?

( ) Take steps necessary to keep the hazardous condition from affecting others and report it to your supervisor.

( ) Review the MSDS and try to work around it.

( ) Fix it yourself.

( ) Keep quiet unless someone else notices.