Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How Do You Vote?

In rich countries, most people vote every day, many times a day.  You are one of those people.

Perhaps you are not registered to vote.  Perhaps you have never stepped into a voting booth or mailed a ballot.  Nonetheless, you vote often.

You vote every time you read a story, watch a program, or listen to a song.  You vote when you buy something, visit somewhere, or pay someone.

The secret ballot is the exception rather than the rule. Safeway knows what you choose to buy.  Netflix knows what you choose to watch.  An ATM snaps your photo every time you use it.  

Yes you vote early and often.  You vote all day long, every day.

The majority may not always rule, but there is power in numbers.  One million clicks on the latest Brittney tragedy insures that the paparazzi will continue to hound her and publicize her struggles.  Double stuffed Oreos?  As more people choose them, they are stocked in more stores on more feet of shelving.

Some years back, New Coke was voted out.  Classic Coke was voted back in.  

What troubles me the most is that often we get what we vote for.  Junk food.  Crooked politicians.  Bloated CEO salaries.

We voted to give the bank execs big bucks to drive their businesses into the ground.  We voted when we used that bank, bought their stock, or ignored the proxy statements that came in the mail.  We elected the politicians that hurriedly found a trillion dollars to bail the banks out and keep the executive bonuses flowing.  

The impact of our votes can be a lot more important than a mere trillion dollars.  We smile or frown. We gossip or encourage.  Each time we choose, we influence those around us.  Do we really want more frowns and gossip?  No?  Then let us choose wisely.

Any choice is really a vote.  And any vote impacts us all to some degree.

Oh, and please remember, refusing to choose still constitutes a choice.

photo by jugbo

"Gore" is a much easier way to spell "hypocrite"

Many thanks to Barbara Cleaver for this post.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

781 visits used 21 languages

Recently I started using Google Analytics to get the big picture regarding visits to my blog.  I was startled to see that people had visited who were using 21 different languages.  I take it for granted when I do a search that most of what I find will be in English.  Ocassionally, however, I have had ocassion to use Google Translate to read a page in a language I don't know.  For example,  I can read my daughter and son-in-law's Norwegian language blog using the translate feature.  Generally speaking, the translation comes out pretty well.

A few months ago I was searching for potential Chinese manufacturers of wheelbarrows.  I was astounded when I saw that Google could translate an entire page of Chinese characters into passable English.  And it does it really fast.

I already think that it is very cool that the world is so interconnected via the internet.  Now it occurs to me that automated translation is good enough to facilitate communication between folks who do not share a common language.  


Friday, April 24, 2009

On Being Watched

I have met many people who are very concerned about the fact that so much can be known about them via the Internet.  I understand their concern.  I have given the matter a good deal of thought.

However, I always come back to the fact that many more people have seen me in the flesh than are likely to ever learn about me on the Internet.  Thousands and thousands of people have seen me in person.  No doubt it is true that the vast majority had little interest in what they saw.  Most promptly forgot me.   

Hundreds of people have read about me on the Internet.  The vast majority were not interested. Most of them have also forgotten me.

So if thousands have seen me in person, why should I worry about hundreds who read about me on the Internet.  It is true that I have revealed some private things about myself in my blog, on Facebook, and elsewhere.  However, actions speak much louder than words.  People read my body language.  They see how I respond to others.  If they are close enough to hear me, they sense the anger, fear, or confidence in my voice.  

I smirk at another's misfortune.  I shed tears in sympathy.  I shout in anger.  Every one of these things can be observed.  My eyes speak volumes more than I will ever be able to communicate via the written word.  My shoulders can slump in defeat, shrug in puzzlement, or straighten as I stand unafraid.  My hands gesture continually.  A wave of greeting.  Clenched fists of rage. Palms opened in submission.  From my hair to my toes every part of me shouts out before I even open my mouth.

And I have only spoken of humans so far.  God, creator and lord of the universe, sees every move, hears every word, and knows every thought.  He sees the good and the bad.  The beautiful and the ugly.

Yes I am being watched.  Each moment is an opportunity to glorify God or to show my failings.

God help me.

Photo by zachstern

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Good versus Evil as seen on Youtube

One of my many strange compulsions is checking Youtube periodically to see which video is the most viewed of "all time". The number one spot is currently occupied by a music video: "Girlfriend" by Avril Lavigne, with almost 120 million views after being posted for about 14 months. Susan Boyle's performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" has 26 million views (on one version of the clip, there seem to be many posts) after a single week.

Will Susan Boyle's video climb to number one for all time after a few weeks or months? Seems likely.

Suppose Susan Boyle does pass Avril Lavigne. Would that signify anything?

Lavigne's video is a celebration of nastiness with a pretty face. The refrain is "Hey, Hey, You, You, I don't like your girlfriend". Avrile bullies and torments a pretty but "uncool" girl and finally steals her boyfriend.

Boyle's video is, as one judge declares, a wake up call for all of us. Her appearance is not cool and far from what we seem to hold as an ideal. Even though I knew ahead of time that she would sing superbly (I was late learning about the video), I was still stunned when she began to sing. I got goosebumps and came close to shedding tears. I felt exactly as though I had received a wake up call from God.

Our sick fascination with the type of characters and antics Lavigne portrays will most likely continue. I don't exempt myself from that club. I am all too aware of my own predilection for the dark side. However, perhaps Susan Boyle has been sent as a reminder of how foolish we are to long for the dark, when the light is so much better.

I hope we can all remember her as needed. Thank you, Susan. Thank you, Lord.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

All Religions Are The Same, Right?


The next time someone tells you that all religions are the same at their heart, ask them to watch this video.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Google Chrome Won't Get You Home

I guess it had to happen. Until now I was very pleased with each new Google application that I tried. Unfortunately I have just run into my first "Microsoft-Like" experience with Google.

The Chrome browser seems to load web pages faster than Internet Explorer. Great! But I realized my Google Toolbar was no longer present (I needed the translate function). When I tried to install Google Toolbar, I get this message:

We're sorry, but Google Toolbar 5 is only available for Internet Explorer and Firefox.

How weird is that?  

I decide to write a friendly note to Google to help them see how absurd that is, when I ran into the next "Microsoft-Like" experience:  Nobody to write to.  I couldn't find an e-mail address anywhere.  Not for feedback.  Not even for questions.   Everyone is inexorably steered toward an uber-geek forum where we get to ask and answer our own questions.  Totally unsatisfactory.

Meanwhile, the good news is that Google is free.  The bad news is that Google is starting to show tendencies that are deadly:

1. The left hand does not know what the right is doing (as with no toolbar on Chrome).

2. They are unwilling to give me a simple way to provide feedback.

I predict that soon we will encounter the next phase:  "Oh, we decided that part isn't free anymore.".  I just went through that with Kodak's picture storage site.  I didn't buy enough prints, etc. to suit them, so they deleted my account.  I wonder how long before Picassa treats me that way.

Monday, April 13, 2009

One Big Reason Newspapers are Dying

US weighs fate of surviving Somali pirate

CNN - ‎2 hours ago‎
By Terry Frieden WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Federal law enforcement authorities are discussing what to do with the lone surviving pirate captured Sunday off Somalia's coast after a successful military rescue abruptly ended a five-day hostage standoff at sea.
'3 Rounds, 3 Dead Bodies' Washington Post

I cut and pasted the paragraph above from Google news. There is no question that this is an important story that people around the world will want to read. But did we really need 15,000 plus sources publishing the same or similar stories? If we really do want that much choice, the paying public will find a way to fund it. However, I suspect that a lot of the energy used to create those 15,000 "posts" could be used more profitably. Competition is great. Fifteen thousand competitors might be a bit much.

March and April Blog Visitors

I get visitors from all over the world, 45 different countries in just the past couple of months.  A few are people I know, but most do a Google search on a topic, and my Blog is listed as a source.  One search that continues to draw hits from all over the world is "How Do I Make a Good Choice" and similar terms.  Click on the chart below to see it in a readable size.  

Sunday, April 12, 2009

What Is The Meaning of Life?

From time to time, I wonder if my life has meaning. Purpose. A reason to go on. I thank God for friends and family who quickly reassure me that my existence is important to them.

However, when I am at my worst, I find myself wondering whether my friends and family really mean what they say.

It occurred to me that the meaning of life has been a big question for millenia. People far more intelligent and educated than me have pondered the matter and have written extensively on the subject. As I was searching for some of those writings, I stumbled upon the Wikipedia article entitled Meaning of Life.  It is a marvelous compilation of many, many schools of thought on the subject.  Each of the many entries ( for example see the one on existentialism ) provides an excellent short summary of a philosophical or religious attempt to find meaning in life.  The possibility that life is meaningless (i.e. absurd) is also included.

As I read the long list of summaries, I suspected that a true follower of any one philosophy may find the summary of their thoughts to be inadequate.  However, Wikipedia is particularly helpful with broad topics like this one.  A profusion of links exist in the article that can take one to deeper and deeper explorations of any one philosophy or belief.  If public domain articles become inadequate,  there is always a nice list of links to weighty tomes that should satisfy the most voracious appetite for reading.  One could also find and enter into discourse with many fellow adherents of any given line of thought.  

I read the long list carefully.   I found the summary for Christianity to be a fine start for anyone seeking to understand that faith.  Here is a key sentence from that passage:

Under the Christian view, the main purpose in life is to live like Christ did (perfect altruism) to love God with all one's heart, soul, and mind, and to love fellow human beings as you should be loved.

I could quibble with bits of that sentence, but its heart and soul is a phrase that is repeated throughout the bible and quoted by Jesus in the New Testament:  "to love God with all one's heart, soul, and mind, and to love fellow humans as you should be loved".

I am without excuse if I fail to remember the purpose of my life. I am a christian.  Loving God means knowing and obeying God.  Knowing and obeying God means that I will grow in love for each and every person I encounter.  I can rejoice that God will help me to grow in love if I ask him to.

There is not a moment in my waking hours when I cannot turn my mind towards loving God and loving my fellow humans.  Often I can act on the thoughts.   Serving. Listening. Praying. Forgiving.   Consequently, the meaning of my life has been made abundantly clear by the God I love and serve.

 I thank God for meaning in my life.

He Is Risen Indeed

That's My King - S.M. Lockridge

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Full Disclosure: Kent's Life as a Suit

As I posted about executive compensation and "the suits", I grew uncomfortable.

I imagine it would be easy for most folks to read those posts as a diatribe against those rotten executives with their bloated salaries, dressed to assert their importance. I am sad to say that the worst parts of me were thinking exactly like that.

As always, the full picture is a lot more complicated.

Perched in the middle of this crowd of suits is me. I was attending several days of meetings in Japan. Several comrades and I were meeting with the American and Japanese management of a major supplier for the electronics company that employed us. (In the tradition of HAL in the movie "2001, A Space Odyssey", I have decided to refer to our employer as GO.) By major supplier I mean that they supplied GO with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of a single type of component. The color of my beard reveals that this photo was taken more than a decade ago.

GO has a particularly informal culture. Six figure execs wore jeans to work. Seven and even eight figure execs frequently wore slacks and a dress shirt with no tie. I was definitely a jeans guy. However, I did have some small understanding of other cultures. Wearing jeans to a meeting with Japanese business men would rival wearing a Speedo to church (which I have done, but that is a story for another time).

I was the senior representative for GO. GO is very large. So despite the fact that I was four or five levels above entry level, I was also six or seven levels below CEO.

In my own way, I was one of "the suits".

As I write this I am struggling mightily to forgo telling you what a lowly suit I was. Because although I was wearing a cheap sports coat and khakis, I was definitely a suit. In fact, in the photo below, I am seated as guest of honor, directly across from the head of the Japanese operations.

Yes, those Geisha are the real thing. As for the dinner, I hope I never find out how much it cost. I seem to recall eight or nine courses. The most memorable dish was the raw sea slug served in a little igloo of ice. No, I'm not kidding. See the next photo.

The seat next to the Geisha is empty because someone was sick and couldn't come. You can see the various dishes that had collected at his spot up to that point.

O.K. I was not a nine figure CEO, but I was a suit. And if we want to play the multiples game, it goes like this. My income was about 6 or 7 times that of one of GO's U.S. factory workers. It was also 300 to 500 times that of a Tanzanian worker.

It is only the hypocrite in me that thinks of the nine figure CEO as some sort of monster. He or she is just riding the wave like I was. I can't really blame the executives if the stockholders for a corporation allow the board to vote crazy high compensation. It really is a democracy. Board members are elected by shareholders. In America, a vast number of us are direct shareholders via our 401Ks, IRAs, and pension funds.

Of course, that leads to this question: "How can a democracy fail so miserably to prevent that kind of excess." I think I know, but I'll save the answer for another post.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Suits

I am pretty sure that the term "the suits" did not come into common usage until I was a young adult.

Now I hear it in a number of contexts, but none of them make me think that it is a good thing to be one of the suits. For example, an office worker might say, "The suits from corporate will be here tomorrow." First thing that would come to my mind in that situation would be, "Crap, now we have to waste a bunch of time showing them around the place (and that means cleaning up)."

Between 1950 and 1970, U.S. and European culture made a pretty radical change. Before that period, male manual laborers and tradesmen wore "work clothes". People who worked in offices, universities, etc. wore suits. What we call a suit today is a dumbed down version of a military uniform. It developed during the 19th century. Before that a man who wanted to display status, pretty much dressed like a peacock, like Henry below.

And, no he is not glad to see you, that is a codpiece. It was de rigueur in Henry's time.

But in recent decades we find our selves in a tough situation. The suits all look alike. How can we know if they are lower level suits or top of the heap suits? Fortunately we still have a few clues. If there is a woman with an important suit, she will also be dressed in a suit, or she will look like a peacock. Another tip would be the car the suits arrive in. If the car is worth more than your house and your children's college education combined, then he is a very important suit. Watches work the same way. I really don't know why, but it is perfectly o.k. for a suit to drive a Rolls Royce or wear a Rolex, but they seem to be shy about looking like a peacock.

I think it would make it easier for everyone if we returned to the sable collars and scarlet capes. We could be a hundred yards away and still tell that it was a guy who believes himself to be important. That would give us more time to clean up our act.

suits photo credit: The CBI

henry viii photo credit: Sleepless in Somerset

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Executive Compensation - Part 2

CEO pay: Sky high gets even higherA new report shows top-dog pay bites shareholders, and alleges war profiteering among some CEOs.
August 30, 2005: 12:24 PM EDT
By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN/Money senior writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) – If sky-high executive pay at publicly traded companies gives you vertigo, you might want to read this sitting down.

In 2004, the ratio of average CEO pay to the average pay of a production (i.e., non-management) worker was 431-to-1, up from 301-to-1 in 2003, according to "Executive Excess," an annual report released Tuesday by the liberal research groups United for a Fair Economy and the Institute for Policy Studies.

That's not the highest ever. In 2001, the ratio of CEO-to-worker pay hit a peak of 525-to-1.

Still, it's quite a leap year over year, and it ranks on the high end historically. In 1990, for instance, CEOs made about 107 times more than the average worker, while in 1982, the average CEO made only 42 times more.

The cumulative pay of the top 10 highest paid CEOs in the past 15 years totaled $11.7 billion.

And though the specific individuals in each of those annual top 10 lists changed year to year, many bosses did pretty well throughout the entire period. Citigroup's Sandy Weill, for example, has made $1.1 billion since 1990.

Executive Compensation

On average, chief executives at Japanese companies with more than $10 billion in annual revenues are paid about $1.3 million a year, including bonuses and stock-option grants, according to Towers Perrin, a consulting firm, based on data gathered between 2004 and 2006. But chiefs in the U.S. are paid about $12 million, and chiefs in Europe are paid $6 million.

The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 28, 2008

Welcome To Downtown Magugu

Do you see anything in this picture that might make you want to move to this town?

Probably not.

My daughter and her husband live near here. They plan to stay for a couple of decades. They had to learn Swahili, the national language of Tanzania, just to get started.
Most people in the area around Magugu don't speak Swahili as their "first language". If you want to have a serious, deep discussion with them, you should learn Mbugwe. Of course learning the Mbugwe language will also entail working hard to understand the culture of the Mbugwe people. The Mbugwe (20,000 or so of them) are one of more than one hundred distinct people groups among the 30 million people of Tanzania.

Julia and Viggo want the Mbugwe people to have better access to the good news about Jesus Christ. They want it enough to move here and devote their lives to understanding the culture, learning the language, creating a written version, promoting literacy, and translating the Bible.

May God grant them the strength, the endurance, and the love that will enable them to succeed.