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When I sit at my table to write, I never know what it's going to be until I'm under way. I trust in inspiration, which sometimes comes and sometimes doesn't. But I don't sit back waiting for it. I work every day. -- Alberto Moravia
In a bizarre circumstance, my family and I happened to be on I-24 headed east just outside of Nashville, Tennessee, when all traffic came to a halt. There'd been an accident about 1/4 mile from where we were now parked on the interstate. 30 minutes later, a life flight helicopter lands to take away the injured.
I had my camera with me, and so I shot a quick video of the helicopter as it took flight to rush to the hospital. Not something you see every day.
I don't know if the injured are okay. I can't find a story link to it anywhere. But the accident looked bad enough.
If I find a story link later, I'll post it.
ETC: Pale Rider tells me in comments that this is the link to the news story. Very sad... and thanks, PR. Be safe on your vacation.
MORE ETC: Justin's best friend was evidently in the crash, and Justin was riding in an adjacent vehicle. He comments and gives the story, and you can read what he has to say. I'd like to add that my family and I were pretty concerned for the victims and we wanted to know what happened. In no way did I intend to offend anyone by posting this. In fact, I was surprised that the local news channels didn't have more to say about it, because everyone in the other cars on the interstate with us expressed a desire to know what had happened. I hope this fills in the blanks.
Tonight, I had the blessing of getting a better knowledge of what, I think, it is to be Southern. We attended the Stone Mountain laser show, shortly after Independence Day, and it was quite a show, and my first-ever laser show. Kinda cool...
But as I watched, they played songs of Georgia, patriotic songs, and songs of family. And it occurred to me that, almost without exception, those I know from the south are deeply proud of their heritage and family, their city and state, and their country. They are unabashedly loyal. They won't throw these things under the bus. It's a line you don't cross.
And so as I leaned against my southern belle wife watching the show, I felt yet again incredibly lucky to be a part of her family. They've come to know me and I am now woven into the fabric of their bonds. I'm one of those lines that won't be crossed. That's a safe place.
I also appreciate the South. Indeed, I am grateful for the South and those who herald from it. They're patriots and just really good people.
I'm from Iowa, and Iowa too has wonderful people. But there's something much deeper and more firm in the South than what I find in Iowa. Unless your family has a century farm, an Iowan isn't steeped in heritage like a Southerner is. The laser show was full of themes that echoed those emotional and historical ties.
It's good to be in Georgia at this moment. It's a great place to celebrate our nation and be surrounded by family.
In this series on listening, I don't think I've really defined the word. What is it?
The American Heritage dictionary gives it as:
1. To make an effort to hear something: listen to the radio; listening for the bell. 2. To pay attention; heed: "She encouraged me to listen carefully to what country people called mother wit" (Maya Angelou).
"Make an effort." "Pay attention." Ears are implied, but not exclusive.
If I could, I'd like to give my own definition.
Listening is not an auditory function, but a focused act of receptivity by one's whole body and mind. You hear with your ears; you listen with your soul, open wide.
If a definition for conversation is that two people enter into it willing to emerge a slightly different person, then listening is the openness to become changed in response to what someone else communicates to us.
Over the last week, my computer has been randomly shutting itself off. Turns out it was my hard drive, dying a slow and, um, intermittent death. So today, I bid adieu to my formerly reliable Western Digital 240 Gb hard drive.
Now the hot question of the moment: will my new hard drive accept a bootable partition and let me run without purchasing a new copy of Windows? Same computer, but Microsoft might be richer for the hardware failure. Neato!
More reasons why a Mac just looks better all the time. If it wasn't for the software investment I have in a Windows environment, I'd jump ship pronto.
Heaps of praise to Little Dog Tech for coming to my computer-crashing rescue.
Owned by a guy named Paul, I'm totally impressed with his come-to-my-door service, his ability to do what I can't with my hard-drive, and his willingness to help me after hours.
5 stars, two-thumbs way up, and a chorus of yee haws!
Now if I could only find my licenses for a few programs that like to manage legality to a specific hard-drive, such as IPSwitch's WS-FTP Pro. But this is a minor inconvenience for what was a panicked situation. Again, Paul at Little Dog Tech saved my bacon BIG TIME.
Tamara and I have driven across the country three times this year, and we have at least two more trips in front of us, and that's driving when fuel economy is most economical: on the highway. That's not to mention driving in town daily at lower MPG.
Given this expensive state of affairs, I wanted to learn more about why gas prices are as they are and where that money goes. Caveat: I'm no expert. I'm trying to piece it together from multiple sources... if you see an error, correct me where I'm wrong. But I'll give you what I can discern. Consider this learning out loud.
First, it's not easy to learn how the price of a gallon of gas breaks down.
So to translate, about 50 percent of the price of a gallon is the cost of crude oil, 20 percent is refining and production, 10 percent is infrastructure and 20 percent is taxes.
20% goes to taxes. That's 63˘ at $3.14 per gallon. And what exactly does the government do to produce gas? It doesn't.
Yes, some of that money goes toward road maintenance. But think about it. If you fill up two to three times in a month, for both vehicles, as my family does, that's about $75 a month in taxes, or close to $1,000 a year. (I need to do a post in the future on the multiple places we're taxed... I recently wanted to install a home phone, since we're all on cell phones now, and learned that there's a flat $15 a month tax on a home phone, plus usage tax. My $50 a month home phone became a $70 a month purchase because of taxes. I cancelled the order.)
So now you know about taxes at the pump. The next time politicians bemoan oil company profits ask them about taxes. At least oil companies actually do something to put gas in the pump. Politicians just skim. That pump price shown above would be $2.51 if it weren't for the "because I can" money grab by politicians.
Imagine a world without 20% gas taxes... let's halve it to 10%, which is still more than sales tax alone. We're down to $2.83 per gallon.
I hear a lot about refining capacity. What's that all about? An oil refinery takes oil crude - what comes straight from the earth - and turns it into usable gasoline. We need those.
Refining capacity is how well and how much we crank out gasoline at refineries. The more we put out, the greater supply of gas there is. You've heard of supply and demand? The more supply, the lower the price? Well, we have a problem here.
This report, from the Department of Energy, shows that in 1982 there were 263 refineries. In 2002, there were 159. And today, only 150. I hear from right-wing media all the time how it's the environmentalists who aren't allowing more refineries to be built. Um, okay... that might be true to some degree. But isn't it easier to simply maintain what you already have permission to have - an existing refinery - than to get permission to built from scratch? We've dropped 113 refineries in 25 years. That's a reduction of 43%. Environmentalists didn't do that. Each of those was a business decision by an oil company.
Now, if what I produce is in high demand and getting more in demand all the time, and I can restrict the supply to make my production more valuable, why, that's just good business. Each refinery becomes more profitable. "More with less." Sound familiar?
During this decline in the number of refineries, technology helped them get more efficient. The 263 operating refineries in 1982 distilled 17,618,872 barrels of oil per day. The 159 operating refineries in 2002 distilled 17,177,371 barrels of oil per day. While that's close to the same output, it's a half million barrels fewer. And yet, demand has gone up. I'll bet they're laughing all the way to the bank. Less expense, more profit. Right-wing media appear to be dupes who haven't done their homework when they blame it only on environmentalists. (I haven't looked at why they closed, but I seriously doubt these facilities closed due to environmentalist pressures.)
So I can see that refineries are about 40% more efficient than they once were. If all of these were still operating, and if supply were that much more efficient, gas prices would be reduced. This guy says without source that "refiner's margins have gone from $.40 a gallon to $.80 over the last year." Let's make that assumption.
Imagine a world without refinery shut downs... subtracting 40˘ from gas prices, we're down to $2.43 per gallon, and the oil companies still profit 40˘ a gallon. Sounds fair to me.
Ethanol is a problem. Because laws demand an additive to make gas that burns cleaner, ethanol is the only readily available additive now that MTBE is out of the picture. And ethanol might be responsible for giving oil industry execs an excuse to scale back refinery expansions.
Oil industry executives no longer believe there will be the demand for gasoline over the next decade to warrant the billions of dollars in refinery expansions - as much as 10 percent increase in new refining capacity - they anticipated as recently as a year ago.
We see that war in Iran or Iraq makes them spike and spike big.
Now I happen to believe that we did the right thing in going into Iraq. But the mismanagement of the war certainly made it last longer, and that keeps crude prices higher longer. Purposeful? Never ascribe to malice what can be explained by stupidity. Let's finish the fight and go home (link via Glenn Reynolds).
If crude is half the cost of gas at the pump, and if we can get prices back to even $35 a barrel, that's roughly a 75˘ reduction in gas prices.
All totalled, in my imaginary world, gas is then $1.68 at the pump. That's livable and easier to swallow.
A favorite blog of mine is Trust Matters by Charles H. Green, who wrote up a great post on apologies and forgiveness. He gives a list of what makes for a proper apology.
1. Full acknowledgement of the offense 2. An explanation 3. Genuine expresssion of remorse 4. Reparations for damage 5. The final gallant act of apology is to release your former victim from any expectation of forgiveness. No matter how noble you have been, he will forgive - or refuse to forgive - on his own terms. That is his right.
He elaborates further on this by saying:
Apologies should not be tainted by forgiving, or by seeking forgiveness. Those have their place, but it’s elsewhere.
A good apology tries to set aright something that you set awry by impinging on another's will. It's only appropriate that the apology itself refrain from further imposition of will. Hence the separation from forgiving or forgiveness.
In other words, an apology has no agenda. It's simply a statement of fact: I screwed up and I'm willing to make up for it.
That's tough stuff. How hard that is to do personally, but also professionally, whether it's to a co-worker, to a manager, or to a customer.
The defendant in this case had to fight this in court, and while they won, it was oh so expensive. It cost them $83,000 in legal fees. They're asking to have the judge who brought the suit to cover those costs. No decision yet... but at the moment, just in terms of dollars, this business owner has lost more than what most people make in a year over a simple mistake. That doesn't at all factor in their time involved.
There ought to be a reasonable cap for this kind of thing. Like maybe two or three times the value of the damaged/lost article. Had Roy Pearson only been able to sue for $2,400 over his $800 pair of pants, he would have been able to recoup his money and easily buy a new pair, the owners of the dry cleaners would have spent no more than $3,000 on the whole affair, and the legal system wouldn't look so ridiculous to allow this sort of escapade.
Pearson originally sought $67 million in his lawsuit, which was based on a strict interpretation of the city's consumer protection law. The suit also included damages for inconvenience, mental anguish and attorney's fees for representing himself.
But beyond just the value of the lost pants, we have the ambiguous and subjective valuations for inconvenience and mental anguish. And you would think that two or three times the value of the pants might cover that.
I'll keep on top of this. I want to know if the folks who own the dry cleaners get their money back. I also suspect that Roy Pearson, a judge who is apparently bereft of common sense and perspective, will keep plugging away at this. Which of course will cost more legal fees to the defendants...
Could it be that housing values, 10 years from now, will deflate in the pursuit to find more affordable housing due to global competition? If we have to compete globally, and we do, then expenses must be trimmed, so it makes sense. Here's a scenario: what happens if the California housing market crashes? What if it happens elsewhere in America? How does that change the retirement plans of boomers at the time that they start retiring?
The first article says this:
A Florida recession could be averted and the state housing industry's "serious problems" solved by an influx of American retirees and foreign buyers, said David Denslow, a University of Florida economist in Gainesville.
"The wave of baby boomer retirees is gathering momentum, and the weaker dollar makes Florida seem like a bargain to Europeans," Denslow said. "With any luck at all that will sustain us."
After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita disrupted the nation's energy lifeline two years ago, oil companies delayed maintenance on many of their plants to make up for lost supplies and take advantage of the high prices [emphasis mine].
Then oddly, the author throws in this next sentence:
But, analysts say, they are now paying a price for deferring repairs.
My question - what price are they paying? Because near the end of the article, we read this:
The refining business has never been so good for oil companies. Refining margins - the difference between the price of crude oil and the value of refined gasoline made from it - have shot up as much as $25 a barrel for some types of crude oil, compared with about $5 a barrel just a few years ago.
There's no price being paid here, except what we are paying at the pump. We're lining their pockets big time while they fiddle and enjoy big profits. That's irresponsible and I'm more pissed about it than before.
Not long ago, I was given the go-ahead to interview some amazing people. One of them, when I asked what he did for a living, told me that he liked to stretch people into uncomfortability along the direction that he thought they needed to go. Without his nudge, they probably wouldn't change.
Stretching is uncomfortable. People generally don't like doing it. But it makes us more limber, improves our strength, and is actually gentle.
A lot of us, to get in shape, rely on others to help and motivate us. A coach, a trainer, a friend, a video, a song...
We want others to encourage us.
Kathy Sierra's stagnant but brilliant blog, Creating Passionate Users, had a wonderful post about risk-aversion.
One of the benefits of having a scary illness or major loss is that it reminds you of just how much time is ticking away, and that you always have options to make changes. If you have a great idea, what do you risk by not persuing it? Will you have more regrets if you try and fail than if you don't try at all? Some of the best and biggest ideas happen within the scope of large companies, but some of the most world-changing happen... elsewhere.
Sometimes, outside influences force us to stretch. The world changes, and we respond. (I write this as I listen to Bonnie Raitt croon, "I Don't Want Anything to Change." Funny coincidence...)
Wayne Gretzky said so correctly, "You miss 100% of the shots you never take."
"But what if I miss?" is the whisper inside our heads, at times, when we want to stretch out in a new direction. "What if others see me fail?"
There's a danger in wanting others to encourage us. It beckons for approval. But here's the deal, which Kathy says in her post: "If you're not doing something that someone hates, it's probably mediocre."
Mediocre never changes the world.
So stretch... and stretch... and stretch. And stretch those around you. And never give up. The more at-bats you have, the more likely you are to hit a home run.
How many times would you let your baby try to walk? Of course the answer is, my baby is going keep trying to walk until he succeeds. No wonder you see so many people up walking around. Let's try this with ourselves. Keep trying until we succeed.
One of my favorite things to do in a mall is to bring a sketchpad and quickly pencil out the people I see in the food court. Typically, I only have a few brief moments. Some get self-conscious and discover what I'm doing (because I intermittently stare at them); some never notice. But it has to happen fast. It's a good exercise.
I'm an artist, so this is what I do.
You have talents... what do you do? Study their clothing? Their relationships? Their purchase decisions?
Malls are a wonderful study in human behavior. How do you make the most of the opportunity?
A businessowner hosted a roundtable on healthcare and small business, which President Bush attended. The result?
"He answered his own questions."
Which is pretty dumb.
"I thought the whole concept was to ask us, so I was a little bit frustrated. I would have liked the opportunity to give him my viewpoint, rather than him knowing the answer."
This entrepreneur, Clifton Broumand, happens to believe as I do on the subject of healthcare: that all children should be covered, and he gives a great reason.
"My personal feeling is that the plan should be to cover every child, whether it's private or federal," he said. "When you don't cover children, what ends up happening is that when kids are sick, which happens in my office, parents aren't productive. They have to go home."
Also like me, he doesn't see the government as an answer to this. He doesn't say why a government-run health system is not his choice, but for me, government is never an efficient answer for anything. And like Michael Moore, Mr. Broumand hates insurance companies.
The [insurance] plan he offers to his 28 employees costs $300 a month for individuals and $800 for family coverage. The business pays $5,600 a month for health insurance - more than it spends on rent - and premiums have increased 73 percent since 2003, he said.
Private insurers "are like the Godfather - they make you an offer you can't refuse," Broumand said. "When my insurance goes up 73 percent in four years, that's a tax... All these things are hidden taxes."
So what is the answer?
It might be in P2P insurance... which takes the profit motive out of the equation, while keeping the inefficiency out of it.
P2P will utterly change the face of the financial industry in the next 10 years. It will touch every financial product on the market. It will be interesting to watch as it unfolds...
I'll be creating an ongoing series called "My America." It will give what I think are the directions in which America ought to move, one of which will be covering healthcare costs for all children - but not for adults. I'll give my reasons later.
In the runup to the 2008 elections, I think it would be cool if bloggers would voice their ideas and opinions about the direction they think America should go. I believe that we the people are much smarter collectively than the politicians who greedily run this country for their own interests. So perhaps if bloggers jump in with a bunch of good ideas, one or more of those ideas will stick and bring solutions to life.
The fundraiser netted more than $64,000, with more pledges still coming in, organizers said.
"Without your support, the Chungs could very well have gone bankrupt," defense attorney Chris Manning told the crowd of about 150.
The organizers said they also wanted to raise visibility for tort reform in the face of lawsuits that unfairly target small businesses.
"Our motto is the spirit of free enterprise," said Lisa Rickard, president of the Institute for Legal Reform. "The Chungs epitomize that in our perspective. They've really been living the American dream, and that all came to a halt with the filing of this lawsuit.
America's runaway legal system imposes burdensome costs on workers, consumers, small businesses, and healthcare. The cost of America's lawsuit-happy culture totals $261 billion a year, or $880 per person, according to seminal research by Tillinghast-Towers Perrin (2006). According to a 2004 study commissioned by the Institute for Legal Reform, small businesses alone pay $88 billion a year to cover the cost of America's tort system - money that could be used to hire additional workers, expand productivity, and improve employee benefits.
On another page of their web site, it's nice to see that Iowa ranks well in terms of how reasonable and balanced the tort liability system is perceived to be by U.S. business. We're the fourth most reasonable state. Another good reason to start a business here.
"Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees."
Pretty pithy. I think you can substitute "listening" for "seeing" and have an equally true statement.
"Listening is forgetting the name of the person one hears."
Check out what else he had to say:
Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs which properly concern them.
The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be.
What others think of us would be of little moment did it not, when known, so deeply tinge what we think of ourselves.
A businessman is a hybrid of a dancer and a calculator.
Love is being stupid together.
The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.
If some great catastrophe is not announced every morning, we feel a certain void. "Nothing in the paper today," we sigh.
The painter should not paint what he sees, but what will be seen.
The world acquires value only through its extremes and endures only through moderation; extremists make the world great, the moderates give it stability.
There is no word in isolation.
Thinker! That ridiculous name, and yet one could find a man who would be neither a philosopher nor a poet, not definable by the object of his thought nor by his quest after some exterior goal, such as a book, a doctrine, a science, the truth . . . but who would be a thinker in the same way as one is a dancer, using his mind the way the dancer uses his muscles and nerves . . . an artist not so much of knowledge but of himself.
That is such a feast of provocation on which to savor...
A friend of mine who also enjoys quotes and the thoughts of others is Tony Gallegos, who is, in my esteem, the most exceptional mortgage industry blogger out there. Any company who retains him enjoys a bounty, to be sure. His latest burst of quotes are found here.
A while back, I mentioned Matt, a global explorer who captured his journey in an engaging YouTube video, shown below.
Matt was contacted by Google and asked to use Google Earth to highlight some of his favorite spots on our globe.
Here's the result:
Matt's just an average guy who wanted to do something extraordinary - travel the world. He didn't spend a fortune doing it. In fact, he says it was cheaper than we might expect.
I saved up at my job for a few years and then quit. That's the simple answer.
It also doesn't cost as much as a lot of folks think. Aside from the flights, I spend less on any given day than I would sitting at home paying utilities, car insurance, parking tickets (I get a lot of parking tickets)...
If you visit regions like Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, South America, and most of Africa -- and you're willing to rough it a little -- you can get by on dollars a day.
His only ambition was to do a bit of travel, and look where it has led him...
So what's your dream? Are you pursuing it? If not, why aren't you taking steps toward it?
Like I quoted from Paul Valéry yesterday, "The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up." Get up and do it and make it happen. It might be amazing what comes of it.