How America Can Rise Again

February 6th, 2010

I recently read this article in the Atlantic by James Fallows – How America Can Rise Again.  His comments on our political system sparked some thought so I penned this letter to the editor.  Not likely to get published, but I had a fun time writing it.

James Fallows’ “How America Can Rise Again” (Jan/Feb Atlantic) was entertaining and erudite as usual.  I particularly enjoyed the no-nonsense examination of our country coupled with a realistic sense of optimism.  The problems with our government that he lays out are indeed troubling, especially the question of what to do with the Senate.  But I think there are ways to take what seems to be our biggest weakness and use it to make us even stronger.  A simpler way to solve this problem that doesn’t involve an enlightened military coup or even changing the basic nature of our democracy.

Why is our Senate structured the way it is?  Our Federal System was designed to give us the benefits of a Federacy without completely depriving the states of the power they enjoyed in the Confederacy.  Over time the power that was left to the states has been slowly stripped away.  This has created a very strong federal government with a quirky senate that, Fallows rightly argues, makes no sense.

What if we dust off the constitution and give the states back the power that was intended for them in the 10th Amendment?  Imagine each state with its own healthcare plan, be it social or liberal, instead of one national healthcare plan, weighed down and limited by every special interest with a lobbyist somewhere inside the District of Colombia.  Think of the benefits!  With (theoretically) 50 different plans, this would create competition within our public sector, much like the free market, as people and businesses move to the state that has the most optimal and efficient healthcare plan.  This would also preserve liberty–if you don’t like your states plan, you could move to the state that’s more your style.  Special interest would be forced to lobby in 50 different capitals instead of just one, making their task harder and more complex and thus limiting their powers.  Each plan would be forced to deal with real budgets that each state can’t simply print its way out of, securing future financial stability.  These are just a few and apply to many of our government programs.  And best of all, this is achievable!  All that is needed are some really good lawyers, one thing the US is not in short supply of.

As we know, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  The more we centralize our power in one place, the more corruptible it becomes.  Let’s solve this problem by going back to our roots even if though may feel like we’re going backwards.  As C.S. Lewis once said, “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”

Short Day

September 30th, 2009

Today was only a half day as Eric and Carrie were at the Legendary World Dairy Expo, which was nice.  But more importantly though, today was a beautiful fall day.  Outside our sliding glass door is a thermometer and this morning, after I woke up, it was reading 35.  That’s Fahrenheit mind you.  Don’t get too many 35s in September back in California.  But it was clear and bright out with little to no wind so it felt much warmer.  Driving to work I go over many hills where you get views for miles.  The trees aren’t turning yet but the corn and soybeans are yellow which gives the valleys a nice quilted look along side green pastures.  It might still be triple digits in California but they don’t have scenery like this in LA.

Sheer Joy in Shearing Sheep

September 29th, 2009

Today was shearing day, a big day on a farm with sheep.  We had been preparing for the big day since last week and all seemed set this morning.  Eric and I moved gates around in the shed where we were going to have the holding pen for the sheep before shearing.  Carrie and Andrea went out to herd them in.  Once we were finished we looked back just in time to see the sheep bust through a temporary fence into the paddock with the heifers.  Woops.  We went back to help and found one lamb already dead with another on the brink.  Eric and I herded the remaining sheep in the alley into the shed and soon the rest were in as well.  While we had been out, Chris, Dewey and the professional shearer, Dave, were there.

My job during the shearing was to hold the sheep for the shearer, a rough job to say the least but someone has to do it.  Eric was taking the sheep from the pen and getting them into a chair where Carrie was trimming hooves, worming and administering shots.  I would take the sheep out of the chair and hold on for dear life until the shearer was ready for me.  A few more days of this and I’ll be ready for the rodeo.  At first I would get the sheep between my legs and grab its coat with my hands.  But after watching the shearer for a while I noticed how you would turn the sheep’s face into its side to get it off its legs.  That technique was much better but they still tried to get a while.  At one point, as I was pulling the sheep out of the chair, she almost got away but I managed to hang on falling on the ground and being dragged a few feet.  We both ended up on the ground with the sheep kicking with all her might.  One kick did manage to make contact with one family jewel.  Apparently the look on my face was quite comical for all those watching.  Fortunately it wasn’t a direct hit and I managed to walk away with only a slight limp.

All in all it was a fun day though I’m glad it is only a twice a year event.  Having a professional shearer was a big help.  Sure did beat the heck out of doing it yourself like the Ends do.  This time I managed to escape with all of my finger tips still in place.

One other thing, before shearing sheep I watered the chickens.  When you are only watering you get some time to stand around and watch them which is very entertaining.  They have this ritual, which I’m sure establishes the pecking order, where one chicken will challenge another by running at the other flapping his wings.  Then they lock into a stare down with their feathers all ruffled beak to beak, claw to claw, mono e mono, until one of them flinches.  To get the other chicken to flinch they try all sorts of strategies but most common is the head weave where they move their head all around trying to get the other chicken to lose eye contact.  Some more successful chickens also employ the standing leap with his wings spread out.  Think of Joey Machio in the Karate Kid before his famous crane kick at the end.  It’s hilarious.

Cinder Blocks and Turkeys

September 28th, 2009

Today was an interesting day on the farm.  After my usual start of feeding the turkeys and the chickens, Eric asked me to help him fix a wall.  It turns out he had accidentally knocked one of the cinder block walls in the barn while he was scrapping out the manure with his skid loader.  Not knowing yet quite what he was asking me to do, I followed him curiously towards the barn wondering what the mallet and wood block were for.  Apparently the plan was for me to hold the block against the wall while Eric pounded on it with the mallet to knock the blocks back into place.  We studied the wall for a bit to see how best to approach it and Eric pointed out how the mortar was all cracked loose and the blocks were all loose.  So I hunched down next to the wall with visions of the wall (and the barn) collapsing down on me holding the block while Eric knocked the cinder blocks back into place.  Fortunately I survived to tell the tale.

After that we got the new turkey pen ready for them so we could move them out of the shed.  The pen is in a hoop house that is in the paddock currently being used by the lactating cows.  To prepare the pen I had to bring in the feed to fill up the feeders for the turkeys.  This is always dicey business when cows are around as they love to eat the chicken/turkey feed.  Fortunately only one cow came to check out the action and not til I was already done.  When we moved the turkeys over (in a cattle trailer) all the cows come to check out the new neighbors.  There is a small gap between the wood paneling at the base of the hoop house and the clear plastic cover over the top.  The cows were lined up peaking through that gap which created a very comical scene.  I wished I had my camera at that moment.

After the turkeys were in, I was putting back the panels we had moved to get them in.  The cows surrounded me trying to get a closer look at the turkeys.  You get a powerful sense of just how big a cow is when you’re surrounded by them.  And these where only Jerseys.  Can’t imagine would that would have been like with Holsteins.  Of course it didn’t help that I was covered in chicken feed.  They were all trying to lick me while I was trying to secure the panels with wire.  With one swing of their head they pack quite a punch.

Is Capitalism Dead?

January 30th, 2009

I keep pondering this question every day as I read the headlines.  Every day there is new ideas for how the government can step in and “fix” the economy.  This made we wonder, what, exactly, is Capitalism?  

According to Answers.com, capitalism is:

An economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately or corporately owned and development is proportionate to the accumulation and reinvestment of profits gained in a free market.” 

It goes on to list what Investopedia says: 

In such a system, individuals and firms have the right to own and use wealth to earn income and to sell and purchase labor for wages with little or no government control. The function of regulating the economy is then achieved mainly through the operation of market forces where prices and profit dictate where and how resources are used and allocated. The U.S. is a capitalistic system.

Really?  How strange!  Sure doesn’t seem like that describes us at all.  So what are we?  Are we socialist?  Again, from Answers.com:

Any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy.

Our government doesn’t currently, so far, collectively own the means of producing and distributing goods.  But it sure does plan and control the economy through the Federal Reserve and the Treasury.  Based on these two definitions, which are we closer to?  Most people would say that our brothers across the Atlantic, the British, are also capitalists.  According to this piece in the Times, “Parts of the United Kingdom have become so heavily dependent on government spending that the private sector is generating less than a third of the regional economy, a new analysis has found.”

Even under Bush, it is hard for me to see our country as a capitalistic system.  Feels like we’re slowly being boiled in a socialist pot.

Day 15 & 16

January 30th, 2009

Food:

Day 15:

Breakfast – steel cut oats with raspberries and brown sugar and black tea

Lunch – cottage cheese and an apple

Snack – had a strawberry muffin at work and some chocolate snacks (doh!)

Dinner – last of the lasgana with a salad.  Lasagna was a bit bigger portion than normal.  Katie, in an effort to kill me, made chocolate chip cookies.  I had three I think.  Wine with dinner.  

Day 16:

Breakfast – steel cut oats with raspberries and brown sugar and black tea

Lunch – came home and had an open faced sandwhich with ham and turkey (small amounts) and cheese and an apple on the side.  I had some tea with lunch then had a coke when I got back to work, shame on me!

Dinner – left over quiche with some peas and salad.  Quiche portion was small.  Had a beer with dinner and two chocolate chip cookies for dessert.  Also had small piece of dark chocolate.  

Exercise:

Katie has been going into work in the morning so I didn’t exercise either day.  She finished this morning so I should be able to exercise again on Day 18.

Weight:

This morning (Day 17) I weighed in at 164.5.  Definite progress, especially given the desserts and lack of exercise.  I need to keep running though and eating less.  My portions remain small which is good.  Amy’s baby shower this weekend plus the Super Bowl so there will be plenty of food around.  Must be strong!

Day 14: Steady as she goes

January 27th, 2009

Food:

Breakfast – steel cut oats, raspberries, and brown sugar with black tea.

Lunch – fat free cottage cheese with almond slivers and an apple with a coke.

Snacks – none

Dinner – Lasagna with a salad (mixed greens, tomatoes, red bell peppers and balsalmic vinigarette) and some fried zucchini, glass of wine, small piece of chocolate, miniature reeses peanut butter cup, and a peanut butter cookie for dessert.

Exercise:

Ran 2.65 miles this morning and walked to Del Mar.  Ruthie slept better (or Katie handled it) so I was able to motivate in the morning.  Darn cold out though, should have worn my beenie.

Day 13

January 27th, 2009

Food:

Breakfast – steel cut oats with cinnamon and brown sugar, black tea.

Lunch – fat free cottage cheese with almond slivers and an apple.

Dinner – leftover roast chicken, salad (mixed greens, tomatoes, red peppers and balsamic vinaigrette) and risotto.

Exercise:

None though I did walk to Del Mar (~1 mile).

Day 12: Taking care of Ruth-E

January 25th, 2009

Since Dad criticized me for me verbose posts, I’ll keep this one short.

Food:

Thursday – Zone bar for breakfast; cottage cheese and an apple for lunch, small piece of cake at work; Quiche peas and green salad (no cheese) and fruit salad.

Friday – breakfast?; turkey open faced sandwich with some cheese and some blue corn tortilla chips; lasagna for dinner with salad.

Saturday – Scrambled eggs (6 egg whites and one full egg) split with Katie with a piece of toast and jam (no butter) and the remaining fruit salad plus juice and tea for breakfast; chicken and rice and potatoes (left overs) for lunch; chicken stir fry with broccoli, zucchini, and red peppers plus a salad for dinner (with my Mom and Dad) with some white wine.

Sunday – steel cut oats with raspberries and brown sugar plus black tea for breakfast; left over roast chicken open faced sandwich with some cheese, an apple and some blue tortilla chips for lunch; left over lasagna plus salad and fried zucchini for dinner with some white wine.

Exercise:

I went running on Friday, another 2.65 miles or whatever the last distance was.  Thursday I was too wiped out.  Ruthie is not sleeping well and taking us all down with her.  We’ve decided to try out the cry it out approach.  So far we’ve tried Thursday, Friday, Saturday and now Sunday night.  Each night it is supposed to get better but each night it has consistently been around half and hour.  Of course we haven’t been consistent with the bed time until now.  Saturday and now tonight we’ve put her down around 7PM.  Last night she woke up at 2 AM and kept us up for two hours so this morning I was wiped out and didn’t exercise.  We did take a long walk, ~3 miles, plus I did 45 push ups in the morning.  Hopefully we’ll get a good night sleep tonight and I can exercise in the morning.  I still want to try out the work out video Betsy got Katie and the exercise ball.

Weight:

Happily, this morning I weighed in at 165.5 lbs.  Down at least 5 lbs from the peak.  The meals I’m listing above probably don’t sound like amazingly healthy meals but I am keeping the amounts really small and that seems to be paying off.

Day 9: Mexico

January 22nd, 2009

I apologize again for the delay in posting.  I spent the last two days traveling to Mexico for work which kept me away from the computer.  

To catch up, Monday (the last day of the MLK weekend) I add steel cut oats for breakfast with raspberries and brown sugar plus black tea.  Lunch was an open faced sandwich for lunch with some blue tortilla chips.  We then headed down to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills to do a little shopping.  Brooks Brothers was having a huge sale so all got something.  I got 60% off two cashmere sweaters, two fitted shirts and a tie.  Katie got a very nice pair of leather boots.  On top of the 60% off we signed up for a Brooks Brothers’ credit card for an additional 15%.  Sweet!  Anyway, we got home later than we planned but through in a lasagna that Linda had been making before we left.  I had only one slice with some peas and salad (no cheese).  

Tuesday I left for Mexico for work.  Eating right on a business trip is always difficult for me.  The food is plentiful and free.  Even worse, before we left, our new CEO started so they had a free lunch for us, pizza.  I’m proud to say I did not have any and instead had my cottage cheese and apple.  For breakfast it was steel cut oats again, made to perfection by me.  I’ll have to post separately on the merits of well made steel cut oats.  That night we stopped in Westmoreland, CA, 12 miles south of the Salton Sea, for dinner at The Town Pump (no link found).  The Town Pump is a steak house and offers quite large portions.  In a fit of strength and determination, I did not get a steak and instead had chicken which was delicious.  It came with a baked potato, which I thought was the best between fries and onion rings, and a salad.  For the salad I got the dressing on the side and didn’t eat 75% of the croutons.  We all split a piece of cheesecake at the end and I only had two bites.  I probably ate more than I normally would have at home but far less, and healthier, than I would have on a normal business trip.  I did have a beer and then later a margarita which probably didn’t help, but I’m only human.

Wednesday we entered the land of fat, Mexico.  Last time I was in Mexico I had refried beans with every meal.  If you’ve seen Super Size Me, which I highly recommend by the way, you can relate to what it’s like to all of a sudden eat tons of fat.  Fortunately we were only going to have lunch in Mexico then leave after lunch.  Breakfast at the hotel was tempting but I stuck with some raisin bran and an English muffin (no butter).  They took us for lunch to a really good restaurant in Mexicali (where the plant is) and I got the combo.  It consisted of two beef enchiladas, a soft taco, a hard shell taco, a small tostada and large tostada and some rice.  I probably should have skipped the hard shell taco since that’s friend in lard but I didn’t think about it and ate it first since it was on top.  I had one and a half enchiladas and the small tostada (which appeared to have no refried beans).  I was pretty full at this point but I thought I’d have one bit of the soft shell taco and just my luck, it was delicious!  So I finished that, had one bit of the large tostada (which appeared to have refried beans) and stopped there.  I should mention I had a quite a few tortilla chips and salsa before the meal came and two cokes.  I was really full now and stopped leaving a decent amount of food on the plate.  We then headed back and I didn’t get home til close to 8PM.  I had some chicken, broccoli and some salad and went to bed.  

In retrospect, I think I could have done much better but I’m proud that I at least made real efforts to eat less and eat right.  Baby steps!  I weighed myself this morning at 169 before breakfast.  I’m only down a pound or two but at least I’m not up a pound or two.  I’ve been good about running.  Sunday I ran almost 2.0 miles and Tuesday I ran 2.65 miles.  I would have run this morning but I was exhausted and Ruthie was sleeping so I didn’t want to rock the boat.  My theory is that when you first start dieting it’s really easy to lose around three pounds.  Anything after that is a lot more difficult.  When you start exercising you can actually gain a pound or two but after at least three weeks you’ll start losing weight.  Perserverance is what’s needed!  Hopefully I’m up to the challenge.