Category Archives: Family - Page 2

For The Children

I was knocking around the web last week, hitting the usual variety of sites that I read to keep up on what is going on in the world and came across a link to a WSJ essay by Peggy Noonan. It was a good essay, about how America’s political leaders are out of touch with the common people and the indignities that are regularly heaped on them. The actual content doesn’t matter much, though, particularly as it has since rotated off the WSJ’s site. What really struck me was the picture accompanying the article. This picture.

noonan.jpg

I know it’s probably a staged picture. That doesn’t matter. It was the thought of my little boy being in that position that got to me.

We haven’t had to travel by plane since he was born. We haven’t traveled much by plane since 9/11, for that matter. Everyone in America knows what it’s like, though. Even if you haven’t flown you’ve heard the stories. The long lines, the pointless indignities and silly rules, supposedly in the name of security but we all know better. Is there anyone who doesn’t realize that taking off your shoes and only carrying very small bottles of liquid doesn’t do anything at all to make air travel safer? At best, it’s a big humiliating dog and pony show all so the government can say they’re Doing Something. We all know how silly it is. We all know one other thing, too.

We know that you’d better not say anything about it. Keep your eyes down, don’t do anything to be noticed, don’t talk back to the security people. Be quiet and obedient or things will go very very badly for you.

Be afraid.

Much of what passes for public policy in the United States these days is based on fear. Fear that the terrorists will get us. Fear of losing our jobs, and our home. Fear of not being able to keep up a middle class lifestyle in the worsening economy, and slipping down into the terrifying abyss of the poor.

Fear of what will happen if you tell that cop or TSA guard what you really think.

When did we Americans become so afraid? Is this really what we have been reduced to? Shuffling along in our stockinged feet, obeying the silliest rules, not out of fear of what some terrorists might do but out of fear of what the people who are nominally there to protect us will do.

When did our own government become more frightening than the people they are supposed to be protecting us from?

And, more to the point, how do you, as a parent, pass that fear along to your children? How do you explain to that small child, who looks up to you as a superhero, that daddy (or mommy) has to do whatever these people tell him to do, no matter how demeaning, or they will take him away?

How do you tell your child that he or she must do whatever the people in uniform say, or something bad will happen? Stay in your place, obey orders, or the men in uniform with the clubs and guns will take you away.

Is that what we want to teach our children?

People around the world are afraid of America. Not just our enemies — it is good for our enemies to fear us — but our friends too. Fewer tourists still visit us from overseas than seven years ago, before 9/11 and the subsequent hysteria, despite the fact that our currency is now practically worthless and we’re a bargain for rich foreigners. It’s not terrorists they are afraid of. It’s our government. It’s us.

The United States is not, for all of our problems, a terrible place. There are many worse countries in the world. But neither are we the place we once were. Once America was a place where nearly everyone wanted to go, a place where you could be free and your children could have a better life.

There was a time when we said to the world, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Now we say, “Papers, please.”

Look around you the next time you are in an airport, or standing in line at some government office, or waiting to go through some security checkpoint. Look in a mirror. Look within yourself. Ask yourself, “How did we get here? Is this the kind of country I want to live in, my children to grow up in?”

Is this the best we can do?

Happy Thanksgiving

A few weeks ago, I had to make a brief stop at a client’s office on the weekend. Nathaniel and I were going to go on adventures that day, so I brought him along. He likes going to the office he calls ‘the snacky place.’ I took care of what work I needed to do while he had some cookies in the break room, and we were getting ready to go when he asked me, “What’s that?”

‘That’ was a food-bank box, with a few cans rolling around forlornly in it. I considered for a moment how to explain this to a three-year-old, then said, “There are some families out there who don’t have enough food to feed their little boys and girls, so other people give food to help them out.”

Then I thought about what I’d said, while Nathaniel stared at the box and munched on a mini fudge graham, and said, “You know, daddy complains a lot sometimes, but I guess we don’t have it so bad. Whatever else, we always have food in the house and never have to wonder where our next meal is going to come from.”

Then I tousled my little boy’s hair and said, “Let’s go have some adventures, little guy.”

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Be thankful for what you have, and not just on one day each year.

This Best of all Possible Worlds

The recession is over, and now it seems like everyone is waiting for the jobs to come back. There is talk of a ‘jobless recovery’ and the financial press counts every tick in the latest unemployment numbers while new college graduates and the unemployed sweat and scramble for any scrap of a job that comes along, and wait for things to get better.

The trouble is, there is every indication that there is no more better. This is as good as it’s going to get.

Oh, employment numbers may tick up a little bit. Even accounting for all the people who just give up on looking for a job, or are working at a much lower level than they were two years ago, the job market may improve a little compared to the worst. But I see no reason to think that it will ever be as good again as it once was. At least not for a generation or two.

When job markets were local, there was an ebb and flow in the demand for and availability of workers. When the economy boomed, companies hired more people, the pool of available workers shrank, and in the best practices of supply and demand, wages went up as employers competed for the best workers.

Now the job market is global. There are no more labor shortages, and there won’t be until the whole civilized world is at approximately the same level of prosperity and economic development. When times are bad, companies lay off expensive Americans and move operations to cheaper countries, and when times are good they keep doing that and pocket the higher profits. They are, in fact, required by law to do so. (A corporation has a fiduciary duty to make as much money as possible for the stockholders, and they can be–and some have been–sued if they let little things like morals or ethics get in the way of making a bigger profit.)

With no more labor shortages, all the power is in the hands of the employer. They know that most of their employees have no options, and are terrified of losing their jobs, and many of them use that power ruthlessly. I know people who have been fired for refusing to spend practically every waking hour at work (without compensation for the overtime), requiring them to never see their children. That is the work environment we have now; do what your employer says, whatever they say, or risk being fired and not being able to find another job for months, or years, or ever again. They can replace you tomorrow.

Even worse, if you try to stand up to your employer you risk losing your healthcare. In many cases, that gives employers the literal power of life and death over their employees.

This is the reality for most American workers now. The employer holds all the cards, you have little or no bargaining power. Welcome to part-time jobs, the low pay and oppressive work environment of the service industry, and wondering every day if you are going to have enough money to pay your bills, and if you are even going to have a job at all next week.

People have become angry when I attempt to point out that is may be about as good as the job market is going to get. I can’t really blame them; it’s easier to get mad at someone for pointing out a problem than to get mad at the people who caused the problem. Those people are powerful and scary and far away.

However much the government might be talking about jobs and job creation right now, they really don’t care. They haven’t for decades, at least. They can’t care; it’s against policy.

The official US policy for years now has been globalization. Reducing barriers to trade, encouraging multi-national corporations, and whatever is good for business. Globalization may be great for big corporations, but it is as bad as can be for the average worker.

I can’t really blame the government either, though. They’re just doing what their constituency wants. That, of course, being the big corporations. They are who put our elected representatives in office, and keep them there, so that is who those representatives listen to.

(Sure the voters count, but you can only vote for the people on the ballot, and no one who hasn’t been approved by the big interest groups is going to get on the ballot. That is the fundamental fact that you must keep in mind whenever you watch ‘our’ government in action; it’s not our government.)

So, the middle class shrinks, the divide between the rich and poor gets bigger, and people spend more and more of their free time playing games like Farmville, because it gives the illusion that they have control over some part of their lives. Is there anything we can do, besides wait for the global economy to reach equilibrium, leaving no low-wage regions for the corporations to flee to?

Take back the government. That’s more easily said than done, but the government will not act in the best interests of the average person as long as it represents interest groups rather than people.

This was your county once. Take it back.

Money and Motivation

This is a very interesting illustrated discussion of how people aren’t motivated by what most employers (and even many employees) think that they’re motivated by.


From my own experience, I see a great deal of truth in this. I could make more money in my business if I wanted to, but at this point in my life I begrudge every day not spent with my son. I work enough to meet our financial needs, and that usually leaves some time for more important things, like playing catch with my son. Not as much time as we’d like, and he always gets upset when I leave for work and tries to stop me, but as I tell him, “Daddy has to go work to support you and mommy in your luxurious mommy and little boy lifestyle.” It doesn’t really help.

And on a good week, though, we’ll have a couple of days to go to on Daddy and Nathaniel Adventures, a couple of days that most dads don’t get to spend with their kids because they’re working, chasing one more handful of dollars.

I can always make more money, but a life only holds so much time.