Saturday, February 27, 2010

Obama vs McCain, The Rematch

President Obama put a smack down on Senatar McCain today during the health care summit. Here’s what happened:
"Both of us during the campaign promised change in Washington," McCain said. "In fact, eight times [as a candidate] you said that negotiations on health care reform would be broadcast on C-SPAN cameras," he said. "I'm glad that more than a year later they are, here. Unfortunately, this product was not produced in that fashion, it was produced behind closed doors."

"Special deals for the special interests and favored few" should be removed from the health care legislation, McCain said.

Obama said in response, "Let me just make this point, John, because we're not campaigning anymore. The election's over."
Wow! Just, wow! McCain holds the President’s feet to the fire for not fulfilling a campaign promise and the President tries to make it look like sour grapes for having lost. Here’s what I wish McCain would have said in response:
Excuse me, Mr. President, perhaps you’ve misunderstood what I was talking about. I was not complaining about having lost an election. You won that election on the strength of your promises. Promises that have been broken. I am not just exercising my duty as a US Senator, but more importantly as a citizen of the United States. You got elected on promises that you’ve since broken. I think the American people are interested in a reconciliation of that discord, much more than using reconciliation to bypass dissent.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Because I said so

A guy I know from church writes a great blog documenting his experience as a stay-at-home dad. He wrote a very entertaining post in which he lamented saying and doing all the things he hears himself saying. Including the classic “because I said so” response. I want to defend the phrase. All 4 of my boys have heard it from me and their mom, and I think it’s a good thing. I have three reasons why I’m not embarrassed using it:
  1. God doesn’t seem to be embarrassed to say it to me. He expects my obedience. He will occasionally explain why to me, but not always. God knows human behavior better than anyone. He knows how we react to explanations and the lack of explanations. And he doesn’t always give explanations. Apparently he seems to think we’ll be ok without always having directions explained. If God thinks I’ll be OK without an explanation then I think my kids will be OK without one, too.

  2. My kids are not smart enough to understand all of the intricacies of decisions that I have to make on their behalf. “Because I said so” is typically a wrong answer to give to a peer. But it’s completely reasonable for someone who understands the bigger picture to give to someone who doesn’t.

    This is the justification for why God doesn’t always explain himself to us. This is the justification for why my manager frequently doesn’t explain her decisions to me. This is the justification for why I frequently don’t explain all of my coding decisions right back to her. And it’s a completely reasonable justification for why my children simply must comply when I say to get shoes on and get in the car right now.

    Do you, dear child, understand what happens when daddy is late for work? Do you understand how it impacts your vacation next summer? Do you understand how this impacts mommy if I have to stay at work later? Do you understand how it impacts a huge variety of things that you are important to you? No, you don’t. And you don’t need to yet. You’re 4. The answer to your question is “because I said so”. It embodies not just that I expect you to comply (which I do), but also that I have your interest in mind. Interests that you can’t even fathom.
  3. My kids may not understand all of the intricacies of human interaction that will stem from their non-compliance with my directions, but they are smart enough to realize that “why” is an effective stall technique. They don’t really want an explanation. They want to delay following my direction in the hopes that a long enough delay will result in not having to comply. And the more complex the answer, the longer the explanation.

    There is a simple one-liner that you can use to acknowledge your child’s curiosity while still expecting compliance. When they say “why”, simply respond with, “I’ll be happy to explain after you’ve done what I said.” And then turn into a broken record. Any time “why” is asked, simply repeat the one-liner, probably followed by, “Now please go do what I said.” This one-liner will distinguish the truly curious from those who are trying to stall. Those who want to know will follow-up afterwards. I’d say that my kids follow-up less than 10% of the time. Some of the 90% non-follow-up can be explained by forgetfulness, but most I attribute to the ulterior motive of trying to stall.
As my children get older, I think it’s very reasonable to explain things to them. As they become adults, I am decreasing my responsibility for their lives in proportion to their taking that responsibility. When they are fully adult, they should have full responsibility for their life. And if I do something that impacts their life, then it’s reasonable for them to demand an explanation. But my pre-teen children are not there yet.

I frequently think that parents are overly influenced by their experience as teenagers. They think, “I’ll never do/say/think that” to some behavior that their parents did when they were in their teens. Teenagers expect to be treated much more like adults than children. And I think that’s correct. I think it’s completely reasonable for most 18 year olds to expect to be treated more like an adult than a child. But my 4 year old is *NOT* remotely close to being an adult. And it is completely unreasonable for me to treat him like one. I think that far too many parents make the mistake of treating their toddlers like they wanted to be treated as a teen. Then the resulting misbehavior that child learns from too much freedom, requires that they treat those same children like toddlers when they’re teenagers. Spurring those children to repeat the whole process all over again when they become parents.

I say, “No.” I will happily not explain myself to a child who can’t possibly understand. But in exchange, I will give that child more freedom (along with the corresponding responsibility) as he approaches adulthood. My hope is that by the time my children are 18 years old, they will be taking most of the responsibility (and receiving most of the corresponding freedom) for their own lives. Hence my challenge (for my 12 year old) is to regularly release my control of his life to him by giving him more freedom, not less.

But this required starting with “because I said so” when he was 4.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My kids and race

Niffer asks asks me to comment on an awkward situation caused by the innocent observation of a child.

And I must confess to being stumped by this one.I don’t really have any confident suggestions for this situation. Maybe the parent could have said something that would have alleviated the tension. But then again, looking at the links in commenter Liana’s post, it is apparently incredibly easy to say exactly the wrong thing and then be judged harshly by the internets.

Frankly, I’d prefer that everyone involved recognize that children often say blunt things. And no amount of parental input has kept my children from saying inconsiderate blunt things to other people. Children do this because they have no idea what impact those things will have. They don’t know that other people often get hurt when we say blunt things. When an adult says something blunt, we naturally think that adult did so intentionally to hurt the other person. Because we expect the adult to know, from experience, how others are likely to react. But we really shouldn’t expect this same thing of kids. And it really shouldn’t reflect poorly on that child’s parents, either. After watching my four children, and scores of their friends, I’m convinced that children just say blunt things, and that no amount of parenting can really prevent that. If you don’t believe this, then why do you know the phrase "Kids say the darndest things"? Because parents everywhere are surprised by (and frequently embarrassed at) the things kids say. This happens so often that we’ve developed shorthand to capture this, and it’s that phrase.

Had the situation happened to me, I’m pretty sure that in the midst of it, I’d have simply apologized and pulled my kid away from the situation. And I can even imagine the conversation I’d have with him in the car about people having lots of different skin colors. I might even stop to show him that hi skin color isn’t as dark as my own. I would then mention that a lot of mean people don’t like the fact that some people have darker skin than others. And as a result, when you notice someone else has darker skin, they don’t know if you’re one of the mean people or the nice people. They might think you’re trying to be mean. So if you’re going to say something about someone else’s skin color, it’s a good idea to say something nice about it. Then that person will know that you’re not a mean person.

But then again, I’m pretty certain that my 4 year old would have lost interest at about the point I was saying, "people have lots of different skin colors." Maybe that’d be enough. Maybe it wouldn’t. I don’t know. As far as I can tell, no parents anywhere have found an effective way to prevent embarrassment from the things their kids say.

The good news is that they will eventually become teenagers, and embarrassment will run much more easily in the other direction. I personally plan on taking advantage of this. Late for school? No problem. I’m going to dress up in the nerdiest outfit I can find, walk you to class, and announce that I’m your proud father. I will introduce myself to every person I meet, especially if they’re pretty girls, and frequently hug you. All under the guise that as your parent, it’s my job to make sure you get to school on time. If you can’t handle that on your own, then this is what I’ll have to do.

I’ve already announced this to all of my children in the hopes that the mere threat will prevent the need to actually do it. My own personal teenage nuclear weapon. I have it. You know I have it. Don’t make me use it. Yes. This is payback for the comments you made to the guy in the wheelchair when you were 4.

Friday, February 12, 2010

In my box

Someone I've never met made a painting. It's a beautiful painting. I like it quite a bit. Although, when I looked at it more carefully, I saw things that I didn't the first time around. I don't know if that was intentional by the artist or not. I don't really care. I like it for my own reasons.

And the reasons are that it reminds me of something that was given to me by my girlfriend in college. She had this drawing that she made on a piece of cardboard. One that she didn't think very highly of, but that I liked. She tried to throw it away but I didn't want her to because I liked it. Eventually, she completed that drawing and wrote a note on the back of it and gave it to me. I was pretty sure that I kept it. So I went to the box that I have where I think I'd have put it.

The box is this wooden foot locker type box. It has my name on it and a padlock - which is now permanantly opened. It was made for me by two of my uncles and my grandfather when I was my oldest son's age. It's turned into the place where I store stuff from days gone by.

I haven't been in the box in a while, and I started looking for this drawing. I didn't find it. It may just be that I need to look more thoroughly becuase I got distracted by a bunch of things that I did find. Letters to and from old girlfriends. Compositions that I made in highschool and college. Letters to and from the girlfriend who eventually became my wife.

Most of what I found I wouldn't share with anyone. It's *FAR* too embarrassing. But I came upon one thing that I really am glad that I found. It's a poem that I wrote as a senior in high school, after I'd had a very unexpected dream.  Here it is:


In my dreams I saw her
It was night
And she was afraid of the lightning
And she came in our room
And she held on to me. Tightly.
And when she let go, it was day.
And we were in the park
By the playground.
She asked if she could
Go on the swings with me
The smile that lit up her face as I nodded
Flooded into me
And all I wanted was for her to smile forever.

Because her smile is just like yours
And her eyes are just like yours
And she's a lot like you
But not exactly.
And that's why loving the both of you
Makes me complete
And for the first time in my life I can appreciate
My parents.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


I'm a fan of google reader. I'm able to read a lot of blogs rather quickly using that tool. One of the blogs that I read is called fingertoe. The author put up a post which included a couple of youtube videos and some commentary. The commentary is when I look at the blog with google reader, but not directly on the site. The author appears to be working on this. Hopefully it will show up there, soon.

But here are the videos.  Below is the quoted commentary.

(Direct link for those reading this on facebook)

(Direct link for those reading this on facebook)

In both of these examples, I think that they hold up an ideal that is correct. Husbands should provide for their families. Parents should actively insure that their children are being descipled under the biblical worldview.

Now the challenge is that many of us fall short. We live in a fallen world, and we are being rescued from a fallen culture – one that doesn’t necessarily prescribe to the same values as Voddie and Mark. The values being espoused should be something that we can aspire to, not something that we need to feel unchristian about because we are not fully sanctified yet. If you are 18 years old, just setting out on your own, don’t go and aspire to find a Doctor wife so you can stay at home and play all day. Aspire to be a primary provider. But if you are a father of 4, and your wife has a long established career, give yourself some slack… Try to conform to the ideal as much as it is practical. Your situation isn’t ideal, but few are.

Many folks tend to say “Oh, he is just too radical on that issue” and throw out the advice altogether. I do not think this is wise. When we are in less than ideal circumstances we need to understand that. We need to try to compensate for that, and when practical we ought to consider making sacrifices to get ourselves into a more ideal situation.
I find both of these videos to be highly disturbing. The first one quotes scripture, but without citations. My question for Mark Driscoll would be this: Scripture says that men must provide for their family. Is financial provision the only possible meaning of that passage? I'm not sure that I can agree with that interpretation. It may very well be that the circumstances of a person's life are such that the husband staying at home, allowing the wife to work, is actually a bigger financial provision than the husband working. This turns out to be happening quite a bit.

When it comes to homeschooling, I'm really at a loss for words. The quote that is mentioned from Luke comes in the middle of a passage about judging others.  Here's the full context. That passage, to me, says this: don't let people teach you to judge. I don't think it says, "don't let your kids go to public school."

Here's a basic fact, that seems indisputable to me, both biblically, and empiracally: we are each given different skills in life. Bibically, these are called gifts or talents. Empiracally, this is called the division of labor. And both theology and economics find that these differentiated gifts are very, very good things. What if our skills are not in giving our children an education in basic skills like math, reading, writing, history, etc? What if they are best served learning those fields from others with gifts and talents in those areas? Yes, we as parents, are to lead them spiritually, but do you really think that the only way to do that is to extract them from public school and provide all of their education at home? Really? I don't.

I would like to take the advice of the blogger above: and not throw out the advice in these two videos. And I think it's wise to be humble. But I am finding myself, more frequently of late, thinking that a lot of pastors have a difficult time differentiating what works for them with what ought to be prescribed for everyone. And I think the above two videos may be doing that. I think they're interpreting scripture in light of their personal circumstances and coming up with what it means they are to do for their family. But I suspect that they're also then saying, and you ought to do this too, without considering the possibility that each family's circumstances are different.

But I'm willing to listen to others who think differently. Please share your thoughts.

Friday, February 05, 2010

To Deduct or Not To Deduct

I’m frustrated with the health insurance that we have.

First I should tell you that we don’t have traditional health insurance. For my family, I have a high deductable health plan (HDHP) which allows me to contribute money to a health savings account (HSA). The money that I put into my HSA goes in before taxes are calculated on my paycheck. I can then take that money out of my HSA tax free as long as it’s used for certain health related expenses that the IRS has decided are acceptable. The list of things that the IRS allows includes the vast majority of things you’d expect to be called health expenses. And several things that most insurance companies don’t cover.

There are a few reasons that I do this:
  1. The cost of an HDHP is a *LOT* less than traditional health insurance. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a better deal. But when I calculate the worst case scenario of HDHP + HSA and compare it to the worst case scenario of traditional health insurance they come out about the same. The worst case scenario costs are the annual sum of all premiums plus the plan’s maximum out of pocket expenses. Add those up, and HDHP+HSA is roughly equal cost to traditional health insurance.

    Where the HDHP+HSA really makes up the difference is in best case scenario. In the best case scenario, I have no out of pocket expenses (e.g. I don’t use health care at all for the year) but I pay only the premium. For traditional health insurance the best case scenario is only a tiny bit less expensive than the worst case scenario. But with the HDHP+HSA plan, the best case scenario is a *LOT* less expensive than the best case scenario of traditional health insurance. Thus, with an HDHP+HSA plan, I get rewarded for consuming wisely.

    Now, IMHO, neither the worst case scenario nor the best case scenario are very likely. More realistically, we’ll spend more than the best case scenario and much less than the worst case scenario. But the worst that can happen is that we’ll spend exactly the same as traditional health insurance. And more than likely, we’ll save a lot of money.

  2. There are some tax advantages to HDHP+HSA that aren’t available with traditional insurance. With traditional insurance, I can only deduct the premium expenses from my taxes, if I get the insurance from my employer. That’s still true with an HDHP. But with the HSA, I get to deduct $6000 per year (in contributions to the HSA) that I can’t deduct if I’m self employed or  not getting insurance through my employer.

  3. If I’m frugal and don’t spend that $6000 contribution this year, I still get the tax deduction. But I also keep that money in the HSA. I’m not left with a “use it or lose it” type scenario like with flexible spending accounts.
All told, I think HDHP+HSA makes a lot of sense. It makes the health insurance market much more like other insurance markets. Encouraging this type of health insurance is the type of reform that would actually drive health care costs down.

I like the plan that I have. My frustration stems from how health care providers have to react in light of it.

So my wife just called me from visiting a chiropractor – an allowed expense. When she went to pay for the we were stuck with a decision. We get the insurance negotiated price, which in this case is $42 per visit. However, the Chiropractor offers a package deal to customers. E.g. buy 5 visits, and the price per visit is $35. That saves $7 per visit compared to the insurance negotiated price. So you’d think, well that’s a good deal, let’s go with that.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Our HDHP has (of course) a high deductible. $4000 for the family. All of our expenses count against that deductible. Prior to meeting the deductible, we pay 100% of those expenses out of our HSA. After meeting the deductible, we pay 20% of those expenses and insurances covers the remaining 80% until we get to our maximum out of pocket. Once we get there we pay 0% and insurance covers 100%. So there are 2 levels to be concerned with:
  1. The deductable - $4000 of expenses
  2. Max out of pocket - $8000 of expenses
And here’s the problem. If we choose that 5pack of coverage – saving $35, the whole cost ($175) won’t count against our deductible nor our max out of pocket. It can’t. If the provider submits this fee to the insurance company, the insurance company will then try to renegotiate his prices. The provider who used to have a $42 rate will now be forced down to a $35 rate, and he’ll get less reimbursement from the insurance company.

So we’re stuck with this decision: is it better to pay $35 per visit (saving $7) but not have it count against our deductible? Or is it better to pay the $42 per visit and have each visit count against our deductible? If we choose the former, we save $7 now, but we might have to pay an additional $175 later if we get close to our deductible. If we choose the latter, then we lose $7 now.

And you’d be surprised how frequently we’re stuck with this type of decision. There are many times when we’re talking to a health care provider who, knowing that we’re paying for a service out of our pocket, is willing to cut us a deal. But in doing so, we forfeit the ability to have those fees count against our deductible and max out of pocket.

And these costs matter. Because they change the worst case scenario calculations that I made above. They increase the worst case scenario cost of having an HDHP+HSA.

I think in the example that we’re talking about. Saving $7 per visit is really not that much savings – only about 16% savings. In this case, the differences are close enough that it probably makes more sense to pay the $7 to have it count against our deductible. But there are other providers for whom the deal that they’re willing to cut us is about 50% savings. That’s a much bigger immediate savings and a much bigger cost as we get closer to the deductible. One example is where the out of pocket cost is $200 and it applies to our deductible. But if we pay it out of pocket directly, it only costs $100. What do you do then? Do I save $100 now, or pay $200 in additional deductible later? I’m tempted to save the $100 now. But it’s not obvious that’s the right plan.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Palm Pre vs HTC Hero Part 3

A while back, I wrote two comparison reviews of my experiences with the Palm Pre and the HTC Hero. They are available here and here.

I track the hits on my blog. If you scroll all the way down to the bottom you'll see a little green square from sitemeter. Go ahead and click on it. You'd be surprised at how much information it contains.(For those of you reading this on facebook, click on "view original post" then scroll to the bottom)

It turns out that those two posts are the most popular posts on my blog... by a *HUUGE* margin. Prior to these posts, I had maybe 200 visits in that little green box. And it took a couple of *years* to get to that.  Since I made those posts in November (a mere 2 months), I have nearly 7000 visits! So, as a follow-up (and also a way to generate more hits) I'm writing my reactions a few months later.

I was never able to convince Sprint to let me swap out my Palm Pre for an HTC Hero. I really wanted to do that. I was tired of the problems that I was having w/the Pre and needed something that was going to work more reliably for me. In retrospect I'm glad that it didn't happen.  In the 2 months since I did that experiment, WebOS has advanced by leaps and bounds.  I was on WebOS 1.2.1 when I wrote those. Since then 1.3.1, 1.3.5 and have been released. Each has come incremental improvements, but most notably:
  1. Battery life is a little bit better overall, but *MUCH* better when using WIFI at home. I can easily get one full day out of a single charge if I stayed on wifi all the time. Easily. Whereas it used to be a struggle to get through a day.
  2. I don't remember which release brought it (I think it was 1.3.1) but the calendar is a lot faster now. It's become usable.
  3. 3D games are available. I have purchased only 2: Asphalt 5 and Let's Golf. Both of which are great fun.
  4. The number of apps in the app catalog has grown rapidly. Back then I think there were around 500 apps. As of right now, the number is 1348. They hit 1000 apps on Dec 31 right before the new year. 348 apps in a month is very encouraging.  And some of the apps that are coming out are very clever.  I'm particularly fond of GeoStrings which has saved me from forgetting a honey-do task on several occasions.
  5. Palm has announced that 2 things will be available in the 1.4 WebOS release in February: video recording and Adobe Flash support. Video recording is a big deal to me. I really miss that feature from my centro. Flash brings things that I've wanted to get on my phone: mostly access to audio & video that I would normally have to use a computer to access.
Those things have made me quite a bit more pleased w/my Pre than I was in November. That said there are still things that I wish this phone could do better:
  • Battery life while not on Wifi is still attrociuos. I carry a spare battery and it's annoying that I have to frequently use it.
  • The OS speed is better but it can still get really really laggy. I hope that they will run all the animations through the GPU to improve performance.
  • The Tasks application is still bad. I have no way to set a recurring task - like (for example) reminding myself to take out the garbage every Monday night. But of course once it's done it should stop reminding me until next week!
  • There are a couple of visual voicemail applications available (here and here). But both are hacks that rely on using a 3rd party voicemail service - which, to Sprint's credit is easy to set up. However, I really want to see direct supported visual voicemail from Sprint on this device similar to the way it works in Android. It's much more reliable than either of the available visual voicemail apps.
  • There are still no voice recording or voice recognition features. Something that I *really* liked on android.
  • I still dislike gestures. Others seem to absolutley love them. But I find them unreliable. When I want to go back, I want to go back immediately. I don't want to swipe at the screen and only convince the phone that I'm going back 9 out of 10 times. This is too basic of a function. 90% is too low of a success rate. The 10% failure rate is like a giant black splotch on a pure white wall. Of course, this is not something that can be fixed in software.
All of that said, at this point, my assessment of Hero vs Pre is not as lopsided as it was 2 months ago. It's a coin flip with a lean towards the Pre due to it's potential.