Sunday, August 23, 2009

Defining Success

This is an inspirational speech on success from perhaps a compassionate or even humanist perspective. It is a thoughtful study of all aspects from feelings of inadequacy to society's ideals of meritocracy and how they are impossible.

However, I feel that success is not a relative comparison between either like or unlike peoples, but rather about self direction. To me, success is linked to an action and desired outcome. For example, I earlier desired dinner, so with motive and intent I prepared my dinner. I have met with success in this endeavor because the result I desired ensued. What if I had not manged to make dinner in spite of my desire? Well we'll come back to that.

I feel that in a monetary respect, I am no where near the most successful of my peers. In fact, those who have studied more in demand fields are probably already earning far more than I do as a mere architectural intern. In my life, I will probably not earn as much as an investment banker, a lawyer or doctor. This is the aspect of success that the speaker addresses.

But I have met with a different kind of success. I chose a direction, oriented myself and my life, and provided motion, motivation toward a goal. Nearly 10 years ago, I decided to pursue architecture as my career path. Perhaps the impetus for choosing this goal wasn't entirely clear to me at the time, but I made a change and found success in achieving this goal. Several of my peers chose goals and failed to achieve them, but found alternate solutions or more favorable outcomes. I would label this 'failure' in the strictest sense regardless of the outcome. There were others still who wandered aimlessly, with no goal, no orientation and no drive to move toward those goals. So, which of these is the most noble? There is merit and worth in both success and failure. There is none in a refusal to act.

One of the best lessons I received in college was failing one of my structures courses. Nobody likes to receive an F in a class, but it was an eye opener for me, and I attribute this failure and the subsequent success that followed the second time around to my passing the most difficult portion of the Architectural Registration Exam.

Will people fail? Absolutely. And the speaker is right, there is an element of chance to it all. Often people tend to be in the right place at the right time, or even the wrong place at the right time. But I feel confident that in our world, people who try will have the support of those around them. We have such a conviction about trying in our country that I don't think we would allow anyone with the desire to succeed sink into oblivion. We are, however, merciless to those who would not try and rather blame their circumstances on fate or other more successful people.

When I was in highschool, we had honors night one night a year to celebrate the accomplishments of promising pupils in all areas of study. As a young attendee, I was foolish and derided those who would try and succeed. I was (and from time to time am) an arrogant ass who felt that I didn't need to prove my genius to the school. Far from being a genius, I was the biggest idiot in the room. Grades were determined mostly by work, not by thought alone, and I was too young and foolish to appreciate those who simply performed both, with the ultimate outcome being a superior performance.

Now this sophomoric idea manifests itself in professional snobbery, scoffing at the accomplishments and recognitions of great architects. Perhaps their style is not my cup of tea, but an AIA award or Pritzker prize is nothing to sneeze at. But I still find myself fighting the urge to recognize their successes because of the lack of my own.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Crazies in the Park

Well today my wife had to travel to Albany on business, so I decided to dust off the camera and the ole' Linux box and do some photography. On my way out this morning, I walked through the park headed towards downtown when I heard a quiet voice a hundred yards away or so. It was a gentleman sitting on the bleachers behind the home plate of the parks baseball diamond. Walking away from him, I thought that he might have been on the phone. As I moved away from his position, his voice grew louder and louder, and it became apparent that he was holding a fictitious conversation with his 'dad' via a hand positioned as though holding a phone. His 'conversation' went something like this:

"Hey dad! I had the funniest thing happen today! Somebody came to look at my crotch and I mean that must mean he's gay, right?! Then another guy was leaning forward [possibly a critique of my posture] and that must mean he is gay! That's what gays do! [Presumably referring to another person cutting across the park holding a bag] And if they have a bag, that man is such a faggot gay faggity fag!"

When I reached the end of the sidewalk, he was yelling at the top of his lungs filling the entire park with his crazed speech. It was all I could do not to laugh as people listened in horror to this man. I guess he just wanted to be noticed, and I would say he succeeded. I had half a mind to flag down a passing police cruiser and see if they would lend a hand to this clearly disturbed individual.

The park has a lot of activity and never really feels dangerous, but homeless people and crazies like to hang out there to go BM in the public toilet, and because of its close proximity to a free clinic and the Baylor hospital complex.

For photos (no, not of the crazy hobo), check out: http://www.flickr.com/photos/39968747@N08/

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thoughts on Our Healthcare Reform

There has been a lot of fervor on both sides of the debate for public healthcare in the last couple of weeks. Driven in part by our 24 hour news cycle and the endless need for talking points, the coverage has been continuous and abysmal. Even in our office there are hot debates on whether or not this is the right thing to do.

There is no escaping the debate. Even as I walked home yesterday, a person handing out pro-Obama care pamphlets was out on the streets. Just one month ago, there were Acorn operatives in front of the JPMC building. Personally, I think both sides have really missed the issue, and that is unfortunate, because they have hijacked the debate with talking points and misinformation. (As far as I know, there are no provisions in the bill for 'Death Panels,' though I haven't heard any Democratic congressmen mention a provision in the bill protecting us from the possibility)

The bill in its final form is not known yet, so it would be presumptuous to assume that we really know what this thing will be about. Having said that, Democrats should give these town halls a rest until they have a final version that they can stand behind, and Republicans should be patient before verbally acosting the frighteningly loyal followers of Obama.

The factor that no one seems to be talking about is the human factor in all of this. I oppose the idea of a government sponsored health plan because of how horrible people can be to one another. Let me elaborate with an annecdote. Have you ever been in a grocery store that lower class people shop in? Here in Dallas, the Walmart that we frequent is such a place, existing on the margin between one of the most affluent areas in Dallas, as well as a barrio. One of the things that you are likely to see if you shop there often enough are people who make use of WIC or food stamps. I guess never having been destitute enough to rely on such things, I never really gave much thought to what my existence would be like if I were.

They are given a list of groceries that are government approved, meeting certain nutrition and cost saving standards. If the family is together, often the child will want something like a frozen pizza or a piece of candy, but these are not approved items on the list. They are forced to forgo some of the simplest pleasures that our abundant society can produce, because they are reliant upon the government for subsistence. But there is more here at work than some nebulous concept of government and its benevolent offering of food. These forced savings and approved lists are because the sponsoring agencies don't want to draw the ire of the tax payer. Nothing could be worse for their offices than for a citizen to see their tax dollars being spent on expensive or even tastier foods, or liquer or tobacco. Though bleeding heart is not a term I would use to describe myself, I do feel sorry for these people when they arrive at the checkout line only to find out that the things they really want won't be paid for by the tax paying citizens of the United States. As the barcode scanner beeps, all of the more favorable items are taken away and stashed to be restocked. This is a horrible existence that I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy. Though they do subsist and their nutritional needs are met, their quality of life in all of the less pragmatic ways languishes.

I imagine that there are some that are glad that the best things are not paid for by welfare, and that is exactly my point. We are a people warped on inflicting mutual suffering on one another. We all know that there is not the political will to eliminate this program outright, so the tax payers do the next best thing: ensure that nobody living on their dime is happy or satisfied. Don't believe me? Just look at the food stamp reforms that took place in the early 80's and then the welfare reform that passed in the mid 90's, with a Democrat president, no less!

As I look at our healthcare future, I can't help but feel like millions will be put into this situation, only with access to health services rather than that tasty frozen pizza or ice cream. Is it so hard to imagine a government and people willing to say, "pick this faux cheese, not that Sargento block cheese" in the grocery store to also say, "pick asperin rather than a truly effective narcotic?" I hear cries from working citizens to drug test welfare recipients before giving them food or shelter. I presume that they would empower government to decide who amongst welfare recipients is fed and given shelter and who is not. What powers would such a citizenry bestow upon government regarding criminals and malcontents (read: Obese, Smokers, Drinkers, Drug Addicts etc.) accessing healthcare?

If it is only the some 47 million who are currently uninsured that will be the beneficiaries of this healthcare reform, this is a far larger segment of the population at the mercy of the public. Make no mistake about it, to borrow an Obamaism, public subsidy invites public scrutiny into your life. By necessity, and the will to survive politically, dominance and rationing will have to take place by the government to placate the masses who begrudgingly accept the idea of governmnet healthcare.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

DART Creates Options

This morning, the weather was nice. The sun was rising but still low in the sky as I departed for the train station from my house. I usually walk to the station, which is almost exactly 1 mile away. These are great times to clear my head or think about the days' tasks beforehand. Sometimes I just put in headphones and listen to music to zone out.

As I crossed under I-45 nearing Pearl St., I decided that I would walk all the way to the West End where my office is rather than take DART. This is the joy of DART. Some people would complain about the idea of having to walk some great distance to a bus stop or a train station, but I wouldn't. I like the exercise and the meditation. If these are good, then I can opt to go a little further, to walk some more, or just go to the next station down. I also like the idea of walking or biking all the way because of the added physical activity. I have been looking for a way to kick things up a notch, and this is the perfect fit. It really doesn't take that much longer because I don't have to wait for the train to pull into the station. Also, now I am burning closer to 400 calories a day with walking versus the 200 I was burning before.

I think most people would love to be within walking distance of where they work. The old Frank Lloyd Wright model of division of life into home and work just doesn't cut it anymore. Don't get me wrong, I'm not ready to work out of my home or anything like that, but I imagine a lot of people just wish they were a little closer or more convenient to their work.

On the DART front, we are getting very close to the opening of the new Green Line which will run to interesting places like Fair Park and Victory Park which, thanks to the recession, is now within the price range of mere mortals! Someday soon, the train will run to Love Field, and eventually branch off to the Orange line with service to DFW Airport in 2013.

Oh yeah, and if you are looking for proof that the design profession is growing more stupid and gullible by the day, look no further than here. And another thing, is there some sort of food shortage in America that I am not aware of? Half of these ReBurbia entries have some kind of urban farming co-op. I could have sworn I read somewhere that Americans can satisfy their daily vegetable requirements for $.68 a day, or less than 10 minutes of work a day at minimum wage. Let's see, 10 minutes flipping burgers or countless hours toiling to grow veggies that are no where near as big or healthy as the stuff in the store?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Thoughts on Energy

Does anyone remember when gas was $4 or more a gallon? J.T. remembers. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a firm believer in economics. I have unwavering faith that during those times, the demand for energy was sufficient to dictate the high costs that we saw. So, what happened in the meantime? Well, productivity and demand slumped, and the boom was over. Perhaps we saw an over correction when gas fell more than 50% in such a short time. From a human perspective, it seems that one form of suffering was merely replaced by another: lower gas costs, but rising unemployment, freezes on salary increases and so forth.

Well, this blog is dedicated to alternative modes of transportation, perhaps more out of mere curiosity than anything else. Never have I been concerned about my carbon footprint, or doing my share to help the environment. Making use of alternative methods has its own merrit, including health, relaxation and monetary savings. The idea of savings is eclipsed by the inexpensive nature of energy at the moment.

But I got to wondering what about our energy problem has changed. We seem to have forgotten about our out of control oil demand, but when the economy recovers, I think this demand will be back.

Texas is an interesting place to be with respect to energy. The state deregulated its energy market some time ago, before we moved here. Economics would dictate that in the presence of competition, prices should be reduced. However, just the opposite has occured. Prices here are higher than in areas that are municipally controlled. If anything, the deregulation has been a tremendous boon for environmentalists who would like to see the construction of efficient energy production facilities. Why would such a conservative gesture yeild such a liberal result? I suspect that it has something to do with the enhancements taking place to improve delivery and meeting future peak demands with reserve power.

The Texas power mix is awesome, with substantial parts coming from Nuclear and Natural Gas, and a below average portion of Coal. Though in the minority, Wind power is not insignifigant. With these cleaner power plants in action, as well as improvment to transmission lines and market place monitoring, we are paying more for these improvements. I suspect that areas not derregulated are not experiencing these improvements.

In the coming years, energy will continue to grow more expensive as our demand increases. I think Texas is inadvertantly well positioned to meet its energy demands. For those states who are still paying 9 cents a kilowatt-hour, get ready for rising prices in the green economy.

UPDATE: Today when I got home, there was a flyer on our door outlining the benefits of our new 'Smart Meter.' This is yet another example of the enhancements taking place. Oncor can track our usage remotely and check its status online every 15 minutes. Soon, we will be able to track our usage through their website as well.