Of Coupon Codes and Meaning in Life

Karl Marx believed history was shaped by an overarching dialectic—an enduring conflict between the bourgeoisie who owned the means of production and the proletariat who were stuck selling their labor to the capitalist class. I have my own overarching dialectic that I believe shapes family life, religious communities, municipalities, and even nation-states—an enduring conflict between our material and spiritual selves.

In the simplest terms, it’s a battle between our preoccupation with consumer goods that make our lives more convenient and comfortable versus prioritizing family, friends, those in need, and the ethical stewardship our finite natural resources.

My material self routinely gets the better of my spiritual self. I spend too much time shopping online and I recently I purchased an iPhone 6+ and a new car. But I suspect I’m different than a lot of consumers because I’m keenly aware of the battle that rages inside me. I also live well below my means and know my phone and car, as nice as they are, can’t hold a candle to the joy and meaning my wife, family, friends, students, and writing provide.

How ironic that this time of year is marked by numerous sacred religious traditions and we’re more susceptible than ever to mindless materialism. Consumerism trumps contemplation. This manifests itself in many ways, stampeding store customers have to be the most jarring (the increased popularity of online shopping appears to be dampening that phenomenon).

This weekend in Seattle, The Gap and a few other stores were having a “50% off everything in the store” sale. Which got me thinking about a grand experiment in which all of downtown Seattle businesses had simultaneous “100% off everything in the store” sales. Their motto might be, “This stuff was really ill-conceived and is poorly made, ugly, and of no real use, so please, please take it off our hands.” Tens of thousands would jump in their cars and speed downtown, park haphazardly, and run towards the stores with eyes ablaze.

Free man, free! Nevermind that they’d have no real need for the stuff falling out of their overfilled shopping carts. Free man! Nevermind that they wouldn’t have enough room in their dresser drawers, closets, or garages for the stuff. Free! Nevermind that the stuff wouldn’t fill those empty spaces in their lives created by superficial or strained relationships with others.

My spiritual self has convinced my material self to sit out the mania this December. Join me. Help me tilt the balance from the material to the spiritual.

On Guns

Another high schooler takes a gun to school and uses it. Washington State voters consider an initiative to tighten gun ownership regulations. I still have no idea about how to talk about gun ownership.

One approach would be to study the historical context of the Second Amendment. For example, we could turn to Michael Waldman’s “biography” of the Second Amendment. Here’s an excerpt of a Mother Jones interview with Waldman.

MJ: What preconceived notions about the Second Amendment did the history that you uncovered confirm or debunk?

MW: There are surprises in this book for people who support gun control, and people who are for gun rights. When the Supreme Court ruled in Heller, Justice Scalia said he was following his doctrine of originalism. But when you actually go back and look at the debate that went into drafting of the amendment, you can squint and look really hard, but there’s simply no evidence of it being about individual gun ownership for self-protection or for hunting. Emphatically, the focus was on the militias. To the framers, that phrase “a well-regulated militia” was really critical. In the debates, in James Madison’s notes of the Constitutional Convention, on the floor of the House of Representatives as they wrote the Second Amendment, all the focus was about the militias. Now at the same time, those militias are not the National Guard. Every adult man, and eventually every adult white man, was required to be in the militias and was required to own a gun, and to bring it from home. So it was an individual right to fulfill the duty to serve in the militias.

MJ: You point out that the NRA has the Second Amendment inscribed in their lobby, but with the militia clause removed.

MW: Yes. That was first reported in an article inMother Jones in the ’90s. But I didn’t want to rely on just that, so one of my colleagues went out to the NRA headquarters to look at the lobby. And she had her picture taken in front of the sign so we could confirm that it was actually still there!

MJ: Based on the history you’ve uncovered, do you think the founders understood there to be an unwritten individual right to arms that they didn’t include in the Constitution?

MW: Yes. And that might be noteworthy for some. There were plenty of guns. There was the right to defend yourself, which was part of English common law handed down from England. But there were also gun restrictions at the same time. There were many. There were limits, for example, on where you could store gunpowder. You couldn’t have a loaded gun in your house in Boston. There were lots of limits on who could own guns for all different kinds of reasons. There was an expectation that you should be able to own a gun. But they didn’t think they were writing that expectation into the Constitution with the Second Amendment.

MJ: So then why focus on the Second Amendment and not the English Bill of Rights or other things the framers drew on that more clearly address individual gun ownership?

MW: We are not governed today, in 2014, by British common law. Law evolved, the country evolved. It was a very rural place. There were no cities. There were no police forces. It was a completely different way of living. So gun rights activists turned this into a constitutional crusade. Those who want more guns and fewer restrictions realized they could gain some higher ground if they claimed the Constitution.

When I learn about the historical context of the Second Amendment, the question I’m left with is this: Is the threat of a federal government take-over at the hands of anti-American insurrectionists so great that local police, state troopers, and the National Guard can’t be expected to repel it?

But no matter how reasonably the “historical context” argument is made, the pro-gunners will never accept Waldman-like interpretations of the amendment because doing so would impose limits on gun ownership and that is an anathema to them. Making that approach a complete dead-end.

What about appealing to safety in public spaces? Also a dead-end. Most pro-gunners believe school cafeterias, legislative buildings, movie theaters become safer as a greater percentage of people in those places carry licensed guns. The thinking being upstanding private citizens will gun down the evil ones perpetrating acts of violence on innocent bystanders before authorities are able to respond.

For example, if the food service workers in the Marysville High School cafeteria were carrying, one of them could have killed the shooter from across the cafeteria before he had the opportunity to kill and injure any of his classmates. I guess we’re supposed to assume that she hits the perp, but no other students because she regularly receives expert firearm training.

What about pointing out the loopholes in gun ownership laws, the propensity of some parents not to hide or lock their guns, the uneven training gun owners undergo, and the number of mentally ill people that manage to get ahold of guns. Dead-end. The pro-gunners think that if they give into any tightening of gun ownership requirements it will lead to more, and eventually, the confiscation of their guns.

What about comforting those most afraid of dying at the hands of violent criminals with what we know about how most people die?

Number of deaths for leading causes of death—2011 (Center for Disease Control)

  • Heart disease: 596,577
  • Cancer: 576,691
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 142,943
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,932
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 126,438 (1. poisoning; 2. car accidents; 3. gun violence)
  • Alzheimer’s disease: 84,974
  • Diabetes: 73,831
  • Influenza and Pneumonia: 53,826
  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 45,591
  • Intentional self-harm (suicide): 39,518

A dead-end too because pro-gunners will argue that if you’re more likely to die while driving than at the hands of violent criminals, it’s proof that the status quo of relatively uninhibited gun ownership is working. My reading of those statistics is that no amount of weaponry will protect the mostly sedentary masses from what and how much they eat.

One dead-end after another.

Reader Beware

From today’s inbox.

Hi Ron,

We are interested in sending over a quality and relevant article to your site (pressingpause.com) as a contribution. Is this something you might consider? If yes, please email me back and I’ll be happy to send over the article for your review asap.

Note that the copy will include a few references to our client. We’ll also pay you $100 per post through PayPal, for your time and effort. I look forward to hearing from you, Ron.

Have a good day!

[name]
Marketing Manager
[email address]
http://www.letsgetwise.com

You’re probably hip to product placement in television and film, but what about in on-line and traditional print? When reading, do you ever ask, “What am I being sold?” If not, it’s time to start.

Please help me refine my reply to Ms. Marketing Manager. Here’s what I have so far.

Dear Ms. Marketing Manager,

Hell no.

Sincerely,

Ronald S. Byrnes

Apple Watch and iPhones: iNitial Reaction

The Apple Watch. My favorite Apple watcher, John Gruber, said this Benjamin Clymer review of the Apple watch is the best one yet. If Gruber says it, it’s true.

Henry Blodget is smart, that’s why his ignorant comments that the Apple Watch is completely irrelevant shocked me. He’s forgotten history, in particular how unenthused nearly everyone was when the iPhone and iPad were first released.

Having said that, I will not be keeping my word because I will not be buying it this go round. I’ll wait a few iterations. I bought a new watch a year ago. My Garmin Forerunner 10 is one of my favorite possessions. It’s a brilliant watch because it only has the most essential functions I need. Meaning it’s simple to use. And it’s waterproof. And, unless I’m using the GPS feature a lot, the charge lasts several days.

The Apple watch isn’t waterproof. Deal breaker. I do not want to take my watch off every time I hit the pool or bathtub. And allegedly, you have to charge it overnight meaning I wouldn’t be able to use it to wake up. My one-third the cost Forerunner 10 has the perfect alarm—not too grating, but loud enough to always do the trick. No doubt Garmin knows what Blodget seemingly doesn’t, the Watch will get much better pretty quickly and prove brutallly tough competition. I may end up being their last customer. Maybe I should buy an extra “10” or two in case they die a sudden death.

Also, most of the Watch apps will require iPhone tethering. Really, I have to carry a new larger iPhone in order to see fitness data on my Watch? A two-part problem. 1) Getting a comfortable enough, water/sweat proof carrying case so that the phone “disappears” while running. Cyclists will most likely use a case and then just toss it in their back-middle jersey pocket. 2) The additional weight. When you pretend you’re an elite athlete, every gram or ounce counts. :)

I had a great run this morning. It was 52 degrees out and it was pitch black when I left, and 10k later, I was bathed in beautiful morning light. I took three things—shoes, socks, shorts.

The only reason to buy the first Watch is to subject acquaintances, friends, and family to status envy. That is always sufficient motivation for lots of people.

The phones. All previous sales records will be shattered. Sleepless nights for Samsung. Their worst fears are being realized as evidenced by this. I’m holding my AAPL shares and should probably use my Watch savings to buy three and a half more.

I THINK I want one. The pretend elite cyclist in me is thinking 4.7″, but the aging reader is thinking 5.5″. Maybe I’ll take a year to decide.

That collective sigh was my friends who have grown weary of my annoying quirk.

The iWeek Ahead

iMiss the days when everyone in and around Apple was afraid to death of Steve Jobs and what he would do if there was a leak. Far less was known prior to major pressers like this Tuesdays.

Predictions. More incremental improvements to the world’s best smart phone. Larger, sharper, more durable screens; faster processors; more memory, improved battery life. iPhone 6 users will soon be paying for all sorts of things by quickly swiping their phones.

An iWatch that keeps time more accurately than any previous watch ever. All of your social media on your wrist all of the time. Steadily declining marketshare for the top-selling personal fitness and health devices. Wireless charging.

Analysts will complain the products cost too much. On Friday, AAPL shareholders like me will have less money that we do right now.

People will find the money for both products. Fourth quarter 2014 and first quarter 2015 sales will set new records and exceed almost everyone’s expectations. The stock will recover and sometime soon the Good Wife and I will once again start eating at Vic’s on Saturday nights.

I’ll buy everything Tim offers for sale Tuesday. Maybe even for myself. If I go against type and follow through on that this time, my friends, a resilient bunch, will quickly find new things about me to ridicule. Like the humble blog. Their favorite line, which they find endlessly entertaining, “You have a blog?!”

The products will not improve the quality of my life. I will not free up more time or experience more joy. I will not be more insightful. I will not write or teach any better. I will not listen more patiently or find more humor in things. I will not be more kind or generous. I will not display greater appreciation for my health or the natural world.

Take this prediction to the bank. No combination of sleek and shiny iProducts will make me a better person or improve the quality of my iLife. Make like Stuart Smalley and repeat that mantra in the mirror this week and let the iHype pass over you.

When Our College Graduate Moved Home

Our culture emphasizes independence first and foremost. Young people fortunate enough to go away to college are supposed to be independent upon graduating. But of course it’s a process, especially given mounting student loan debt. Moving home is seen as a negative, but it doesn’t have to be.

On Monday mornings run, the posse and I were passed by a car driven by a recent grad who lives with his parents in our ‘hood. Like many people who live in this hamlet, I learned he works for the state government, meaning he probably earns $50-60k/year. His parents are from Vietnam. If both parties can suck it up for three years, he should have at least $100k saved.

From afar, Asian-Americans like our neighbors seem less anxious about their children’s independence. They also seem more comfortable caring for their parents in their own homes. Dare I say they’re better at blurring the generational lines.

We’ve enjoyed having our college graduate live with us this summer. Recently, her mother said to me, “It’s been nice getting to know her again.” I agree. She’s working a few part-time jobs, saving money for an eventual move to Chicago. On Monday we went on a hike on Mount Rainier. Today we had a D&D Club lake swim (Dad and Daughters).

She cooks on Tuesday nights and feeds and walks the Labradude. She works for a catering company on the weekends so every Sunday morning I excitedly open the refrigerator to see some combo of leftover chicken, green beans, salmon, salmon spread, and wedding cake. I make her a green tea latte on Fridays.

We had a misunderstanding a week or two ago. Tears were shed. We’re conflict avoiders so we tipped toed around each other for two days before finally talking it out. She gets credit for taking the initiative.

She’s wonderful, same as her younger sissy whose company we’re also enjoying right now. Second Born is between her summer camp counseling job and her second year of college. Tonight we watched an episode of American Greed together. We also dig “Love It or List It”. The other day I was working on the humble blog while she was watching HGTV and video clips on her phone at the same time. I told her I couldn’t concentrate. No tears were shed. I’m going to miss her beginning next week.

When it comes to our young adult children’s independence, maybe we should chill. It will happen. Not in the exact way we’d draw it up, and not on our timeframe, but it will happen. Until then, the Good Wife and I are going to appreciate their presence in our lives.

Tipsoo Lake/Natches Peak

College grad to the left. Handsome Devil middle. Taylor Swift fan to the right.

 

 

 

What I’ve Been Reading and Watching

Last week I failed a friend who asked for a book recommendation. Another friend came to our aid by suggesting The Boys in the Boat. A few other friends have really enjoyed that this summer too. I’ve been reading medium-long form journalism of late. Here are three recommendations with related thoughts:

• Good. Putting Eternal Salvation in the Hands of Nineteen Year Old Missionaries. Imagine being 19 (boys) or 21 (girls) and being sent to some distant corner of the globe (or Indiana) to convert people to your family’s faith. Mormon missions are extremely challenging. Once they complete their two-year long missions, 40% percent of young mormon missionaries (elders) disengage from the church. Readers, Mormon ones I’m sure, wanted evidence of that stat. Others felt it would’ve been a more balanced story had the authors talked to elders who had more positive missionary experiences. They’re probably right. 

• Better. You Can’t Quit Cold Turkey. Imagine losing your marriage and your career because you can’t control your appetite. Sad story. There’s lots I don’t understand about extreme overeating. I understand that some people really, really like some foods, but what I don’t get is if someone were to say, “Go ahead and eat the other half of the cake, but if you do, you’re going to lose your really excellent job.” Or “go ahead and eat another pizza, but you’re going to lose your wife.” I also completely understand that thanks to inertia, not moving is far easier than moving. The author of this story is also very large. He says people like him, a 50 year old, don’t make it to 65. I don’t understand why early death isn’t sufficient motivation to begin making healthy changes. The root causes of overeating must be psychologically much deeper than this story lets on.  

• Best. The Strange and Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit. Imagine living alone in the Maine woods for 27 years. And only saying “hi” one time to one person. The fact that Chris Knight survived 27 Maine winters in a tent is mind boggling. As is the fact that some Maineiacs want to lock him up and throw away the key. Count me among the “provide some support and leave him alone in the woods” contingent. The author’s process left me uneasy. I couldn’t help but think he befriended Knight just for the sake of advancing his writing career. What is an author’s responsibility to their subjects? There should be some sort of reciprocity. By allowing the author to tell his story, Knight lost much more of the one thing he most cherished, his anonymity.

I’ve also seen two movies I highly recommend:

• Boyhood. Imagine being a boy age 6-18 in Houston, Texas. And having a succession of dads, two are alcoholics, one is extremely violent. Took 12 years to make. Excellent sociology. I was impressed with the central family’s resilience, but was dismayed by the negative portrayal of the vast majority of males.

• Ida. Imagine preparing to be a Catholic nun and then finding out your family was Jewish. Black and white with subtitles. Set in Poland in the early 60s. Not for everyone. I anticipate this being my favorite film of 2014. I’ve cast my vote for Best Foreign Film. Mesmerizing. 

Postscript—One article I couldn’t bring myself to read. Too depressing a headline. A disproportionate percentage of school shootings happen in rural and suburban districts.