Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Vote Early (and Often!)

My sticker from the primary election, photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

I've got a blog post in the works about a recent (ahem) home improvement project I took on that ended, well, not as originally intended.  Although there were no power tools involved, no blood spilled and the "end result" is not that terrible, it was a not a fun day.  Later that evening, Dawn said to me, "Next time, let's hire someone."  Oh yes, next time and every (expletive-deleted) time.

I want to do that blog post justice (and be sure to poke ample fun at myself, 'cause I deserve it) so y'all will have to wait a bit.  In the meantime, here's a more serious topic:  Election Day.

Here in the U.S., November 4th is a "general election."  While we will not be electing a President, a third of the U.S. Senate, all the U.S. House of Representatives, Governors in many states, as well as other significant offices.  Folks, this is a big deal.

And unless you've been living completely off the grid, you've likely run across the dreaded "campaign ad."  It's not just on television, it's on the internet, in our mailboxes and simply put- it our faces.  It's ugly and as the Supreme Court has ruled, it's sticking around. Sigh.

There are ample reasons to be cynical about elections in general and particularly this one.  It's as if politics is this open bar of attack ads where the liquor being poured is cheep but they keep coming.  

One could raise the opinion that not a damn thing is going to change regardless of who wins this election.  The politics of gridlock resemble the trench warfare of WWI and each side's position is hardened.  No Man's Land in this case is policy creation and neither side dares venture there for long. 

However, with all that being said, please do get out and vote this election.  There are incredibly important issues at stake.  Sitting this one out may be tempting for some but please, do not.  

There are ample opportunities to vote prior to election day through early voting and voting by absentee ballot.  It's how Dawn and I voted.  We did it weeks ago and it was fast and painless.  If you're someone who likes to go to the polls on election day, then by all means, continue that tradition.  I would suggest having a plan for election day and if possible, vote early in the day.  That avoids any number of things that could come up and jinx getting to the polls.

If you do go vote in person, bring your kids.  I am aware of no prohibition of a child appearing at the polls.  I cannot think of a better civics lesson.  If you want to be completely sure it is OK, check with your Secretary of State or elections commissioner.  If you want the best of both worlds, find an early voting location and bring your kid(s) there.  You get the full election experience and can do it on your time.

Dawn and I voted absentee ballot.  It is my preferred way to vote as I am assured that whatever occurs on Election Day, my ballot is cast.  However, I also go to the polls, especially for the shall we say say, lesser-publicized elections.  The photo above is from the primary in June.

If you're reading this blog and you're in America and a registered voter, please, please vote this election.  There's the old saying, "If you don't vote, you better not complain."  That's BS, people will always complain and like that's even an enforceable threat.  No, no my friends, I'd suggest this instead:  

Vote because it's your chance to have your say.  Vote because the vile 30-second attack ads that are slowing poisoning the groundwater of our body politic cannot vote.  But you can.  Vote because it is both your right and duty.  Vote because there are so many people who wish they could.

OK, thus ends the sermon about voting this election.  Some of you might be saying, "Hey Jeno, in the title, you talk about voting early, you're not supporting voter fraud, are you?"  

To this I'll reply, "Of course not, gentle readers."  (I've always wanted to use that line.)  What I am referencing is the importance of voting in ALL elections.  My Dad has been a citizen since 1962 and in those fifty plus years, he's missed voting in one school board election.  One.  He's made all the other ones.  I wish I had that streak.  Actually, I have no streak.  I missed the park board election last month.  I wasn't alone.  I recall that there was less than 1000 votes cast in total.  Not sure what that turnout percentage was but my guess is...tiny.

And that is not surprising.  Considering that in a Presidential Election you don't get much further north of 60% in "good" year, the further down the ballot you go, the less interest there usually is.

That my friends, is an explanation, not an excuse.  I could have voted and and chose not to.  Oh sure, I can rationalize it by saying, "The park board is in good hands and I trust whomever serves."  Even if true, it's still a cop-out.  A small one in the big scheme of things but a cop-out nonetheless.  I run (albeit slowly) on the bike path and my youngest daughter loves going to several of them in my town.  I pay taxes and like to think of myself as an involved citizen.  Yet not so much for this race.  

So when I make the quip about "voting early and often," it's not about fraud but voting often in all levels of elections.  School board, municipal elections and yes, park board.  Oh sure, the national media will not cover these more provincial elections, yet they matter all the same.  Come to think of it, the more local the race, the more direct impact it has on your daily life.  From taxes to services to local ordinances, it all matters.  

Elections matter.  This one upcoming and all the future ones.

Here's to seeing you at the polls.  Unless one of us votes by mail.  

Be well my friends,

Friday, October 17, 2014

Deadlines and Commitments

The notice on my library book, photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

I recently partially read What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars by Jim Paul and Brendan Moynihan.  This is a book I learned about via the Tim Ferriss show (episode 29) and it was great, of what I read of it.

See, it was due back earlier this week at the library and (as the photo above indicates) there were no renewals on it.  Due to some other obligations (like work) I ran out of time on Monday to finish it.

Now I suppose had I kept it out an extra day or so, I highly doubt the Bettendorf Public Library would have dispatched Vince and Rocco to "collect" my fine.  If anything, because this was a "special request" book, I could have kept it for a few days, returned it and likely there would have been no fines.  To quote Jesus, "Go forth and sin no more."

One of the reasons I made it a point to return this book on time is that I love the Bettendorf Public Library.  They are able to find me books from far and near and I value being a patron of this fine institution.  I like to think that if Ben Franklin (founder of the Philadelphia library) were to walk into this library, my library, he would be more than impressed.  I've not always been the best (ahem) "rule-follower."  However, when an institution like this library has treated me so well, I want to reciprocate by respecting their rules.

So the book was returned, un-read, yet on-time.

Here is the other reason I returned it is it gave me the chance to do that ever important, yet challenging concept of, "practicing what you preach."  I have read a bunch of stuff in the area of what I'll informally call, "peak performance."  One of the things they discuss is developing the ability to say no. 

Saying "no," is one of those skillsets that many successful people credit with their, well, success.  James Altucher, along with his wife, Claudia Azula Altucher, wrote a book entitled, The Power of No:  Because One Little Word Can Bring Health, Abundance and Happiness.  I have not read this book.  However, I am working through another of his books, Choose Yourself.  Altucher is also someone who Tim Ferriss has interviewed and I listened to that podcast.  His message is something like this:  "Saying no allows you to say yes to the stuff that really matters to you.  It is a skill that has to be learned, but it can be learned."  I've got the Amazon link to his book below if you'd like to check it out for yourself.  Here is a blurb from the promo page:

"...that you have the right to say no: To anything that is hurting you. To standards that no longer serve you. To people who drain you of your creativity and expression. To beliefs that are not true to the real you. When you do, you’ll be freed to say a truly powerful “Yes” in your life—one that opens the door to opportunities, abundance, and love."

Sounds good to me.

A few months back I was turned onto a book, Virtuous Leadership by Alexandre Havard.  I have read this one.  His book states that leadership is a choice and that anyone can develop the skills of being a "virtuous" leader.  His third chapter is entitled, "Just Say No."  He comments:  "Get used to saying no."  

Full disclosure about Professor Havard's work- it is quite conservative.  (Some of you will like it just fine, others, not so much.)   The reason I point this quote out is Havard's underlying message is one of being able to decide for yourself what is important and what is not.  You may reject some of Havard's priorities, yet there is value in his (and the Altuchers') message of deciding what is important and jettisoning the other stuff.

So back to my library book.  I said "no" to keeping the book.  I said "no" to reading it beyond the time allowed.  I did this not because I couldn't handle the fine but because it was a way to practice the discipline of deadlines.  I knew how long I had to read the book and if I had really wanted to read it, I would have gotten it done in time.

Life is about making choices with what to do with our time.  Although I reject the concept that time is so damn valuable that you have to have some monk-like concentration on your activities.  If you happen to be channel surfing on a Saturday and Road House comes on Spike TV, then by all means, watch it.  Just do the math ahead of time and understand that you're done with the next 90 minutes.  

If you've got something you feel is a priority, then perhaps the best course of action is to say "no" to channel surfing in the first place.  After all, you can't be sucked into watching Road House, (a movie that I consider the best/worst movie ever and Mr. Robert Brumm happens to agree with me, please see the link below) if you're not in front of the TV in the first place.

Road House promo poster, United Artists, from Wikipedia's page, fair use, full cite listed below.

Sometimes, popular music offers a great way to sum up long-winded thoughts (like, ahem, this blog post).  I think about the Bob Seger's song, Against the Wind, and a couple lines of lyrics:

"Well those drifter days are past me now.  
I've got so much more to think about.  
Deadlines and commitments,
What to leave in, what to leave out."

I remember when I first starting paying attention to this song.  I was somewhere in high school and thought that these lines must have been written about someone so old and ancient to be, well, middle-aged.  I remember laughing to myself thinking, "Thank God that's not me." 

Fast-forward a few years/decades and that might just be me.  Hold on for a second, let me get my mirror app on my iPhone.  I'll be right back...

I'm back.

Yup (after the checking the mirror) that's now me.   

So if you're in my age group, you might be able to relate to the phrase, "deadlines and commitments."  I wonder if the trick is to limit the number of commitments you make and in turn, that will reduce decisions about, "...what to leave in, what to leave out."

And who knows, that might also just free up time to do a bit of channel surfing...or finish a book that is due back at the best library around.

Be well my friends,



Saturday, October 11, 2014

No Medal (or Bib) This Race

My bib from the 2014 QC Marathon.  Photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

Last week was the Quad City Marathon.  I signed up for it with the original intent to run the half marathon.  (I've done four of these in the past.)  Now originally, the plan was to run the full 26.2 miles of the marathon.

I've been here before.  For the past several years, I keep telling myself that this year I'm doing it.  "It" would be the full marathon.  Oh, how I had the absolute best of intentions.  I was going to train, I mean really train for it.  I even downloaded the training schedule.  I think you all know where this is going.

Yup, the full marathon motivation evaporated by July just like an ice cube on hot cement.  So then I went to Plan B, the half marathon.  I knew that was something I could gut through without training as I had done it several times before, the last time being in September, 2010.  

Now perhaps it is because I'm (ahem) getting older but I recognize that even though I could make it through the 13.1 miles, I'd be shot for the rest of the day.  Likely, the following few would be bad as well.  And that presumes I had trained.

So for the training bit, that did not happen either.  The longest I ran was 7 miles and that was for the Bix in July.  Oh, and I did the "Run With Carl" (5 miles) on Labor Day.  However, none of the requisite 10 or 12 mile jaunts.

Why you might ask?  There is a simple answer:  I did not want to.  Oh sure, I can raise any number of excuses (some better than others) yet the answer remains the same:  I didn't want to train.

So I concluded running the half marathon was not the right call.  That left the 5K.  I think 5Ks are a great distance to run so that made all the sense in the world  The day before the race I went to the expo center, switched to this race and picked up my shirt and race bib.

Then a funny thing happened.  I decided not to run the race at all.  Dawn (my wife) and I were over at our good friends' house and we were talking about all the things going on the next day and how to schedule around my running the race.  Then I had a thought:  I don't have to run the race.

From one perspective this was no big deal.  I wasn't running with anyone, nor part of a team.  It was not like I was going to let anyone down by not showing up.  As for the race, well, running the 5K is something I've done a bunch of times.  (In fact, I did run about that length later that day.)

There is a lot of power in the word "NO."  When you say no, you actually are saying "YES" to other things.  In this case, I said yes to hanging out with my wife that morning and getting some things done.  That meant more to me than picking up the medal they handed out to everyone.

I should be clear on something- I respect accomplishments.  Notwithstanding Napoleon's quote, "A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon," I think there is nothing wrong with being recognized for an achievement.  Which leads me to the opening photo.

I decided that if I was not going to run the race then the race bib had to be thrown away.  In races past, they would make it onto the garage fridge, a/k/a, "The Fridge of Honor."  The bibs mean more to me than the medals they give out.  That is probably because it's easier to post the bibs than hang a medal on the fridge door.

I suppose this is my own way of echoing the words of Ty Cobb (baseball star and not-so-great guy):  "It ain't bragging if you've done it."  My form of bragging is posting the bib on the fridge with other stuff that I deem worthy of saving and displaying, if only to me and the family.  (And trust me, no one besides me cares what is on the fridge.)  Speaking of the fridge, here's a photo of it.

"The Fridge of Honor" in the garage.  (Photobomb by the lawn mower) Photo by J. Berta

So there was no posting this bib on the fridge.  Perhaps next race.  In the meantime, I will wear the shirt.  After all, I paid for that and it's the high-tech micro fabric stuff.  


The garage fridge, a/ka/ "The Fridge of Honor," died this past week.  It was put out on the curb for the monthly bulk pick-up after my neighbor secured the door.  In preparing it for its final journey, I removed the various items on the door.  All that remained were two stickers.  Thus ended its time as the destination for race bibs.

The "Fridge of Honor's" last day. (It is duck-taped and thanks to my friend Mike, bolted shut.) Here it is moments before it was loaded into a truck, bound for the scrap yard.  (Photo by J. Berta.)

I guess I need to find a new place to hang up my race bibs for the ones I run.  Who knows, maybe there will be one from a full marathon.

Of course, that means I have to stop saying "NO" to training.  I'll keep you posted on how that one turns out. 

Be well my friends,


Friday, October 3, 2014

Now Before You Get Angry

The American Flag that was not made here.  Photo by J. Berta
Greetings All:

Well it's another wild and crazy Friday night at my house.  Actually, not really.  The Disney channel is on and I'm sitting on the couch, typing this blog post.

I am not complaining.  If anything, I'm grateful to be home.  I recall being a teenager and viewing being home on a weekend night a death sentence.  Now, it's exactly where I want to be.

So we've established that I'm at home.  Here's where the photo comes in:  I happened to notice this plastic flag and could not help but notice the "MADE IN CHINA" logo on it.  

Really?  The American flag, our flag.  Made in China?!?  

Yup, apparently so.

My first thought was anger.  Straight-up anger that the American flag would be made in a Communist country.  Call me old fashioned, but I think our flag should be made in America, especially an actual flag that can be flown...or laid on a casket.

Yet this is somewhat different.  After I calmed down, I realized where this flag came from, the local 4th of July parade.  These were handed out to the kids on the route.  I am certain that whomever procured these flags never thought they would so boldly broadcast their country of manufacturing origin.  Yet there it is.

I am not a fan of China's government.  I do hope it moves forward and becomes more free, more democratic.  They've got the capitalism part down.  Just take a look at Ali Baba's stock price...

As someone who tries to look on the bright side of things, there is an upside to this story.  Somewhere in China, some factory worker made this flag, or at least ran the machine the produced it.  I like to think that whomever he or she was that when they saw this flag, it kindled something inside of them.  It gave them hope that their fate and the collective fate of their country could get better.  That they could find a way to more freedom, to a better life.

Who knows, maybe that worker took a risk and took one of these flags home.  A long shot?  Sure.  Then again, consider our country's history.  We were the longest shot of the 18th century.

Perhaps what America was to that century China will be to this one.
So before you get angry at this photo, ponder this option.  It just may come to pass.

Be well my friends,

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Adieu, au Capitaine

Jeter acknowledging the fans after his 2722nd hit, fair use/public domain claimed, full cite below.

Greetings All:

Derek Jeter's career as a professional baseball player is over.  For the past twenty years, he was a member of the New York Yankees, one of the most storied (and hated) teams in the history of sports.  He was not just a Yankee.  He was one of the greats in a team that is known for greats.  He wore the only remaining single digit left for the Yankees, #2.  Something tells me that no one else will be wearing that number...except in the stands.

Jeter was one other thing to the Yankees, he was the Captain.  The Captain of the New York Yankees.  Truly he was the king amongst peers.

Jeter, by almost unanimous agreement, was a class-act both on and off the field.  There were no allegations of him carousing at 4:00 a.m. at some "jiggle joint" as I believe The New York Times referenced such "gentlemen's clubs."  There was no mug shot or Congressional testimony with him wagging a finger claiming to have "never used performance-enhancing drugs."  Sure, he dated a long list of famous and attractive ladies.  Why shouldn't he?  He was a single guy, perhaps the most eligible bachelor in the tri-state area.  (Sorry Mr. Trump, he's got you w-a-y beat.)

Now there was the little tiff with the owner of the Yankees who criticized him for being out late for a birthday party.  Yawn.  Although, they both had some fun with it via a Visa commercial.  I've got a link posted to it below.

As for his on-field performance, he's a lock for the Hall of Fame.  He might even receive 100% of the votes.  Yes, Virginia, he was that good.  Sure, there were times when he did not measure up to his personal standards.  During perhaps the most famous World Series of our lives, the 2001 series, he only batted .148.  However, when it counted, he delivered, earning the storied title, "Mr. November."  This was an ode to Reggie Jackson being known as "Mr. October."  To the best of my knowledge, there is only one "Mr." of each of these months.  Something tells me it will stay that way. 

My personal favorite play ever of Jeter was during the playoffs to get into the World Series.  It was known simply as, "The Flip."  I've got a link to it in the sources and if you're a baseball fan, it should bring back memories.  (Perhaps not so fond ones if you're an A's fan.)

I have seen him play in person a handful of times.  Without question, my favorite time was in 2003 in Trenton.  It was my good fortune to see him play when he was re-hab'ing an injury and was making his obligatory trek thru the minors.

This venue, being a minor league ball park, offered cheep tickets, hot dogs and beer.  I was quite close to the field and would have had to been a hedge fund manager (or at least a senior research dude at Golden Sacks) to afford these kind of seats at a major league game.

The biggest kick I got out of the evening was listening to the crowd respond when they realized just who was playing that evening.  I overheard a couple of older ladies in their thick Jer-say accents comment, "Oh, Dear-rick, he'z so koute!"  (For the record, I am married to someone from Jersey and was proud to have been a resident of the Garden State for a few years.  Therefore, my comments above are not meant to be either insulting or amusing, simply how I recall hearing the comments.)  

These two ladies were likely along for the ride that evening.  I think they were with a local chamber of commerce group that just "happened" to have group tickets for that game.  Talk about picking the right game to attend.

This entire season was the Jeter "farewell tour."  He received loud and sincere cheers across visiting ballparks.  Even in Boston, a city known for its (ahem) "motivated" fans, they gave him a great send-off.  And, as well they should.  Jeter earned that by his conduct on and off the field.

I had originally entitled this post to be (translated in English) "Farewell, my Captain."  Upon reflection, I changed it to "Farewell to the Captain."  Here's why.  Derek Jeter was not my captain.  I'm not a ball player at any level.  Aside from '95 softball league and a few games at Ft. Dix in '03, I've not played any organized ball since I was a kid.  For me to claim Jeter as anything other than someone I admire from (a great) distance would be silly and wrong.

Truth be told, I'm not even that great a Yankees fan.  I follow the box scores and loved when my daughter, dad and former boss (and still mentor) "COL" Dave met up at Yankee Stadium.  But I don't watch many games and could not even tell you who played outfield for them this year.

I do admire Derek Jeter for both his accomplishments and his character.  I respect him for knowing when it was time to hang up the cleats for good.  I am appreciative of his pure love of the game and his drive in pursuit of excellence.  And I wish him well in retirement and whatever life holds in store for him.

Farewell indeed.

Be well my friends,