America has a long track record or the dangers of monopolies. With the closing of Borders, Amazon is one step closer to becoming a monopoly. At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum makes a strong case that Amazon maintains its position of strength thanks to the fact that it doesn’t collect sales tax.
For all its talk of technology and convenience and selection, Amazon basically stays in business because it can charge slightly lower prices than brick-and-mortar stores. A level playing field might be good for state coffers and the schools and police officers they support, but to Amazon that doesn’t matter. It’s nothing personal, mind you. Just business.
Local bookstores are more than commercial enterprises. They are social institutions, where people meet, share ideas and organize. This pertains especially to independent book sellers, but it occurs at all bookstores because they tend to attract open-minded socially responsible people. If we don’t stop the current trend, the market will be completely dominated by a cyber-bookshop, leaving local communities in the lurch.
It’s 2011 and the government of Saudi Arabia refuses to allow women to drive because . . . they are women. An Aljazeera report reports the story. Amazing that we call Saudi Arabia an ally, our “friend.” Our oil-obsessed energy policy compels our country to bit our lip while women are degraded by our “friend.”
I just learned of the site called “It Get’s Better,” dedicated to telling stories to dispel the hate. Here are a few excerpts from the About page:
Growing up isn’t easy. Many young people face daily tormenting and bullying, leading them to feel like they have nowhere to turn. This is especially true for LGBT kids and teens, who often hide their sexuality for fear of bullying. Without other openly gay adults and mentors in their lives, they can’t imagine what their future may hold. In many instances, gay and lesbian adolescents are taunted — even tortured — simply for being themselves . . .
In September 2010, syndicated columnist and author Dan Savage created a YouTube video with his partner Terry to inspire hope for young people facing harassment. In response to a number of students taking their own lives after being bullied in school, they wanted to create a personal way for supporters everywhere to tell LGBT youth that, yes, it does indeed get better.
The website www.itgetsbetter.org is a place where young people who are lesbian, gay, bi, or trans can see how love and happiness can be a reality in their future. It’s a place where our straight allies can visit and support their friends and family members . . .
In the Wilson Quarterly, Daniel Akst writes about the importance of friendship and the fact that modern distractions are seducing Americans into failing to appreciate or maintain valuable friendships. He defines friendship as “a state of strong mutual affection in which sex or kinship isn’t primary.” What are the important things that friends do?
It’s available to everyone, offering concord and even intimacy without aspiring to be all-consuming. Friends do things for us that hardly anybody else can, yet ask nothing more than friendship in return (though this can be a steep price if we take friendship as seriously as we should).
Here are the disturbing statistics. Half of American adults are unmarried and more than a quarter live alone. A recent survey shows that Americans had one third fewer friends than we did two decades earlier. “A quarter of us had no such confidants at all.” None of this is surprising given that so many of us find ourselves rushing around working so that we can afford things we don’t really need. Akst also cites to the work of Barbara Ehrenreich, who suggest that we fail to develop friendships like we used to because it takes too much of an investment. She blames the “cult of conspicuous busyness” which we pursue to attain “status and perverse comfort even as it alienates us from one another.” Stir in children, spouses and our all too willingness to move in search of jobs that pay more, and we have a social environment that is downright hostile to friendships. None of this is mitigated by the 130 “friends” that the average Facebook user has.
What are we doing in search of this mutual affection in the absence of friends? We have lots of talk therapists, of course. As Akst notes, Americans also own immense numbers of non-human pets, and these seem to be serving as substitutes for friends.
Akst has written a thoughtful piece on friendship in which he stirs in psychology, sociology, philosophy and this conclusion:
[Friendship is] one of life’s highest pleasures… It’s time for us to ease up on friending, re-think our downgrade of ex-lovers to “just” friends, and resist moving far away from everyone we know barely because it rains less elsewhere.
I think that this useful article is misnamed. It’s called “10 ways you know you’re with smart people,” but I don’t think of people as “smart” unless they are hard-working, they have kind hearts and they know how to work well with those around them. I’ve repeatedly learned over the years to simply being “smart” doesn’t cut it. Ever. Further, I don’t think that the items in the list ways to necessarily know you’re with “smart” people. What it does seem to be is a good collection of some of the important characteristics of highly functional people.
I haven’t always worked with highly functional people, but I’ve noticed the characteristics of the article’s list in the people I currently work with (I’m fortunate to work with a highly regarded law firm in St. Louis). Every day is an exciting and rewarding (sometimes exhausting) experience, and we have a lot to show for our efforts. But very little of this could have happened simply by having “smart” people around. It takes much more to have a functional workplace.
Many people are “smart” in the sense that they know a lot of things, but this article contains a list of some of the important things that “smart” people do in order to truly get the job done. Some of the main things they do is to keep their focus, think innovatively, be ready to risk failure and work hard to draw the best performances out of each other. For those of you who are in highly functional workplaces, I suspect that you see many of these sorts of things in your co-workers too.
Richard Vieth was my father. He died on January 14, 2011 at the age of 78, after battling cancer for the past few years. Two days ago I attended his funeral at the Hope Lutheran Church in St Charles, Missouri. The minister gave a detailed celebratory sermon.
The church was packed, even though there was no obituary; no arrangements had been made to publish one. I have decided to publish my own obituary here to make certain that anyone who wants to know about my dad can see that he lived a long active life, that he recently passed away and that he is missed by the many people whose lives he touched. I would also like to annotate this obituary with some personal observations.
At the time of his death my dad (who also went by the name of Dick Vieth) was married to Carolyn Vieth. They had been married for about 20 years and they had made their home in St. Charles, Missouri. Monica Brown was my dad’s step-daughter (Carolyn’s daughter). About a dozen years ago, they both adopted Lynne Bright as their daughter. From 1953 through 1990, my dad was married to my mom, Katherine D. Vieth (formerly Katherine Wich), and they had raised five children. In order of birth, those children are Vicki Kozeny, me (Erich Vieth), Jan Vieth, Kathy Albers and Angela Vieth. My dad is one of four children; his sisters are Jeanne Mertens, Peggy Huston and Mary Malawey. He is survived by all of the above, and by more than a few grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
During his long career at McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing), Richard Vieth worked tirelessly as an aerospace engineer. He helped design cruise missiles and other highly sophisticated weapons. One of his early projects, back in the 1960’s, had been the Dragon anti-tank missile. He took his job extremely seriously, working many evenings and weekends. When I was a teenager, I asked him how cruise missiles could know where to fly while they were traveling over water since all water would presumably look the same; he abruptly stated, “I can’t discuss that. It’s top secret.” He was deeply convinced that America needed to maintain its great military strength to stay safe, and he was proud to play a part in that effort. Upon his death he was recognized by some of his fellow engineers from McDonnell Douglas.
My dad was also a bicycle enthusiast. He made many extensive bicycle journeys here in the United States and overseas. He was an active bicyclist until a few years ago.
My father characterized himself as a “conservative” on his Facebook page. He was especially outspoken in local Republican politics during the last few decades of his life. For instance, he was active with the St. Charles, Missouri Pachyderms.
My dad was also highly active with his church, Hope Lutheran Church. He wasn’t shy about singing loudly in the church choir nor about preaching to virtually everyone he met that they should accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Prior to his death, my dad wrote his own long eulogy and copies were passed out at his funeral (here is a copy). He wanted to make certain that the people attending his funeral knew the importance of accepting Jesus Christ.
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I don’t follow gossip columns, or even broadcast news. But I do read a few blogs. Yesterday FriendlyAtheist posted Tony Danza’s Funeral Outburst Makes Sense. I don’t particularly care about the actor or the author involved. But apparently he has gotten some negative press for an action that I wish I’d had the cojones to do a couple of times. He cut off a a cleric who was in full stride in a fire and brimstone recruiting speech at the funeral of a friend, to redirect focus to the friend.
Personally, I think the cleric was misbehaving, not the friend. And I wish more people would stand up at funerals and demand that the subject be of the life departed, not of the faith of the orator. Better yet, make sure the minister knows beforehand that bald propagandizing will not be tolerated.
If the deceased had been a pious person, then discussing the faith and piety of the departed meets with my approval. But using the occasion simply as a recruiting drive is too common of an occurrence. I’ve been to a few funerals where the cleric/priest/minister had nothing particular to contribute about the guest of honor, but went on and on about how doomed the rest of us were unless we took his preferred sacrament. He simply knew a captive audience and marketing opportunity when he had one. Very dissatisfying to those of us who knew the decedent.
I have also been to good memorials, where the focus was on the life as lived. My two favorite memorial services ended with a participatory kazoo performance, or recessional music by Groucho Marx. They were fully celebrations of the life departed, not dire warnings to the audience. Unless as a cautionary example to enjoy life while you can.
Here is an example of an appropriate farewell, although NSFW:
I wonder sometimes if road trips will become a thing of the past. For my wife and me, they’ve certainly dropped a bit on the list of things to do, but that may simply be a product of schedules, interests and rising gas prices. We used to drive multiple many miles just to see things, turn around and drive back. In California, 13-14 years ago, we decided one day to take our kids to see the sequoias, so we drove 400 miles, saw them, said, “Cool.”, and drove back. In the same day. Now, a custom van makes it a comfortable option, but we take fewer of those trips.
Nertz is a card game that is best described as group solitaire on speed. There are different sets of rules, but we play a “Navy” way taught to us in the 1990s and almost always play in teams of two. We have since evangelized it across the continent and halfway across the world, and my wife taught it to many of her Korean students during our seven years there. After teaching the game to very good friends also stationed in Korea, we would often answer the door at 10:30 on a Friday night to Barb, pitcher of margaritas in hand, saying “Rick’s taking out his contacts and grabbing a bottle of wine….you guys up for some Nertz?”
Road trips and Nertz converged this past weekend as we decided to drive from Dallas (actually Rowlett), Texas to Memphis (actually Atoka/Millington), Tennessee to see Rick and Barb, our friends from Korea; a weekend which we thoroughly enjoyed and did manage to squeeze in several hours of Nertz playing. We left at 5:00 pm on Thursday with me driving the one way 7.5 hours (without stops) of 440 miles in a different (but now 11 year old) custom van, accompanied by my wife, two younger sons and the ADD-wired brain that has been my companion for near 50 years.
I sometimes wonder what it is like to be “normal”.
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Tom Ackerman has an provocative approach for dealing with a constantly simmering problem here in America: gay marriage. Whenever someone mentions their husband or wife (or their “marriage”), he makes a blunt statement that he “doesn’t recognize marriage.” His reason? “[N]obody should have marriage until everybody does.” That gives people who have been privileged with the ability to marry a bit of the perspective of those are aren’t allowed this privilege. Here’s how he does it:
Yesterday I called a woman’s spouse her boyfriend.
She says, correcting me, “He’s my husband,”
“Oh,” I say, “I no longer recognize marriage.”
The impact is obvious. I tried it on a man who has been in a relationship for years,
“How’s your longtime companion, Jill?”
“She’s my wife!”
“Yeah, well, my beliefs don’t recognize marriage.”
Fun. And instant, eyebrow-raising recognition. Suddenly the majority gets to feel what the minority feels. In a moment they feel what it’s like to have their relationship downgraded, and to have a much taken-for-granted right called into question because of another’s beliefs.