Time Will Tell

Hat tip to Governing Magazine for reminding me of this Time magazine cover. Bloomy and Ahnold are not looking so confident nowadays, what with NYC no longer able to feast on tax revenues from its finance industry and Cali paying everyone in IOUs. Time (I mean time, not the magazine) will tell how the relationship between the feds and states/cities will equilibrialize. In the meantime, we can look back with regret on moves made by our biggest state and our biggest city that left them vulnerable to economic shock and wondering what draconian measures it will take for them to recover.

Huang Family Newsletter, July 2009

Kids – The great weather meant lots of fun weekend outings for Aaron and Jada, including splashing and boating at the lake for Lee’s annual company picnic. Both continue with day care, speech therapy, and special instruction. We scored them space in a great pre-school near us; Jada will move over in September, and Aaron next January when he turns three.

Adults – Amy is powering through her pathophysiology class; two midterms this month meant a whole lot of studying, but she still coordinated the renovation of both of our bathrooms as well as numerous other smaller home and garden projects. Lee is plugging away on a number of work assignments while juggling responsibilities at church and with the non-profit board he sits on.

Accident - On their home from a weekend of hiking in Yosemite, my mom, dad, sister, and brother-in-law got into a really bad car accident. My mom sustained the worst injuries, and is likely to be paralyzed from the chest down. My dad’s injuries have required major surgery and extensive recovery. My sister and brother-in-law are pretty banged up, too. We are heartened by all of the care and support that have been sent our way as everyone seeks to heal, mourn, and adjust.


Blowing Off Some Steam About a Lot of Hot Air

The title of this article says it all: "Revenue Increases Should Also Internalize Environmental Externalities." Whether to patch gaping budgets or embed big-government structures, taxes solely as "here's how we can get more money" is dangerous; instead, the tax code should do double duty to incentivize and penalize in ways that reverse distortions caused by various externalities that end users aren't currently fully paying for.

A straight carbon tax would have been a lot simpler than our current cap and trade plan. And, as noted in this article, paying polluters not to pollute amounts to a carbon "protection racket." Every third human on Earth lives in China or India. Both are rapidly industrializing, both are against any sort of effective cap, both will gladly accept payments from US companies to not pollute, and both will be more likely to cooperate if we talked with them about getting the price of carbon right through a straight tax rather than through convoluted cap and trade machinations.

But R's run from the word "tax." And D's like complicated policies that make it look like they're doing something really important. So never mind a simpler solution that will actually align our incentives with the behaviors we want to incentivize.

Let's Do the Twist

Here’s a nice feel-good story about race, West Philadelphia, and American Bandstand: "Nice Beat, Nasty Ban: 'Bandstand' Kept Them Apart - But No Longer." It’s as I’ve said before: inclusivity isn’t just about fairness or redress past wrongs, it’s about benefitting everyone involved, whether it’s better athletic competitions or better regional economies. Or, in the case of two old friends bopping to an internal beat at 46th and Market, dancing and entertainment.


Racing towards Cures

Megan McArdle of the Atlantic absolutely nails it when it come to the importance of innovation in health care and medicine:

"The way I look at it, one hundred percent of the population is going to die of something that we can't currently cure, but might in the future . . . plus the population of the rest of the world, plus every future generation. If you worry about global warming, you should worry at least as hard about medical innovation."

Look, I know there's no easy solution to the health care problem in our country. I'm not so libertarian that I don't see a role for government, whether funding basic research, or watchdogging in light of the many funky aspects of health care delivery that don't behave the way free markets should. But I do know that any solution has to make sure that it gives lots of room for lots of people to be supremely motivated to find the next great cure/pill/therapy.

Of course, it seems a whole lot more noble to come up with some lofty rhetoric about covering the uninsured or soaking the rich than to give room for some evil pharmaceutical company or biotech giant to make a gajillion dollars on a breakthrough innovation. Just like it seems more right to create a convoluted pro-environment bill rather than just price carbon correctly enough to unleash the profit motive within a million greedy entrepreneurs in search of the next big thing in clean energy.

As an amateur blogger, it's easy for me to sit here and opine about what's right and what's wrong; legislators actually have to do sausage-making. Still, I wish there was less posturing and less capitalism-bashing. After all, I'd really like it if I could someday field questions from my grandkids like, "You mean people who got cancer actually died from it? And flu outbreaks were uncontrollable? And people who became paralyzed stayed paralyzed?"

Discovering Urbanism

A really nice post over at Discovering Urbanism on "the meaning of urbanism." Here's a comment I left over there, riffing on one of his main points:

"For decades, we have been imposing local, state, and federal regulations that encourage low over high density development. As a result it appears that the ratio of drivable, suburban choices to walkable, urban choices is way out of sync with the public's actual preferences. This skews market prices considerably. As a result, too many people are being forced into a suboptimal (according to their own preferences) living arrangements, especially those with less income."

Yes, yes, and yes. Combine diversifying demographics, the end of cheap oil, and the sub-prime meltdown, and you have huge imbalances between the mix of housing that will be demanded in the future and the mix of housing that currently exists. Not sure how much counter-balancing government intervention is needed directly related to housing - prices do adjust quite nicely, thank you very much, so eventually builders will want to build more multi-family stuff in high-density areas and less single-family stuff in low-density areas - but what the government can do is make sure it corrects any distortions that would prevent that from happening: letting gas stay too cheap, over-subsidizing new highway capacity, making it really hard from a regulatory standpoint to do infill development. Like you, I'm not saying high-density is better for everyone; I just want it to be priced and regulated right, vis a vis low-density.


Oakland A+

I have a new name to add to my "Heroes" list. Walter Hoye, an African-American pastor from Oakland, concerned with the high abortion rates among African-Americans in Oakland, began to stand quietly outside an abortion clinic with a sign reading "Jesus loves you and your baby; let us help." Pro-abortion groups started hassling him, City Council passed an ordinance forbidding anyone from coming within eight feet of anyone entering an abortion clinic in order to display a sign or offer literature, and, finally, Hoye was charged for accosting and obstructing people who were trying to enter.

Never mind that there was videotape documenting that Hoye never did any such thing, and that the clinic's own escorts noted that Hoye was never anything besides cordial. The jury still found Hoye guilty, and the judge gave Hoye the choice of probation and a stay-away order or two years in jail. Hoye chose jail.

When his fellow prisoners learned that Hoye actually chose imprisonment over freedom, they flocked around him, and Hoye was able to minister to their spiritual and emotional needs. The magazine article I linked to above recounts one relationship Hoye formed, with a young man whose girlfriend had had an abortion, and to whom Hoye explained how abortions worked as well as how God's forgiveness worked.

Now freed, Hoye, who has been a chaplain in jail before, marvels at the access he had while in jail as an inmate to other inmates. Here is a man of God who is willing to stand up and even be jailed for his beliefs, who is concerned about the effect of abortion on the black community, who was willing to endure scorn and imprisonment for the sake of the gospel, and who took that scorn and imprisonment not as an unfortunate bump in the road but a God-ordained path through which more good could be done. That makes him a hero in my book.

Thinking of Mom

The sadness continues for us as we consider my mom's plight. The good news is she is now more alert, not constantly on sedatives and painkillers. Unfortunately, I'm sure that that also means more awareness of her physical condition, and thus the beginning for her of mourning this severe loss of mobility. Plus, despite her best efforts, her breathing is still very impaired on account of her injuries; at this point it us unknown whether she'll ever recover the ability to breathe easily without a ventilator.

I cannot help but think of a time not long ago, when my mom literally froze her life for five months, to go to Taiwan to tend to the logistics associated with the birth of our son and then to all the attendant paperwork needed to get him adopted by us and cleared to enter the US. Though she was near some family, it was a very real sacrifice for her, in terms of stress and loneliness. Amy and I owe our son to her efforts.

And I, of course, owe my very life to her. And so my thoughts go easily to her and to the discomfort and grieving she is going through, and it saddens me greatly. Lord, please give relief to my mom; help her to breathe and, eventually, to move again, that, in whatever disabled condition she is in, she will yet be able to enjoy the rest of her life, and the son she brought into this world, and his son who she helped bring into his life.



One Week Later

What a week it's been. I continue to be moved by all of the thoughts, prayers, and well wishes we have received - friends and colleagues of mine reaching out to me, as well as family members and the Taiwanese community in the Bay Area looking out for my family. We always say it shouldn't take a tragedy to realize these sorts of things, but such events do demonstrate just how deep and wide is the love we are privileged to be in the middle of, and for that I am thankful.

My mom had a successful surgery yesterday to realign her vertebrae, and will require at least three months of complete immobility in the head and neck area to stabilize the area. Long term, it appears she will be paralyzed from the chest down, so some choices will have to be made as far as what her living arrangements are. My dad had his last surgery the day before, and will need about 10 days to recuperate, after which he will likely be sent home and a visiting nurse sort of situation arranged. My sister was discharged middle of last week and is home with her husband, the both of them just trying to juggle all of these logistical to-do's with their own need to heal and process. So everyone's hopefully done with the critical procedures that they needed, and are in an extending waiting period of giving their bodies time to rest.

The incident that started all of this happened in an instant but has changed everything. For us here in Philadelphia, that change is, somewhat mercifully, extended over a longer period. The shock of the initial news gave way, over the course of the week, to different thoughts concerning my parents and their well-being, including the acceptance of the loss of many aspects of our relationship that are now no longer possible. And, when we see them next, that will represent yet another stage in that grieving process.

I left the nest relatively early, going to college so far away from home; and yet, even as a grown adult with his own family, I look to my parents for support on so many levels. The car accident changes this equilibrium, but I do not yet know what the new equilibrium will look and feel like. It is scary and I wish it wasn't so, but it is what it is.

I have come to learn that our world is like a bubble, within which we understand
how things work. Every so often, tragedy pierces that bubble, and we are forced towards one of three outcomes. We can let all the air seep out, and think the whole world a chaotic mess either governed by a God who isn't all-powerful or all-loving, or else not governed by any sort of god at all. Or we can feverishly rebuild that bubble, reinforcing it against future piercings but simultaneously closing ourselves off to new experiences. Or we can let God build us a new and bigger bubble, big enough to include that painful piercing and still have room to accept His goodness and love.

Tragedy crashing into our world is no fun at all, and the losses are real and they are painful. But we do not often have the choice to let them in or not. We do have the choice to let them be used to grow ourselves a new and bigger understanding of our world. That's what I'm trying to choose now.

I Have a Secret and I Have No Time

I was going to do separate posts about two musings that I have been musing for several weeks now and that my family’s car accident have brought new focus to, but I am realizing that they deserve to be discussed together in the same post because they are related to each other. So here goes: 1) I have a secret, and 2) I have no time.

Let me explain. Everybody has different things about their lives that they would be uncomfortable revealing to different levels of friends and family. And this is appropriate; it’s one of the reasons we have close friends versus casual acquaintances, and one of the reasons we have the phrase, "too much information." In dealing with not-so-polished parts of my own life, I am fortunate to have different friends from different spheres that I can confide those things to. I am thankful for these angels whose discretion is unquestioned, whose advice is sound, and whose empathy is authentic.

And yet, many of the messier facets of my life can leave me feeling isolated and lonely. To offer a relatively tame example, I have increasingly posted on the challenges associated with my kids’ various issues and delays. With apologies to anyone who has said these things to me, because I know you mean them in the very best way, hearing such encouragements as “I can’t tell they’re behind” or “I’m sure they’ll catch up” or “kids develop at different paces but they all end up OK.” Such statements actually increase my angst, because they further define the differentness about our family situation.

In contrast, where mention of my kids’ struggles, either in person or on my blog, has opened up avenues for people who I didn’t know had similar challenges, those responses have been extremely helpful and affirming. My sharing freed them to share, and what they shared encouraged me greatly. Or perhaps it wasn’t so much what they said, as much as it was learning that I’m not alone in my struggles.

Of course, there are more difficult things for me to blab about to casual acquaintances or write about on my blog. And, in particular, there is one secret I hold very close to the vest. I am lucky to have friends I trust enough to share it with. But it is a big and defining secret, one that I wish was easier to talk about because it can seem so tiring to have to keep it to myself.

I am sure there are many around me in similar situations, who feel the heaviness I feel. But, because of the nature of this issue, it’s not something you easily announce to the world. And so, I’ve been thinking these last few weeks: what a shame that we circulate through our lives, pining for people who understand our deepest struggles, and yet surrounded by countless others who are similarly pining, though unable to know who those others are. What a tragic reality: swimming through life, feeling different, and not realizing we daily bump into others who are different like us, whose camaraderie would provide so much relief if we only knew what we share in common.

(By the way, please don't try to speculate about what my secret is. That I have one, and not what it is, is the point of this post. If you know me well, you know what it is; and if you don't but have a guess, you're probably wrong.)

Sharing about my family's recent car accident has unleashed a torrent of well wishes in my direction. And, not a few personal stories as well. In some cases, closely guarded accounts, which weigh heavily on someone, which have shaped them irrevocably, and which they have not shared with many or any. It is as if we are dying to tell someone - if only to not be the only one who knows - and, if given but one slight opening, will spill it all out.

I am moved by these accounts because they are moving, and because in sharing them with me, others are confiding highly sensitive information to me. I am in awe of peoples' courage, and encouraged to myself be courageous. And I see how revealing intimate information about ourselves fosters intimacy in relationships; like a magnet, these shared accounts draw people together more closely than when such attributes were left unsaid.

Perhaps not in so public a setting as a blog - or perhaps - but in our daily interactions with friends, family, and colleagues, we can learn to shed our invincible exteriors, level up to others about our flaws and our secrets, and experience the opposite of what we might fear: not a shunning but a welcoming, not being thought less of but rather more highly of, not being met with quizzical looks but rather with a sigh of relief and a "yes, me too; I thought I was alone."

Speaking of her own secrets, a blog writer responds to readers who marvel that she is able to be so transparent about herself: "So what I’m telling you here is that I’m scared of secrets. I’m more scared of keeping things a secret than I am of letting people know that I’m having trouble. People can’t believe how I’m willing to write about my life here. But what I can’t believe is how much better my life could have been if it had not been full of secrets."

She's absolutely right. Whether your secret is having been abused or having an addiction or something else (and, by the way, just so you're not jumping to any conclusions, my secret falls in the "something else" category), keeping it to yourself is a much harder path to tread than letting it go by sharing it with others. Sure, you may get help or at least sympathy; but you also get relief, that you no longer have to keep it bottled up inside.

Of course, the trade-off is that now any persona you tried to formulate about yourself is irretrievably sullied by whatever your secret is. Maybe it's just me, but I care a lot about how I am perceived. And my secret is inconsistent with what I would want that perception to be. The dog-eat-dog world in which we live has no tolerance for weakness; and yet, we are all full of weakness.

Luckily or unluckily, we can attempt to cover those weaknesses up: we can manage our outward image through how we conduct ourselves in public, who we associate with and what we do for a living, even how we maintain our profile pages on Facebook and LinkedIn. But, this is all just window dressing; for, at the core, we are riddled with weaknesses, dysfunctions, and uglinesses.

Which leads me (finally, I know; sorry for the long and rambling nature of this post) to my second recent musing, which is that I have no time. Last week, I was working on many deadlines at work, and my wife was cramming for her next midterm. I picked up the kids from day care on a Thursday afternoon and was told Aaron had thrown up earlier that day. It seemed like an isolated incident, but Amy and I realized that if it continued through the night and into the next morning, Aaron wouldn't be able to go to school, and one of us would have to stay home with him. And neither of us was in a position to do that without incurring a significant sacrifice.

And it occurred to us that our lives are too full, that the simple hiccup of a child needing to stay home from school on account of being sick was causing us so much distress. We have filled our lives with a variety of things and for a variety of reasons, and have left ourselves with no discretionary time in the event that life comes crashing into our schedules.

Of course, my family’s car accident represents just such a major deviation. No matter how generous my bosses have been in allowing me space to do what I need to do, no matter how generous my friends and family have been in volunteering their help, I still feel as though I have little psychic room to process the emotional and logistical responses to such a catastrophe. This week has been one more lesson in a series of lessons I have been learning ever since I became a father: whatever you were going to do if it was solely up to you, it’s going to have to play second fiddle at times, when greater responsibilities emerge.

And, being the driven and selfish person that I am, I have received these lessons reluctantly and unwillingly. And this is why the fact that I have no time is connected to the fact that I have a secret. Because both are related to the fact that I care about being a certain kind of person – competent, accomplished, in control – and it is increasingly difficult to maintain such a front. I want to have it all together but am fraying from my secret; I want to dictate how my day, my week, my life will play out, but I have no buffer time and so when circumstances come crashing into my world, I grudgingly accept that my schedule must go out of the window.

Of course, I know intellectually that to put up a front and try desperately to keep to it is a false path to fulfillment. That is the gist of the quote from Jesus that features on the bottom of every personal email I send – “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” I have head knowledge that authenticity and honesty and real, vulnerable, intimate human relationships are purer gold than worldly accomplishments; and that there are some things in life that are worth dropping everything and cancelling every meeting that day for that, and doing so gladly and easily. But I have a ways to go before I believe and live it in my whole heart and soul.

Please excuse me if this long and rambling post is nauseatingly selfish and narcissistic. Being a dad, and dealing with the aftermath of my family’s car accident, is not supposed to be preeminently about my own navel-gazing and enlightenment. But writing is how I process, and I am in process, trying to get through all that life is throwing at me, especially this season; and to really learn the lessons I am supposed to learn through it all, so I can be more purely the man, father, husband, son, brother, friend, worker, congregant, neighbor, and citizen I am intended to be.

When we look at ourselves in the mirror and do not like what we see, we can either throw away the mirror or we can fix ourselves cosmetically. Or, we can subject ourselves to fundamental changes at the core of who we are, and to a Maker who has a glorious trajectory for our lives. We, others, or life may have bent us far from where we were once going. But that Maker can still get us back on track, and can make something beautiful after all. Or we may discover that whatever we thought was our original trajectory would not have satisfied, and whatever we thought was a senseless deviation turned out to be the very road that led us to glory.

From Z to A

Time will tell how this plays out - distinct corporate cultures are hard to maintain over time, no matter what the circumstances - but I have to commend Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh for his open and focused communique to his staff after the announcement that Zappos is being bought out by Amazon. There are leadership lessons here: answer the questions that people are asking, let them in on what the process was if you can't let them into helping make the process, and hammer incessantly at what makes us unique. Now let's see if the shoe fits.


Tasty Tour

Who wants the same old school field trip or tourist experience when you can watch flour and sugar shoot through compression tubes en route to being made into Butterscotch Krimpets? I got a chance to tour the new TastyKake factory at the Navy Yard earlier this week. The first pie rolls off the line on October 11 of this year, 75 years to the day that TastyKake's first pie ever was made.

The site has a ways to go in terms of setting up and testing everything - heck, they had only gotten utility hook-up 24 hours before our tour, which was arranged through Urban Land Institute - but you could already visualize the factory in motion, and schoolkids and visitors meandering through the well-designed catwalks and hallways, which seem to hover above all the machinery.

Of course, I'll be back with my kids when it's open to the public. Hey, I was told that part of the tour will involve taste-testing. And, after lugging home two boxes from my visit this week, my kids are hooked and want to see where the source is.

What We Really Need is More Trees

I have previously sung the praises of tree-planting in this space, so consider the post a "PS" on that. The print version of this article from American City and County about a tree-planting program in Pittsburgh has a picture of a new tree with a remarkable tag on it that reads: "In its lifetime, this tree will 'pay us back' an estimated $3,136.80 in energy conserved, higher property values, stormwater intercepted, and cleaner air."

Leave aside the impossible precision of that dollar figure, or the fact that higher property values ARE the capitalization of the other three advantages, so there's probably some double-counting in there. But whatever the number is, it's likely far more than the cost of planting the tree in the first place.

I know our cities have a lot of things to worry about now, what with rising crime and widening budgets and soaring pensions and crumbling schools. But hopefully we can also figure out ways to get some more trees planted. We could all use the return on those investments.

Executive (In)Experience

If it wasn't clear already, let's let our Secretary of Transportation spell it out for us again: "I think I’ve been very frank about the fact that the Administration does not want to raise the gas tax." And, Congress is doing all sorts of wonky gymnastics just to avoid simply eliminating the tax-exempt status of our health care benefits.

Oh bother. So now we've had a stimulus bill that hasn't stimulated, a cap and trade bill in which most of the permits have been given away, and a health care bill that bends the cost curve upwards. Meanwhile, the sensible, distortion-reducing ways of raising revenue have been summarily waved off in favor of clunky, "soak the rich" schemes that are bound to have advantage-canceling unintended consequences.

That John McCain made a tactical campaign error in selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate and therefore taking Barack Obama's main weakness - his lack of executive experience - off the table does not negate the fact that now-President Obama lacks executive experience. And it appears that it is showing: his signature policy priority is careening off the tracks, he hasn't yet realized that he can't just keep "campaigning" once he's been elected (lofty promises sound good during an election, but they don't get bills passed), and he's even gotten snagged in a racial-tinged tiff with a local policeman.

I can't quite remember this far back, but Barack Obama circa July 25, 2009 is looking frightening similar to George W. Bush circa September 10, 2009 - unable to translate his likability and his charisma into practical solutions navigated through the political process, and left to read "My Pet Goat" to a bunch of schoolkids. I'm getting a bad feeling that America should be bracing itself for another 9/11-level event, which will serve to jolt this presidency into some semblance of order and direction. Holding my breath until then . . .


Two Couples

As the week progresses, the reality of my mom's permanent medical condition is starting to set in. And, with that, the beginning of an extended grieving process. Now, I am flooded with memories of my own past interactions with her and laments about future interactions that will no longer be possible. And when I next see her, that will mark another setting in of reality.

My wife has been such a star through this process, ever sensitive to these emotional nuances, ever there for me when I start to tear up, ever assuring me in profoundly genuine ways. God, I am lucky to have her.

My sister told me that yesterday, my dad got a chance to see my mom for the first time since the accident. They had been under the same roof but on separate floors since earlier this week, and with my dad imminently being transferred to an entirely different hospital, they decided to wheel him into the intensive care unit to see her. My sister said it wasn't clear how clearly she could be seen, given all the medical equipment, but that he was able to squeeze her hand, and that that seemed to mean a lot to him.

I can only imagine. But I too have a wife, and she means the world to me. Last night, my dad got to hold hands with his wife, and I got to be held by mine. And, amidst the terrible circumstances that this week has brought, both were very much needed.


Philly's More Fun When You Move Here and Get Your First Job

I'm late to this but still wanted to post a link to an Apartments.com ranking of best cities for new college grads in which Philadelphia ranked second only to Indianapolis. This is based on highest concentration of young adults, number of jobs requiring less than one year of experience, and average rent for a one-bedroom apartment. (By the way, $1,034 seems high for Philly, given that we charged far less than that for our spacious third-floor apartment during the seven years we rented it out. Maybe we undercharged!)

Another metric they should've included was some reflection of fun things for young people to do, whether bars, service organizations, or attractions. If they had done that, Philly likely would have taken first prize: no offense to Indy's night life or density of cool places to hang out, but I'd have to think Philly's has all but New York and Chicago beat among the top ten cities in that regard. Yet more proof that Philly doesn't have to be so uncool after all among the hip young set.


Code of the Street

I distinctly remember a discussion I had with my four staffers in the youth entrepreneurship program I used to run. It was about whether kids should fight back when physically provoked. Two of my staffers, from the suburbs, said absolutely not: fighting is wrong and shouldn't be encouraged. Two of my staffers, from the city, said absolutely yes: it's just what you do, or else you get walked over.

I tried to strike a conciliatory stance - there is a "code of the street," to borrow a concept from Penn professor Elijah Anderson, so you are compelled to fight to prove yourself, but you can help bend the terms of engagement in ways that ensure that no one really gets hurt. But I recall back then filing this debate in the back of my head and realizing that someday I would have my own kids and have to really decide which side I was on.

Flash forward to the earlier this week, when I was greeted in my day care one evening with Aaron's teacher informing me that Aaron had been fighting. Apparently, Aaron was tired of getting picked on and swung at and decided to finally do some retaliating. You could tell his heart wasn't into it, though, because when I gave him a stern look and asked him if he had been hitting others, he crumpled into my arms in sadness over doing something bad and over being bullied around, rather than responding in defiance and anger.

And so, many years after that philosophical debate, I have a very real one in my hands. I am neither the type to think, "Attaboy, son; and I hope you got some good licks in," nor one who is appalled by all fighting and thinks one should just get beat on every day without recourse. I understand that there is a "code" that governs our human interactions, and, whether in the city or the suburbs, you have to stand up for yourself or else get walked over. But I also believe in an even higher governing "code" called the Bible, in which Jesus says we are to "turn the other cheek."

Fighting or no fighting, we love our son and want to teach him what's right. I'm just struggling to figure out what that is.

Family Update

Some more updates and thoughts:

* My parents have asked me to tone down the info on all this. They're very private people, so me blabbing on and on about their medical situations is uncomfortable for them and impairing their ability to communicate to others on their terms. I'm modifying my past and future posts accordingly.

* For those of you who are near enough to be able to visit or help and who have reached out to do something, thank you. At this point, all the help they need is being given to them by the good people at the hospital. Soon enough, though, my sister and my dad will be out and about, and eventually my mom as well, and all will still be in need of a lot of support. So if you're fixing to lend a hand, hold tight for a minute and there will be ample opportunities in the near future.

* I finally got to talk to my dad. He reminded me that my primary responsibility was to my own wife and kids, and even cracked a few jokes, so between giving me fatherly instruction and flashing his sharp wit, he's in good shape mentally. I'm reminded of the time I was 10 or 11 and he and I got into a car accident on the way home from baseball practice. A guy had run a red light and smashed into our car, spinning it round and round. Between the violence of the collision and the bleeding head wound my dad sustained, I was terrified. My dad's immediate concern, of course, was with me. Being a dad now, I understand that kind of instinctual reaction, to protect our children above ourselves, and appreciate my own dad and what he demonstrated in that incident all the more.

* My daughter, for whom neither empathy nor communication are strong points, nevertheless is very attuned to when her parents are upset about something. And, between all the crying and serious talking on our side late at night, she's having a little trouble falling asleep. She's learning a few important things now, like that Mama and Dada can be sad sometimes too.

* As noted yesterday, I have been overcome by people's responses. Many have sent well wishes, and some have shared profoundly personal stories. I am reminded of how rich we are in relationships, and am humbled and thankful.

That's all I got for now. Thanks to all.


Communion on the Moon

Forty years ago, men did more than just walk on the moon; they also took communion [Thanks to First Things for pointing this out]:

Shortly after landing, before preparations began for the EVA, Aldrin broadcast that: "This is the LM pilot. I'd like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way." He then took Communion privately. At this time NASA was still fighting a lawsuit brought by atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair (who had objected to the Apollo 8 crew reading from the Book of Genesis) which demanded that their astronauts refrain from religious activities while in space. As such, Aldrin chose to refrain from directly mentioning this. He had kept the plan quiet (not even mentioning it to his wife) and did not reveal it publicly for several years. Buzz Aldrin was an elder at Webster Presbyterian Church in Webster, TX. His communion kit was prepared by the pastor of the church, the Rev. Dean Woodruff. Aldrin described communion on the moon and the involvement of his church and pastor in the October, 1970 edition of Guideposts magazine and in his book "Return to Earth." Webster Presbyterian possesses the chalice used on the moon, and commemorates the Lunar Communion each year on the Sunday closest to July 20.

Read more here. Here's Aldrin's recollection:

In the radio blackout, I opened the little plastic packages which contained the bread and the wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the Scripture, "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing." I had intended to read my communion passage back to earth, but at the last minute [they] had requested that I not do this. NASA was already embroiled in a legal battle with Madelyn Murray O’Hare, the celebrated opponent of religion, over the Apollo 8 crew reading from Genesis while orbiting the moon at Christmas. I agreed reluctantly. …I ate the tiny Host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements.

Many associate the first images of Earth from outer space with elevating the cause of environmentalism. And well it should: Earth, from that perspective, can be better appreciated for its importance and delicacy, which should prompt us to greater measures of stewardship and responsibility. But, and this is not mutually exclusive but rather hand in hand, such a perspective ought also point us to a Maker who is far greater than anything we can touch, see, or even comprehend, who spoke existence into existence. And, the smallness of Earth as seen from space ought to enhance that grand truth.

Communion on the moon? Out of this world. Earth, as seen from space? Cause for doubling down on taking care of it, and for raising our hands in awe of the One who made it.

What I've Learned in the Past 24 Hours

Here's what I've learned in the past 24 hours, as it has related to the car accident my mom, dad, sister, and brother-in-law were in on Sunday afternoon:

[details hidden]

* Third, all of your responses. I have literally been overwhelmed by messages via Facebook, email, text, and phone. I cannot begin to tell you how beautiful this is, to have so many people in so many contexts send well wishes, offer to pray and pass on information to prayer chains they are a part of, and dispense nuggets of insight in the midst of this really bad news. The partners in my firm have been especially sensitive and generous in the ways they have extended their sympathies and given me whatever flexibility I need to take care of things.

* Fourth, He is still the King even if there is no fairy tale ending. Many of the thoughts sent our way focused on one of two themes: people's own experiences with miraculous healings, and their own experiences of God working amazing good in the midst of horrifying bad. We continue to pray along these lines. But, and I hope I say this not out of a lack of faith or a need to hedge my bets, I accept that on this side of glory, sometimes there is no neat and tidy ending. God is neither non-existent, capricious, uncaring, nor impotent. But that does not negate the fact that sometimes life brings wreckage. That He works good out of all circumstances does not also necessarily mean we can see what that good is from our finite perspectives.

Every hour seems to bring to me a new revelation of the costliness of this incident, and of the negative impacts it will bring to those I love. And so we may pine for the answer to the question, "Why did this happen." But from the standpoint of choosing between different paths - this crash happening, versus some other alternative in which the crash didn't happen - there is no longer any choice. We have no "rewind" button to escape having to live in the aftermath of this accident. Thrust into this new direction, which we did not anticipate, we are left to trust the goodness of God, and to entrust ourselves and others into His sure care. I am comforted and calmed, amidst such discomfort and distress, because I believe in that goodness and that care. Please pray that that will sustain me and my family as we all heal.

I Now Have a Real Stake in the Current Budget Impasse in Harrisburg

As a follow-up to a post from earlier this month, Amy and I visited two new pre-school options earlier this week. As we prepared for the day, we wondered if a place existed that had openings and would be conducive to our kids' extra needs without being too cumbersome from a cost and travel standpoint. I'll skip to the punch line: I think we have a winner beyond all expectations, but only if the legislature of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania can break through its current impasse and pass a budget for 2009-2010.

Let me explain. The second of the two places we visited earlier this week was downright perfect for our kids. It has won awards for both its care (highest accreditations) and its architectural design (so kid-friendly and whimsical that for a minute I thought I was at the Please Touch Museum). I know the executive director from having sat on a board with her a couple of years back. During our tour, we observed teachers and students of all races and ethnicities, a fun mix of activities and wall decorations, and carefully thought out room layouts and curricula and meal menus.

Nicely, the place is sensitive to kids with unique needs, as it has an array of special instructors to provide extra attention and to work with parents in terms of Individualized Education Plans. When Amy heard how aggressively involved they were in IEPs, she practically jumped out of her seat. Heretofore, she's soldiered on in that arena with very little support and with far too many headaches and roadblocks.

Best of all, there was an opening for Jada and even one for Aaron. Apparently, they have long waiting lists for age groups above and below - they are currently leading a capital campaign to expand into an adjoining building - but room for our two.

So we were ready to sign up Jada right away and slot Aaron in for a January 2010 start. Despite the higher cost - over 60 percent more than what we currently pay - we felt it would be worth it to bite the bullet for Jada to get her a little more caught up before kindergarten.

But then things got even better. My colleague informed me that their center participates in a Commonwealth program known as "Pre K Counts," whereby the center is reimbursed by the Commonwealth for the equivalent of 8 am to 3 pm for 180 days per year for any students who receive early interventions. If we wanted to do full-day pre-school and/or have our kids in for more than 180 days a year, we'd only have to pay the differential. So Jada can start this September and Aaron next January (when he turns 3), for a fee that is actually lower than what we currently pay. Incredible!

There's a catch. Funding for "Pre K Counts" depends on the Commonwealth successfully passing a budget for 2009-2010. No budget in place, no "Pre K Counts." And no "Pre K Counts," no partial subsidy. So, having followed the budget debates peripherally as a consultant and citizen, I now have a real stake in the issue. (By the way, there's already one casualty: one cut that has already been made is that the Commonwealth is no longer covering speech therapy during the summer, so Jada's next session will be in the fall.)

The center is in West Philadelphia but hard to get to by public transit. So after January, Amy will likely drive them both. From September to January, either I'll walk Aaron to the current place on my way to work, and Amy will drive Jada to the new place; or I'll bike Jada to the new place and Amy'll walk Aaron to the current place.

However money and travel play out, Amy are happy to have found a good place for our kids. Jada will love her new school, and Aaron will soldier on at our current place until he turns 3 in January, and then he'll get in on the action. And, hopefully, the setting and the teachers and the extra attention will do wonders for the various places where they need the help, so they can be less constrained in their overall development.


Please Pray - Car Accident

My mom, dad, sister, and brother-in-law were in a car accident yesterday. [details hidden]

That is all I know as of right now, after talking to my brother-in-law and to the nurse who is taking care of my mom. Please pray as Amy and I have been since we heard, for everyone's healing and for everyone to be able to calm down after what must have been a frightening and traumatic experience.

And, ultimately, that God would be glorified, and make something positive out of this mess. It shouldn't take disasters like this, but often it does, to reorient our perspective on what's really important. My thoughts heading into today were about meetings at work and how to fix a newly leaking toilet and whether or not Aaron and Jada would be as beastly as they had been all weekend. My thoughts and prayers are now about my family, that they would be healed, and that, as in every situation, God would make good. I believe that to my core, and am asking for eyes and ears and heart and faith to see it play out.


Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

This list of the 50 biggest metro areas by job postings per 1000 people is somewhat misleading (the more interesting metric might be something like job postings per job seekers, but that's a squishier number), but telling nonetheless. [Link courtesy of Andrew Sullivan.] Three trends pop out at me:

* Oof for the Big Apple and for Michicaliflarivada.

* Yet another indication of the growing clout of the federal government under Obama.

* In contrast, I say "phew" in relief that creative and techy places like San Jose, Austin, Seattle, and Boston have relatively high hiring rates - you don't want those agglomerations of smart and innovative dudes and dudettes to shrink, because that's where and how the next great breakthroughs are going to emerge. (Although, ironically, this month's Wired Magazine has a nice piece called "Go Ahead, Fire Me," which argues that losing your job is the on-ramp for getting entrepreneurial and changing the world.)

Lastly, what's up with Baltimore? Very cool to see the Charm City scoring high. Anyone know a backstory there?


The Future of Business is Here

I have always taken pride in my affiliation with The Enterprise Center, and wanted to use this space to express my particular happiness on the heels of our board's annual meeting earlier this week. Having worked there for ten years, I know how hard the work is; and, having now been on the board there for three years, I am involved in a different way, hardly able to keep up with it all even at a relative distance.

Instead of the usual program updates by the various staffers, we heard directly from participating clients. I was moved by the confident testimony of a high school student whose experience in our youth program gave her a sense of assurance and purpose well beyond her years. I found out our center got an award from the US Department of Commerce for helping clients receive the highest aggregate amount of procurements among government-affiliated minority entrepreneurship centers. I heard about exciting new neighborhood retail, real estate, and business development initiatives.

In short, it was a typical board meeting at The Enterprise Center. But that doesn't mean I can't take a moment to give a shout out.

Left Behind, But Let Us Not Have Them Be Forgotten

A nice piece in the Desiring God blog about Shepherd’s Field Children’s Village in Tianjin, China. We all know about the tens of thousands orphaned babies in China who end up with adoptive families around the world every year. Unfortunately, there are countless multitudes of orphan babies who do not get adopted, whether because physical disabilities make them less attractive to adoptive families, or else supply simply swamps demand and babies become toddlers and then young children with still no one willing to invite them into their families. The post notes that this ministry serves well over 100 children, and though there are many such blessed places, there are far more children in need, to say nothing of abandoned and neglected children in other parts of the world.

It is with a mixture of emotions that my wife sometimes says, "No more new babies into the world until we humans can take care of the ones we already have!" Today, I say a prayer for the Shepherd’s Field Children’s Village and others like it, and for people who work on the issues associated with the economic, geopolitical, and spiritual reasons that so many babies become orphaned in the first place. And, I'll squeeze extra hard two little ones who we were fortunate enough to welcome into our home as babies.

Race and Class in America

By now, you've undoubtedly heard of the situation involving an inner city Philadelphia day camp being turned away a suburban Philadelphia swim club: scores of black and brown kids told they couldn't have a swim after all, even though their group's payment had initially been accepted by the club, as nervous white parents pulled their kids out of the pool and folded their arms while the club's director said something about the city kids changing the "complexion" of the setting. The news stories have overwhelmingly condemned the suburban swim club, its director, and its parents for their hateful reaction to the city kids. Tsk-tsk, all are saying; even in 2009, they sigh, such racism is alive and well.

I haven't actually followed the story as close as most. But I do know that if I was a parent member of that swim club, I probably would've had the same reaction.

Before you think that I've gone off the deep end, let me explain. No matter how enlightened we may think we are, we harbor prejudice and unease towards people different from us. Mix race and class together, and the prejudice and unease quadruples. Add in the fact that these parents considered this swim club "their" place, and you can see why they would have acted with such alarm when "those kids" showed up.

I am certainly not excusing their behavior, or the pitiful responses of the club's director. I'm just admitting that, if I lived in the suburbs, in a largely homogenous neighborhood by race and class, and belonged to a club that was even more homogenous in those ways, I probably would have responded in the same way. And it would have been shame on me, but I'm just telling you that's probably what would've happened if I had put myself in the same situation.

Which is partly why I live in the city and try hard to make sure that groups I'm a part of and circles I run in are diverse from the standpoint of race and class. Because I know that, inside of me, there's probably a fair amount of racism and classism. And, in my mind, there are four things I can do about that taint of hatred and snobbery inside of me:

1) I can deny this is true, and try to pass off as someone who is somehow above racism and classism.

2) I can acknowledge my flaws, but live in a homogenous neighborhood and otherwise associate with others like me, so I don't have to deal directly with these uncomfortable realities.

3) I can pay lip service to being enlightened, and have just enough friends and colleagues different from me that I can say, "See, I know how to relate to people different from me."

4) I can immerse myself in settings that are diverse by race and class, uncomfortable as they may be, both in terms of feeling out of place and sometimes unknowingly offending or being misunderstood by those around me.

Daily, option number four is chosen for me, because of where I live, what I do for a living, and how I spend my discretionary time. And, uncomfortable as it is, I think I am better for it. Better for being made aware of my hidden and not so hidden prejudices and discomforts, that I might change my ways. And better because of the good that there is in diversity, which is to say the awareness and enjoyment of people and perspectives whose differences from me inform me and make my life more interesting.

These choices and experiences are not without their costs. Class divisions are alive and well, even in America circa 2009. Where we send our kids to school, who are neighbors are, where we worship and shop and recreate: more often than not, we sort ourselves by race and class. Sure, we might dabble on the margins, but at the core, we are drawn by a strong magnetic pull to associate with those like us. And when we resist that pull, we find ourselves in situations where we intuitively sense we don't belong. And we begin to wonder if perhaps staying in our comfort zones isn't the more prudent course of action. And so we cocoon ourselves accordingly.

And, when this happens, our minds close, our perspectives shrivel, and we close ourselves to others who are different. If we think of them at all, it is with patronizing pity or self-congratulating vilification. We make ourselves vulnerable to having those feelings of prejudice and unease - which don't go away if we don't deal with them - become exposed in embarrassing and telling ways if we are suddenly confronted with those different from us. Like, say, scores of black and brown kids showing up in our space, hailing from the inner city community we thought we had safely distanced ourselves from.

I don't know what your initial reaction was to the parents at this suburban swim club, or what your opinion of them is now. I would, however, encourage you to ask yourself what you are doing to make sure you don't respond like they did, if a similar situation were to arise in your life.


Road Rave

In a city as dense as Philadelphia - and, by the way, I mean in terms of land use, not in terms of what is or isn't in our collective heads - every square inch of public space counts. Which is why the Administration's decision to paint a new bike route through Center City is so interesting, and, in my opinion, largely positive. Similar to some recommendations that were offered by a consulting team my firm was part of, the dedicated bike lanes will run on Spruce and Pine Streets, one in each direction, with each taking away a car lane.

The downside is a slower commute for drivers and more congestion for residents. Although for some, "slower" is repackaged as "traffic calming" and seen as a good thing. While some residents may come to value this recreational amenity over any additional hassle associated with other cars stopping and starting in front of their house or their own driving being inconvenienced by this choking down to one driving lane.

The upside is for the City as a whole: making itself more bicycle-friendly by giving less adventurous cyclists a safer alternative to the vroom-vroom pace of Walnut and Chestnut Streets. Notably (something that was highlighted in our report), you want bicycle-friendly routes to seek out high-density areas, rather than avoid them, so that whether it is commuters, residents recreating, or tourists tooling around, you increase the "touches" that people have with different amenities within the City.

Think, for example, of the traditional mall concept, with anchors on both ends and smaller shops in the middle: the big name stores bring in foot traffic, which the small stores benefit from as stops along the way. Or think of how good grocery stores or airports are laid out, to both facilitate getting in and getting out, as well as maximize the experience if you have more time to meander.

I'm no city planner, but it seems to me that, instinctively, we want our urban layouts to have these sorts of characteristics. Sometimes, we need to get to Point A and Point B; and sometimes, we want to see things along the way. Having lots of options, and lots of transportation modes to use on those options, makes for a safer and more enjoyable circulation.

Sure, drivers, parkers, bikers, and walkers have to delicately negotiate this cramped and shared space, which is bound to lead to some complaining, some road rage, and some unfortunate accidents. But isn't that what is beautiful about cities, is the sharedness?

I hate to single out the drivers, since bikers and walkers have some edumacating to do, too. But when you're holed up in your hermetically sealed two-ton steel box, it's easy to think you own the road. You don't; we all do. And, at the cost of some paint, the Administration is appropriately helping delineate and clarify some of the norms that will govern how we use this shared space.


What a Country

The Sotomayor confirmation hearings have been covered from every possible angle: what the D's like about her, what the R's don't like about her, the firefighter's case, the fact that she would be the first Latina named to the nation's highest court. I have nothing to add on these and other fronts; simply to say, "What a country."

Recall what the judicial branch is for: it plays a vital part in the "checks and balances" system of our federal government. And, in light of that precious three-part system, consider the civil, serious, and intense nature of her vetting process. This is someone who may be in a position of great power for three or more decades, and, accordingly, she is being appropriately tested.

My take is that she will emerge largely intact, be confirmed by a high margin, and go on to serve a distinguished and level-headed career on the Supreme Court, commensurate with the hard working and fair-headed approach she has taken all of her professional life. And if any or all of that ends up happening, one may cheer her success on behalf of her ethnicity and upbringing, or Obama for making a good first pick, or the Democrats for getting "their" candidate through. As for me, I'll be cheering yet another shining example of the finest democratic system the world has ever seen.

Google Claims Another Sliver of My Life

As a follow-up to yesterday's post, first of all I'm thankful for all the suggestions, commentary, and witticisms I got on my blog and on Facebook. I am fortunate to have such intelligent, helpful, and informed friends.

And, after little deliberation, I've decided I'm going to experiment with iGoogle. Strange, I know, since I believe it is intended to be a mobile phone app, and I have no such capability. But I could not pass up the opportunity to customize a screen that has what I want and nothing else (in my case: three blurbs on news/world/politics/business, US financial market summary, Philly weather, and, as a nice bonus, a box for my Gmail account).

Ironically, I used to use a similar customized screen for years: MyYahoo. Of course, when Google arrived on the scene, its clean interfaces contrasted sharply with Yahoo's cluttered screens. Years later, nothing's changed: the Google and iGoogle layouts are far less jarring than most of what's out there.

So let the great iGoogle experiment begin. The upside: less extra stuff to clutter up my limited and already cluttered brainspace. The downside: the extra stuff is what's currently taking up the American brainspace, so now I'll be even further removed from pop culture. Well, soon enough, I'll be consuming vicariously through my children anyway.


What's News

Of my many go-to websites, CNN had been my news source. But I'm tiring quickly of what counts as "news" on their main page. Here are some of the main "Latest News" links from last night (there are 13 below, out of 21 total links):

* New speculation about 'Jon & Date'
* Anderson Cooper interviews Obama in castle
* Seacrest signs major deal for 'Idol'
* CNNMoney: Best small towns in U.S.
* Where is Jackson's brain? Was nose fake? (Video)
* Man sorry kin made boy, 6, work
* Visitors get clear view down from 103 stories up
* Olympic hopeful opens brothel to pay for training
* 50,000 bees check into luxury hotel (Video)
* 3-legged sheep scoots on new wheels (Video)
* Texting teen falls into manhole (Video)
* 'Half-Blood' finds Potter crew closer to end
* iReport.com: Bottoms up for mass mooning

Slow news day? Feeding the masses what they really long for? Or just poor prioritization on CNN's part?

And, one more question: what should my new go-to news site be? Finalists so far, which I've been dabbling in and am now set to make the full switch to: 1) Reuters, 2) BBC, and 3) Bloomberg.


All-Star Picks and All-Too-Common Snubs

How many times have we seen this happen? Vastly qualified candidate gets passed up for the ideally suited political position, because the administration is more interested in rewarding someone or some group, or else in not pissing off someone or some group, than in getting the best person for the job.

I'm not so naive that I don't acknowledge the role of politicking in politics; I'm just pointing out that this aspect of politics may be the very reason our best leaders are not drawn to this industry. In case you're wondering, I'm not referring to any particular situation, although I will note that for all the examples we have of this in our own country, it is much, much worse in most other countries.

You're probably not at all wondering what my take is on three Phillies being named All-Stars by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, but I'll give it to you anyway: good for Charlie. If you haven't been following, Shane Victorino won his way in fair and square via online fan voting (although it took both our Governor and Mayor stumping for him), and Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth were pegged by Charlie despite other candidates at their respective positions perhaps meriting selection over them.

To which I say again: good for Charlie. Hey, the All-Star Game is just a glorified exhibition, so if Charlie wants to use it to reward and honor his players, who he has to spend the rest of the year managing and cajoling and motivating, more power to him.

Charlie has a right to do that as the National League's manager. And presidents, governors, mayors, and other executives have some leeway, in my book, to make some hires based on their own personal preferences. But when that delicate balance gets tilted such that filling slots is predominantly about rewarding or appeasing and less and less about screening for qualified candidates, you'll not find me shocked when that jurisdiction's best leaders say no thanks to careers in government.


The Joys of the Northeast Corridor

When I first came to Philadelphia, one of the things locals would tell me was good about my new city was that it was “near other cities.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement for Philadelphia itself, was my immediate thought. Fast forward almost two decades, and my new home city certainly has more than enough going for it to merit many positives before one has to say, “And, if that weren’t enough good stuff, it’s also near other cities.”

And yet, let’s not pooh-pooh that advantage, for whether for work or play, it’s nice to be physically proximate to one of the great financial capitals of the world (New York), one of the great political capitals of the world (Washington), three other major league cities (Baltimore, Boston, Pittsburgh), and two big-state capitals (Harrisburg, Trenton). Even better, most of these places are, like Philadelphia, dense enough that they are both easy to get to and easy to get around in without the use of your own car.

That is an important distinction. For all the fanfare about the promise of intercity rail, consider how much less convenient it would be in other clusters of cities around the country, like Dallas – Houston – San Antonio, or Las Vegas – Phoenix – San Diego. These two triangles would seem ideal for intercity rail (the distances are short enough that it’s better than flying, but long enough that it’s better than driving), but while it might seem fun to hop on a train from one city to the next, consider what you then have to do to get around. Would you have to rent a car for the day? Would there be enough taxis? The transit systems don’t seem nearly comprehensive enough. And forget about walking, what with the oppressive heat, spread out blocks, and pedestrian-inhospitable crossings.

Contrast that with the relative ease by which Philadelphians, New Yorkers, and Washingtonians can flit to, from, and within all of the cities listed above. And, with the densities associated with mass transit, mixed uses, and compressed footprints, you have a far richer traveling experience, ripe with opportunities to bump into a colleague, discover a great new café, or steal away to a museum in between meetings.

Many have proclaimed the death knell of the Northeast. With the promised arrival of intercity rail investments, one can seemingly have all the perks of the Sunbelt and multiple mode options to boot. And yet I’ll take my chances with what the Northeast Corridor has going for it; even if the grand plans for rail lines through the deserts and mountains come to fruition, we in the Northeast will still have vastly more mobility and interconnectivity. The American instinctively yearns for both wide open spaces and frequent human contact; and in an increasingly knowledge-based economy, I’ll take my chances with the part of the country that facilitates human contact.


Thoughts on Minority Entrepreneurship

Just returned from a summit on minority entrepreneurship, hosted by the US Department of Commerce's Minority Business Development Agency. I'm brimming with thoughts - no answers, just thoughts:

1. I really think big for-profit companies should think about supplier diversity offensively rather than defensively. A defensive approach says, "We're going to get killed in the media and by interest groups if we have low participation rates for minorities; we better throw some business in their direction." An offensive approach says, "It's a multinational, multilingual economy, and if we don't go global, we go home. So sourcing from companies who represent a variety of races and ethnicities can be a competitive advantage for us."

Unfortunately, I see too many for-profit companies playing defense instead of offense. And I see too many minority groups appealing to those same defensive responses rather than positioning themselves to help companies think offensively.

2. Any good MBE (Minority Business Enterprise) program has to make sure it doesn't cripple a minority owner from selling his or her business for a lot of money to a non-MBE (i.e. a larger majority owned firm or a publicly traded firm). Building a business so that it has value enough for someone to want to buy it from you is one of the great ways Americans build wealth, and we have to make that available to entrepreneurs of color if we are to address the huge economic disparities in this country.

Unfortunately, too much of the system currently disincentivizes both the buyer and the seller. Consider a successful MBE who, among other customers, has a really big federal contract. Every year, he or she fulfills that contract, and that federal agency is able to "count" that contract among their MBE numbers. One year, the MBE sells to and is subsumed by a publicly traded company. He or she is available to continue to fulfill the federal contract under the auspices of the parent company - and, with the physical and intellectual resources of the larger parent company, he or she would probably do an ever better job - but because the contract is now not technically going to a MBE, that agency's MBE numbers go down. In this scenario, the agency may be disincentivized in renewing the contract with the MBE, and for that reason, that MBE may be reluctant to sell to the publicly traded company, and the publicly traded company reluctant to buy the MBE. Not good.

3. There's been a lot of talk, at this conference and elsewhere, about emerging opportunities in our economy, and how can we position minorities to participate in them. Familiar industries include digital health records, infrastructure, clean energy, nanotech, and cloud computing. All well and good to think about how minorities can access on-ramps to these key growth sectors.

But consider how high the barriers to entry are: all are either high capital intensive and/or high knowledge intensive. In other words, these are hard businesses for anyone to start. In contrast, Web 2.0 has relatively low barriers to entry; perhaps I am being naive, but Web 2.0 strikes me as something that just requires creativity and contacts, which seems far easier to access quickly than hundreds of millions of dollars in capital or fleets of PhDs. I'm not saying let's give up on those other growth industries; I'm just suggesting that there might be too little discussion on how to help minorities access the creativity and contacts needed to succeed in Web 2.0. Why is that?

Back at home, I am proud to maintain my affiliation (10 years as a staffer, now as a board member) with The Enterprise Center, which sent three representatives to this summit and which continues to astound me with its energetic efforts to accelerate minority entrepreneurship all across the region. Here's hoping we can take all of this information we obtained and bring it to bear on the day-to-day of growing minority firms and helping them create jobs and wealth in the process.


City Kids

I would love to sic the linguists on my kids. Not sure how many specimens they've studied who have heard exclusively Mandarin/Taiwanese in their earliest months, been relocated to an all-English speaking household, and attend school 50 hours a week in the ghetto. Because Jada is older and her speech is more evolved than Aaron's, her voice is particularly interesting to listen to, especially when she says things like "Them chickens jackin' my style" or reads to herself at night in the sing-song cadence of her speech therapist ("And what is that? A spider. Good!").

Of the many rewards of parenthood, one I'm enjoying is helping our kids find their voice. What a unique one theirs will be.


Love and Marriage

A friend of mine pointed me to this cover story in Time Magazine about marriage: "Why Marriage Matters." Eagerly, I tore through the article, glad for this major media coverage on the importance of this hallowed institution. Unfortunately, the piece ended on a sour note for me, as it concluded that committing to another through thick and thin is no longer very attractive, so it must be about raising the next generation right.

Um, no and no. Certainly, once two people who are married decide to become parents, raising their kids becomes an important responsibility. And yet that would seem to relegate the marriage itself - the relationship between the two adults - to a functional means to the ultimate end, that of child rearing, rather than a noble and worthy end in and of itself. And of course, the perspective offered in the article essentially devalues any marriages that do not result in children, whether by choice or not.

As for the alleged unattractiveness of hanging in there with the same person through thick and thin: um, isn't that the best thing about marriage? "Best" in an honorable sense as well as in a purely selfish sense: to know you are with someone who has committed to you in good times and bad, and to rise to the occasion of committing back.

Sure, if you always thought of marriage as "this person has the optimal package of benefits among all my viable choices," then you could see why that kind of marriage wouldn't last: your spouse changes, and your own preferences change. From that perspective, it's no wonder marriages don't last: with a clean slate, would married couples choose each other ten years out, twenty years out, thirty years out?

But, to paraphrase a homily I once heard, when people marry, they're basically saying, "Whoever's in that other body over there, I'm committed to loving, being the number one influence on, and having that person be my number one influence." In other words, we assume that people change - ourselves and our spouses - and we choose to evolve and be evolved together.

From a completely mercenary standpoint, far from being unthinkably stultifying, this is quite a liberating thing. Consider the angst you have when you buy a new laptop or car: having agonized over your choice, you are almost immediately flooded with buyer's remorse as new version after new version gets paraded in front of you. If you think of marriage like this, I'm sorry to hear that, since you'll find nothing but regret and restriction and infidelity.

But think of marriage instead as a grand commitment. Two people becoming one unit and tackling life's joys and sorrows together. If they be lucky enough to have kids enter into the mix, shepherding those young lives into adulthood together in the most rewarding collaboration imaginable. Fighting, rolling of eyes, being incredibly mean at times, but ultimately knowing we're in this together and believing that loyalty and honor are stronger than fleeting temptation or pangs of disdain. Growing old together, flutterings of young love replaced with the smooth sureness of daily "falling in like" with another person who continues to command your fascination, respect, and fidelity. And, sparks of passion at times, not meant to sustain a union on their own, but neither non-existent - how could they be, when two agree to become one and do so for life?

That, to me, is why marriage is still relevant. Because, from that perspective, it is the most enriching, liberating, life-giving thing one can sign up for. No matter how besieged it may seem in the eyes of those who chase trivial pursuits and shallow pleasures and instant gratifications.

Hey, it helps that my wife is smoking hot, cooks food that makes my knees buckle, and has a deliciously sharp wit; but it also helps that we value the institution of marriage, and our commitment to it and each other, in the same way. We've had our thick and our thin, our drag 'em out and kick 'em down fights, and our individual and couple wilderness seasons. And, not in spite of but through and even because of these trials, we continue to invest in our partnership, in being each others' number one fan and resource, in being the best we can be and hoping that for the other. I would not wish on others much of what we have had to go through, nor am I proud of some of the things I have said and thought and done through the years as it relates to my wife; but I would not choose any other mate and I would not wish for anyone else's marriage.

I close with wise words from, of all places, the Indigo Girls. Note the last line: "The closer I'm bound in love to you, the closer I am to free." Love, it seems, is full of such profound paradoxes. This was the closing line of the closing song at our wedding reception, and I'll hope to say it to and dance it with my bride for many years to come.

The Power of Two

Verse 1:
Now the parking lot is empty
Everyone's gone someplace
I pick you up and in the trunk I've packed
A cooler and a 2-day suitcase
Cause there's a place we like to drive
Way out in the country
Five miles out of the city limit we're singing
And your hands upon my knee

So we're okay
We're fine
Baby I'm here to stop your crying
Chase all the ghosts from your head
I'm stronger than the monster beneath your bed
Smarter than the tricks played on your heart
We'll look at them together then we'll take them apart
Adding up the total of a love that's true
Multiply life by the power of two

Verse 2:
You know the things that I am afraid of
I not afraid to tell
And if we ever leave a legacy
It that we loved each other well
'Cause Ive seen the shadows of so many people
Trying on the treasures of youth
But a road that fancy and fast
Ends in a fatal crash
And I'm glad we got off
To tell you the truth


All the shiny little trinkets of temptation
Something new instead of something old
All you gotta do is scratch beneath the surface
And it's fools' gold
Fools' gold
Fools' gold

Verse 3:
Now we're talking about a difficult thing
And your eyes are getting wet
I took us for better and I took us for worse
Don't you ever forget it
Now the steel bars between me and a promise
Suddenly bend with ease
The closer I'm bound in love to you
The closer I am to free



Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

A nice reminder from the Freakonomics blog that, despite the big news stories plane and train crashes are, driving is a far more dangerous activity. Let's be safe on the roads this weekend.

Pediatricians are Urbanists

Having dog-eared to death my own copy of their "Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5" reference book, and given copies to about 30+ of my friends and family, I think you can call me a fan of the American Academy of Pediatrics. So lo and behold when I learned through Discovering Urbanism that AAP has put out a very pro-urban policy statement: "The Built Environment: Designing Communities to Promote Physical Activity in Children."

I covered this ground a little in a previous post, but to have AAP sing the praises of walking and density certainly gives the argument a lot more oomph. Maybe parents that automatically assume they must move to the suburbs for the good of their kids will consider that such a move may in fact exacerbate other dangers like obesity, isolation, and anxiety.

Meanwhile, city-lovers should have some take-aways from this paper as well. After all, it is only safer and better to walk to school rather than get driven if you don't find unhealthy nutritional choices, pedestrian-inhospitable stretches, and criminal activity along the way. And video games, iPods, and junk food are no less available in cities, so just because public spaces are more geographically proximate doesn't mean they will be used; hence the need to think about how we can create parks and streets where kids can be active, feel safe, and have fun.

"Thus says the LORD, 'I will return to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of the LORD of hosts will be called the Holy Mountain.' Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'Old men and old women will again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each man with his staff in his hand because of age. And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets.' Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'If it is too difficult in the sight of the remnant of this people in those days, will it also be too difficult in My sight?' declares the LORD of hosts." - Zechariah 8:3-6