Marriage according to Smittie

It is interesting to watch the national discussion to define marriage. What is marriage? What does it mean in the greater context of society? Who defines it? Is it really just Going Steady for grown ups? If there is more to it than that, where does it come from? The answers to these questions depend heavily on your worldview. Marriage might mean one husband with up to four wives, one wife with several husbands, one husband with one wife, or two husbands or two wives, or something else.

In recent years the Christian worldview has come into question here in the US. This comes largely out of the push to legalize same sex marriage. I enjoy these challenges to my own beliefs. They force me to re-evaluate my own worldview. Keeping my own worldview logically consistent, at least in my own head, is important. At least to me.

What follows is an articulation of what I believe. I am putting it out there because it might be interesting or useful to someone else. I have no desire to force my view on anyone. That you do not agree with me presents no significant issue for me. I am wrong a lot. I am OK with that.

I subscribe to the Christian worldview. Therefore, my concept of marriage is derived from my understanding of Christian precepts. Your mileage will vary depending on your feelings about Christianity. That too, is fine.

The Christian concept of marriage is an integral part of God having created man in His and goes all the way back to Genesis. “The God said, “Let us make mankind in our image…” (Gen 1:26) We start from the trinity. Inherent in the image of God is relationship because God is three persons. Without relationship, you simply do not have an image of God. Any singular identity cannot be the image of God because God has for eternity been in relationship; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The image of God requires relationship.

If God created man in His image, which is the image of God? Man or Woman? This seems like an issue. It was a curious question for me until I was listening to Stuart MacAllister on an RZIM podcast. It was actually a something of a quip, an aside that he made. MacAllister said, “What if man and woman are both God’s image, two sides of the same coin.” This was a huge ah hah! moment for me. Not all at once. I spent a couple of weeks working through what that meant. I am probably still working on it. But suddenly, marriage and a lot of the things they say about marriage began to make sense.

Man is only half of the image of God, woman is required to complete that image. The image of God in the Christian worldview is one man and one woman in a committed relationship for life, as God is in relationship for eternity. According to this view, two men in relationship is not the image of God in that it is missing the components that only a woman can bring to the relationship. Likewise, two women.

A man and a woman entering into a relationship, forsaking all others, building trust that comes from year after year of knowing that person is still committed only to you, remaining in relationship for their entire lives, until death does part them is a reasonable, human illustration, an image of God. An imperfect image, to be sure.

We aren’t living up to this worldview very well, given the prominence of divorce in America. Even those who claim to hold a Christian worldview some times treat marriage a lot like Going Steady in high school. However, that does not diminish the standard set forth. The best example of the trinity in human experience is a man and a woman in a committed relationship, forsaking all others and becoming, ‘one flesh’.

I can see pitch forks, torches and rocks out there. This describes what I believe to be a Biblical view of marriage. As a Christian, I hold this view. However, I also understand that anyone who does not share my worldview is very likely to have a different view of marriage. It might be only slightly different or it might be radically different. There are some even within the Christian worldview who will not agree with what I have described here. The challenge in any society is working out how to integrate disparate worldviews into a peaceful coexistence. American society is in the throes of working out exactly what ‘marriage’ means.

GOP on Healthcare…

One of the GOP’s main talking points this election season is repealing Obamacare. The real point of that is to keep Obamacare at the fore since the American public is still unconvinced that it is a good thing. In general, I agree that Obamacare is not a viable, long term solution in its current form. One way or another, I think the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will morph into something else. However, I do not think the GOP will be successful in repealing the ACA and if they are successful I do not think the action would be popular.

I am a life long registered GOP voter. I do not always agree with the party but it most closely represents my political views. If the GOP is serious about repealing ACA they first need to explain what they will replace it with. What does the GOP healthcare reform look like? The DNC did a good job of squelching GOP proposals and even GOP participation in the healthcare debate during the 2008 – 2010 time frame when ACA was developed and finally passed. I think most voters believe that the GOP had no alternatives proposals. This is untrue. The GOP was making proposals, they just weren’t very effective at getting their story out, which is a long standing problem for the GOP.

The proposal I still prefer had three main components; decouple healthcare from employers, allow insurance providers to operate at the national level instead of the state level, implement meaningful tort reform. To this I would add one more important component; an assigned risk pool for those deemed un-insurable.

Insofar as I can determine health insurance as an employment benefit started during World War II when wage caps prevented employers from offering ever higher wages. Health insurance coverage became allowed as a form of compensation to attract workers. Today, health care coverage being attached to one’s employer makes no logical sense. Moreover, the arrangement skews the market in a direction that puts the individual at a disadvantage.

Because health insurance is currently obtained primarily through one’s employer, heath insurance companies spend the bulk of their effort developing products aimed at winning medium and large companies because this is where the biggest profit is made. Health insurance products for individuals and small companies require significantly more effort to sell and offer a significantly smaller profit margin.

Decoupling health insurance from employment is simply a matter of taxing health insurance contributions made by the employer as income to the individual. This will force health insurance providers to focus on developing products for and selling to individuals rather than corporations. The individual consumer gains direct control over their health care options rather than being forced to choose from whatever list of options their current employer decided to provide. The health care provider is motivated to develop better products for the individual and family because this becomes their primary means of delivering their product.

Removing state boundaries allowing health insurance companies to operate nationwide greatly broadens the pool of insured. All but the smallest health insurance companies already operate nation wide. Eliminating the state boundary requirements would simply allow them to do so more efficiently. Some states would benefit from increased competition.

Tort reform would be a real attempt to reduce health care costs. Much of the increasing cost in health care is related to minimizing exposure to malpractice suits, either through higher malpractice coverage or by ordering a myriad of tests primarily for the purpose of protecting the practice against law suits. Tort reform would very probably also be the most difficult piece of the proposal. Tort lawyers are politically well organized, well funded, and very active in lobbying.

The component not on the GOP proposal but which I think is critical is an assigned risk pool. In my mind, this would work similar to auto insurance assigned risk. Individuals who have medical conditions that warrant it are put in the assigned risk pool. In the case of auto insurance assigned risk carries a high cost as a penalty for being a bad driver. Since medical conditions seldom if ever warrant punitive measures, assigned risk health insurance could work exactly the opposite. Anyone in assigned risk would get health care coverage at the same price as a healthy individual with no medical issues. The assigned risk pool would be evenly distributed across all health insurance companies and participation is required. The government could help subsidize this group thereby using tax dollars to help those who need help.

I understand that people do not like ACA but let us get passed the emotional desire to punish anyone and focus on making a better health care system in this country. If the issue is providing top quality health care to as many citizens as possible, let us focus on that. Not on whose plan we are using or who gets the credit or the blame.

The GOP could implement each of these components without the drama and backlash of repealing ACA. Either as a package or as individual items. The GOP could bill it as their contribution to improving ACA which would go to demonstrating their willingness to find common ground and cooperate.

How does the GOP plan to solve the problems that ACA is attempting to solve? I understand that the GOP does not think ACA is a good solution. I even agree that it is not a good solution. However, ACA has made things better for my family. My son, who has a pre-existing condition and cannot get health care coverage on his own, benefits from ACA. The GOP should focus on convincing American voters that it can make health care in America better. Better than it is now, better than what ACA is offering. The GOP tells me they want to repeal ACA but they are silent when I ask what they plan to replace it with.

The One Week I Live For

The annual one week reminder of what I really want in life.

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My son and I went down to Dryhead Ranch, based in Wyoming for branding week. I love being on a ranch. I love doing cattle work. Still, this is the best Tom Sawyer deal ever. I pay a lot of money to go do someone else’s work. It is possible that they could do the work faster without guests “helping” but Tom would still be proud.

We arrived Sunday evening in time for dinner after driving for two days across California, Nevada, parts of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Monday we gathered the cow/calf pairs and then sorted out the pairs in which the calf needed branding. We moved the sorted group to a lower pasture so they would be easy to pull down into the branding corral.

Tuesday we rode out to the pasture to gather and move the sorted pairs down into the branding corral. We had 49 calves that would get branded, ear notched, banded for castration, a 7 way vaccination and a black leg vaccination. Not a great day for the calves. “Mom, look what they did to me!”


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A rider will lasso the hind legs of a calf and drag it to the stove. An attempt is made to catch it in the Nord Fork. If this works, getting everything done is pretty quick. About half the time the Nord Fork does not catch and calf must be wrestled down by the mugger. Once the calf is down each person moves in for their assigned task; ear notching, 7 way vaccination, black leg vaccination, castration band for bull calves, and branding. If the Nord Fork caught, it takes about 3 minutes. If the calf is held by a mugger, it takes about 5 minutes. Once everything is done, the calf is released. One minute after the calf is released, it is impossible to tell by behavior which calves have been branded and which have not. The calf is reunited with its mother who checks it out carefully to make sure the calf is OK.

Branding is often a big social event in ranching life. Friends are invited to help and once the work is done, there is a big feast to celebrate the beginning of another year. Branding usually marks the end of calving season and the beginning of growing the cattle to ready them for market. A little like the celebrations that happen in farming communities once planting is complete.

This year was different in that the Smith women did not come along. Dryhead Ranch is more secluded and offered little in the way of shopping or sight seeing. So, the girls stayed home. My son and I got an opportunity to ‘bond’ and celebrate that father/son thing.

On Tuesday, Yoshi and I worked together wrestling calves. I really enjoyed working with my son. Which only further reinforces my desire to make a life change into a ranching community. On Thursday, Yoshi was out sick, which was a disappointment. He and I got to ride together on Monday, Tuesday and Friday. I was sick Wednesday, he was sick Thursday. The big drawback of the trip. Getting sick. Not fun.

Until I live in Montana/Wyoming/Dakota, I am sure that I will continue to pay Tom a precious price for the opportunity to do his work for him.

Sold!

By the end of the week I will no longer be a homeowner. We finally sold our townhouse and will be soon be moving into a house that we will be renting. The house is larger than the townhouse we are leaving. It has a yard, a two car garage and parking that we do not need a permit for. It is the first step toward a new chapter.

I bought the house in 2002 when money was easy, no down payments necessary. It was supposed to be a stepping stone to some thing bigger, a little nicer. In 2005 I refinanced, got a little better interest rate. Got rid of the second mortgage that served as the down payment. Put the house up for sale in 2007, looking to make that step to bigger and a little nicer. Two weeks later, the mortgage crisis began to break in earnest. In February 2008, we took the house off the market. That bigger, nicer place was not going to happen. Eventually, homeownership felt more like a stone tied round my neck than the American Dream. The perpetual equity machine turned out to be about as good as any other perpetual machine.

A neighbor in the complex put her house put for sale. I went to talk to the realtor who was handling sale, asked him if he thought my place might sell too. He asked the particulars. After a brief discussion it was determined that I could sell the house. I would break even if only just. As it turned out, I did a little better than that. I will remove the stone from round my neck, get moved into a house with a little more room, pay off some bills, and have a chance to start working on my making my next dream come true.

In the end, I did better than a lot of people who bought homes during the same period. Several of my neighbors faced foreclosures, short sales, or are still underwater on their mortgage. I managed to always make my payments until I could finally sell the house and be free of it. I have an excellent credit score. The experience reinforced the value of conventional fiscal practices. 20% down, keep the monthly payment to about one-third of you income, stick to fixed mortgages and understand the difference between buying a home to live in and real estate as an investment.

And so ends one chapter, another chapter begins.

You’re a cowboy, what about Bundy Ranch?

I am a unique item in my work place. Silicon Valley does not have a lot folks who show up to work in western boots, wranglers, button down (or snap down) long sleeve shirts and a huge cowboy hat. Everyone at work knows that I would much rather talk about pasture management, heritage breeds and cattle movement techniques than technology. So, I am suddenly a popular guy with the Bundy Ranch issue in the news.

The truth of the matter is that I am not overly qualified to evaluate the Bundy Cattle affair. I am not nor have I ever been a rancher. I have had a life long fascination with cattle, a life long desire to be a cowboy. Not a rancher. Being rancher carries business responsibilities, such as managing grazing rights, water rights and managing the associated permits that I never really wanted any part of. My dream, my focus has always been to own a saddle and a rope so that I could ride remuda horses and tend someone else’s cattle. I would like the opportunity to become good at it.

So, the issues that Cliven Bundy is dealing with are ancillary to my own primary interests. More importantly, my life choices led me to my current day job where I work on computer software. Understanding cattle and cowboy ways has for most of my life been relegated to a pastime, a hobby, a burning passion never satisfied. So, it is from that prespective that I watch with interest the happenings in Gold Butte, Nevada.

The simple version that I hear and read often is Mr. Bundy has refused for twenty years to pay his grazing fees. He is illegally using Federal land. Federal court has found him in violation twice. It is a simple matter and the BLM is doing what it has to to bring a criminal into compliance with the law. This is clean and neat. Easy to digest.

However, to me it does not make sense. Grazing rights is an integral part of ranching. Mr. Bundy is 68 years old and has been a rancher all his life, as was his father before him. Why would he suddenly decide to stop paying his grazing fees after 30 years of paying them? Even to the point of defying a Federal Court order. Twice. And how is it that even after Mr. Bundy stopped paying grazing fees and fought with the Federal government for twenty years, he is still respected by fellow ranchers who are still paying their grazing fees? And why after twenty years of haggling relatively peacefully did BLM suddenly bring in the big guns, literally.

This Las Vegas Sun article is the only source I found that attempted to provide some detailed background on this issue. According to this article, “environmentalists threatened to sue the agency to protect the endangered desert tortoise that lives on the land where Bundy’s cattle grazed. The BLM said Bundy’s cattle trampled the tortoise’s habitat.” If this is true, there is another player on the field. Environmentalists using the Federal government to pursue their agenda. This article further documents environmentalist efforts to force government action against Mr. Bundy.

Already the clean and neat explanation is not quite as clean and neat. The actions of the BLM were brought about by the actions of others. So what then of Mr. Bundy’s actions. A comment left on the Las Vegas Sun article provides some insight from the rancher perspective. According to oneladywriter, there use to be some 50 ranches in the area where Mr. Bundy is. There are now 3 left. So, maybe this is a group of people who fear losing their livelihood and their way of life. And while I have not be able to verify the information provided by oneladywriter it does make a lot more sense given what I know about ranch ownership and the people who choose to live that life.

Life is seldom simple. Life’s situations more often than not have complicated and interwoven stories that require time and patience to fully understand. You may believe that the desert tortoise is worth saving, even at the cost of several families’ livelihoods and an historic way of life. Or you may believe that Mr. Bundy is conducting an act of civil disobedience in defense of his right to pursue livelihood of his family, his tradition. Whichever you happen to believe, we should all at least have the integrity to understand both sides of the issue.

The Bundy Ranch issue is not simple. There are two sides to it. Both sides deserve a hearing.

–Smittie

I’m the village idiot…

It is so obvious that if you do not understand this you are clearly uninformed, uneducated, stupid and possibly evil.

This is the basic argument of all things political in America today. We see it all over social media. The blatant insinuation that if you do not “understand” X, you are stupid. If you don’t understand that Obamacare is bad for America, you are stupid. If you do not understand that the Koch brothers are buying/have bought the American political system, you are stupid. If you do not know that Obama is a Muslim, you are stupid. And on it goes. The naked arrogance in both tone and content makes any civil discourse about the given issue all but impossible. The deep partisan divide is as much a grassroots movement as it is a problem inside the Beltway, in fact what happens inside the Beltway may well be a reflection of this grassroots phenomenon.

There is actually a lot going on in formulation of these arguments. First, a complicated and convoluted issue is reduced to a single component. That single component is then encapsulated in an emotionally loaded statement that is heavily biased. The statement is delivered with righteous indignation, calling into question your intelligence if you do not immediately and unequivocally agree. The ploy is that emotion, ego, and bewilderment will take you down the primrose path before you have a chance to question the original premise. Before long, it feels so good to support such a worthy cause that honestly and openly evaluating the cause in earnest seems almost evil.

One thing I have learned in life is that I am never the smartest guy in the room. Regardless of the topic, no matter how many years I have been doing it, there is a better than even chance that someone in the room knows more about it, has more experience doing it than I do. And if I am not the smartest man in the room, I am definitely not the wisest man in the room. Ever. My greatest moments of wisdom are when I have the presence of mind to shut up. So, I am not really comfortable with idea that I have figured out the answer to any given thing and anyone who does not agree with me is wrong. I have some pretty strong political opinions. I have a preference for how I would like to see government work. I also recognize that very smart, wise people who have studied forms of government and government process most of their lives have arrived at opinions and preferences that are very different from mine. It would be the height of arrogance to assume that they are not as smart is I am. It would be only slightly less arrogant to presume that I am smart enough and wise enough to discern which of two opposing groups of smart people is correct to the extent that I am willing to call everyone who does not agree with my choice stupid.

Life demands that we all make decisions. An old adage says that wisdom comes from making bad choices. I think that is only partially true. We do seem capable of repeatedly making bad choices while never getting any wiser. At least I am so capable. As we go through life we come to conclusions about how life works, why things happen. I think that our choices, conclusions and opinions would benefit from taking the time to fully understand the person who has arrived at a completely different choice, conclusion or opinion. Even after we fully understand how she arrived there we may not agree. I might even think he is not very smart. If I was a wise man, I would also consider the possibility that I am the one who is wrong. Maybe even on both counts.

“I’m the village idiot, I don’t have anything to do with this pathetic little opera, I just felt like passing through!”
A quote from Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice,
an opera in one unnatural act
by PDQ Bach.

System76 Galago UltraPro: Not so much

I finally purchased and received that System76 laptop I was so looking forward to. I wish I could tell you what a wonderful experience it was. I wish that I could advise you all to make System76 your next computer.

I ordered the Galago UltraPro. I chose an 120 gb mSATA SSD drive. I purchased a Western Digital 750 gig, 7200 rpm drive to install myself. I upgraded the RAM to 8 gigs. The system price came to $1,226. I was very excited waiting for it to arrive.

Ubuntu 13.04 came pre-installed and worked as advertised upon arrival. I reformatted the SSD and installed Kubuntu 13.10. Again, without a hitch. I run the boot, swap and root partitions from the SSD, the /home partition is the entire 750 gb WD drive. The Core i7 processor running system software from the SSD makes it extremely fast. The computer cold boots faster than the old MacBook it replaces can wake from sleep. So far, so good. No serious issues with the components.

The problem is the materials and construction of the case. I have carried my computers (all Apple laptops up until now) in a Maxpetion computer bag which is reasonably well padded. I try to be careful but the truth be told I am probably a little rough computers. Having said that, the MacBook is over five years ago and had no damage until recently when it fell from the table and the CD stopped working. The MacBook came through a tour in Iraq without any issues. The Galago UltraPro went into the same case and got the same treatment.

The Galago struck me as a little flimsy when I first got it. The monitor flexes significantly with little pressure and plastic frame holding the screen is very thin. The laptop just does not feel very solid.

About a month after I received the computer, System76 sent emails asking for feedback. One evening I brushed my hand across the edge of the frame of the monitor and the case split into two pieces. It snapped back together but this was a clear indication of the fragile nature of the laptop. I decided to let System76 know via the review they had been requesting that I was not very impressed. System76 advised me to send the laptop in as they thought it should be more robust than my accounts indicated. Cool, I thought. Maybe it should be stronger than I have experienced.

System76 determined that the computer was damaged. They determined that the damage happened under my care and due to my rough treatment of the laptop. System76 replaced the damaged panels on the laptop at a cost to me of $138. I was not charged for labor.

I accept that the damage to the computer happened because I was too rough with it. However, other laptops that I have used for long periods of time have endured the same treatment and have never needed repair or replacement. This includes 3 or 5 Apple laptops which I have owned and 2 or 3 Dell laptops that my employer owns. To be clear, I do not fault System76′s handling of the issue. My point is that System76 laptops are not on par with major computer makers such as Dell or Apple. And that is a pity. I would very much like to purchase computers that are tested and shipped with Linux OS installed. I hope that System76 can bring the quality of construction in line with its competitors. However, my next laptop — which I will be purchasing much sooner than I had expected — will definitely not be from System76.

 

Kubuntu: One Month On…

A month down the road with the System76 computer and Kubuntu. We’ve learned some lessons. I have a stable, usable system but there were some adjustments in getting there. I am still very much looking forward to purchasing a System76 laptop.

The biggest issue was dealing with the instability of Kubuntu 13.04. On a clean install Krita is unstable and unusable. At the time we thought Krita was the focal point of the graphic design system for my wife. I filed KDE bug #320094 which is being worked on. As a software QA professional it was satisfying to be able to file a bug for the issue and contribute to getting the problem fixed. However, the crashing bug made the system usable. So, I had to find something that worked.

My first thought was to install Kubuntu 12.04 LTS which is the long term support release. A more stable release that has had a year of testing and bug fixes. I installed 12.04 and discovered that there was no support for Logitech’s wireless technology. After a brief attempt at finding the software needed to make Logitech work on 12.04, I upgraded to 12.10. I was surprised to find that everything worked. Cool! So now we live on Kubuntu 12.10 which works really quite well.

We added GIMP and Inkscape to the graphics software collection. My wife is finding that GIMP is more capable and robust than Krita with the exception of actual painting type graphics work. She hasn’t yet worked much with Inkscape and there are a few other graphic applications that are probably worth a look.

I have imported about a tenth of the family photos into digiKam. I still find digiKam to be much better than iPhoto. Each account on the system has two repositories, libraries in iPhoto terms, one is user specific and the other is shared among all users. Importing photos into one or the other is easy. Meta-data is written to the image file so it is shared across all users. The images are stored in a standard Linux directory structure and are therefore accessible without digiKam, including all of the meta-data. Now that I have a working infrastructure set up, I will import the rest of the photos.

Still have not quite worked out the music software. I have been trying to make Amarok work. It has a lot of features that I like but the basic playback UI is really clumsy and confusing. You cannot just click on a song and have it play. There is this awkward playlist concept that is not really very intuitive. Clicking on song titles does not do what you expect and oftern you are not really sure what it did at all. So, still looking on that front.

I have found Amazon to be a very viable and capable replacement for iTunes. First, Amazon has a concept they call Auto-RIP. I prefer to own the physical CD. It gives me some security knowing that I have my music on physical media. However, I always rip the CDs as soon as they arrive. With Amazon’s Auto-RIP, once I have purchased the CD I can download the mp3 tracks immediately. The CD arrives later. Very nice, I like it.

Amazon also provides a cloud player service that allows users to upload their own music and then play it through the Amazon Cloud Player (available on most mobile devices and Roku). You can upload 250 songs on the free account. For the same price as iTunes Match, $25 a year, you can upload 250,000 of your own songs. According to my understanding, digital music purchased from Amazon does not count toward that 250,000.

It hasn’t been without its frustration but I am still very pleased with the transition away from Apple and Mac OS X and onto Linux. Ubuntu’s efforts in making a simple, user friendly install and update experience coupled with KDE’s elegant desktop environment really makes a very viable option.

Memorial – Remember the Names of the Fallen

US Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Michael J. Pernaselli 27, of Monroe, N.Y
KIA 24 April 2004, Northern Arabian Gulf, Operation Iraqi Freedom

US Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher E. Watts 28, of Knoxville, Tenn
KIA 24 April 2004, Northern Arabian Gulf, Operation Iraqi Freedom

US Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan B. Bruckenthal 24, of Smithtown, N.Y.
KIA 24 April 2004, Northern Arabian Gulf, Operation Iraqi Freedom

I remember these three men because I have a connection to them, albeit a slightly removed one. These men were killed by a suicide bomber who was attempting to attack the Khor Al Amaya Oil Terminal (KAAOT).  These men were about to board the dhow when the suicide bomber detonated his weapon killing these three men and wounding many more.

As a result of these actions, I ended up serving on KAAOT in support of security operations to prevent further attacks.

Petty Officer Bruckenthal was the first Coast Guardsman killed in action since the Vietnam war. He is buried at Arlington Cemetery. When I finally make it to Arlington, his is the first grave I would like to visit.

I will never forget.