Welcome to the world of my ideas. This is the catch-all category for my blog: philosophy, religion, science, technology, you name it, I'll post it.
Over my shoulder the present lies.
In front of me the past: gaudy, pointless.
I peer into this setting sun, wondering.
A window is near, the panes dusty,
Unreadable and broken.
In the sad reflection I glimpse a newer sun
And within it, another, yet another again.
I reach across and shut the window forever.
May 16th, 2013
The recent financial crisis has everyone talking at work. There are a lot of fingers pointing every which way, most of them at "Wall Street" (an amorphous group of NYC scoundrels, apparently). There are also a lot of fingers pointed at the "government", though most people are just hoping for a free handout at this point.
Not many people will blame themselves. But it was greed and lust for consumption that brought us to this; greed, perpetrated not by some nebulous group of sinister businesspeople, but one individual choice at a time, step by step by you and me.
A few years ago, when home prices were jumping 25 to 50 percent a year in our area, I was amazed that more people weren't outraged. It wasn't just that it became difficult for young people to buy a house; it became impossible, literally in the space of two or three years. People who owned property prior to the boom were literally slapping each other on the back, swapping stories about how much equity they were "earning", and how the bank had just given them an interest-only loan to speculate on some more land. Local governments publicly bemoaned the new era, complaining quietly that it was getting difficult for average working families to buy a home. But of course they were also taking up burgeoning tax revenues, each year pulling out the maximum increase in property tax collection allowed by law.
I live in a county where the average wage for a working adult is $13 an hour. An astonishingly large number of parents with children work for near-minimum wage. Ten years ago, this area was a depressed post-lumber pothole. Then came the real estate agents and the boosters. We were suddenly an item, a trendy place to retire and go on vacation. Despite the fact that wages remained abismally low, the collective self-esteem of the area rose on the hot air of a real estate and construction boom.
A small 25-year old starter home at the height of the boom was going for $200,000. A 0.25 acre lot was going for $100,000. You do the math. I wondered out loud to anyone who would listen: does this make sense? Have we all lost our minds?
Is there really a justifiable economic connection between a small square of earth and $100,000? And lots priced at that level were going like pancakes. To whom? Speculators. Not people who actually worked to save the money to buy the land, but to people flush with cash from stocks and real estate inflation.
Was it worth it? No one complained when the stock market expanded, when real estate skyrocketed. Cash floated down from the clouds. I saw a future where our kids would never be able to buy a home, where we would work like dogs to live in crowded apartments. We were stealing from our own children so that we could live the high life today.
Now it turns out we were stealing from ourselves! Years of spend, spend, spend... and a crash puts everyone in depressive fits. We were printing money as fast as we could in the fat years. Now it turns out we spent it all, and borrowed on top of that. Our country is the prodigal son of the world: we laughingly spend our inheritance, and after our fling, return home in disgrace to find that everything is gone, and we have no money to save ourselves from the current mess we're in.
When will we recognize that our society's fundamental values have brought us to this point? We've built a world based on an extreme form of market economics, in which the best motivator is selfishness and the highest ideal is uninterrupted consumption. Our most cherished belief is in the individual's power to succeed: the lone capitalist, building for himself through sheer willpower a bright future of pavement and steel. We hear so much about our Christian values, but I never once heard a preacher coming out against consumerism and materialism during the boom years. Churches spend a lot of time worrying about winning the culture war, while their congregants violate the most fundamental commandments of the Bible in regards to caring for your neighbor. Turns out that Jesus, though he owned nothing and taught that wealth was anathema to the kingdom of God, was actually a capitalist! Surely he wouldn't object to me taking my fair share of the economic pie! Besides, I earned it, since I work so hard (watching my stock ticker go up). And don't ask me to share it with my shiftless neighbors, who are all lazy liberals on welfare who don't work hard like I do!
Maybe it's time to think that life is about more than accumulating money. Maybe caring for other people, even giving away your excess money (gasp!) is a valid way to live. Maybe it's not OK to profit from our children's future. Maybe we'll find our way out of this mess and actually learn something from it.
October 9th, 2008
I've been having a bit of fun with Google Translate over lunch the last couple of days. The idea of a machine translating from one language to another is always an iffy proposition. However, machine translation can be extremely useful to get the gist of a document in a foreign language. I used some early translation tools back in my college days when I took freelance jobs translating Russian to English. Now you can translate for free using Google Translate. You can either paste text into a form or translate an entire web page while browsing. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.
Google also has a section on their translate site for a “dictionary”, which is just becoming available in the English / Russian combination. I like the tool but the output is difficult to sift through. Also, it would be nice to speed up the process so that you didn’t have to constantly click into the form, click the button, and have the browser refresh. To make it more user friendly, I created a tool in Excel to query the Google site for any word and return the translation and example phrases. It uses web queries to quickly pull the data back to Excel. I can type the word and get a response almost instantaneously.
Click here to download my Excel English / Russian translation tool.
Click "Save" (opening in Internet Explorer will not work). Note that you have to enable macros (make sure your Macro security settings are set to “Medium” in the Tools > Security menu of Excel).
January 30th, 2008
With the summer has come a renewed sense of permanence. This will be our third year in north Idaho. The third time I have planted a garden and watched it grow in this climate. The third summer we've experienced in the northern woods.
I've noticed that I go through three stages when I come to a new place:
1. Discovery. Everything's new and exciting. This is the stage of exploration.
2. Familiarity. Things are familiar, and sometimes a little boring. I get restless.
3. Permanence. I start to feel a rhythm develop. Things are familiar, but in a comforting way.
I know I've reached the third stage, permanence, when I spend more time calling up good memories of the past than in seeking novelty. When I go on a bike ride, instead of thinking "I'd like to find a new place to ride", I think, "remember that great ride two summers ago? I want to go there." I'm just starting to feel that way now.
The topic of permanence has really captured my attention this year (see my previous post). Tonight I read an interesting essay by Meg Holden entitled "Never to Speed Up Again". She discusses her transition from frenetic urbanite to isolated islander. It's worth the read if you have a few quiet minutes to think about her words. One of the most interesting statements in her essay is a quote from Terry Tempest Williams: "It just may be that the most radical act we can commit is to stay home." By establishing a sense of place, we gradually overcome our "fear of home" and do what almost everyone is afraid of doing: just stay home.
June 4th, 2007
There aren't many bloggers that I know of up in my immediate area. Chalk it up to my county's farflung population (less than eight people per square mile) or the infamous backwoodsey character of North Idaho inhabitants, in any case I haven't found many online writers who identify themselves with my home town. The only exception to that is Morialekafa, a retired professor who regularly writes (raves) on the subject of our country's current political leadership (reading his site, it won't take you long to determine which side of the debate he falls on).
I occasionally drop by Morialekafa's blog to see if he's posted anything regarding local issues. He has written briefly about our county fair, which is the rural answer to perpetual social isolation. Today he stayed on his favorite theme, but amidst the political speech made a foray into humor which gave me a good laugh. Enjoy....
Continue Reading September 27th, 2006
According to one source, there are more than 70 million blogs now in existence. Of course, not all those are active, but Technorati alone logs about 1.2 million new posts each day from blogs searchable from that site.
So among all the chatter it's always refreshing to find a voice that resonates with your own thoughts and ideas. For me, the best online writers are those that can describe their own personal journeys in clean, thoughtful prose. I've found one such writer in MCB, the author of the blog Rounding 60. She has been writing detailed, beautiful entries about her experiences since January 2006. Here were some of my favorites:
Bonne Annee from St. Barth's - her opening entry
Tea and Oranges and Suzanne - a tribute to a friend
Fantasy, Reality and Love
Reading writers like MTB reminds me why I write, and what someday I hope to achieve in my own writing. Check it out.
September 20th, 2006
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I've really appreciated the posts of my friend Jared on this site, and one of his comments made me think a lot about the connection between my belief in organized religion and my belief in God. Also, I had a wonderful late-night conversation with my oldest brother a couple of weeks ago where we reopened the topic of my "de-conversion" from Mormonism, something I haven't been able to really discuss with anyone else in the family in the five years since I began this journey.
I've spent a couple of years now thinking, retracing my steps, trying to decipher my motivations for leaving Mormonism at a time in my life when doing so meant giving up so much I had hoped and dreamed of since childhood. I've come up with quite a list of "push" and "pull" factors (which I hope to detail in a later post). However, never along that path of introspection did I stop to consider how the demise of my belief in the LDS church was related to my subsequent rejection of belief in God. In the wreckage of my failed faith, I found no room for a divine purpose, and hence, no room for God....
Continue Reading September 11th, 2006
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Yesterday I spent some time thinking about writing in general, and specifically, how writing in this blog has opened up a part of me that was closed for a long time. When I was in school, writing and reading deeply were just part of who I was. After graduation, I had so much else going on--family, taking care of the house, working, actually doing things!--that I really didn't write as much as I should have. I still read, but casually, without much thought about how that reading was directing my life.
Writing a blog has reopened that corner of my intellect, allowing me to explore once again issues that I hadn't touched for some time. One of these recurring themes is spirituality. A comment on an earlier post reminded me that I haven't yet posted on my own religious and spiritual beliefs, or at least the development of those beliefs. This is a subject that with every passing year becomes more important to me....
Continue Reading August 30th, 2006
I've been casting about the web recently, trying to dig up memories from my high school past. I came across a couple of people I knew in high school who have set up pages on MySpace. My brother David has a site there too, but I've never really gone and spent time there. So I figured, what the heck, I might as well set up a profile on MySpace and point people to my "real" blog at ScottCorner. That's exactly what I did. And I can say without any doubt now that MySpace has got to be one of the most ill-conceived community sites I've ever dealt with (which really says something, because it's one of the most popular; I'll get to that later)....
Continue Reading August 24th, 2006
I’ve often noticed that among the older generations there is a very high occurrence of life-long nicknaming. Paging through the obituary section one sees that practically every man is listed with his formal name as well as his nickname, like Robert “Hank” Smith, or Henry “Buddy” Jackson. The use of these life-long appellations seems to have faded with time, only reemerging as a strong cultural phenomenon with the mass popularization of the Internet.
I started to ask myself some questions to figure this out. Why were nicknames so ubiquitous two or three generations ago? And why did the use of life-long nicknames fade in the late twentieth century? More importantly, what is the significance of a nickname, and what do they mean today?
Continue Reading August 21st, 2006