Thursday, November 8, 2012

Raised Right, I Left

In this morning's New York Times, Republican Senator Susan Collins (Maine) is quoted as saying, "It has never made sense that my party, the party of individual freedom and personal responsibility, thinks the government should be involved in issues" like abortion. "We are the party that trusts individuals to make their own decisions. That is one of the defining issues of the differences between Republicans and Democrats. So this is just bewildering to me."

Frankly, her statement bewilders me.  I grew up in a solidly Republican household in the 1960s and 70s.  As I child, I accompanied my father, a precinct captain, door-to-door at election time.  We stored "car tops" in our garage for Republican candidates.  I was proud of my collection of campaign buttons and collected autographs of local politicians.  I rode on the GOP float in the 4th of July parade.

My Republican parents instilled the values that Ms. Collins describes, and I believe that is precisely why I have moved steadily to the left for the past thirty years.  Meanwhile, the GOP has slid so far to the right, it bears little resemblance to the party my parents believed in 30 years ago. Like many though, my parents still vote Republican despite the wide gap between the party's policies and their core values.

What are those values?  Full equality for women.  A woman's right to choose.  Gun control.  How can one claim to be "pro-life" and yet support the death penalty or "pre-emptive" war?  The separation of church and state (whether Christian, Muslim, or Jewish).  Respect for human rights.  Respect for people of all races, ethnicities, religions, national origins, sexual orientations.  Gay marriage.  Free speech.  Health care as a right; not a privilege for the rich and those with full-time employment.

Growing up, I never thought of these values as "Republican" or "Democrat" but in the last few decades, these have been the values and the issues of the Democrats.  The Republican leadership has moved from "limited government" to proposing government control over women's bodies and legislating a very narrow definition of "marriage" and "family". They've moved from fiscal responsibility to policies that increase the gap between rich and poor, which ultimately cost our country more.

My parents raised me right.  And that's why I vote Democrat.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Welcome to Winnetka

Traveling down Sheridan Road, you know you're in Winnetka when the signs of neglect appear and the adjectives that come to mind are "decrepit, pathetic, appalling".  Of course, I am not referring to the multi-million dollar homes with their expensive manicured lawns (lush and green in this season of draught).  Rather, I mean the condition of Sheridan Road itself. 

North of Evanston, the cyclists' route moves away from the lakfront (no longer free and clear) and follows Sheridan Road, from Wilmette to Kenilworth and Winnetka.  After detouring west around the Ravines, cyclists return to Sheridan to ride through Highland Park, up to Fort Sheridan and into Lake Forest.  With the exception of the rocky road in Winnetka, it is a lovely ride.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Miles to go before we sleep

This weekend I participated for the fifth time in the Illinois Tour de Farms fundraiser for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. I wish you could have been there to see how much it means to those with MS and their loved ones.

Along the 175 mile-route, there are rest areas every 10-15 miles, staffed by volunteers, many of whom suffer from this debilitating disease.  As the we pull in, hot, dusty and thirsty from a long, hot ride, we are immensely grateful for their support:  cold water, ice, gatorade, protein bars and plenty of salty and sweet snacks to fuel the next leg of our journey.  But - almost before we can thank them for their support, they are thanking us.

When a rider says, "thank you," the reply inevitably is, "No.  Thank YOU for riding."  At our first stop on day 2, I stopped at a table with lens cleaner for my sunglasses and struck up a conversation with a volunteer.  She mentioned that treatment costs $3000 a month.  It immediately struck me:  Wow.  I raised just over $3000 - that's one month of treatment for one person.

The weather cooperated beautifully this year and we were able to complete a 100-plus mile circuit on day one and a 75-mile loop on day 2.  But ultimately, it's not about my ride - it's about support for this important cause and a future where we can imagine a world without MS.

Monday, June 18, 2012

An Idea for Greece: Name Tags for Civil Servants

It's simple but important:  have civil servants wear name tags. 

Without name tags, there's no accountability.  And accountability - or lack thereof - is at the root of Greece's economic crisis.

With protests throughout the country, some people thought we were crazy to plan a vacation in Greece last year - but as one friend pointed out, the best thing we could do for Greece was to go spend money in Greece.  On the whole, we had a fabulous family vacation - but our first three hours in Greece were a nightmare; a nightmare caused by corrupt civil servants fleecing the very tourists on whom their economy depends and who refused to identify themselves.

On Wednesday, 20 July 2011, we arrived in Patras on the ferry from Bari.  We planned to take the bus to Athens, via Egio where we were supposed to connect with friends.  Our friends told us there were buses every 30 minutes so the plan was for us to call them as soon as we were on the bus.  But we didn't plan for dishonest civil servants at the train station. 

The train line from Patras to Athens was under construction and there was a bus running along the train route.  Travelers with rail passes would take the "train bus" for the interrupted portion of the route.  We didn't have rail passes and never intended to take the train but we also didn't know our way around Patras.  We were following directions to bus station when we saw a coach bus with "Athens" on it. The driver said it was the Athens bus and it stopped in Egio and sent us inside to buy tickets.  

I was in line at 13:45 when they closed the ticket booth because the 13:50 bus was full. When they reopened the man said the next bus was at 15:50. I asked if this was the only bus station and said that we thought there were buses every 30 minutes. He said our only option was to take the 15:50 bus to Kialto and switch to the train to Athens. He was quite insistent that there were no other buses. I was surprised but bought four tickets.  When I called our friends with the arrival time in Egio, a friendly Greek overheard me say there were no buses every 30 min. He told me that there most certainly were buses - the green buses that leave from the bus station, only 100m further up the road. The only reason to wait for 15:50 was if we had an interrail pass.

I ran up the road and confirmed that what he said was true. Bottom line, we could have been on the 14:00 bus, we absolutely would have made the 15:00 pm bus (14:30 runs express and doesn't stop in Egio). The ticket vendor at the train station adamantly refused to refund our money and also refused to give me his name. I asked to speak to the manager and he, too, refused to give me his name.  I had plenty of time since I was forced to wait for the wrong bus and spent 30 minutes trying to get someone in the station to give me their names. 

When others in the station overheard me, they realized that they, too, had been misled - including interrail pass holders who were charged full fare to ride the bus which is basically the "train" that goes to all the stations where the tracks are being worked on. No one could get a refund. Those lucky enough to have not yet purchased "train bus" tickets went to the bus station or, if they had interrail passes at least did not pay full fare.

It appeared that it was in the interest of the employees at the train station to steer people to the "train bus" and away from the intercity bus. We took the "train bus" and did not connect with our friends who were waiting for us at the BUS station, not the train station.

In the end, it was merely a hiccup in an otherwise wonderful 10-day vacation.  However, the employees of the station at Patras were deliberately misleading hundreds of tourists and getting away with it.  Tourists are an easy target with very little recourse.

I was reminded of this incident the other day when I read about Yiannis Boutaris, the mayor of Thessaloniki.  Mayor Boutaris is making a difference.  Maybe he'll read my simple suggestion and have civil servants wear name tags. 

A small change could make a big difference.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Forever Open, Clear and Free

Summer in Chicago is all about the lakefront or, as Montgomery Ward referred to it, "the city's front yard".  As a cyclist, I appreciate the foresight of men like Ward and his contemporary, Daniel Burnham for their vision in preserving the lakefront, "forever open, clear and free" because it truly is what makes this city great.  As an Evanstonian, I appreciate our three miles of lakefront with six public beaches and parks.

As I cycle south from Evanston to the loop or north to Fort Sheridan, the best parts of the route parallel Lake Michigan's shoreline, its spectacular views and distant horizon.  I pity our neighbors to the north, from Wilmette to Lake Bluff, where public access is limited to a single beach and pand the vast majority of the land is privately owned by extraoridinarily wealthy individuals. 

In Evanston and Chicago, the lakefront is considered a public asset and that is what sets these two communities apart.   Thanks to the vision of our forebears, our lakefront is "forever open, clear and free."

Monday, June 4, 2012

Bikers with brains

Every year at this time, as I bike and run along the lakefront I visualize a public health campaign on helmet use for cyclists.  I'm not a visual artist, but it would look something like this:

Cyclist wearing a helmet with the caption Brainiac

Helmet-less cyclist:  Fool

Helmet-less parent riding with helmeted children: D#*$!n Fool and orphans
(Helmets aren't like training wheels.  You don't outgrow the need to protect your head.)

Helmet-less cyclist with headphones:  Road Kill

Friday, June 1, 2012

High speed connections

Two days ago I had dinner with good friends who live over an hour away (not counting traffic).  In itself, this would not be remarkable except for the circumstances of our connection.  I was at a baseball game and used Facebook to "check in" to the Wrigley Field Bleachers.  I only attend one or two games a year, never in the middle of a weekday afternoon and never sit in the bleachers; so I "checked in" to share this unusual (for me) event. I included a photo of our group of top fundraisers for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and we were all wearing orange. Within minutes I got a notification from my south-side friend, "We can see your block of orange from here!"  She and her sisters were in the park - an equally unlikely mid-week event for them.

Last month I had an unusual assignment:  try to find someone who became a Rotarian as a result of social media.  At 4:55 p.m., a colleague tweeted our question to two lists and by by 5:22 p.m. we had found 2. One had heard of Rotary and was interested to know more about it, so through Facebook, he found a Rotarian and she eventually became his sponsor.

Three hours ago, a friend who's a science writer told me that she'd noticed increasing Twitter activity about an arsenic study published today and was predicting it would be on the evening news.  Curious, I looked it up and saw that 28 minutes ago a major news outlet was tweeting about it (and the "new tweets" counter has increased as I write this paragraph).

As I texted my friend after dinner the other night, "how did we manage pre-internet and smart phone?"

Friday, May 11, 2012

Invigorate: to fill with life and energy

Travel is invigorating.  After 10 days in Bangkok, I am filled with life and energy. 

10 May, 13:00:
I am somewhere on the outskirts of downtown Bangkok.  I took the sky train to the end of the line, Wongwian Yai, with the intention of walking to Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn.  Instead of asking directions, I decided to explore: wandering along thoroughfares, turning into sidestreets including one pedestrian market area along an abandoned railway line.  From the railway market I entered a neighborhood of narrow alleyways where homes have roofs of corrugated steel, streets twist and turn and end, but friendly people point the way out.

I haven't seen another foreigner for more than two hours and I am thoroughly enjoying the adventure.  I particularly love walking along a rather ordinary Thai street, only to stumble upon a spectacular temple with large white columns, high peaked roofs in red and green, golden snakes curling skyward.  This happened not once, but half a dozen times in the course of an hour. 

This is the way to discover a city:  on foot with no timetable and no particular destination.  I am not normally a loner, but this solitary walk in a new (to me) city, country, culture, reminds me of similar excursions discovering Rome, Jerusalem, Hebron, Amsterdam, Quebec.  Travel and discovery truly is life-giving, invigorating. 

10 May, 14:00, Talat Phu
After two and a half hours of aimless meandering (in the mid-day heat no less), I decide it's time to ask directions to Wat Arun.  A friendly woman engages a half-dozen members of her extended family to hail a cab and point me in the right direction.  As the cab retraces much of the path I walked, I realize I headed as far as I could in the opposite direction - and loved every minute of my journey.

11 May, at the hotel:
A quick look at Google maps shows I wandered almost 10km away from the train yesterday - and more, I'm sure, given the roundabout route I took. 

Vigor: healthy physical or mental energy or power, vitality.
I am invigorated.

Blogging from Bangkok or...

blogging in Thai?  Google - and therefore gmail and blogger - automatically redirect to google.co.th.  I do love the look of the Thai script but unfortunately, I have not (yet?) learned to read it!  This is a test of the user interface:  to what degree am I able to navigate a site visually in complete absence of text. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Thank You Counts in Numbers Game

1 entry-level job

> 250 applications received

> 80 resumes reviewed

> 30 considered

6 initial interviews

1 thank you note received

2 second interviews

2 equally qualified candiates:  smart, articulate, polished and professional

1 thank you note received (same candidate as above)

1 thank you made 1 candidate stand out

1 offer made

enough said


Friday, February 24, 2012

A Tale of Two Lenders

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. 

For banks, it was a time to loan; for homeowners,a time to refinance. The time, that is, for homeowners with good credit and endless patience for the process. 

Broker #1 was in such a hurry to get an appraisal, the appraiser called the Borrower at work and suggested meeting an hour later. It was just after the holidays and the family had started taking the decorations down. Ornaments were piled on the living room coffee table and more were in the dining room.  Storage boxes were stacked against the wall.  Breakfast dishes were on the kitchen counter.  These details aren't supposed to matter - but the appraisal came in well below what was expected.

Then Broker #2 called and sent a different appraiser.  The house was tidy and the rewards were great, with appraisal #2 exceeding the first by more than $100,000.

Both Brokers wanted to increase the amount of the loan to cover closing costs.  The difference was only a few thousand dollars but the Borrower preferred to pay the costs up front.  Why borrow a few thousand dollars for 30 years when you are able to pay now?  "But a few thousand dollars adds very little to the monthly payments," the Broker said.  True.  But the Borrower didn't want to borrow more than was necessary.

Despite several conversations and back-and-forth email, the initial "truth in lending" documents from both lenders showed the higher amount.  "Don't worry," the Brokers said.  "This is just a general statement; the final documents will show the correct amounts." The loan applications again showed the higher amount.  The Borrower crossed it out, wrote in the intended amount and initialed the change.  "Don't worry", the Brokers said again.

The day before closing the final documents arrived showing the higher amount for the loan.  The Borrower called the Broker to complain.  "Don't worry," the Broker said.  "We can change it...but with the delay you'll have to make another payment on the existing mortgage at the higher rate and that will cost you more."  And thus, the Broker increased his commission and the Banker expander his portfolio. 

The Borrower conceded defeat and borrowed the extra money and took the required HELOC and opened the required checking account. 

It was the best of times for bankers.  It was the riskiest of times for the rest.