Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The golden outhouse

I have a distinctly postmodern view of the world. I don't really believe we interact with the environment around us as it exists; we interact with the environment around us as we perceive it to exist.

It only makes sense, then, that perception is everything -- or maybe the only thing. It truly governs our behavior.

Consider, for example, how much time we spend projecting our own desired personae. The cars we drive say something about us beyond the fact that we go from A to B. Our clothing communicates different messages beyond the fact that we don't like being naked. Basic hygiene aids in courtship as much as it prevents disease.

So are institutions any different from individuals? Probably not considering that institutions are comprised of individuals.

What you see above is the newly renovated Freedom Park, between Second and Third Streets on the University of Louisville campus. This is one part of several beautification projects the university has undertaken over the past year, the total cost of which is about $7 million.

U of L argues that these projects are "designed to improve student safety and provide more convenient access onto and around campus." That, of course, is untrue. A brick sidewalk is so safer to cross than one made of asphalt, and I never found the campus difficult to access -- at least by foot.

In reality, I believe the university was trying to impress the Phi Beta Kappa Society, whose members -- coincidentally -- appeared on campus this spring for a site visit. If you want the prestige that comes with a PBK chapter, you have to look like you warrant it. The perception becomes important.

But the perception doesn't become the reality.

Looking as though you deserve prestige is not the same as actually deserving it. I don't think the University of Louisville is a bad educational institution. Quite the opposite actually. Still, we could be doing more.

My perception of these beautification projects is that we are wasting money. Imagine what else we could do with $7 million beyond some aesthetic face lift. We could invest in research, technology, extracurriculars, career training, travel, TEACHING or any number of other things that add true value to the institution.

Is upkeep of the campus important? Yes. But is it $7 million important? For four small projects? Probably not.

I could take a dump in an outhouse made of wood or one made of gold. No matter how nice the gold one looks, it's still full of shit.

I'd rather focus on the educational core and build real value at the university, allowing the exterior to merely reflect the learning housed within. Instead, I worry that we're becoming just another golden outhouse, and that stinks.

Monday, April 18, 2011

I can't get no satisfaction guaranteed

I spent Saturday replacing my 1970s Maytag dishwasher with a new Whirlpool. Apart from the nightmare that is installing anything remotely related to plumbing, I'm largely satisfied with the product.

What frustrates me is the purchase.

I bought the dishwasher from Lowe's, and all in it was about $400. I'm okay with that. What I wasn't okay with was the offer to extend my one year limited warranty to cover me for an additional 2 years. These maniacs wanted another $200 for that privilege.

I was angry for two reasons. First, at that price I'm better off rolling the dice. The added warranty was half the cost of the appliance, which is a ridiculous mark up. What are the odds I'll have repairs totaling more than $200 in the next three years? Slight I would say, especially considering that the average lifespan of a dishwasher is about 10 years.

That brings me to my second point: Why should I have to pay you to stand behind your product? If dishwashers are expected to last a decade, shouldn't some sense of integrity drive you to guarantee my product for at least three years? Apparently not. Instead I have to pay you to be a responsible manufacturer.

And where does Lowe's factor into this equation? Shouldn't you, as a retailer, stock your shelves with products in which you have confidence? I wouldn't want to sell junk to my customers. In fact, many of the local stores that I frequent refuse to stock certain brands because they know them to be shoddy.

I guess I'm just offended by the disrespect manufacturers and retailers routinely show their customers, who are the very people they should respect most. Still, regardless of whether you stand behind your products, your products inevitably stand for you. If this dishwasher falls apart within the next few years, I won't be buying Whirlpool again, and I won't be buying appliances from Lowe's again either.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The deficit of "me"

With the increasing deficit dominating policy on both sides of the aisle, it's only natural that PEW would have something to say about the debate.

There's been a great deal of discussion concerning budget cuts, but tax increases have been a taboo subject. As of December, however, 65% of Americans favored not only cuts to major programs but also tax increases to combat the deficit.

My guess is that these opinions stem from simple input/output calculations: if you want to balance a budget, limit what goes out and increase what comes in. Makes sense.

Still, what interests me most is the following:
The public's view of the deficit is often summarized as follows: Yes, Americans agree that the nation's finances are in a precarious state and, yes, something needs to be done. Yet they overwhelmingly reject any specific ideas for reducing the deficit -- particularly when it comes to changes in entitlement programs.
In essence: we need to cut back on spending, and by we I mean you.

I can't say I'm surprised. As the "me generation" of baby boomers approaches retirement, it's only natural for self-interest to kick in. I'd like to say that as the millennials age into adulthood that we'd be more selfless, but I don't see it. I'm constantly thinking of ways to trim my budget and I don't even want to give up cable TV; imagine how hard I'd fight for social security.

I think it's only natural that in times of overt selfishness we look back nostalgically to the traditionalists, the so-called "greatest generation." Somehow they seemed more collectivist, more selfless.

Really, though, I think they just had a better understanding of how to make selfishness work. They seemed to focus more on us than me, but consider that definitionally I am a part of us. Therefore, benefiting the whole means I sacrifice for others in some way and others sacrifice for me in another way. In this manner we advance the interest of the self by consistently advancing the interests of the whole.

Some call that selflessness. I'd call it enlightened self-interest. Either way I think it would work. We might all fair better if we understood the numerous and intricate ways that all the "mes" are connected to create the "us." Maybe then we -- and by we I do mean we -- could dig ourselves out of this mess.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


It appears that the federal government may be headed for a standstill over budget debates, and all I want to know is this: What are the Republicans smoking and where can I get some?

Actually, I think I can answer my own question. Looking at the Republican proposal and the reasoning for it, I'd say it's a giant joint of cognitive dissonance. I honestly have no idea how heads are not exploding; at lest then they could genuinely talk out of both sides of their mouths.

The argument -- as usually -- is that government is too big and that shrinking it will help us escape crushing debt. Our current government is headed for a downfall, to which the budget plan eloquently speaks:
This is not the future of a proud and prosperous nation. It is the future of a nation in decline — its best days come and gone. The only solutions to a debt crisis would be truly painful. Massive tax increases, sudden and disruptive cuts to vital programs, runaway inflation, or all three.
So to avoid this nightmare scenario of sudden and disruptive cuts to vital programs, it's critical that we make sudden and disruptive cuts to vital programs. Genius.

But here's the part that is absolute insanity, as quoted from The New York Times:
The plan, drafted principally by Representative Paul D. Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who chairs the Budget Committee, proposes not only to limit federal spending and reconfigure major federal health programs, but also to rewrite the tax code, cutting the top tax rate for both individuals and corporations to 25 percent from 35 percent.

You know what sounds like a great way to get out of debt? Stop levying taxes on those with money. That would definitely work. That's like trying to make a mortgage payment by quitting your job. You'd be thrown out on your ass, or squatting in your own home.

But perhaps that metaphor is appropriate, because that's what these rich bastards have become: squatters. Innovations in communication, transportation, and technology -- many of which were made possible through government-funded research -- led to advances in infrastructure which in turn created fertile environments for business growth.

But now that the rent is due they're crying broke. Being generous landlords we gave them a few extra decades to come up with the money. After all, they had nowhere to go. But you turn around and what do you see? A handful of billionaires squatting on the hard work and achievements of the masses.

I don't know about you, but I'm thin on patience sick of excuses. The first of the month has come and gone, so give me my check or get the fuck of my lawn.