Peanut Butter Sandwiches

“Life is hard, my Grandma would tell me. “Eventually someone will hurt you. When that happens, you get to decide: fight back, or forgive. It’s up to you. What will you do?

As a kid, I played baseball in the field behind my Grandma’s house. We played every day, all day, and each day for lunch, my Grandma made us her world-famous peanut butter sandwiches. These were beautiful: a single piece of toast with a thin layer of peanut butter spread on top. That’s simple enough, but what made them special was she wrote your name into the peanut butter so you knew THIS one was yours.

One day, we went down to our field, but no one could find a ball. “No problem, I said. “My Grandma has one. I’ve seen it. She keeps it in a plastic case on her bookshelf.

I snuck into the house, removed the ball from its case without making a sound, and went back down to the field to play. A few hours later, Grandma came out, asking to see the ball.

What I didn’t know was this ball was a gift from my Grandpa. He’d got it signed by Ted Kluszewski, Grandma’s favorite Red, when he was on a business trip some years ago. As the story goes, Grandpa carried that ball with him everywhere that trip. He was so excited to give it to her.

Only he never got the chance. Grandpa had a heart attack and died in hotel room. They found the ball in his suitcase, his last gift to her. Now, because of me, it was covered in dirt and scuff marks. The signature was gone. When I handed it to my Grandma, she started to cry.

“Life is hard, I thought. “Eventually someone will hurt you. I heard that speech hundreds of times growing up, but I never thought I would hurt Her.

The next day was rough. I struck out six times before lunch break and, when everyone went up for their sandwiches, I hung back, sitting on a swing set nearby. I was too ashamed to go in. Grandma came out later and sat next to me.

“I’m sorry, Grandma, I said.

“I know, she said. “I have something for you. She gave me a plate with two peanut butter sandwiches on it. The first one said my name. The second: I forgive you. I took that sandwich like communion and smiled. Grandma smiled, too, and just like that, everything was alright. All the guilt I felt, all the pain I caused melted away with those three beautiful words: I forgive you. It felt like freedom.

Later that day, we put the ball back in its case, scuff marks and all. You could still see hints of the signature if you looked close enough. We knew it was there, hiding somewhere underneath the dirt, and that made all the difference.

Baseball and forgiveness are sticky, like a peanut butter sandwich. They stick with you. This story has stuck with me most of my life. We’d mention it every now and again at Family dinners, holidays, or when watching a Reds game on television and someone with big arms and cropped sleeves came to the plate. Grandma would pull the ball out at the start of each season to remind that, while baseball is fun, there are sometimes things that matter more.

This lesson came back to me a few years ago. Grandma was out for a drive one day, when someone ran a stoplight at twice the speed limit and broadsided her. The paramedics worked frantically to save her, but she died on the way to the hospital. The other driver, a college kid named Emily, walked away from the accident without a scratch.

We all struggled with this; my mom in particular. For weeks, she couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, had even taken to stalking this kid Emily on the Internet. “She’s on Facebook! she’d say. “She’s on Twitter, she’d say. “Have you seen these pictures? Have you seen her smile?! WHY DOES SHE GET TO BE HAPPY?

Sometimes life just isn’t fair. Is it?

A few months later, the local high school had a traffic safety seminar and Emily was listed as one of the speakers. You better believe we went. Mom was oddly quiet about it, but the rest of us? We wanted to see this Monster face to face. But I think something changed, for all of us, when Emily got up to speak.

The worst part, she said, “wasn’t losing my license or the nightmares, or even the physical pain that comes with having been in an accident. No. The worst part was knowing I had taken someone’s friend, someone’s mother, someone’s Grandma.

A little kid raised his hand. “What would you say if you could talk to her today?

“I’d tell her I’m sorry, Emily said. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.

What we saw, in that moment, was Emily wasn’t this Monster we’d made her out to be. She was a scared kid, sitting alone on her own swing set, just like me when I was a kid. Only now, there was no one to come out, sit next to her, and make it all better.

Afterward, my Mom introduced herself. “The woman you killed was my mother.

Emily lowered her head in shame, but my Mom didn’t stop there. “I heard what you said, and if SHE were here, she’d want you to have this. Mom reached into her purse, and pulled out a little baggie with two peanut butter sandwiches in it. On the first one, she wrote the name Emily. On the second: I forgive you.

Emily took that sandwich like communion and smiled. Mom smiled, too, and just like that, everything was alright. They couldn’t bring my Grandma back, but both women could finally move on. That’s what forgiveness does. It lets you move on. It makes you free.

You can’t lead a life of peace unless you’re willing to forgive, and that’s what my Grandma taught us. That’s what she left us: a beautiful legacy of forgiveness for me, my Mother, my friends on the baseball field, even Emily. I keep the dirty baseball with Ted Kluszewski’s ghost signature on a shelf in my office as a reminder of that legacy.

And, now, all of those who’ve shared in that legacy would like to pass it on to you. Life is hard, eventually someone will hurt You. When that happens, you get to choose. Will you fight back? Or will you share the beauty and the freedom of baseball, forgiveness, and peanut butter sandwiches?

Little Moments – A Toastmasters Speech Contest Speech

Hey everyone.

Here’s my Toastmasters Speech Contest Speech from this year. Some of you have probably already seen a version of this one. If that’s the case: oh well. I did this one two years ago and lost in Round 3, but I always felt like there was MORE to it than what I was doing. So I tried it again this year and I feel like I got close enough to what I felt the speech was supposed to be that I can put this one to bed.

I didn’t win this year. I didn’t even place. I kinda felt that was going to be the case, because the message is kinda Hallmark-y, and a lot of the staging is a bit over the top. I can also see LOTS of ways to improve on future speeches, and that’s what I hope for when I go into a contest: to get better.

Fun notes:
1) I planned to do the speech in present tense but, when I started, accidentally slipped into past tense, so I had to edit present vs past on the fly as I was going. That keeps you on your toes.

2) I lost my place there for a moment right before I go over to yell at Eliott. Nothing stops your heart like being on stage in front of a few hundred accomplished speakers, with your brain going: “Holy ****. I can’t remember what the hell I’m supposed to say next.”

3) I need to lose weight. GOOD LORD.

I may or may not take a year off in 2020. I still haven’t decided. At any rate, making it to District three times in four years ain’t too shabby, especially since I won District once and placed third in the semis. It would have been nice to go all the way this year, but, as I am fond of saying about some of my favorite sports teams: He who loses and walks away can lose again another day.

There’s always next year!

Misplaced Faith in Technology

As people put more and more of their faith into Technology and Systems they don’t understand, what happens when the systems upon which you’ve put your faith are compromised? That’s what AI Security expert Dawn Song wonders.

Artificial intelligence won’t revolutionize anything if hackers can mess with it.
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That’s the warning from Dawn Song, a professor at UC Berkeley who specializes in studying the security risks involved with AI and machine learning.

Speaking at EmTech Digital, an event in San Francisco produced by MIT Technology Review, Song warned that new techniques for probing and manipulating machine-learning systems—known in the field as “adversarial machine learning” methods—could cause big problems for anyone looking to harness the power of AI in business.

Song said adversarial machine learning could be used to attack just about any system built on the technology.

“It’s a big problem,” she told the audience. “We need to come together to fix it.”

Adversarial machine learning involves experimentally feeding input into an algorithm to reveal the information it has been trained on, or distorting input in a way that causes the system to misbehave. By inputting lots of images into a computer vision algorithm, for example, it is possible to reverse-engineer its functioning and ensure certain kinds of outputs, including incorrect ones.

Song presented several examples of adversarial-learning trickery that her research group has explored.

One project, conducted in collaboration with Google, involved probing machine-learning algorithms trained to generate automatic responses from e-mail messages (in this case the Enron e-mail data set). The effort showed that by creating the right messages, it is possible to have the machine model spit out sensitive data such as credit card numbers. The findings were used by Google to prevent Smart Compose, the tool that auto-generates text in Gmail, from being exploited.

Another project involved modifying road signs with a few innocuous-looking stickers to fool the computer vision systems used in many vehicles. In a video demo, Song showed how the car could be tricked into thinking that a stop sign actually says the speed limit is 45 miles per hour. This could be a huge problem for an automated driving system that relies on such information.

The tendency for people to take a Utopian approach in removing the human element from everything that makes us human is one of the more dangerous tendencies in which our society engages. Algorithms can be hacked just like databases and web servers. Whatever security we can invent will eventually fall prey to people who seek to destroy and/or take advantage of others.

Something Might Happen

Dad said not to bring my glove. “We’re all the way up in the red seats,” he said.“No one’s gonna hit it up there.” Then, as if to emphasize the point, “No way. Not. At. All.”

But I brought it anyway.

It was an early April morning in 1988. The late ’80s were good years – after Pete Rose had broken the record but before the mess of banishment – when the Reds seemed to always finish second to the Dodgers, Giants, or Astros, no matter how hard they tried.

Dad and I rode a city bus down Winton Road from the northern suburbs, through St. Bernard, through Corryville, past UC, and straight through Over the Rhine like a Barry Larkin line drive, ending up on Fountain Square an hour ahead of the Findlay Market parade. It was Opening Day, the holiest of baseball holidays, and we reveled in our annual pilgrimage.

I held the glove under my left arm. Dad eyed me sideways. “You never know,” I said. “Something might happen.”

Dad got a coffee, I opened a bag of peanuts, and we sat on the steps overlooking Fifth Street. The crowds started to gather. “Tell me the Johnny Bench story again,” I said, and he launched into an elaborate tale of the time, when he was in middle school, he and a friend got a ride home from Crosley Field with the new Rookie catcher, Johnny Bench.

“He rolled up to us in a big convertible and said, “You boys need a lift? Of course we said yes, and he drove us all the way home.”

“What did you talk about?”

“Nothing. We was both too scared to say anything, so we sat in silence the whole way.”

The parade started. Marching bands, decorated Cadillacs carrying politicians, and elaborate floats with local celebrities carrying signs for hometown staples like Goldstar Chili and JTM hamburgers went by in quick succession. When the last float passed, the crowd flowed in behind, following the parade like a jubilant, New Orleans wake, down to Riverfront Stadium for the start of a brand new season.

We made it to our seats high up in the red seats about as far aqay feom the field as you could get.

“You think the Reds have a chance this year?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Dad said. “Soto’s washed up, Bo Diaz is a rusted out, chain-link fence behind the plate, and I’m still not sure about Larkin over Stillwell at short.”

I soured a little. He noticed.

“Then again, that Tom Browning is pretty good, Eric Davis can hit the cover off the ball, and with Franco closing, you never know…”

“Something might happen,” we said together, and laughed. It was always easy to laugh when it was him and me.

The game was a tough one. Mario Soto gave up an early lead to the Cardinals. He was, indeed, washed up, which didn’t bode well for the season. The Reds were down 4-1 in the sixth, but battled back to a tie in the seventh and took it to extra innings.

“More baseball for the exact same price!” Dad used to say.

The game was fun, but I wanted a ball. I stood for most of the afternoon with my glove on my hand, ready. Dad just shook his head like he knew something I didn’t.

For a while, it seemed like that might be the case but, in the 11th, Tracey Jones tagged a foul shot off of a Cardinal reliever, and I watched as the ball soared up to our section.

“Go for it!”

I ran down the steps to the front row, reaching my glove as far out over the railing as I could, hoping for a miracle. The ball danced around the webbing at the tip of my glove, then bounced away, falling to the blue seats below. I returned to my seat, dejected.

“That’s alright,” Dad said. “You’ll get the next one.”

But the next one didn’t come. Not then, anyway. Kal Daniels knocked in a run in the the twelfth, “And this one belongs to the Reds!” everyone shouted, mimicking Marty Brennaman’s signature phrase. The Reds won 5-4 and, right then, everyone in the stands truly believed that day’s success would carry us all the way to the World Series.

Opening Day does that to you, somehow. It makes believers out of all of us.

I fell asleep on the bus afterward. Dad carried me from the bus stop tonour house, my glove secured safely in his left arm, the same way he carried his glove when he was young. It was a good day.

It was a good year, too. Chris Sabo got his start, and it wasn’t long before all the kids in my school wanted their own pair of Spuds McKenzie goggles. Danny Jackson won 23 games and would have won a Cy Young, too, if not for Orel Hershiser. Tom Browning threw a perfect game and Ron Robinson came within one strike of the same feat, too.

The Reds hosted the All Star Game, with Barry Larkin – who really WAS better than Kurt Stillwell it turned out – on the team, proving himself more than capable of carrying Concepcion’s mantle.

Dad and I went to a lot of games that year and in the years to follow. But nothing beats Opening Day. No matter how bad the Reds are, no matter how bleak the prospects, on Opening Day anything is possible. On Opening Day, the slate is clean and the entire season stretches out in front of you like a dream.

Another Opening Day is right around the corner. The Redlegs could tank, sure, but you never know. Magic could strike at any time. It happens. All it takes is the willingness to believe, just for a day. So grab your glove, keep your eyes open, and wait for something to happen.

Because on Opening Day, something always does.

Under the Blankets with Marty and Joe

Confession time. I stalk Marty Brenneman’s wife on Facebook.

For those of you who don’t know, Marty Brenneman is the long-time radio announcer for the Cinicinnati Reds. If you say, “And This One Belongs to the Reds” to anyone in Cincinnati, they’ll smile and tell you about their experiences listening to Reds games with Marty and Joe Nuxhall calling the games. It’s part of the Queen City’s milieu. It’s who we are as a People.

So, like I said, I stalk his wife on Facebook. It’s not intentional or anything, though. A friend of mine posted a video she made where Marty shared some of this thoughts on the recent trade where the Reds sent Homer Bailey’s contract to Los Angeles and got a pretty nice haul back in return. I didn’t want to send a friend request to her because I don’t know her, so I followed her posts instead, hoping this video series of a regular THING(tm). It wasn’t a Thing(tm), though. She mostly just posts daily goings-on and pics of them doing normal family things. Normal, boring Facebook crap.

I should have unfollowed, but I’m lazy. It’s one of my character strengths. So I left things as they were and watched, recently as the Brenneman’s took a vacation to Florida.

“Oooh!” I thought to myself. “I wonder if they’ll come to Disney!”

“Shut up,” I said to myself. “They’re not the Disney type. Besides, what are you gonna do, fanboy all over them on vacation? a 42 year old man stalking his childhood idol on social media just RANDOMLY showing up at the parks and RANDOMLY saying ‘Boy, isn’t it amazing we both ended up here at the same time?”

“That wouldn’t be weird at all,” I said to myself, unsure which version of myself said that or what the real meaning behind the words were.

So I watched as they traveled to different Florida locales, made some notes about places we may just visit one day, and kept my thoghts to myself.


Earlier this week, Mrs. Marty posted a picture of the two of them shopping at Disney Springs. They were sitting at the ice cream shop, enjoying a malt in the far-too-hot-for January Florida warmth. That’s right across the street from my office, y’all. I could have walked there in five minutes. I could have been there in TEN minutes if I ran.

My boyhood hero – the one not named “Johnny Bench” – was eating ice cream right across the street from my office, and I could not decide whether it would have been appropriate for me to run over there (covered in sweat #BecauseFlorida) and interrupt their vacation long enough for me to get a selfie and make him sign the notes from my most decent analytics development meeting (or whatever).

Jeston, my Jamaican office mate, chimed in. “You should go,” he said. “If it were Usain Bolt, he’d want me to be there. He’d welcome me like a brother and we’d sing Bob Marley tunes all afternoon.”

“Jamaicans are weird,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “Which is why we have more fun than you white folks.”


I ultimately decided not to go. I already have an autographed ball and a few cards, I told myself. No need to make a fool of myself in front of them. No need to interrupt their vacation.

I haven’t stopped stalking Marty’s wife, though. What if they come back?

In my effort to resurrect some of my past favorite articles from, here’s something I wrote about Marty and Joe. I hope you enjoy…

*** *** *** *** *** ***

Every night, as a kid, I listened to the Reds on 700 WLW. Every night. Without fail.

Some nights, particularly those when the Reds played teams on the west coast, my parents would tell me to go to bed round about the sixth or seventh inning, just as things were getting good.

“Awww, Mom! Come on! Eric Davis is up first next inning. Cant I just stay up till then?”

“No. Bedtime. Get upstairs.”

It was all a ruse, of course. I found an abandoned radio in a parking lot down the hill from my house when I was probably too young to be hanging out in old parking lots by myself. All I had to do was clean it up and plug it in, and Marty and Joe would talk me through the remainder of the games my parents insisted I miss, provided I kept the lights out and the volume dialed low enough. The argument and the subsequent sulking was enough to throw them off my scent.

Or so I believed.

My bedroom was a shrine to the Reds back then. Poster boards with crudely-drawn baseball diamonds covered the walls with a baseball card for each Reds player affixed to the requisite position for each season from 1983 €œ 1990, with two extras for the Big Red Machine World Series teams in 1975 and 1976. I had a poster board with the flier from Johnny Bench day at Riverfront his last year; a collection of the little reds helmets in which they used to serve ice cream at Reds games, and a ball I had stolen from my friend, Sean Hinken. The rumor was: Dave Parker his ownself hit the ball into the outfield red seats during batting practice, all of this at Sean’s request. Was that the truth? I don’t know. Sean had a way of exaggerating words enough to make you suspect he was fibbing. But you never really knew for sure.

I’d curl into a ball on my bed beneath the covers, with the radio tuned to 700, listening as Marty and Joe called the games, spun stories about years past, and took calls on the banana phone during rain delays.

This one day, when the Reds were out west playing the Dodgers, they took it to extra innings and Dave Parker came up to bat in the bottom of the umpteenth inning with two out and one on. You could FEEL the tension through Marty’s voice as he called each pitch. On a 2-2 count, Parker hit a line shot over the right field wall to win the game and I exploded from my bed, out into the hallway, waking everyone up in the process.

“This One Belongs To The Reds!” I shouted, right along with Marty. It was well past 2:00 A.M. at that point, but I didn’t care. I was grounded for two weeks after that. No friends. No tv. Lots of chores.

My parents didn’t take away my radio, though. They knew better than to do that.

As much as we like to argue about the efficacy of one player over another or a managerial decision that makes no sense to us (Bob Boone’s double switches from the early ’00s come to mind), as much as we tout the memories of Jay Bruce’s homerun in 2010, Petes hit, Tom Brownings perfect game, or even True Creatures near-perfect game, nothing has been more quintessentially “Reds” for the better part of the last 40 years than Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall sharing their thoughts and their passions about everyone’s favorite team nearly every night every summer, day after week after month after year.

I was at work when Joe Nuxhall passed away. I sat down in my cube, opened up a news site to see what had happened overnight, and there it was, the headline “Longtime Cincinnati Reds broadcaster dies right next to an ad for mattresses and a story about rising interest rates. Id heard he was sick, but I didnt realize HOW sick. All those late nights, curled up underneath my blankets, listening as the Reds fought bravely to secure a victory so we call celebrate with Martys signature phrase came flooding back. Marty and Joe had always been there, would ALWAYS be there, and the realization that it was over, that things would change and somehow lessen, was almost too much to bear.

I had to walk outside for a few minutes.

I still listen when I can. I don’t have any special internet or Sirius packages, but I can catch a signal all the way down here in Florida most nights. If the weather is clear. Marty hasn’t been the same since the ‘Ol Lefthander finally made it home after rounding third all those years. Hes still top notch. Hes still one of the greats, but there’s a certain JOY missing from the games. Still, there’s something special about hearing him call the lineups, hearing him share his stories, hoping we get to hear another Reds victory.

Marty Brennaman is Marty Brennaman, and everything else is just radio.

Marty hasn’t decided to hang it up yet, as far as I know. But it cant be too much longer. Five years? Ten? Who knows? And where will we be then? I like the Cowboy, and I think Thom Brenneman does a fine job. He sounds like his father, but he isnt the same; just like Marty hasn’t been the same without Joe.

Sooner than most of us would like to admit, Marty will no longer be the voice of the Cincinnati Reds, and with him will pass the longest era in Reds history and one of the longest in professional sports. Our hometown team has something special in Marty. He might be a bit curmudgeonly, and he might cross lines many of us with our modern sensibilities might not like, but he’s still special.

So as this next Reds season starts to ramp up, make sure to take a few moments – whether on the back porch with your favorite drink, or underneath your covers in your bedroom -to enjoy the magic a few more times.

Because once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Keep Pushing

I haven’t said anything in this space, but I applied to be a TEDx presenter a few months back. And, wonder of wonders, they didn’t reject me outright!

This would be the first time out of about nine or ten applications that I got a callback for an interview. I spoke with one of the organizers a few weeks ago, did some video recordings, and the people who make the decisions are RIGHT THIS VERY MOMENT working toward putting together that final list.

I’d love it if I could be on that stage (sometime in March), but I’m not holding my breath. These things are hard to get to, and there are a TON of good speakers out there, vying for the same spot. One of them, my good friend Michael Nunes (who pops up in my debate posts occasionally … under a different name, of course), is hoping to get the call as well.

We’ll see what happens.

It’s just a good feeling when you’ve butted your head against what feels like a brick wall for a long time and then, suddenly, there is a crack. Even if I don’t make this one, the fact that I got to interview makes me want to keep pushing.

Keep pushing at your brick walls, no matter how string they may seem. If we all keep at it, eventually, we’ll knock them down.

Empty Fields

It was a simple field. The path to it ran past my grandmother’s house, through a set of bushes and into a circular clearing behind. First base was a tree stump. Second was a raised patch of earth that kicked up dust whenever someone ran over it with a lawnmower.

We used an old glove, one we found lying underneath a rock next to a stream in the woods behind my house, for third. Home was ditch that wore thin the first couple years, then gave up on growing anything thereafter, because when you played ball as often as we did – day after week after month after year; without ceasing, even in the cold months – it tends to leave a mark.

Childhood is more powerful than Mother Nature in some ways, which is probably why it wears out quickly, and leaves such a lasting impression.

We shared a lot of great moments on that field. There were countless home runs, stolen bases, and arguments about how many ghost men were on when one of us hit the ball over the fence in right field and into Mrs. Bradenton’s back yard. We got there early and stayed all day. My Grandma made us peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. She wrote your name into the peanut butter with her finger nail so you knew THIS one was all yours.

Grandmas are good at that, aren’t they?

There was the time Sean Hinken learned to hold a pitch just so, making the ball dance like he held it on a string. Sean threw three no-hitters in a row that day, breaking Johnny Vander Meer‘s impossible-to-break streak of two. There was the time the Paoletti twins, Josh and Jeff, both chased a ball into the thicket in center field. They emerged two seconds later, a cloud of bees in their wake. And there was the time I flattened Adam Hester on a close play at home, rolling over his leg, nearly breaking it.

“Dang it, Joe! Time to lay off the Twinkies, ya think?”

Only he didn’t say, “Dang it.” Back then, we explored profanity like many of us would later explore cheap beer and frantic make-out sessions with girls. Sloppy and inartful, but electric nonetheless.

How long has it been, now? Twenty-Five years? Thirty? Some days it seems like another lifetime, and on others the memories are so close I could reach out and touch them.

You could play a game anywhere. All you needed was a bat and a ball, and few kids you might not know and would never see again. That, and a field, of course. Back then, everyone had a field. We ran games in back yards, parking lots, abandoned fields, and remote, wooded clearings.

We played little league, sure, but the Real games took place after practice, after school, away from the watchful eyes of rule keepers and score trackers. We argued over calls, close plays, and who got to be Pete Rose or Johnny Bench, knowing full well each of us planned to mimic our heroes when it was our turn to hit, regardless of who had dibs.

Nobody knew how long we’d been playing and nobody cared. There was only the game, your friends, and the desire to keep moving forward for just a few more innings before the street lights came on and everyone had to go home.

We knew our time was limited. We knew we’d grow up one day, move on, and leave these long, lazy days in the fields of our youth behind. But we also had a sense that this game we loved and these fields on which we played would pass onto the next generation. And the one after that.

Now, when I drive past the fields I played on as a kid, I don’t see baseball. I see soccer, and sometimes I see housing developments. More often than not, I see empty fields. The well-worn patches of our youth have grown over and healed, Mother Nature outlasting the same way she outlasts everyone.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. Maybe it’s because my eyesight has worsened and my knees creak when i walk. Or maybe its because even if I close my eyes tight and look to the sky I still can barely remember what it feels like to hit a ball and know, just by touch, it would sail over Mrs. Bradenton’s fence. Maybe it’s because Winter is upon us, the kids are in school, and the baseball season is over, but I wonder whether this game we all loved will indeed pass on, even to just the next generation.

Baseball will be around for a while, but will it be the same? Will it still be as good? All those empty fields make me wonder.

Next season, when the weather starts to warm, I’ll go out for a walk. I’ll find a clearing or a parking lot or an abandoned field with a few worn patches. I listen long and hard for the voices of children, kids who don’t care that the sun has set, kids who just want to get in a few more innings before the sun sets, screaming with delight: “Ghost man on second. My turn to hit. Throw me your best and watch me hit that (stuff) into the woods.”

Maybe then I’ll smile.

Merry Christmas

Twas two days before Christmas, and in the back room
I sat with my laptop In my Fruit of the Looms
Reports I did author, and published with care
In the hopes that my Inbox soon would be bare.

The children were screaming, my wife lost her head.
Because at 4:30, they’d all left their beds.
Now, at 10:30, I tilted my cap.
And leaned my chair back for a late morning nap.

When out on the lawn, there arose a big SPLAT.
I fell out of my chair, and screamed, “What was that?”
Away to the back porch I ran in a hurry.
Tripped over one child, watched the rest of them scurry.

The sun hit the gleam of the new fallen dew.
Made the yard and its contents seem shiny and new.
I thought to myself, “I’m glad we moved here.’
Then my wife said, “Come in, please. You’re half-naked, Dear.”

I looked to my left and squinted my eyes
Then stumbled straight back, with quite a surprise.
What then did my wondering gaze soon achieve?
Halfway up our tree was my drunk neighbor Steve.

He pushed on the branches, and the boughs starting swinging
Sung carols so loudly, my ears started ringing.
He rolled and he fell to the ground nice and quick.
I knew then for certain: I hated that prick.

He danced and he shook and he caused quite a scene.
Then Steve turned vomited, all chunky and green.
He rose to his feet and toward me did run.
I thought to myself, “This won’t be much fun.”

Steve said as his hair and the vomit were mixing.
“To Spread Christmas Cheer with your family, my friend!”
I said, “You dumb shit. This thing’s at an end.”

He walked up the steps, put his hand on both walls.
My foot kicked him squarely, straight in the balls.
He fell to his knees, his eyes they rolled back.
HE said, “That was hard. I felt them BOTH crack.”

AS day turned to night and his drunkness wore off
Steve reached for some Bourbon. I started to scoff.
A wink of his eye and a turn of his head
Soon gave me to know there was still much to dread

He sprang from the room and let out a whistle
Then flew from his house like the dawn of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight.

Debate: Is Profit Immoral?

Here’s a debate where a friend, Reggie, posted a meme suggesting the immorality of the profit motive in certain contexts. I took issue with it and had a fun discussion with three gentlemen – Matt, Daniel, and Eugene –  who seemed to hold the opinion that profit – either in general or in certain, wide-ranging contexts – is immoral.

As usual, names have been changed to protect the semi-innocent. If you were involved in this debate and either object to the way it is presented or would like it removed, just let me know. I’m not happy till you’re happy.

How do YOU think it went? Let me know in the comments!

Joseph E Shaw: Why must these never be operated for profit?

Reggie  (who posted the meme): Not going there, Joe, but I am sure Matt will

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Daniel: Making profit on any of these creates a conflict of interest.

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Matt: So, predictably, here I am. Like a bad penny, I just turn up everywhere. Here’s my take on it, for whatever its worth.

The reality is this; if we only have $XX available to fund schools, prisons, or healthcare, it matters not whether the responsible party is government or private. The pie is only so big.

Government is not in the business of making a profit, so they spend 100% of their funds on the service. Corporations do not. Corporations have to make a profit to satisfy shareholders, and there are only two ways to do that. They can reduce costs, or they can sell something. They do both. The service provided to prisoners, students, or patients deteriorates as they cut corners. This puts lives at risk, and for students ensures educational deficits. We see that in U.S. performance against other developed nations.

The second thing corporations do is to advertise to children, increase the costs of prescription drugs, and cut back on health care for prisoners. Phone calls in prisons are also exorbitant, as well as the cost of toiletries, which prisoners have to pay. Prisoners are also forced to work for way less than the minimum wage to finance these expenses.

The biggest problem between public and private is the motivation. Companies want to make money. As much as possible. Government does not. As a general rule. The people working for either are the same. Government employees do not hail from a different life form. Their incentives do; government employees have a job to do. Private employees have a job and have to produce profit.

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Joseph E Shaw: I’m gonna quote from your post, Matt, just so I can keep myself straight. I’ve got the SKs (Shaw Kids) jumping head at present, and I’m riddled with #ADHD

“Government is not in the business of making a profit, so they spend 100% of their funds on the service. Corporations do not.”

First … The question wasn’t whether we should have public or private schools. The question was is it wrong to profit off of education. Those are two different questions. Teachers profit individually off of education either way, as do administrative staff, and ancillary businesses like educational publishing and so on. If y’all’re gonna say it’s wrong to profit off of education, you have to include ALL profit from education, not just the ones you find easiest to demonize.(I said “demonize” with a smile and a wink…Im tryna be good natured, but I).

Outside of that, government might not turn a profit, but government will raid funds earmarked for other things (*cough* Social Security *cough*). Turning a 20% profit or funneling 20% of funds to pet projects unrelated to education has the same net effect.

Further, government does NOT spend 100% of its funds on educational services. I worked in public higher ed for 12 years. Multiple universities. The amount of organizational inefficiency in those places was so bad it makes you want to slap your Momma.

Also … it doesn’t have to be government vs corporations. There are lots of charter schools run by non-corporation private entities, churches, etc. Some run for-profit. Others are private non-profits. My kids attend a charter school. It’s the highest rated elementary school in the district.

One difference I’ve noticed about publics vs non-publics is the tendency to innovate with educational styles. My oldest son needs less structure and benefits from a Montessori style whereas SK2 needs someone standing behind him, smacking him in the head to keep him on task (The teachers keep him in line. They don’t smack him…I do, but they don’t).

I get what you’re saying, Michael. You think public education takes money that would have otherwise gone to profits and puts that to the benefit of the students. Right? Im not trying to belittle your point, but I’m not sure that’s the case. I think some private models can drive innovation and efficiency better than publics, and therefore make up the cost differential.

“The service provided to prisoners, students, or patients deteriorates as they cut corners.”

You think people don’t cut corners or face funding issues in governmental orgs? Are govt employees all angels in your view?

“We see that in U.S. performance against other developed nations.”

If the US Educational system is largely public, how does the lack of performance compared to the rest of the world impugn a profit and not the prevailing, non-profit, public model?

“The second thing corporations do is to advertise to children”

Something that already happens in public schools.

“The biggest problem between public and private is the motivation. Companies want to make money. As much as possible. Government does not.”

This is a restatement of the original question, not an explanation. I asked why it was wrong to profit off of these things (primarily education), and what you say here is essentially that people who want to make money off of education should not be able to do so because they want to make money off of education. That doesn’t explain anything.

What you have here is the inherent assumption, made by many who claim Socialism (which I do not.use as a pejorative, by the way) or tend toward that ideology – that profits are inherently bad and greed is not only a problem of only the free market economies, it is the driving motivation.

That’s a BIG assumption, and a false one at that.

“The people working for either are the same. Government employees do not hail from a different life form. Their incentives do; government employees have a job to do. Private employees have a job and have to produce profit.”

Yes, and it is that lack of safety net – that “provide value or lose your job” mentality – that drives efficiency and innovation. Its only when the incentive crosses thebline to Greed that things go south. But greed exists everywhere. As you said, the people working for either are the same.

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Joseph E Shaw: Hey Daniel. How is it a conflict of interest?

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Daniel: All three provide a conflict of interest. For example, why would pharmaceutical firms develop medications that cure diseases? If profit dictates what is developed, it would be in their best interest to develop new diseases and viral strains and then develop medications that leave one dependent for life. Cancer is a prime example. Pharmaceutical firms charge upwards of $1,000 per dose for chemotherapy drugs. They would be stupid to find a cure when they can milk the insurance companies and patients at these rates. The Epi-pen is another example. They charge upwards of $600 for a 20 cent dose of epinephrine, a drug that has been artificially synthesized for over 114 years. Do you remember Primatene Mist? It was the same drug but sold for $8.00 for 160+ doses. It was removed from the market because of CFC’s in the propellant. It has taken them over 7 years to get FDA approval for the non-CFC propellant version. Maybe Pfizer (maker of the epi pen)paid the FDA to slow the approval process for Amphastar (Primatene) so that they can enrich themselves with these exuberant profit margins? When profits are what is sought by these companies, anything goes. The monopolies are out of control and anybody that is against all this corporate greed and corruption is called a socialist. I disagree.

Private prisons? Now we have private corporations that are profiting from the incarceration, abuse and enslavement of the human species. You don’t see the conflict? If a company like GEO pays judges (under the table) to send more people to prison, you don’t think that it might effect their judgement? How about the police force that arrests people for petty misdemeanors and turn them into felonies. How about repeat offender laws? A driving on a suspended license charge is a misdemeanor. Have 3 within a five year period, that now becomes a felony warranting prison time. Now, let’s suspend people’s license for not paying a fine….no moving violation…just a fine…like a ticket for driving on a suspended license. Now we have essentially created a debtor’s prison which is supposed to be banned but somehow by twisting the laws we have made it happen. Now, they can sell the slave labor to Dept. of Transportation. D.O.T. will pay $10.00/hr to the private prison per man hour. Now they can profit from human slavery. Currently, the state gets the profit. They already rape the prisoners on phone calls and canteen. When profitability is the goal of incarceration, then justice can not be served. It is quite creepy, when you really think about it.

What is the goal with education? To make sure students learn or to make money? If your priority is profit, then the teaching of our children becomes an afterthought. Children that are not blessed with well to do parents have to remain uneducated. It is NOT ok that children that want an education have to be tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands in debt before they even have a job. That is fu. Especially, when other countries, like Germany, provide FREE education and post graduate studies as well as trade schools.

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Joseph E Shaw: The SKS’s are no longer jumping on my head, but they might as well be. I’mma quote you here, too, so I can keep my head on straight. I mean no disrespect by it. If I miss something, please let me know.

“Why would pharmaceutical firms develop medications that cure diseases?”

Because there are people who want medications that cure diseases.

“If profit dictates what is developed,”

The market dictates what is developed.

“it would be in their best interest to develop new diseases and viral strains and then develop medications that leave one dependent for life.”

People don’t want to buy that.

“Cancer is a prime example. Pharmaceutical firms charge upwards of $1,000 per dose for chemotherapy drugs. They would be stupid to find a cure when they can milk the insurance companies and patients at these rates.”

If you had Cancer, and one pharmaceutical company offered you a chemo pill for $1000, and another company offered you a cure for $2500, which would you purchase?

“The Epi-pen is another example. They charge upwards of $600 for a 20 cent dose of epinephrine, a drug that has been artificially synthesized for over 114 years. “

Yes. That’s what happens when one company (Mylan) has a monopoly. Monopolies are bad. It’s not profit that caused this. It’s a lack of competition and excessive regulation.

“When profits are what is sought by these companies, anything goes.”

When there is no competiton, anything goes. Profit + competition lowers prices. As new companies enter the market, watch as prices plummet.

“The monopolies are out of control”

Which monopolies?

“anybody that is against all this corporate greed and corruption is called a socialist. “

By whom?

“Private prisons? Now we have private corporations that are profiting from the incarceration, abuse and enslavement of the human species. You don’t see the conflict?”

No. Incarceration happens all the time. Abuse and enslavement are illegal. Abuse and enslavement are not a necessary result of profit. If there are companies out there enslaving and abusing prisoners, they should be shut down for breaking the law.

“If a company like GEO pays judges (under the table) to send more people to prison, you don’t think that it might effect their judgement?”

Once again…you are describing an illegal activity, not a function of profit.

“How about the police force that arrests people for petty misdemeanors and turn them into felonies.”

Another illegal activity that has nothing to do with profit.

[…you included lots more stuff that has nothing to do with profit…]

“When profitability is the goal of incarceration, then justice can not be served.”

If the government AND THE POPULACE was not already willing to turn a blind eye to these illegal miscarriages of justice, what you describe would not happen.

“What is the goal with education?”

To teach kids. Also: To teach adults. Also: To keep people from wandering around the streets all day, but mostly to teach people.

“If your priority is profit, then the teaching of our children becomes an afterthought.”

Why? Why does including profit necessarily make it the priority?

“Children that are not blessed with well to do parents have to remain uneducated.”

That’s b.s. i grew up on welfare. So did most of my friends. We are all educated.

“It is NOT ok that children that want an education have to be tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands in debt before they even have a job.”

They don’t have to be. They can pursue part time schooling. They can pursue careers that cover the cost of tuition. They are not forced to take out $100K loans for a degree in lesbian dance theory.

That’s not the result of profit. That’s the result of bad decision-making.

“Especially, when other countries, like Germany, provide FREE education and post graduate studies as well as trade schools.”

Germany provides free education? How do they pay their professors? Their administrators? Who pays to keep the lights on and heat during those cold, German winters?

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Joseph E Shaw:

Joseph E Shaw:

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Daniel: I like the kid, but he isn’t sharp enough to get that old, greedy fu%$. Please, Mr. Friedman, with all due respect, do not rephrase my question. It is not the value of a human life that Ford put in their calculation but rather the fact that Ford knowingly built a defective vehicle, that will explode upon impact. The customer had no knowledge of this defect and was not told that they would have an additional one percent of risk of death to save $13.00. Gtfoh. Why didn’t Ford add the protective cap for the gas tank as an option? For $26.00. I, for one do not know a single person who would not take the $26.00 option. Hmmm…let me risk an untimely demise to save $26.00. Not happening. Why not just add it to the price and eliminate the risk? People take ideologies to extremes where they lose all their common sense.

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Joseph E Shaw: Let’s not devolve into name-calling here. The Nobe lPrize-winning Dr Friedman passed a long time ago. It seems rather disrespectful to refer to him as a greedy f*** when he is not here to defend himself,especially if you have no reason or evidence to make such crass conclusions.

 The point Dr. Friedman was trying to make was not that Fordwas making a business decision, but rather that the student’s argument was based not on principle, but on a subjective, fiscal opinion about where to draw the line when it comes to the cost valuation of human life. And you’re doing the same thing.

 It’s easy to say, with the benefit of hindsight, that they should have spent the extra $20 if it meant they would save lives. But Real Life™ isn’t always as easy as our theoretical ponderings. There are a lot of unknowns here. What was the statistical variance in the likelihood of death between the two scenarios? Was it that 1 out of every 200,000,000 Pintos will explode if you add this $20 part, but 1 out of every three will explode if they don’t? And did the executives say “You know what? Screw those people. I want to save $20!” Or was it more like there is a 0.049% chance someone will die with the better part and a 0.051% chance they will die without it? Was adding the part a simple process of sticking that new part into place, or would adding the part halt production so the line could be re-engineered? That’s WICKED expensive when car manufacturers have to do that. And when did they know? Hadthey already built and sold 250,000 cars when it became apparent the tiny part was a problem, or did they know from the start?

 These contextual issues change our understanding of the situation somewhat because the truth is EVERY decision we make EVERY day carries with it a small amount of risk. If I decide to drive on the highway instead of the back road to get to work, there is a higher likelihood I will get into an accident. If I push out some code at work (I’m a programmer) that isn’t 100% validated and tested, there is a risk that something bad could happen in my applications further on down the line. How much of that risk am willing to accept to meet deadlines at work or get where I’m going on time? We make trade offs. Everyone does.

Even businesses make trade offs. Every time there’s an airline crash and they search through the wreckage to find the black box,someone says, “Why don’t they make the plane out of the stuff they use to make the black box?” and everyone laughs. The reality, as Dr. Friedman pointed out, is that airline and car manufacturers CAN build their cars and planes in such away that the probability of death is very minute, but if they did that, only Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg could afford to drive and fly. So they take what they believe are acceptable risks in order to cut costs the same way you might decide driving through that 25mph zone at 45 is an acceptable risk to get where you want to go on time.

If we’re going to argue – as both you and the young man from the video appear to do – that $20 clearly indicates culpability on the part of Ford,what we’re saying is the government can step in and say that $XXX is where wedraw the line for the cost of life when it comes to determining corporate culpability, which is not the kind of deciding power either of us (or eithe rthe kid or Dr. Friedman from the video) wants to give to the government or a corporation. IF, however, we decide on principle, we should say that businesses are free to make their products as risky or as safe as they like and the market is free to purchase those products, so long as they understand the risks. Dr.Friedman backs this up by saying the courts exist to determine fines and legal ramifications for companies like Ford who hide damning information from the public, and these courts are a welcome and necessary part of a free market, capitalist system.

This completely undermines everything the kid has to say.    

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