Monday, December 29, 2008

Our Christmas

LETTER TO THE ROXBURGH HOTEL, EDINBURGH



Dear Sir/Madam,

I recently returned from a 3-night Christmas break at the Roxburghe hotel with my parents and husband. My experience was so incredibly disappointing and so far removed from the promises made in your marketing, that I felt I had to write you a letter requesting some kind of refund on behalf of my mother, Pauline Carter, who booked the stay.

First of all, let me say that my family and I are very well traveled and have stayed at literally hundreds of hotels across the world in the last 20 years. We have had the pleasure of enjoying small, boutique hotels and large, all-inclusive resorts, and have eaten at local family-run establishments as well as 5 star, gourmet restaurants.

So, when your website and marketing materials promised a (and I quote) “traditional Scottish Christmas” in one of your “sumptuous” properties, enjoying “the finest food and great entertainment”, our expectations were, understandably, set pretty high. Further, when the Roxburghe sent us our package of information containing beautiful, slick marketing materials and itinerary containing such words as “gourmet” and “luxury”, we were very excited.

Unfortunately, the reality was far from sumptuous or gourmet. Allow me to beak it down for you, day by excruciating day:

Christmas Eve

Our much anticipated Christmas Eve dinner in the George Suite began with a trip across the street in our finest party wear, freezing cold, as the fire alarm interrupted us placing our order. Apparently a hair dryer was the culprit.

Twenty minutes later, when we were allowed to return to our seats, we were disappointed to note the lack of decoration in the room. A single, slightly leaning 5ft Christmas tree with minimal decoration stood at the front. The only other sign that this was a festive occasion were table crackers at each place setting – crackers which contained such “luxury” delights as one inch square plastic tree decorations that could have been purchased from the local pound store. Otherwise, one could have mistaken this Christmas Eve dinner for one on any other night of the year.

Your Christmas Carolers failed to show up at 8:30pm and so we were left to dine in complete silence, with only the sound of a crying baby at the next table and the clink-clink of silverware on plates in the hushed room. Nobody came up to make an announcement that the carolers would not be arriving, or approached us to apologize, and no other background music was provided to accompany our meal.

At the end of our meal we ordered coffee and were astonished to be warned (in no uncertain terms) by our waitress that coffee would be extra. She repeated this to us twice to ensure that we would be willing to pay two pounds seventy five pence each for the pleasure. Why, for the sake of eleven pounds for four people, you couldn’t just have included this in the price of the break, I don’t know. Of course, we didn’t have any money on us because we had already pre-paid for dinner through our package with you. So, we asked if we could charge the coffee to our room. We were then asked for our cardboard “ticket” in order to do so. We had no idea what the waitress was talking about and she made a big deal out of the fact that we should have received this ticket upon check-in and should have been told to walk around with it when in the hotel. (No such conversation took place at check-in.) When we finally convinced her we couldn’t produce the ticket and were not going to get up before our meal was over and traipse upstairs to rifle through our room to find this mysterious “ticket”, she agreed to charge to our room with a signature, all the time mumbling about how she “wasn’t supposed to be doing this”. It seemed like such a huge hassle - and all for four cups of coffee and eleven pounds when we were paying hundreds of dollars for the whole trip!

Christmas Day

Despite the previous night’s problems, we were still in good spirits for our champagne breakfast and “gourmet” Christmas Lunch in your Melrose restaurant.

Breakfast:

Unfortunately, no champagne or “Bucks Fizz” was offered to us, the fruit juice was warm, and the scrambled eggs wet and cold.

Lunch @ 2pm:

Again, we were sad to see a complete lack of Christmas decoration throughout the restaurant. Aside from the Christmas Crackers again, there was little-to-no sign that today was Christmas Day. We again dined in relative silence with no background music or entertainment.

While we were certainly in no hurry, the pacing of our meal and the service provided was definitely not reflective of a “gourmet” or “luxury” experience. Our main course took a ridiculous 90 minutes to arrive - even with an appetizer and other small plates to try and fill the time, it was an excruciatingly long wait with hard-to-find, inattentive service – it was difficult to even get a drink of water. We received our starter after 30 minutes (in itself a long wait), it then took a further 40 minutes to deliver some horrible small-plate scallop concoction, and another 20 minutes for the main course. When the main course did arrive, it was ridiculously skimpy, stewed, and over-cooked. The turkey was dry, the gravy was thin and runny, and each plate seemed to be on a war rationing for potatoes and vegetables - only one small roast potato and one slice of each vegetable per plate. Everything was luke warm. Sorry but just piling everything ‘artfully’ on the plate and making the serving small does not a gourmet meal make.

With desert and coffee (included this time), we didn’t get out of the restaurant until gone 4pm. Unfortunately, if it was even screened, we missed the Queen’s Speech in your lounge that your brochure made so much of.

Christmas Eve buffet dinner was billed as being with “entertainment”. Of course, by this point we were not expecting much, and you didn’t disappoint. “Entertainment” in this case was a pensioner playing the keyboard… poorly. While this did finally classify as “background music”, entertainment it was not. Further, hot food on the buffet was almost cold and some plates in the buffet line were dirty.

Sipping hot chocolate at 11pm in the Melrose lounge, we were again treated to another fire alarm evacuation. This time we were told it was “dust” in the leisure suite (!?)

Boxing Day

No breakfast was available until the brunch buffet at 11am. Before 11am we either had to pay more for a warm breakfast, or had to sit in the freezing atrium to serve ourselves coffee and a dried-up pastry.

Brunch was the final straw.

We arrived for the 11am brunch at 11:15am. When we got to the buffet line the plates were dirty again. After sorting through 15-20 plates, all of which contained dried-up food from a previous service on top and bottom, we instilled the help of a server. He then went through the entire stack of 30+ plates to find two clean ones. At this point we finally approached the on-duty manager to complain. Although he said he would take care of it, he didn’t seem shocked or appalled and no apology was provided. While my husband and I moved on to get food, my parents and others behind them in line were left to wait while the manager came back with clean plates.

Getting into the buffet line with our two clean plates, only the breakfast half of the buffet line was ready. The other half of the line was empty. So, we took just the breakfast items and went back to our table. Unfortunately, the scrambled eggs, sausages, and bacon we picked up were already wet, cold and inedible. In the time it had taken us to find a clean plate and get our food, the toast had been delivered to our table by the server and was already cold. We considered going back into the long line for the now-arrived roast items but, upon seeing an extremely rare piece of thick-cut beef being pushed around on the plate at an unenthusiastic fellow diner’s table, we decided to just give up.

It was at this point that my mother was so upset that she decided to try and speak with your manager about our experiences thus far. Having paid hundreds of pounds to take us all away on a luxury break for the Christmas holiday (and foregoing presents in the process) she was almost in tears that everything had been so disappointing. I’ll address this exchange later in this letter – yes, even this warrants a complaint.

At 2pm we headed-out to our pre-booked pantomime. I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised to find out that our seats were in the one-before-last row of the theatre – all the way at the top. The face value on our tickets was twelve pounds and we found out that better seats would only have been three pounds more each. Given that this was supposed to be a “luxury” break at a top-notch hotel (with a price to match), one could be forgiven for thinking that the hotel would take care of its guests and leverage its collective group buying power to at least get us decent seats. It was so hot up at the top of the theatre that I almost fainted. Honestly, we would much rather have booked the seats ourselves and paid a higher face value, rather than be short-changed by the hotel trying to up their profit margin on the cost of our Christmas package.

By this time we had pretty much given up on the Roxburghe and decided to skip your Boxing Day dinner to find an open local establishment that could perhaps deliver on better service and quality of food. Ironically, we ended up in a pub on Rose Street that provided us with the best meal of our entire stay. It wasn’t fancy and didn’t claim to be gourmet but it was served in a reasonable amount of time, the servers were friendly and attentive, the background music was Christmassy, and the food was warm, simple, and delicious.

Yes, your four star hotel was upstaged by a pub food. I hope you feel the same way about this as we do – disgusted, over-charged and horribly disappointed.

Final comment on Boxing Day: upon check-in we were asked if we would like to receive a newspaper on Boxing Day morning, and if so which one. We ordered a Daily Mail for both rooms. Only one newspaper was delivered and then only just before noon. When my mother went down to the front desk to ask for her copy, instead of receiving an apology and a newspaper immediately, your representative argued with her about ever having ordered one in the first place, and then made a big deal about going to the concierge to remedy the situation. My mother was so embarrassed, she told the girl to forget it and walked away.

Final morning… the 27th

My parents requested a wake-up call at 5am. 5am came and went. At 5:30am the phone rang for their wake-up call. My Dad looked at the clock and asked the gentleman what time he had ordered the call. He confirmed 5am but simply said, without apology, that he had “missed the slot” and was calling now – 30 minutes late. Further, when my parents came down to the front desk to settle their bill, they asked to confirm the taxi they had booked for 6:30am the night before. The concierge told them that, because the hotel had failed to wake them up at the right time, he had called the cab company and asked the taxi to come 15 minutes later! Unfortunately, they failed to call our airline to ask them to hold them plane also. Unbelievable!



In addition to the above day-by-day disappointments, we would also like to share with you some other feedback about the general quality of care and service we received during our stay:

Rooms

Despite the recent remodel, the rooms were dark and poorly lit with such small windows and inadequate lighting that it was all but impossible to read in your room.

The showers and sinks had a life of their own. It was impossible for any of us in either of our two rooms to have a shower with constant temperature. Despite my consistent efforts to carefully moderate it, the shower would fluctuate wildly from freezing cold to scalding hot, causing me to jump away from the water several times during a shower just to avoid first degree burns (this experience was shared by all four of us each time we showered.) On several occasions during our stay in both rooms, we turned on the cold tap in the sink only to be met with warm water. Despite letting the water run for several minutes, it never cooled down and we were forced to brush our teeth with warm water.

The satellite or cable service on the television also went in and out all the time, interrupting service for 2-3 seconds at a time, several times an hour. The bedside light on one side of our bed would turn off and on sporadically for no reason we could discern.

Service

Service in all your restaurants and lounges was slow and sub-par for a four star hotel. It often took 10-15 minutes to get a server to take your order in the Melrose lounge and a further 15-20 minutes just to get a cup of coffee or hot chocolate delivered – even though the area was all but deserted. Of course, you’ve already read about our specific experiences at different meal times.

All servers were sullen, unwelcoming and clearly poorly trained. They failed to smile and greet us upon first introduction, didn’t get simple drink orders right and were obviously nervous and uncertain of themselves, their hands shaking as they placed coffee cups, glasses, or plates on the table. Between courses they were all but invisible – they didn’t check on us to see if we needed anything, nor did they scan the room as they paced briskly around with their heads down, meaning it was hard to catch their eye when we did need something. They frequently leaned across each of us at the table to deliver food or drinks. Wine glasses were not removed from the table when it was established that wine was not needed, meaning that we counted 12 unused glasses on our table during meals (white wine, red wine, and water for each of the four of us). Servers had trouble finding places on the table for the drinks and food we did order.

Based upon a conversation we had with an Australian waitress working for room and board on our first evening, it appears that the explanation for this poor service may be that many of your regular staff were off for Christmas, replaced instead by inexperienced temporary workers. This in itself is troubling – why host (and charge for) a luxury Christmas break if you do not have the staff to cater to the guests you book at the standard your have claimed to provide?

On-Duty Manager

I mentioned earlier that my mother and father attempted to speak with your Manager about our experiences. Both the Hotel Manager and the Under Manager were both on holiday for Christmas (presumably like the rest of the regular staff) so they were directed to the “on duty” manager. Unfortunately, both of my parents came away from that conversation more angry and upset than when they began.

Not only did your on duty manager have the audacity to argue every single one of their points, he openly doubted their assertions about such things as the water in the shower and the dirty plates at brunch. He told them that nobody else had complained and generally attempted to play down their concerns. No apology was offered for their distress during the course of the conversation and, as of the date of this letter, their concerns were never followed-up on by the management team there.

General Ambience

No Christmas carols playing. Sullen, untrained and unhelpful staff. Low-key festive decorations throughout the hotel… generally the feeling of “Christmas” was absent. This in and of itself was so incredibly disappointing to us.



As you can tell from the litany of problems we experienced during our stay, we were more than disappointed with the Roxburghe hotel. Your hotel questionnaire asked if we had been made to feel “special” during our stay and nothing could be further from the truth. All of these issues put together would have been upsetting enough on any holiday experience but given that they happened at Christmas, the disappointment and sadness is only more so.

My family and I forewent our usual Christmas presents and festivities to pay for what was promised to be a “luxury”, “traditional” Christmas with the Roxburghe, and neither was delivered. We cannot re-create our Christmas but hopefully you and your management team can provide some kind of monetary compensation for all that was lacking.

I look forward to your favourable response.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Scam or Identity Theft?

I just got a call on my cell phone from someone claiming to be from the "DCS", a collection agency for delinquent student loans. He said that my account was about to be sent for wage garnishment due to non payment of $12,900.

He had my name (first and last) but obviously, I told him that he had to have the wrong person, given that all my schooling happened in another country. He asked me for the last four digits of my social security number to confirm my identity but I refused to provide that over the phone. He then said that, without a way to confirm that he had the right/wrong person, I would be liable for the balance. I still refused and told him that, if they had the right person, they would have my address on file and could communicate with me in writing regarding this issue but I was not providing any personal information over the phone.

At the time all I heard in my head was "scam" but now I'm off the phone I'm wondering if my identity has been stolen and someone has run-up student loans in my name. However, how would they then have my cell-phone number?
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EDITED TO ADD:

Verdict: SCAM in order to steal identity.

http://www.ripoffreport.com/reports/0/142/RipOff0142115.htm

Never the less, I plan to keep my eye on my credit report.

Monday, December 15, 2008

3 Breakages, 2 Dinners and a Party

That was the story of my busy weekend.

FRIDAY: Friday evening we spent with our friends Mala and Shomeek, scoffing down delicious home-cooked Indian food. There was some out of this world ground lamb (or beef? I think lamb... Mala can correct me on here), some full-of-flavor rice, and this coconut green-bean concoction that had me literally swooning. Yummy! Thanks Mala!

SATURDAY: Saturday evening we had our 2nd Christmas Party. Yes, I know, I complained that we only had one party to go to this season but it turns out there are three and this was number two. Still no martinis though, so overall enjoyment was somewhat blunted.

SUNDAY: Sunday was a day of breakages.

First there was the DVD player in our family room. Right after I passed up a killer deal in Target in the name of watching my pennies - a $39 upconvert DVD player - my 2nd-hand $25 DVD player finally gave up the goat and decided not to open any more. I think the motor that powers the eject button is done. So, no Polar Express for me while I cooked Shepherd's Pie. :o(

Second, there was the casualty of the cooking process - the glass jar for my blender. It usually resides on my lazy susan and somehow the handle got turned to the outside, meaning that as I turned the table to get to my mixing bowl, it caught the opening of the cupboard and fell on the tile floor, shattering into a thousand, thick glass pieces.

Finally, just as I was sitting down to enjoy the fruits of my labor, I broke the little toe on my right foot. We only have four dining chairs and, with 5 people at the table, I opted to sit on the stool I use for my keyboard. In my eagerness to sidle-up to the table and start downing my shepherds pie, I scooted the stool forward, lifting it up slightly and then putting it down with the full force of my pregnant body right on top of my right toe. There was a crack and a sinking feeling in my stomach as I realized what I had most probably done. I bit my lip until I finished my plate and then stood up - OUCH!

This isn't the first time that I have broken that toe. The last time was about 9 years ago in a drunken stupor, smacking it right into the corner of a wall. Like an idiot (not realizing the depth of the damage), I then put on high-heeled shoes and went to a party for 4 hours. When I woke up in the morning, groggy and hung-over, I thought someone had replaced my right little toe with a blood sausage. It really looked like it had been murdered. It was blue and purple all over. I couldn't walk on it for weeks. That one stupid toe had me limping around like I broke my entire foot.

This time, I'm a little older, a little wiser, and a little more responsible. (Also, there was the tell-tale "crack" to clue me in). I iced my toe all night and, this morning, although it hurts like HELL, it's nowhere near as bad as last time and I can at least walk on it (in a fashion).

So, that was my weekend. Let's hope the week holds a little more luck!

Monday, December 08, 2008

HAD TO post this

Found via friends on FaceBook. I thought this was brilliant. Enjoy!


See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

A good weekend

I had a good weekend.

It started on Friday night with "Date Night", a luxury of the still-childless. Dinner at Carvers restaurant and then a trip to the movies to see Australia. (Quick movie review - a tad formulaic and OTT but entertaining.)

Saturday morning I had to get up early to go for coffee with a Danish girl and a French girl. I don't think I've mentioned this before but in November I became a volunteer for an organization called EurAuPair, a company which helps U.S. families offer European girls the opportunity to live and study in America for a year, in exchange for in-home child-care. It's a pretty common thing in Europe but hasn't really caught on outside of the big cities in the U.S. As a Community Counselor for the Sacramento Region, I am the liason for the three local host families and their AuPairs. Every month I call the host family to ensure they are happy with their match and meet with the AuPairs as a group, to ensure they are getting the most from their experience. As someone who knows a little something about what it feels like to be a teenager from Europe in the U.S. alone, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for me to meet new people in the community and indulge my travel/culture lust.

So Saturday was my first AuPair get-together. We kept it simple for our first 'getting to know one-another' session and went to Starbucks, especially since one of the three girls (a German) could not join us this month. I was a little apprehensive about how it would go, given that this is the first time they have met me or each other and that English is a second language for both of them. I mentally made a list of questions to ask them about their experience with their host families, about their homes, their interests, and their impressions of the U.S. I also set a conservative time limite of 45 minutes to an hour for the meeting, in case we ran out of things to talk about.

I needn't have worried. Both girls were outgoing, talkative, and speak wonderful English (putting my high-school French to shame.) We had trouble cutting it short at 90 minutes!

Kim is from a small town in Denmark but was adopted from Korea by her parents when she was 10 months old. She is staying with a Jewish family with two children. Sabrina is from Paris but her cultural heritage is from Algeria and she is a Muslim. She is staying with a Indian Hindu family with four children.

So, sitting around the table we had:

- A Korean Dutch girl living with a Jewish family in the U.S.
- An Algerian-French muslim girl living with a Hindu, Indian family in the U.S.
- and me... a Brit/American.

I mean, how cool is that??? Talk about the meeting of cultures!

We did talk a lot about their home countries and how they compared to their experience in America. I asked them what the most surprising thing about the U.S. was and they both answered the same: "Everything is so BIG! Houses, cars, streets, stores... everything!" If you've been to Europe, you've probably had the reverse experience ("Everything is so small!") so you can probably relate. If you haven't been to Europe, the one thing that is so visually striking between the two continents is the difference between a large, geographically rich country that has developed rapidly in the last 200 years, using more advanced planning techniques and a bunch of little countries with limited space, having developed, higgledy-piggledy like a scrabble board, through thousands of years of religious, cultural, industrial, and technological revolutions. When you visit the U.S. for the first time, it really is the first thing that hits you.

As I said, we talked for 90 minutes and I had a great time learning about their lives back home as well as their plans for the future. It's strange but, although Brits don't really think of themselves as "European" (it's a reverse snobbishness we posess), there definitely were mind-set and experiential similarities between myself and the girls. Little things that you find it hard to put your finger on that always leave me feeling just a hair detatched from Americans sometimes, seemed to come more easily with these girls. We immediately connected and now I'm really excited to see them every month. Who knows, I may end up with a ton of friends scattered around Europe as a result of this! I could cavort around Europe, visiting them and getting insider-tours of European cities and towns. I mean, this really could not be any more 'up my alley' (Britishism) if it tried.

So that was Saturday morning.

The rest of Saturday was pretty chill, doing a little shopping with Hubby and pushing through some of the dreaded laundry as he worked on the nursery. Then, Saturday night we had our one-and-only Christmas party of the season - the party for Joss' office at his manager's house. Of course, I relished my one pre-Christmas opportunity to dress up and had gone out and bought a cute maternity dress. See here...


The party was fun, although somewhat tempered by my inability to sip on a cocktail or two. I did have Hubby pour me half a glass of white wine but it was a tad warm for my tastes and I had trouble getting through half of it. I did get my first snide comment about drinking while pregnant, however. One of Joss' agent friends greeted me by asking me how my wine was. Sounds innocent enough, but tone and the look in his eyes said it all. I replied, with a smile, that it was delicious and asked if I could pour him one too. He and his wife continued to eye me suspiciously for the rest of the night even though I switched to coke early on. Perhaps they thought I spiked it with rum (God, that would have been nice) or were busy 'tsking' me for all the sugar and caffeine I was consuming. Honestly, I give it a big, Valley-Girl, 'Whatever!' My choices, their problem.

Now to Sunday. Sunday morning started with the usual coffee, newspaper and political stimulation via 'This Week with George Stephanopolous' (sigh, my 'other' husband). More laundry, more working on the baby's room, writing Christmas cards etc...

Then in the late afternoon I jumped in the car and headed down to Elk Grove to visit my friend, Joy, for our annual screening of our Christmas favorite "Love Actually". If there's one thing that can really get me in the mood for Christmas, its that movie. Set in London, British humor, British pop music, and a series of parallel storylines that ooze the 'real meaning' of Christmas; it really puts joy in my heart every time I watch it.

We had a great time watching the movie, although we had to fast-forward through the porn scenes for the benefit of Joy's 4-year old daughter. I also had lots of smooches and cuddles with Gabriel, Joy's 8-month old son who sat in the corner of the sofa contentedly, sucking on Cheerios or banging away at some toys. He's just so chunky and cuddly and chill, full of giggles and smiles. It was good for my soul to realize that my son or daughter will be his age next Christmas. I found myself finally thinking about the fun side of parenting as we cuddled-up and watched the movie together.

Thanks Joy for putting the "Joy" of Christmas AND parenting in my heart!

And with that my weekend was over.

Nursery is almost together. Decorating is done (Hubby did a great job) and crib and changing tables are up (but not in place). We just have to get a fan put in the ceiling, get the blinds cut, hem the curtains, and buy a side-table... then we'll be "done, done". I'll be sure to post pics when complete.

And now back to the grindstone. Just under 2 weeks to go before I head back to London for Christmas. Can't wait!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Does this sound like ME?

Got an email this morning from the President of the company I used to work for - I'm still somewhat affiliated with them and still get staff/HR-type emails.

The email invited me to complete a Core Capacities Index evaluation. Since I love personality tests, I jumped right online and did mine.

Here are the results. I'm interested to see if you think it's an accurate description of me. I won't be insulted either way. Just curious how accurate these things are.

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Your Personal Core Capacities Index Results


To describe your unique recipe of Core Capacities, we use a set of four metaphors that correspond to the following foundational Core Capacities:


Builder: Power
Merchant: Inspiration
Innovator: Wisdom
Banker: Knowledge

These metaphors serve as a language to help us describe the characteristics of each Core Capacity. Arranged in a quadrant configuration, the scores in each quadrant give you a quick 'snapshot' of your Core Capacities:



Your Personal Core Capacities IndexTM Snapshot

Your scores indicate you have Merchant/Innovator tendencies.

Your Merchant capacities are balanced by your Innovator secondary capacity set. Your actions are routinely, almost equally, guided by these two capacity sets. In times of distress you will usually rely on the conflict strategies of your dominant capacity set. In less critical conflicts you may use either strategy given the situation.


Your unique dominant Merchant Capacity Set causes you to rely on the following strategies for success and fulfillment:

Your cornerstone core capacity is Inspiration. You are committed to giving and receiving inspiration in all its forms. You are constantly working to know and understand the truth about yourself and others.

You are willing to put yourself at risk in thought and action. Your commitment to others and to your own life is an encouragement to others. You have the ability to help people feel hopeful and courageous. It is important for you to see people and things as they really are. Something new and inspiring everyday is the spice of your life. You seldom feel defeated; You see good potential in most situations. Charm and enthusiasm are part of your arsenal for success. Too much formality is boring and restrictive. You like to trust people and to share yourself with them freely. You enjoy lots of different people and activities. You like a new charge in your life and you like to be the charge in the lives of others. You thrive on new opportunities, especially if you participate in creating the change process. Free and open discussion is a major element in your leadership style. You have a natural enthusiasm and like to be in situations that are fully engaging and energized. Motivating others with your visions and ideas is very satisfying. Making presentations puts zest in your life. You like to work and others enjoy working with you. A core strategy for you is to work effectively with others. Share your knowledge and information with others; You enjoy it and others appreciate it. No potential plan, idea or possibility gets by you. You want to receive good rewards and appreciation for time and energy spent. Nothing feels right when the people you value are distant or are in conflict. You enjoy being a bright light in your world.

Your unique secondary Innovator Capacity Set supports your dominant Merchant Capacity Set.

Your cornerstone core capacity is Wisdom. Understanding and compassion are central to your life strategy.

You pride yourself in seeing and understanding people and situations. You see and understand the relative worth of people and things. Strategic thinking is your forte. Development of effective responses to situations is one of your primary contributions. Seeing potential and opportunity is a primary talent. You strive to cause people and things to function well together. To invent new systems, processes and things is pure pleasure. You like to maintain a good mix of people, activities and things in your life. You like to communicate with visuals and descriptions. You have wit and creativity in your thinking. You enjoy helping people and things work well and consistently together. You never quit. Rapid and clever exchange of ideas is a personal joy and a method of work for you. You prefer to lead people by helping them remember agreements and commitments. You like to consider all the options. Your tastes are varied and diverse. Finding the best solution is one of your primary contributions. You are able to see the ways things are, and you know what to do about it. You are seen as a valuable resource for leading people toward the right ideas and the right direction. Understanding others and working with them is a key asset of yours. You use everything that is available to meet requirements.

Your third level Builder Capacity Set gives you the ability to respond appropriately to a broad spectrum of situations.

Your cornerstone core capacity is Power, the application of pure energy for Good. This primary driver is supported by a strong faith in your own ability to know what to do, your faith that your actions are for the Good, and your faith that once you create change, you will know what to do next.

Your Builder capacities are strong enough to bring balance into your life. Learning to shift your strategy to this capacity set in times of high opportunity or during conflicts will contribute significantly to your success.

Accomplishing tasks now is a primary drive for you. You are practical and willing to face the truth. You pride yourself in knowing what to do. Whatever you do, you do without much hesitation. You act as soon as you know what to do. You like to own those things that are important to you. You are strongly self-motivated. You value straight talk and frank discussion. Things go best for you when you have responsibility for results. Starting new projects and ventures makes you happy. You like to set things in motion. You make up your mind quickly and intuitively. If you can, you deal with things one at a time. You are not afraid to bring things to an end; When you're done, you're done. It is important for you to show good results for invested energy. People work harder and more things happen when you set the pace. There are few situations in which you feel inadequate. You use your power, physical and personal, to get what you want.

Your fourth level Banker Capacity Set gives you the opportunity to live a balanced and successful life.

You do not rely significantly on Banker capacities to create success.

You like to be the one who knows; being right and being able to prove it is important to you. Your knowledge is generally available to others. You care deeply when situations or the behaviors of people are unfair, or when your knowledge is used incorrectly by others. You like to understand the details of situations and issues. It is important to reduce possible risks by questioning decisions and plans. You enjoy being the source of information and proven methodology. Once started, you don't give up easily. The reliability of your words and actions is critical to your sense of self respect. You surround yourself with facts, figures and data. When things get messy, you may get testy.

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Your Personal Core Capacities Index Scores

For decades, quadrant-based systems have been used by psychologists in an attempt to generally categorize or 'box' people into groups with rigid boundaries. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work — human beings are too complex. Quantifying a person as a 'Builder' or even a 'Builder-Merchant' does not provide enough information. A more granular scoring system is necessary in order to provide meaningful results.

The CCI scoring system is based upon a scale in each quadrant that ranges from 0 to 36. The score in each quadrant indicates a relative strength of that Core Capacity compared to the other quadrants. Generally, a person is strongly inclined toward one Core Capacity strategy with a second Core Capacity strategy also being a very important part of their make-up. But, the balance of the scores is very important and has a compelling effect on how you will engage tasks in your day-to-day work. Your CCI scores are:

Builder 18
Merchant 23
Innovator 21
Banker 10

The balance of your CCI scores describes a unique strategy you naturally have for both success and conflict. It is not possible to act in alignment with more than one capacity set at a time. Most people routinely switch between their dominant and secondary strategies unconsciously. Learning to be conscious about this switch between Core Capacity strategies provides greater social dexterity and leads to greater success. Learning to switch to the strategies driven by your Tertiary and Minor Capacity sets can create dramatic improvements in your life.


Your Personal Core Capacities IndexTM Type Scores

While the Core Capacity scores are important, an additional level of insight can be gained by considering how the Core Capacities work in combination with each other. These combinations are called Core Capacities Types. The Core Capacities Type scoring system is based upon a scale in each of six categories that ranges from 0 to 72. The score in each category indicates a relative strength of that Core Capacity Type compared to the other Types. Your Core Capacities Type scores are:

Intuitive 41
Cognitive 31
Creative 44
Practical 28
Community 33
Independent 39

The Core Capacities Type scores are derived from a unique combination of two of the Core Capacities. Typically, a person will find themselves described mostly in the dominant/secondary Core Capacities Type, but some of the qualities will be found in the other Types as well. Again, the balance of the scores is very important and has a compelling affect on how you will engage tasks in your day-to-day work.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Where are you Christmas?

Ugghhh. The news seems to be doom and gloom wherever you turn these days.



Stock market up a little, stock market down a lot, homes depreciating at alarming rates, foreclosures continuing to rise, jobs cut, unemployment up, states running out of money, government throwing $700bn into a bottomless pit, American auto industry teetering on the brink of (rightful) collapse, terrorist attacks in Mumbai, ice shelf the size of Manhattan breaking up in the Antartic, devastating fires in Southern California... it has seemed never-ending these past few weeks.

For me, professionally, too, it hasn't been a bundle of good news. I've 'lost' friends at work, incoming business is on a significant down-tick, competition keeps snatching deals from me, clients are going bye-bye, and other issues too complex or confidential to post here are not making life at work very fun or positive right now.

Also, since we're going to England for Christmas, Hubby and I are foregoing the decorating this year. It's not so much the time and effort to put it up (although that's certainly part of it) but facing having to pull it all down again when we return. Plus, it's not like we're hosting any major social shindigs this year, as we normally like to. My inability to down several martinis, coupled with my energy-fuse being shorter than norm, budget restraints and, somehow it already being less than 3 weeks until we leave, just makes it less-than a party season for us this year. Finally, this year we agreed with my parents not to buy more than one gift each since, instead, we'll be spending Christmas in a swank hotel in Edinburgh, being waited on hand-and-foot.

Normally by now I'm a tinsel and Santa fanatic, buying up a storm, giddy with ideas for gifts, planning parties, and deciding what to wear for this or that Christmas get-together. This year, not so much.

So, with all of this combined, I'm having trouble finding the pre-Christmas spirit this year. Which sucks because this will be my last Christmas where I'm not under the mental and emotional haze of motherhood (although I'm sure that won't stop me from returning to my 4-martini self in '09).

Anyway, just wanted to post and complain. Us Brits like a good whinge.

Monday, November 24, 2008

I'm lovin' it!

No, not a post about Chicken McNuggets (btw, what's up with that pseudo-erotic, R&B McNugget commercial currently playing???? BIZARRE)

Just a quick post to say how much I am already LOVING having Barack Obama at the (soon-to-be) helm of our country. I'm watching his press conference on his economic plan and staff right now and listening to him take questions and I'm just mesmerized by having a President-elect who takes time to respond intelligently and eloquently. The amount of communication already out of his office, which isn't even in power yet, is already unpresidented (pardon the punn). YouTube video addresses, press conferences, interviews, a website (www.change.gov)... already the Obama presidency seems to be positioning itself as an adminstration truly of our times. And all of this without a single cocky laugh, verbal tongue-twister, or uncomfortable swagger. I AM SUCH A HAPPY LITTLE CITIZEN RIGHT NOW!

Of course, all of this is just talk right now and there is little doubt that Obama talks the talk well. In January he needs to walk the walk and nobody yet knows what that will look like exactly. BUT, if the last 20 days are anything to go by, things definitely do look HOPEFULL.

Yaaaaaaaaaay for America!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Refreshing

Madonna and Guy Reach Divorce Deal
Thursday, November 20, 2008

Madonna and Guy Ritchie have reportedly reached a divorce settlement.The British director has refused to accept a cent of Madge's $600 million fortune and instead only wants joint custody of their two sons.A true class act.According to the Daily Mail, under English divorce law, Guy was legally entitled to as much as half of her wealth.Although the divorce was expected to be messy, the only sticking point was where the children will live.Madge wanted to take them back to New York, while Guy wanted to keep them in London where they have grown up.A source says a compromise has now been reached and Rocco and David will divide their time between Britain and the U.S.

---------------

Well, chalk one-up for the non-materialistic Brits. Way to go Guy!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

WOW! WOW! WOW!

Every once in a rare while a singing talent comes along that makes you stop what you're doing, turn up the tv, and get a lump in your throat.

This morning watching GMA, I had one of those moments with Charice Pempengco.

Charice is a 16 year old from the Phillipines and hit the news in the last few days after singing (and holding her own) live with Celine Dion. However, in looking at her Wikipedia write-up, it seems that she's been somewhat of a phenom overseas for some time and has already performed on a number of U.S. shows - all of which I have somehow managed to miss. So, this was Charice's first time on my radar this morning, if not on yours.

Here are just a couple of the many clips of her singing some giant ballads on YouTube. Amazing. How do you "miss" a talent like this?



Monday, November 17, 2008

If Facebook were real life

As most of you know, I am a recent FaceBook convert. Probably has a lot to do with why I haven't been posting as much on this blog. I mean, why write an essay when you can jot a note?

Anyway, one of my fellow FaceBookers shared this with me and I couldn't resist posting it here because it really reveals the ridiculousness we get ourselves into on these social networking sites.

It's funny how we do things online that, as "grown ups" we wouldn't even CONSIDER offline. Asking school acquaintances to "be our friend", poking, sharing awful pics of ourselves, and revealing our moment-to-moment thoughts and irritations (often unfiltered).

So, this tickled my funny-bone.

Enjoy...



FaceBook In Reality - Hilarious Video - Watch more Free Videos

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It's a question of love...

... for one another as human beings and for people who want to solidify that love in permanence and commitment.




Thank you to The Gurly Life for the find.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Good.


Just as I predicted, proposition 8 is not going to hit the constitution without a 2nd-level fight.

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/politics/cal/la-me-protests9-2008nov09,0,7280462.story

In addition to the demonstrations mentioned in the L.A. Times article, thousands gathered on the steps of the Capitol building here in Sacramento over the weekend, one of whom is a very good friend of mine. (I was in Seattle "babymooning" (more later), otherwise would have dragged myself over there, pregnant belly and all.)

On "The View" today, Whoopi Goldberg (supporting my theory on why Prop 8 won-out - see previous post) aired a list of mis-truths propogated by the Yes On 8 campaign. Just like me, she speculated on whether the proposition passed on it's own merits at all.

Writing for Jurist (a publication of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law), Douglas NeJaime, the Sears Law Teaching Fellow at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, explains exactly why the claims by Yes on 8 about schools having to teach about gay marriage are false.

First, school curriculum is an intensely local decision. Local school boards, elected by local residents, create, revise, and implement curriculum. While public schools must teach core subjects and ensure that students attain a certain level of competence, they enjoy a tremendous amount of discretion. Nowhere is that discretion more expansive than in the domain of health and sex education. In fact, schools in California may decide to provide no such instruction whatsoever. If schools do offer sex education, the California Education Code requires that schools teach “respect for marriage and committed relationships.” But even this statutory provision is silent as to what that instruction should (let alone must) include.

Instead, local school districts may include what they like, based on parental feedback, teacher input, and the decisions of politically accountable local officials. Some school districts have for years included material on lesbians and gay men, while many others have omitted such material. That variation will not change (and has not changed) in light of the ability of same-sex couples to marry in California. Schools will continue to exercise their broad discretion and will not operate under any new mandates. Furthermore, parents in California enjoy the right to exempt their children from sex education. This right to opt out will continue to exist, meaning that children won’t receive sex education (gay-inclusive or not) to which their parents object.

Whoopi also talked about the Yes on 8's claim that churches could lose their tax-exempt status if gay marriage was allowed to continue. But in fact, the court decision in question regarding marriage specifically says “no religion will be required to change its religious policies or practices with regard to same-sex couples, and no religious officiant will be required to solemnize a marriage in contravention of his or her religious beliefs.”

In addition, Yes on 8 said that, if proposition 8 didn't pass, people could be sued over their personal beliefs. Yet California’s laws already prohibit discrimination against anyone based on race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. (Um... yes, sexual orientation... so how the heck do we get to pass a constitutional ammendment that contradicts our own state laws???)

So, I'm further convinced that a significant enough percentage of people voted yes on 8 because they were "feared" into doing so by lies on a number of claims and issues that actually have nothing to do with gay marriage or it's realistic implications. Was this significant enough to result in a different outcome? Who knows. But it sure provides further fuel to my fire to keep this issue alive.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Two steps forward, one step back

40 years after the civil rights movement, America yesterday elected an African American President. That Barack Obama's candidacy could transcend the issue of race showed how far this country has come yet, at the same time, the fact that it took 40 years to get here showed how long it can take for Americans to live-up to the promise of the constitution.

Sadly, as one man stood on a stage before hundreds of thousands and realized the rights many had fought for before him, Americans were snatching rights away from another minority here in California.

Proposition 8, the ballot measure that eliminates the right for gay people to marry, seems to have won-out by a close majority - 52% to 48% - victory for narrowmindedness and discrimination that taints the strides made in these last 40 years.

Unfortunately, it appears that many people who voted "yes" on prop 8, thought they were voting against gay marriage being taught to their children in school. Proposition 8's misleading ads made the proposition about just this, parading sad-faced children and frowning parents across our screens in their campaign of fear and mistruth. Exit polls show that many people leaving voting booths and voting "yes", voted this way primarily because of the school issue.

So, instead of passing a law that prevents gay marriage from being taught in schools, we instead pass a constitutional ammendment stripped rights from a segment of our population. It sickens me and makes me mad.

I understand that many people, some of which I know, votes Yes because of their religious beliefs. This was a vote at least based upon conscience rather than fear, so I understand this more, but still don't understand how you justify removing rights based upon your beliefs. What happens if Muslims now decide that we should make alcohol illegal?

In their "victory" speech last night, the prop 8 supporters asked us all to come together, supporters and dissenters alike, to respect the "will" of the people. Unfortunately, I fail to see their point. To expect that you can take a segment of the population, turn them into 2nd class citizens with only 50% of the vote, and then expect your opponents to say "fair game" (especially given the way the prop 8 campaign was run) is ridiculous and, I hope, just aint gonna happen. I couldn't even make coffee and work out before I got on this computer and blogged my feelings about this - and I'm not gay!

I, for one, won't be sitting on the sidelines the next time we have the opportunity to return our state constitution to fairness and equality for all.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

GOD BLESS AMERICA!

No, amazingly, this isn't a photo from August's Olympics, this is the reaction of a crowd upon hearing that Barack Obama is officially our President elect.
In our house, the magic 270 was marked with a whoop, a high 5, and some tears.
What an amazing night.
Photo courtesy of the L.A. Times.
Thanks to The Gurly Life for the find.

Monday, November 03, 2008

I BELIEVE.

Our reasons for voting a certain way are a product of many factors – culture, religion, upbringing, life experiences – and each and every one of our votes count. Despite a genuine relief that this will all be settled in 24-36 hours, I am excited and heartened to see that this will likely be the highest voter turnout in U.S. history. Hooray for the USA!

So, that aside, on the eve of one of the most important Presidential elections in recent memory, it’s time for me to get personal.

Candidates, ads, robocalls, signs, debates, rallies, polls, policies, propositions, partisanship, party-affiliation, religion, falsehoods, parsing, scare-tactics and accusations aside, here’s how those many factors in my life have affected who I am, what I believe, why I am so passionate about the choices I made on this year’s ballot, and who I voted for this year.


Let me start with some background because I know some of you don’t share my passion for politics. Here’s why I am so damned passionate.

I grew up watching the six o’clock and ten o’clock BBC News, listening to my parents and grandparents shout their dissent or agreement at the tv-set, and one of the first things I learned to read in any length, was a newspaper. My mother came from a working-class family of staunch Labor Party supporters (in the UK, the left-wing party) and she was the first to part ways with their political philosophy and vote Conservative. (Ironically, I am RIGHT wing in the U.K.) Although they never had long, intellectual debates about their differences, they were frequently discussed. At the age of 8, I remember sitting with my mother watching the General Election results come in and cheering as Margaret Thatcher won a second term.

My favorite game as a kid was “spin the globe”, where I would close my eyes as my mother or granddad spun a globe and I would stop it randomly with my index finger, learning about the country, it’s president or prime minister, culture, and political philosophies. As a kid, I poured through Encyclopedia Britannicas, delivered annually by the door-to-door encyclopedia salesman, thirsty for knowledge about how other countries compared to my own.

At school, one of my favorite subjects was history because I loved hearing about how different leaders and social trends impacted society as a whole through the years. When I went to college (not the same as University, btw), I studied Government and Politics to learn about different political philosophies and electoral systems. Then, at University, my degree was in Media & Cultural Studies, which focused a lot of time on the relationship between culture, media, and government in countries all over the world.

To say I have had an active interest in learning about politics, political view-points, political systems, and cultures, would be an understatement. I am fascinated by the interplay between them and consider myself an ongoing student of all.

It’s also not a small factor that I grew up Britain, where discussing politics with the people around you is as normal as turning on the kettle when a friend comes to visit. It’s well accepted that everyone has a political opinion in the U.K., and that they’re going to express it, whether you like it or not. There are very few apathetic voters where I grew up – historically 70% of the electorate votes (around 20% more than in the U.S.) and even the newspaper you read says something about your party affiliation. It’s not uncomfortable to discuss politics or opinions in the U.K., even if there is a difference of opinion or a confrontation. For some reason the Brits just don’t take it personally. I can’t explain the difference – it’s just too deeply engrained in our DNA.

It’s been a difficult transition for me to make, to learn that Americans’ attitude towards politics is very different and I can’t say that I’m all that well ‘transitioned’ – although I am more like a Roman in Rome than I used to be. Whether through age or being beaten into submission, I have learned when to keep my mouth shut for the most part. Yet, for the ‘other’ parts, I still believe that political dialogue is essential to a democratic society. No more so than in an election year.

Just look at how the increased dialogue in the past 20 months has resulted in a record voter registration this year! Despite all the mud-slinging and the general election fatigue (which even I am experiencing at this point), I am excited that Americans are more engaged. Just yesterday, my ‘other husband’, George Stephanopolous, predicted an 80%+ voter turnout! So, although I disagree with the Prop 8 voters on one side of the street corner around here, I’m heartened to see that people are out there, standing up for what they believe in and willing to engage one another in the process. This is the stuff democratic societies are about and I find it thrilling.

Finally, I’ve also had the great blessing of being able to travel quite a bit in my 33 short years (with, hopefully, many more travels to come) and some of my experiences have been humbling. I have seen just a small taster of what happens in countries where democracy is just an 8 letter word, where governments don’t care about their citizens, where corruption is rife, where the rich lock themselves behind guarded gates and the poor celebrate over a loaf of bread. I know there is much more I didn’t see and much more left to experience, but it makes me feel even more fortunate that we have democratic system in place in this country that allows us to have a say, however removed it might sometimes seem, in how our country is run and what kind of society we want to live in.

For all those reasons, I give a damn. Like I said, it’s in my DNA.

So, here’s what I believe:


I believe that saying that government can’t be trusted as a reason to claim disenchantment with the political process or as a reason not to vote, is a cop out.

In my experience, these people are (a) usually not in need of government help and (b) finding a convenient excuse to absolve themselves of their financial and moral obligation as citizens of their country to help their neighbor and make the society they live in a better place. If you don’t vote and/or find other ways to get involved in your community or government to make a difference, you don’t get to complain. It’s like going to a restaurant, allowing your friends to order for you, and then complaining you don’t like your dinner. Either order for yourself or get in the kitchen and make your own meal.

If you really don’t care at all, fair enough. I don’t believe you but that’s just me. You may not care right now but it’s just because lift hasn’t dealt you with a hand that has made you care… yet. Lucky you.

I believe that government has a role in providing a more even playing field for EVERY citizen who wants to and is able to work hard.

I look upon government as a good parent. A good parent doesn’t want to run your life for you but wants to provide you with the most optimal conditions for success and with every available opportunity that they can possibly offer. Of course, at the end of the day, you still have to take responsibility for your own life and your own actions. You have to work hard and take advantage of those opportunities provided to you.

If you try hard and fail or if circumstance takes a turn against you, you know that your parents will be there to give you support while you get back on your feet and a second chance at success. When you become a success, you turn around and you share some of that success with them, because without them you wouldn’t be where you are today.

Yet, you cannot take away the fact that some people will do better than others. Some are more talented, some have a higher IQ, some are good with their hands, some are good with their minds, and some are just more willing or able to work hard. All these factors – and more – affect how we are rewarded financially for the work we do and the extent to which we can (or want to) live-out “The American Dream”. Unlike socialists, I don’t believe that an even playing field means an even outcome for all, regardless of their abilities or effort. We need janitors and garbage men as much as we need the Bill Gates and Warren Buffets of this world. Without people at every link in the chain, our society would come to a grinding halt.

Unfortunately not every child is born into this world with the same opportunities which, in this country more than any, usually means wealth. Further, some people are born with, or later in life are afflicted with, disability or disease and are physically or mentally restricted in what they can achieve. Still others work hard and, through no fault of their own, experience a life-changing event that pushes them back on their heels - a natural disaster, a sick relative, injury, or unemployment, for instance.

For all those people, whether they are born into poverty, at the bottom-end of the industrial chain, physically or mentally limited, or stricken by tough times, I believe we are all collectively responsible, as compassionate human beings, for ensuring that these people have access to basic needs and rights. In a democratic society, the way that we can collectively ensure that this happens is through government.

I believe that some of the most important of those basic rights are:

  • Access to a good education from kindergarten through college – no matter what your economic situation and without having to send you or your parents into tens of thousands of dollars of debt.
  • Access to guaranteed, affordable health care – affordable meaning that there is a basic level of health care available to every single citizen at a price they can reasonably afford (without choosing between new shoes for your kids and sending them to the doctor), and regardless of their pre-existing conditions.
  • The ability to meet the basic economic needs for your family – a roof over your head, basic utilities, and food to feed your family – without having to leave your children home alone after school so you can go to your 2nd job to make ends meet. So, I believe in a social welfare net based upon true need and, whenever possible, designed to be short-term, with built-in accountability to assist people with lifting themselves out of their situation.
  • A free, fair, and democratic society, ensured through the constitution and national security, where nobody is treated differently under the law because of the color of their skin, their religion, their beliefs, their sex, or their sexual preference.

I believe in voting based not upon what is economically convenient for me, but what is right for my country, my community, and my fellow neighbor, who may not be as fortunate as me.

In an interview with Good Morning America last weekend, millionaire rock star, John Mellencamp, said it well,

“If I was to vote my interest, I’d be a Republican. But I don’t vote my interest, I vote for what I think would be the best and most compassionate for the country. America used to be a great place. It’s not now. I mean it will be again, but it’s not now.”

I’m fortunate enough to be doing fairly well in my life. I’m not rich by either party’s standards – yet - but I hope to continue doing better and better as each year goes on. And I believe that, as I do better, I should pay more taxes. Not just more but a higher percentage of my earnings. I feel that it is my moral and social obligation to contribute to the overall wealth and well-being of this country and its citizens, the better I do for myself.

Now, I don’t like paying taxes, don’t get me wrong. I squish my nose up at that portion of my income that I never get to see, just like you. But taxes are a fact of life. I can go to another country where I can pay less taxes but, guess what, I doubt if I would want to live there. For instance, Ukraine has a 13% tax rate for all its citizens. Want to live there? Syria’s top tax rate is 15%, so how about a move to Damascus? I don’t see you packing your bags. Or how about Bulgaria? Just 10% in Sofia. Thought not.

Sure, it’s possible to continue living in a society where the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer, with the "haves" pretending the "have nots" just need to pull themselves up by their boot-straps and get to work. Sure, we can go ahead and keep erecting walls and security gates around our high-end home communities so we don't have to see or pass by those people who are trucking themselves from their 2nd job at 2am. But when almost 20% of the country’s wealth is concentrated in only the top 1% of Americans and the gap is only growing, eventually the walls will need to get bigger, the gates will need to get higher, and the American dream will be just a memory of the 1950s, post-war generation.

As Michael Kinsley of Time Magazine said regarding Barack Obama’s “spread the wealth” comment, in last week’s issue:

“We may disagree on how much to spread around and how to go about it. We all tend to think that it's someone else's wealth that needs to be spread around and that it ought to be spread in our direction. But the principle that the unequal distribution of wealth is a legitimate concern and government policies should mitigate it has been part of American democracy since at least the New Deal. In fact, it is a commonplace that the moderate wealth-spreading of the New Deal saved American democracy. Today collecting checks from people and issuing checks to other people--or the same people--is the government's main domestic activity.
Although it was an off-the-cuff remark and one that Obama probably regrets, he actually put it well, avoiding the suggestion of envy or class war, which are the usual accusations about such talk. Spreading it around is "good for everybody," he says. And who disagrees? Or would you like to live behind locked gates and hire guards to protect your family from kidnapping, as in places where they spread it around even less than here?”


There is a price to living in one of the most advanced and privileged nations on the planet. The price is taxes. And, in comparison to many other countries across the world, American’s pay very little in taxes. Many nations’ top income tax rates exceed 40 or 50% (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tax_rates_around_the_world), while in the U.S., the top individual income tax is only 35%. That’s without taking into account all the deductions that enable us to lower our effective tax rate. Plus, on the whole, even our highest sales tax is lower than most other countries. My point is, it’s not that bad right now and we could all afford to pay a little more as we do better.

So, if someone told me that we could, for instance, provide health care to the 47 million uninsured and a further 25 million who are under-insured then I’d sure pay more.

It’s easy to say you won’t pay more taxes because you don’t trust the government to do the right thing when it’s not your son who missed-out on the scholarship and now can’t afford to go to college; or your 5-year old with leukemia who you can’t afford to have treated because your husband just lost his job and health insurance; or your sister whose husband left her with two kids and who works two jobs to pay the bills while her children are left roaming the streets after school; or your struggling grandfather who has had to remortgage his paid-for home just so he can afford his heart medication.

It’s easy to forget that your ability to drive to work is, in part possible, because the government somehow builds and maintains the roads you use to get there (albeit rather poorly, due to chronic underfunding). Or that the teacher who helped you pass algebra works 12 hour days preparing lesson plans for her students is paid for by the government and has seen her salary fail to keep pace with inflation or with other degreed professions (http://www.nea.org/edstats/losingground.html).

So, for these reasons, I believe in paying my fair share which is, to say, more. I don’t think that some of these critical services in America are up-to-par in comparison to the overall wealth in our country and I want to improve that. I’m willing, no I want to, pay for better. I think we all deserve better.

I believe with every fiber of my being that everyone is born equal and should remain that way under the eyes of the law – black, white, rich, poor, male, female, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, heterosexual, homosexual... America is a pluralist and secular society by law and one of the reasons I’m here is because of that. You couldn’t pay me to live in a theocratic country like Saudi Arabia, where women are second-class citizens and laws are based upon a set of singular, constricting, religious beliefs.

I have friends who are Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist, American, Indian, Chinese, Philippino, Australian, Italian, British, Latino, white, black, half-and-half, Rebublican, Libertarian, Green Party, Democrat, straight, gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual. I don’t say this because I “label” them that way but to illustrate that I live what I believe. I love them because they are also so different and they each bring to me a different outlook on life, a different way of viewing the world. My life is richer for the variety. I don’t expect them to live their lives the same way I do and don’t judge them negatively for being or doing things I don’t personally believe in. I think America is, at its core, the same way – just read the constitution. I believe we should vote to preserve that variety, that pluralism, even if it sometimes conflicts with our own personal beliefs.

I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I am NOT “pro-abortion”. I counter that there is no such thing. I think that there are enough unwanted children in this world, living with abusive or neglectful parents or, if they’re ‘lucky’ in foster care. Children that turn to drugs, or crime to masque their demons or make-up for the lack of love in their life and who, it has been statistically proven, often turn into abusive parents themselves. They deserve better. No child should be brought into this world that is really not wanted. To me, it’s just selfish to do so. Which is not to say that I think abortion is the ‘right’ answer for anyone – only a woman herself can make that decision. I believe that very few women make that decision easily or without a whole lot of soul-searching.

I also believe that trying to reduce the number of women having to make that choice, is the right thing to do. For this reason, I support safe sex education in schools and at home.

Abstinence programs do not work. Every study I have ever read shows that abstinence education is followed by a rise in teen pregnancy rates. Maybe once-upon-a-time, we could create a beautiful bubble of childhood innocence around our children but that’s not the society we live in these days. Abstinence education in today’s society is akin to trying to lock the gate after the horse has bolted. We just can’t be that na├»ve any more. Believe me, I wish we could. If children aren’t taught about sex in a mature and responsible way by adults with facts at their fingertips, they’ll teach each other through rumor and experimentation. Our kids should be taught to respect their bodies, to respect the beautiful intimacy of a sexual relationship with someone you care about, that it’s not ‘wrong’ or ‘shameful, that they have the right to say no, and about the consequences of irresponsible sexual behavior. Then, (if all else fails) how to protect themselves from pregnancy or disease.

Turning off the tv, screening calls, monitoring internet usage, and hovering over our children like hawks is not going to cut it. They still go to school, they still talk to other kids, and (especially in today’s media rich environment) they’ll still find a way to find that information you so desperately seek to hide from them. We have to stop trying to hide stuff from them and start providing them with a foundation of values that enables them to make better decisions on their own. And, I believe, if we don’t like the reality of responsible parenting in today’s society, we should move somewhere where we can indeed close our children off from society as a whole.

I believe there is no such thing as the perfect candidate or the perfect President. If you’re waiting for that unique individual to come along who represents everything you believe before you vote, my recommendation to you is: start raising the money to run yourself.

As just about everyone within 6,000 miles knows, I voted for Barack Obama this year. But, despite all the energy around his campaign and my belief that he will be a great President, he wasn’t my first choice. I voted for Hillary Clinton in the primaries. I actually liked her and Senator Edwards’ health plan much better than Obamas (still do).

I don’t agree with Obama that the middle class needs a tax cut. Tax cuts, as an overall policy, take billions of dollars away from federal budget that could collectively be put to much better use elsewhere, and provide only minimal relief to working Americans. We’d do much better investing in health care, education, social security, and re-tooling our workforce for the jobs of tomorrow, than giving Joe the Plumber $1,000 next year. $1,000 over 12 months is just $83 a month. That barely pays one month’s electricity bill and certainly wouldn’t feed a family of four for more than a week (even then, that would be pushing it). The point is, on a family-by-family basis, it achieves very little. Collectively, that money can be put to a lot of good use for the future of this country.

I’m fed-up with feeding our short-term needs to win elections and wish we would start thinking about investing in our country for the long term. This country as a whole seems unwilling to make any sacrifices in hard times. Our economy is in the pooper. The stock market hit the floor, the government is bailing out banks, people are losing their jobs and houses, 47 million people don’t have healthcare, 25 million are underinsured, 37.3 million live on or below the poverty line, services are being cut at the local level, states are facing record budget shortfalls and yet the average American who is still doing fairly well, has not been asked to sacrifice or offer up a single thing to help. We’ve spent too much time indulging our immediate desire for consumer goods, over-leveraging ourselves with credit, and building and buying houses that are too big for us - now we’re paying for it. We all are just a little bit responsible for the cause and we all should be a little bit responsible for getting the country back on track. If we want a better America, we should be willing to pay for it, or suffer the consequences or our own selfish, short-sightedness as we see our country left behind.

But I understand why Barack is promising it. Republicans throw the “he’ll raise your taxes” accusation at Democrats every election year and voters, who naturally don’t like paying taxes, turn in the other direction. In order to achieve all the other things on his agenda, Obama has to first get in office. His tax cuts are a smart political move. It’s just a shame that the only way to get elected in this country is to promise tax cuts.

I also don’t agree with Obama’s plan to place a moratorium on foreclosures. If people can’t afford to live in the houses they’re in, then they shouldn’t be living in them any more. A whole lot people in this country made some bad financial decisions in the last 5 years, for whatever reason, and there are consequences to those decisions. If you’ve lost your job or suddenly fallen chronically ill and can’t work, of course you deserve some relief and some breathing room. But if you just went along with a stated-income mortgage to buy a house you couldn’t really afford and are now faced with foreclosure, I’m sorry but THIS is not the government’s responsibility. We should be providing relief based upon need not providing a get out of jail free card to irresponsible home owners.

So, I don’t agree with Obama on everything. I’m sure there are other things but those are the ones that come to mind. At the end of the day, we don’t get to vote for the ideal candidate, we get to vote for the best candidate that’s running, the one that most closely (but not perfectly) represents our values and beliefs.

This is just a snapshot of what I believe.

Of course, I also believe in reducing our carbon footprint, saving the Polar Bears, preserving the rainforests, protecting our historical landmarks, freedom of speech, tighter gun control, abolishing the death penalty, providing relief to Darfur, reforming our immigration policies to actually make sense, nuclear non-proliferation, opening diplomatic relations with our enemies, extracting ourselves from the Iraq war and re-tooling our troops for 21st century warfare, and much, much more.

Thus ends my personal statement of what I stand for. Just remember to vote what you believe on November 4th.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A frustrating morning

Now that my pre-dawn gym expeditions are on hold, Saturday mornings I have come to look forward to my pre-natal yoga class for the stretching and physical challenge. I really enjoy the way that yoga challenges my body and I've heard that pre-natal yoga's focus on strengthening and stretching the hips and thighs can be very helpful for the birthing process. So, the perfect investment - short-term and long-term benefits.

But what is driving me NUTS is the 15-20 minute "bonding" session at the beginning of the practice, 'led' by the yoga instructor.

The premise is good - have moms in different stages of pregnancy share their experiences from the week. In reality, however, it's 15-20 minutes of the instructor preaching her holistic, spiritual clap-trap (to coin a very British phrase) in a patronizingly hushed tone and lullaby-like rhythm. Here is just a short list of some of the stuff I am being sold just to get a 45 minute yoga session:

  • Gestational diabetes doesn't exist - it was created by the medical profession to give them something to do.
  • Risks for mature moms (35+) is a myth. There is no such thing. (Again made up by all those bored doctors in their 4 years at medical school.)
  • Your subconscious fears actually keep your baby "inside" you, resulting in delayed labors and difficult births or even (gasp!) ceasarians. You should go to therapy to find out what is wrong with you now and cast-out those nasty demons to allow you to have only happy thoughts and to give birth naturally and easily. (Yeah, that's what it was - my mum was 2 months late and in labor for 36 hours because she didn't go to therapy.)
  • You can't take your baby to the nail salon because the fumes are toxic. (Give me a break - a little common sense and good ventilation can overcome this ridiculous fear.)
  • You don't need any of the pregnancy tests they subject you to. They're dangerous to the baby and unecessary.
  • You don't need epidurals or caesarians, even (in the latter case) if your doctor says you do. Even if your baby is breach and delivering vaginally poses a risk to you and your unborn child, only you know what's best for you and you should ignore the doctor if it "feels" right. The medical community is trying to force unecessary drugs and procedures on you - you must be strong and resist!!!! (I KID YOU NOT)

All of this is accompanied by recommendations for books you can read to further convince you to ignore everything your doctor says.

There is more and I'll endeavor to update you with any news ones as the weeks go on. Needless to say, I'm keeping my mouth shut through all of this. I already made the mistake in week 1 of mentioning that I still have the occasional glass of wine with dinner (can you say misreading your audience?) and I think that telling them that I'm doing every test in the book including, if necessary, the amnio, plus will be rooting for the epidural and all other drugs available to me, AND will quite happily jump on any opportunity to do it all through a scheduled c-section, will send them all into spontaneous labor right there and then.

My answer is that I am listening to my body and it's telling me to listen to the person who went to medical school for 4 years and that pain is bad, drugs are good.

So, that was frustration number one.

I was done with reeling from that experience and had just had a yummy lunch when I had the misfortune of turning onto a major street in my area, only to be assaulted by literally hundreds of people waving "YES ON 8" signs at me for at least 10 blocks.

For those of you who don't live in California, Proposition 8 is a ballot measure that seeks to modify the state constitution to prevent gay people from getting married. This isn't just a law against same-sex marriages, this is a law to modify the consitution - a document that is premised on fairness and equality for all. So, modifying it to prevent same-sex couples from marrying is somewhat akin, in a historical context, to putting in the constitution that black people or women can't vote.

For the last god-knows how many months now, we've been bombarded by Yes and No on 8 tv commercials and signs everywhere we look. Ridiculous, fear-based claims have been made by the prop's supporters that our children will be taught same-sex marriage in schools. They claim that they are "preserving" marriage as if gay people are suddenly going to come on into their homes, ravage them and turn their kids gay. It's all nonsense of course - marriage is just between a man and a woman right now and plenty of gay people still seem be born and plenty of heterosexual marriages still seem to end in divorce without any help from those batting for the other team. To suggest that the family unit is about to be smashed apart because two people of the same sex that love each other can get married, is so crazy that it's hard to believe anyone buys into it. I can list a thousand societal changes and ills in the last century that have led to decreased marriages and increased divorces, the loss of community, and the break-down of the family unit and not one of them has anything to do with women having sex with women or men having sex with men behind closed doors.

Of course, I do understand that homosexuality is a sin in many religions. I understand AND respect those views. If you're deeply religious and you don't want to be homosexual or don't want to acknowledge homosexuals, you know what? You don't have to do either. There's not a law anywhere that says you should be or embrace homosexuality either in your own life or in the lives of others. That's what's so great about democracy and a secular, pluralistic society - everyone can believe and do, within reason, what they want. It's one of the things Americans, as a whole, pride themselves on. The country was built upon those beliefs, for heavens's sake.

So, what makes me mad is not that some people don't want gays to marry. That I understand. What makes me boiling mad and sick to my stomach, is that they would try to legislate their right to. That they would support placing discriminatory language in a document - the constitution, a document that is built upon fairness and equality for "all", not just the people your God or church approves of.

You know, I looked up just the 10 commandments (because it was easier than reading through the whole bible) and the following are listed. Should we legislate against those too?

- Do not have any other gods before me.

- You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

- But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.

- You shall not commit adultery.

If we legislated based upon just judeo-christian beliefs, then all those Macy's workers who greet us on Sunday would be imprisoned; every time someone said "Oh God!" they'd be thrown in jail (I'd have been executed by now but that's besides the point); Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews would be thrown in the clinker; and church attendance would drop in half because all the cheating wives and husbands of the world would have received 6-months.

But I digress...

A YES on Prop 8 no matter what your beliefs are, is discrimination pure and simple. I just can't get my conscience around it. And perhaps it's because I'm pregnant that seeing these people jumping up and down on street corners around me makes my blood, quite literally boil.

I had tears of anger in my eyes today as I drove down those ten blocks with my arm out the window, rain soaking my sleeve and thumb pointed firmly down in dissent. I picked up the phone to my husband and told him what I was seeing. Per chance, he had also driven down the same street just minutes earlier and was equally as worked up. We agreed there and then that we would bring our child up to treat everyone equally, even if he or she doesn't agree with them, and that if our son or daughter was gay or lesbian then we would not feel disappointment or sadness. Many of the nicest, most caring and joyful people we have met in our lives are gay and we would be proud to have a joyful, caring son our daughter in our lives.

Whether our son/daughter or someone else's, they deserve the same rights as the rest of us.

NO ON 8.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why do we debate what we believe?

During the course of this election season (which has been more of a year than a season, let’s be honest), I’ve exchanged a lot of emails and had a lot of conversations with people about politics. Some people agree with me, some do not. Some conversations were civil, intellectually stimulating, and engrossing (yes, even some of those with people on the other side of the issues) and others were just plain frustrating. Some people have a grasp on the facts and make it their business to be well-informed whilst others form opinions from sound-bites and rumors. Whether in agreement, disagreement, or even apathy, the one thing I can say for sure is that everyone has been passionate.

A couple of more recent emails, however, have made me think more philosophically about politics and people.

Last week I shared some emails with a friend who is tired of the 24/7 political news cycle and the seemingly non-stop social discourse that accompanies it. In this I’m sure she’s not alone, but in one of her emails to me, that same friend talked about winning or losing arguments between friends of opposing political philosophies.

Hold onto that thought…

Today I received a completely unsolicited political email from an agent from the real estate company I used to work for. The agent wasn’t a friend of mine – in fact she had gone out of her way to be as much of a pain in the ass as she could possibly be to me during my tenure – and so I was a little startled to get any sort of email from her, let alone an email bashing Barack Obama. The email was a conservative take on the principle of “sharing wealth” (a term I have an issue with but I’m using it here for easy identification), taking the concept completely out of context, taking it to a ridiculous extreme and mocking it in that way that people tend to on both sides when they’re trying to rally their ‘base’. (I’m not going to debate what Obama did or did not say here because I doubt I’ll change anyone’s mind at this point in the process, or at all, ever, if they (you?) are right-leaning.)

Email #1 with my friend made me think about winning and losing political debates. I have never, in all the years I have been politically aware, had an argument, debate or whatever you want to call it, that I felt I had walked away from “winning”. In fact, I venture to say that, through no lack of knowledge or persuasive techniques of my own (at least not in my humble opinion), I have never once changed a mind or converted a soul. Unless we are one of the rare few people in this world that can truly inspire people to change their minds (whomever you might personally choose to assign that power to – religious, political, or otherwise), I’m sure most of you can say the same thing of your political conversations. People who agree with you walk away leaving you feeling vindicated and validated, people who disagree walk away leaving you frustrated and misunderstood.

Email #2 made me mad. Aside from the “who the hell is she to send me an email like this after 2 years?” reaction, I was mad because the email took something I do believe in passionately and purposefully mischaracterized it in such a way that was patronizing, demeaning, and offensive. It portrayed my belief as stupid and, by proxy, me as stupid also.

So, today, to borrow the words of SJP herself, I couldn’t help but wonder…why do we debate what we believe, especially when those debates often leave us feeling offended?


I think that it’s because we want to be understood, not because we want to win. Yes, we all, to some extent, kind of harbor the hope that we can somehow outsmart or out-knowledge someone from time-to-time, claiming a victory of sorts. Yet, I defy any one of you to tell me, truly, that you engage in political debates with people who you know don’t and won’t agree with you, because you think you’ll actually change their mind.

But we do it! Even those of us who claim to be apathetic end up debating apathy vs. involvement. Deep down, I think that we debate not because we want to change the other person’s mind about the issues, it’s because we want to change the other person’s mind about US. We want to be understood. We want our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, intellect, opinions, and thereby ourselves, to be validated by the other person. We don’t want to turn a democrat into a republican or a republican into a democrat (although that sure would be a great by-product) but we do want the other person to say “I get it. I get you. I may not agree, but I understand why you feel the way you do.”

So, in this context, what is so maddening about presidential elections – especially ones as charged as this – is when all of those thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and opinions are continually called into question on the tv and the radio, in newspapers and magazines, on signs and bumper stickers, in emails, postcards, and conversations. It’s like a 24-hour, nowhere-to-hide assault for Democrats and Republicans alike on all that we believe to be true and right.

And it’s not as if the other side’s opinion is often framed in such a way that we can just take it onboard and agree to disagree. What made me so mad about that stupid email I got this morning was the fact that it took one thing out of context and took it to such an extreme as to be ridiculous by all accounts. It’s like stereotypes: “Tax and Spend Liberals”. “Bible Belt Conservatives”… they all take a certain belief or set of beliefs and mischaracterize them to such an extent that they no longer truly represent the people they were created to label. It’s all an attempt to oversimplify often complicated, nuanced belief systems and policies, in order to fit into a CNN news-cycle sound-bite and to easily facilitate off-base criticisms that build upon fear, ignorance and prejudice.

This happens on both sides to varying extents in each election and in each case the other side feels unfairly represented, falsely critiqued, and calls “foul” on the opposing candidate(s) and/or the media.

All of THIS is what makes me mad. It’s this kind of uncompassionate, dehumanizing, polarizing rhetoric that gets people all riled up for no reason, shouting things like “Terrorist!” and “Kill Him!” (Note, I tried to find some similarly charged, anti-McCain cries online but could not find them. Not to say they don’t exist, only I don’t have the time to go into full research mode to find them.)

No matter what you think of the opposing candidate, you have to admit that all this gets us nowhere. McCain calls Obama a Tax and Spend Liberal who wants to redistribute your hard earned cash. Obama’s camp says McCain was erratic and impulsive during the financial crisis and wants to rob from the middle-class to give to the CEO of Chevron. None of this tells us anything, quite honestly. Again, it plays on and to existing fears and stereotypes, often taking out of context one line in many, many pages of carefully thought-out positions and policies that have been developed based upon a deeply held set of beliefs. Yes, it riles up the candidate’s base, it gets the other side mad, but all it fuels is tit-for-tat attacks that make us all frustrated and feeling disenfranchised to some extent.

The underlying point I’m trying to make here is that, as much as we want to believe it, as much as we try to stretch and parse words to make it so, the other side is not stupid or ill-advised. (Some people are indeed both those things but I’m not talking about them – they’re beyond my help here). We do ourselves and our ‘opponents’ no favors by exaggerating and patronizing their opinions. I know extremely intelligent and compassionate people who I call friends and who are Republicans/conservatives or at least share in the majority of right-wing policies and values. It would be so much easier to dismiss them as stupid, uncaring, or uninformed but I find that I can’t. I disagree with them PASSIONATELY about so many things and just can’t understand why people I love and respect don’t feel the same way about things that are so evidently ‘true’ and ‘commonsensical’ to me. They often say things that flabberghast me because I just don’t understand how they can be all those good things and yet be so far on the other side of what I believe to be logic in so many ways. I’m sure they feel the same way about me.

So, at the end of the day, I just think we want to be understood and maybe even to understand. To understand how it can be that we can live, love, laugh, and work with people every day, sharing the same everyday topography, heading essentially toward the same goal (a better country to live in) and yet our internal maps lead us to completely different philosophical destinations.

This is already a long post but I had planned on also talking a little bit about what I believe in a personal way and why – what experiences I’ve had in my life or values I’ve had instilled in me that have made me think a certain approach to government and society is ‘right’. But maybe I’ll leave that to a Part Deux.

In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts…
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