Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Gooseberry on Giving to the Brits

President Barak H. Obaaaama is under fire for failing to follow British protocol in his selection of gifts for British dignitaries.

In early March 2009 (just two months into his presidency) he presented visiting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown with a selection of DVDs which: 1.cannot be played on British DVD players, and 2. Brown can’t fully enjoy because he is almost blind.

Then, it was reported on April 1, 2009 (April Fools Day in America) that he presented the Queen with an I pod filled with video footage and pictures of her recent visit to America. That he would make such a blunder, especially given the fact she already had an I pod purchased at the recommendation of her son in 2005, has made him and his wife appear, once again, internationally out of step with stodgy old European types (both at home and far away in places where old Europeans belong, like in Europe). It doesn’t matter that this I pod will be light years better than anything she could have purchased in 2005, she already had one and the Obaaaamas were quite gauche for giving it to her.

What did the Brits give Obaaaama in return? Well, actually, Brown gave him a very thoughtful and dignified dignitary-type gift, an ornamental pen holder made from the timbers of the Victorian anti-slave ship HMS Gannet. The Queen gave him an autographed picture in a silver frame – just like the ones she gives every other visiting official.

I have to admit, the hoopla over the gifting and giving has sparked a bit of support for the Rookie President. It is one thing for fellow citizens (assuming he really was born in Hawaii and not Kenya) to pick on him as a part of the regular give and take of the political process, and it is quite another for one of our economic and social colonies to do the same.

Given the fact that Brown outclassed the deified one during his first visit to America, and that all other allies will continue to be all talk and no backbone, Obaaama should take some steps to set things right with the former rugy-playing Eddie Haskell. He should scour the US for a truly dignified gift, something like a glass hen on a nest candy bowl, or a case of microwave fried pork rinds – you know, the kind of things set aside for special occasions – then he should present it to Mr. Brown along with a note that goes something like, “You caught me early on in the presidency. I wasn’t up and running yet. Hope this makes up for any oversight.”

As to the gift from the Queen – I’d say a new I pod with pictures of her on it is just fine. After all, that’s pretty much the same thing she gave him, isn’t it?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Gooseberry: Sugar and spice

Just more than nine years ago My Wonderful Wife and I faced the single most frightening prospect of our married life.

I can remember exactly where we were when the doctor told us those three words that struck terror into ourhearts and changed our lives forever.

It was January. We were in the hospital. It had snowed the night before and it was shaping up to be a quiet day. We knew, however, that something was up. They had just performed a series of tests on Holly. Her numbers looked good and by all accounts she was in the hospital to have a very routine procedure, but we could tell by the way the doctor was acting that we were about to go through something like nothing we had ever experienced before and that there was absolutely nothing we could have done that would have prepared us for what happened next.

"It's a girl."

And just like that, our peaceful, simple, quiet life was shattered.

Before Sweet Princess was born that cold wintery January day, we only had sons. First we had Son Number One, a caveman. Even now, at age 17, he grunts when he answers questions, wants the potatoes passed, or is expostulating on the finer points of regional economics. Then we had Son Number Two, or Che, as we have taken to calling him because of his selective socialtistic tendencies. Che was very different from Neaderthal. He not only speaks in full sentences, but he speaks in full paragraphs and complete discertations. He rambles ad nauseum on every thought that enters his mind. Once, when he was in second grade, his teacher gave him a test just to make him be quiet. She about passed out when she heard him pick up the paper and say, "Question number one..." We then had Son Number Three. A diabolically precocious child that loves to pull practical jokes, eat fish, play video games and fully expects to rule the world by the time he turns 15. He hates the nickname Chad, so of course that is what we are calling him right now.

The difference between boys and girls goes way beyond plumbing and the tendency of one group to be dirty, slobbering idiots while the other likes to wear pink. There are subtle emotional and relationship differences that make raising girls a most perilous enterprise indeed. For example: If I walk into the room and hand one of my sons a piece of candy and one of the other boys happens to see what I did, I will invariably be met with the question, "Why did you give that to him and not me?" I can answer back "Because I like him better," and Che, or Neanderthal, or Chad, will laugh at me and say, "No really, why did you give it to him and not me?"

If I were to say the same thing to one of my daughters it would be a disaster. Decades later I would still be apologizing and trying to make up to her. And no matter how many ponies, or dresses, or shoes, or hair dohickies I bought her I would still be that mean old man who ruined her entire self image and life.

Girls smell better than boys -- but they also scream a lot louder.

Boys can be destructive. They are like forces of nature. They blow into a room, rumble around the furniture, shake the rafters and break invaluable objects. Girls cause much more destruction, they just do it on a much more quiet way.

Boys are all about themselves, their stomachs, their entertainment, their hair, their latest video games, to the point of being distracted from any emotional or relationship ties to the conversation. Girls are all about themselves, their stomachs, their entertainment, and their hair and you had better not forget any emotional or relationship ties whatsoever.

Boys are happy if you give them food. Girls want you to hold their hands while they nibble on chocolate and tell you they don't like what you fixed them for dinner.

Boys want to be left alone. Girls want you to drop everything you are doing and rush to their sides and protect them from monsters 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Yes, our lives were indelibly marked that day nine years ago when we found out child number four was a girl. Of course, after that stunning development we did the only thing we could to save us from what surely would have been a fate most dire -- we had another girl.

We had no choice.

The first one had us outnumbered. We had to have another one just to balance things out.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Gooseberry: My son the socialist

All of a sudden my right-wing conservative son has become a complete and total socialist.

And while he would scoff at the idea of state-owned farms, socialized medicine or or other hallmarks of communist nations, he still carries the baggage of being a proponant of redistribution of wealth.

What caused this sudden shift in political philosophy? When did he drink the Obama Cool-Aid and suddenly want those with abundance to give all they have to those without? It was the day his younger brother came home from a community service project with a huge bag filled with stale candy.

"It's not fair," I heard my son, whom I will now refer to as Che, say. "Dad. Make him share."

It didn't stop there. Soon all sorts of items were being discussed as puplic property (meaning they should now be his since one of his siblings had something he didn't).

"You took Chad to Boston Market!! Now you have to take me."

"The girls have to give us all their cupcakes because we want some too."

"Who ate all the cake? I only had five pieces."

You will notice most, if not all, of his socialist tendencies are toward food. He is a growing teenager and all he does now is eat, sleep and email girls on Facebook, but he is still acting as a socialist. How else did socialism start if not by someone feeling inadequate because someone else had more than they did, so they made rules and regulations to take from those who had plenty and give it to the government who squanders it all so no one has anything.

It reminds me of the discussion Che had with his social studies teacher around the time of the 2008 elections. They were discussing Obama resurrecting the old Hughie Long argument of a chicken in every pot.

"We are instituting a new rule in this school," the teacher said. "We don't think its fair some of you are getting A grades and others are just getting Cs. We are going to take the grades away from the A students and share them with the C students so everyone will get Bs."

"That's not fair," the students argued. "We worked hard for our grades. If they want A grades they have to do the work." (Ironically, since we live in the Boulder Valley School District in Colorado, many of the loudest protestors were all good little Democrats, not the hard core Republicans that usually make that argument.)

As I have discovered, in most cases true socialists (or liberals) are people interested most in lining their own nests (or stomaches) at the expense of other people's work. On the other hand, most conservatives are people who work hard for what they get and then work even harder to keep others from taking it away from them.

Personally, I am seeking a happy medium where I have enough to give to other without worrying if anyone else has any more than I do.

Che has a more direct approach.

"What's for dinner?"

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gooseberry: The art of yo

My number three son bought a new yo yo the other day.

He bought from a reputable on line yo yo dealer and had it shipped directly to our home where he waited for a whole weekend before the mailman finally dropped it off late Monday afternoon.

"It's broken," he told me.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"It won't come back."

"What do you mean, won't come back?"

"I throw it down and it just spins and doesn't come back."

"I thought you bought that kind special because it was a good sleeper."

"I know, but sometimes yo yos are nonresponsive. Mine is nonresponsive. Try it yourself."

So I tried it. I know a little about yo yos. I had a Duncan butterfly when I was kid, then a special yellow one later. I was pretty hot stuff. I could make it go down and it always returned.

I threw the new yo yo and ... nothing. It just sat there an spun.

I could have admitted defeat, or blamed the yo yo, but I remembered something My Wonderful Wife said a few weeks earlier when we were cleaning out the kids' toy room.

I was focused on picking up a bunch of legos and she was holding our daughters' hula hoop. I remember she put it around her waste, gave it a toss and then, nothing. The hula hoop did one and a half turns and fell to the ground.

"It's broken," she said.

My Number Two Son picked it up, put it around his hips and began to hula hoop like a Hawaiian dancer. "No it's not. You just have to know how to make it work," he said.

Remembering my wife, and her failure to hula hoop, I decided to check out a couple things about new yo yos and those that don't return.

It turns out, the biggest problem with a defective yo yo is the weak toss. My son has a very slik bearing yo yo that is designed to be a good sleeper. Before it can return, it has to have enough momentum to grab the string. Armed with this knowlege I attempted the yo yo again. It still didn't work. But I passed on the information to My Number Three Son and in about 15 minutes he was able to make the yo yo work.

Feeling accomplished I walked over to the hula hoop and gave it a twirl. Sure enough, it was still broken.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Gooseberry: Getting things right

I am finally becoming the kind of father I would like to be, or rather, that I started out being, but didn’t become because I got sidetracked by other things I thought were more important.

In all honesty, it was more a failure to properly address a conundrum than it was a total failing altogether. I have always loved my kids and done the best by them that I have known how. What I ran into, however, was a misplaced sense of what was best for my family.

Shoes are important. So is food, and school, and soccer, and scouting, and piano lessons and all those things that parents feel they need to make their children’s lives complete. These things require resources. Resources don’t grow on trees. Resources require a profession, which requires a job, which requires a certain commitment of time and effort or the job thing seems to go away.

It all started when I decided a good education would make life so much easier for my family. A few years of sacrifice followed by a lifetime of high hog livin’. But three years of going to school full-time, working three jobs and having highly active callings in church exacted its toll.

My Wonderful Wife and I had two children at the time, two boys who are now in the last couple years of living at home. They didn’t know they didn’t have things as well as other, more wealthy and established families. To them, life was great. One son even felt sorry for his classmates at school because they lived in such small houses and didn’t have a house as big as he did (he then drew a picture of our apartment building to drive home his point). I was driven, however, to be a good provider. After I graduated from law school I spent the typical 12 to 16 hours a day working on Capitol Hill. I would leave home in the morning when my kids were in their pajamas and then wouldn’t get home until after dinner when they were all ready for bed. Once, when my timing was right and I was able to eat dinner with the family and we had spaghetti, I wondered why the food didn’t taste right. That was when I realized I was used to only eating meals after they had been warmed up in the microwave.

Three kids later and a total of 9 years on the job I finally moved off the Hill and into corporate America. But I still didn’t get it right. I spent more than 80 percent of my time on the road. I thought I had to do it for my job and that my family would understand. They did, but it didn’t make things any better.

Finally I was forced to wake up and I stumbled across a great job that now allows me to spend more time at home. It has taken a year or two for me to unwind a little, but I am finally not only being home for dinner, but I am able to cook and help with the dishes, to yell at my kids when they get bad grades and to “encourage” them to do better. I am also able to go on campouts and bike rides and go cross country skiing.

I don’t know if my five children like having me around or not. Sometimes its hard to tell with teenagers, but I like being there to embarrass them and rub their noses in the dirt.

So in other words: when I started, I had these plans of being a great father, like the one I had growing up. I got sidetracked thinking being a great father meant being a good provider. Now I am beginning to realize that being a great father also means being available to smack down a six foot plus teenager because he thought turning in his assignments late was a fine thing to do.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Gooseberry on Tortious Behavior

I woke up this morning at 5 am to do two things:

1. Buy Krispy Kreme donuts for all of the lobbyists attending the 2009 Wyoming Legislature; and

2. Attend a hearing on a bill that would make job site owners strictly liable for any accident caused by a contractor's employee.

The donuts were good (even though I didn't eat any, they were still warm when I delivered them in Cheyenne).

The hearing was a mess. The attorney speaking in favor of the bill, who we will call Rectum to protect the innnocent, was a prevaricator and general liar. When asked if the bill would apply to anyone but the oil and gas industry he said, "No. It will only apply to oil and gas, and then only to wrongful death situations."

I know how to write bills. If you want a bill that only applies to one class of people you: a.) place the statute in a section of law that only applies to that class of people, or you b.) say directly in the bill "it only applies to this specific class of people." Rectum's bill was written to be inserted in the general tort section of the Wyoming statutes and makes no mention of oil and gas or wrongful deaths.

Then Rectum went on to say the bill only codified existing Wyoming tort law. Unfortunately for Rectum, this explanation stinks just as bad as his previous explanation of to whom the bill may be applied.

Under current law, a job site owner is only liable for injuries 1.) when he acts in such a way as to take over the responsibilities for directing the work from the contractor, thereby standing in the place of the contractor; or 2.) when he fails to perform on a duty of care created by some statute, contract, lease, regulation, etc.

The bill drafted by Rectum creates a "nondelegable duty" that arises, not from a failure to perform on the duty of care, but from the underlying statute, contract, lease, regulation, etc. In this instance, nondelegable duty means a "vicarious liability," or in other words, it creates a strict liability for another person's actions (Strict liabiltiy means there is no finding of fault, or duty. Fault is assumed and created by the statute itself). So -- the new statute would mean anyone who hires a contractor and signs a contract would, without doing anything themselves, be at fault without any review for a total 100 percent cost of any injuries.

Rectum says the goal of the bill is to make things safer. Unfortunately, the way the bill is written it makes companies do things to absolve themselves of any duty of care. They no longer will do things that require safety from their contractors. It, therefore, shift sthe burden of responsibility for safety from the contractor (the person in the best position to make sure a work place is safe) to the job site owner and then incentivizes the job site owner to drop all contractors like a hot potato.

What job site owner would want to hire a contractor to do anything if it meant taking on that kind of liability? There is no existing insurance to cover that kind of liability.

So the bill, instead of making people safer, makes job site owners do things like not sign contracts, which means no safety clauses and no more contractors.

One wonders, therefore, why Rectum was making such a big stink.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gooseberry on Being Human

I ran smack dab face-first into my own mortality today. I wish I could say it came from a life threatening event, or a sudden shock of reality by finding a horrid age spot on my body, but I am not that deep.

For one thing, I’ve known for some time now my beard is getting gray. My body went lumpy and old about the time I turned 25. I don’t like near death experiences so I take great pains to avoid them, and my children, Lord love them, make me feel old every day so that is a pressure I am getting used to (even the fact that my oldest son will turn 17 on January 30 doesn’t really phase me).

I hate to say it, but my mortality was revealed through the fact that I still do stupid, everyday things that I should have out grown years ago. I caught myself being human and couldn’t help but wonder, am I going to die like this? Am I going to work and work at being a better person, then turn around and revert back to junior high just as they turn the ventilator off just after my body has outlived all its warranties?

My darling wife is very much aware of my humanity. She patiently points out some of the rough edges that she would rather stop explaining to her friends. “He comes from Wyoming. They do things differently there,” I’ll hear her say. “Where he comes from, that sort of thing is normal. They just have different standards than the ones we had in my family.”

Once, when we were in church I tried to explain that, although Mormons have high standards, we still act human. “We just don’t swear when we yell at our kids,” I said.

My wife leaned over and gave me THE LOOK.

“Oh, yeah,” I said. “Let me change that. We don’t swear at our kids most of the time.”

I’d rather not wallow in my sins right now, so suffice it to say that my human side is stupid, and petty and probably more embarrassing than criminal. But the important thing is that I keep trying. I haven’t given up yet. My tactics are not the best, if they were any good I probably would have been translated by now, but I don’t think there is any fear of that happening any time soon.

The most discouraging part of my foibleishness is that I waste so much time and energy kicking myself for not being as good as I should be that I wonder how I ever get anything done at all. If I spent as much time working on my writing or playing my saxophone as I do on repenting, I would have been a bestselling author of books about how to play the saxophone by now.

Once again, there is hope. There is a chance that all those two-by-fours that I get smacked with will knock off enough rough edges that someday I won’t be an embarrassment to my wife. My kids, they will always be embarrassed no matter what I do.