“Free choice vouchers”

March 21, 2010

Let me preface this by saying that my understanding of the recently-passed Democrat-backed healthcare bill is elementary at best. (Let’s be honest here–even the knowledge of the Senators and Congressmen that have voted for this bill is elementary at best. There’s no way any one of them has read and understood all 2,500+ pages of this behemoth).

Now that that’s out of the way, on to my point. One thing I read about in the bill is that it provides for “free choice vouchers.” These are vouchers that certain employers must give to certain employees under certain conditions (again–does anyone really understand all the provisos and limitations of this thing? But I digress…) that will allow these employees to purchase their own health insurance through an exchange. The voucher guarantees that the employer will pay the same amount to this new insurance company that it would have payed to the company it does business with.

Personally, I think that sounds like a great idea. I’m all for giving people more choice. (Whether the federal government should be the one to mandate that choice is a question and an argument for another day). In fact, my big question here is–why is Congress so reluctant to mandate the same choice for parents who are dissatisfied with their local public school’s performance, but can’t afford to send their children to a private school, or even to a charter school that is too far away to be cost-effective?

I saw a story on CNN the other day that the Detroit public school system is closing 45 more schools in the near future, which means that about 50% of Detroit’s public schools have been closed since 2003. The reason? At least according to the commentator, a local reporter who has been covering education in the area for who knows how many years–competition from charter schools. She and the anchor then went on to debate whether this meant the end of education in Detroit. I, for one, think they both need to be slapped upside the head.

The death of public schools, especially at the hand of charter schools, does not mean the end of education! If anything, it signals the resurgence of education! For untold numbers of years, people have clamored for more money for our schools. If kids are underperforming–give the school more money. If teachers aren’t meeting proper goals and standards–give the school more money. No matter what the problem–give the school more money. Problem is, it hasn’t worked. You can’t throw money at an underperforming school and expect everything to just work itself out any better than you can throw water on a grease fire and expect it to quench the flames.

Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not so naive as to think that there are no under-funded schools that really could use more money for facilities and extracurricular programs. My point is simply this–competition will do more for underperforming schools than bags of cash. Thanks to teachers’ unions, there’s really no incentive to improve. Teacher’s salaries are woefully low for the job we expect them to do, but at least that job is secure. Short of budget cuts or murder, it is tough to get rid of a teacher that is not doing his or her job.

Giving parents the means to create competition for these teachers could very well be the fire that gets them going. You want to provide money to schools, send the money where the child is. Give parents vouchers that let them send their children to better schools, just like these free choice vouchers will let people buy insurance they otherwise might not have access to for financial reasons. The prospect of losing students, and therefore more funding, could very well be the incentive schools and teachers need to step up their game.

My kindergartner goes to a charter school. It is significantly farther from our house than the public school around the corner, but I have no qualms about declaring her school, the Sonoran Science Academy, to be leaps and bounds ahead of any public school in Tucson. She is starting to read basic chapter books, and she is currently doing at least first-grade math. And it’s not because SSA is loaded, not by any stretch of the imagination. The school scrounges for every nickel it gets. Parents are asked to provide many of the classroom supplies, and it seems like there is a new fundraiser every other day.

The key is what they do with what they have. The kids are challenged every day to do better. Starting next year, I’m told that children will study individual subjects according to their aptitude. Thus, if Katie shows up for school next year reading at a second-grade level, she’ll do reading with second graders, or math with third graders, etc. Compare this with a friend’s public school experience, where the parents were told that their child was bored in class because she was so far ahead of her classmates, but that she had to stick with the rest of them anyway. How does that make any sense? There is absolutely no reason to hold a child back like that. Giving everyone a fair shot at success does not mean suppressing everyone to the same level. If a child can hold her own with older kids in a certain subject, she should be allowed, and even encouraged, to.

I may have rambled a bit here, but my point is this–competition is good. If Congress thinks it will work for healthcare, they need to give it a shot with schools. If Detroit is closing public schools because more and more parents are sending their kids to charter schools, then I applaud those parents for doing what is best for their children and not merely taking the easy way out by sending them to the public school simply because it’s closer. If public schools are given an incentive to improve, then everyone benefits.

Así como el Señor vive

January 19, 2010

As I was reading the Book of Mormon this morning, I came across the following verse in 1 Nephi 3:15–“Así como el Señor vive, y como nosotros vivimos, no descenderemos hasta nuestro padre en el desierto hasta que hayamos cumplido lo que el Señor nos ha mandado.” (I was reading in Spanish). Translated, this verse says “As the Lord liveth, and as we live, we will not descend to our father in the desert until we have completed that which the Lord has commanded us.”

Nephi’s words really stood out to me. In 1 Nephi 3, the verse that is most often quoted is verse 7–the famous “I will go and do” verse. While a willingness to obey is certainly important, oftentimes we will be most benefitted by our ability to maintain that willingness in the face of hardship and discouragement. It is not enough to attempt to obey–Heavenly Father wants to see us keep trying until we are successful. As verse 7 states, “He giveth no commandments unto the children of men save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” Problem is, although we often set about a task with those words in mind, we soon fall prey to our own sense of entitlement, becoming discouraged if things don’t turn out like we’d hoped on the first or second try.

1 Nephi 3:7 assures us that the Lord will provide a way for us to succeed in everything he asks of us. It does not assure us that the solution will be easy, or quickly forthcoming. Verse 15, then, describes the attitude we must have if we are to reap the blessings promised in verse 7–that “as the Lord liveth, and as we live, we will not give up, or go back in defeat, but we will persevere until we have done what the Lord commanded us to do.”

We often forget that this life is meant to be a test, and one of the lessons we must learn, probably the most important lesson, is that we cannot succeed on our own. True happiness requires a willingness to put the Lord first, to obey His commandments, and to put our trust in Him. When things don’t happen the way we would like, the solution is not to become bitter and jaded, cursing God and denying our faith in Him, but to turn to Him with greater intent, and to humble ourselves until we are ready to see and do things His way. This does not mean that we give up our God-given free agency, but rather that we willingly use it to “go and do the thing the Lord commands.” In so doing, we will prevail, and our lives, and those of our families, will be blessed. In so doing, we will find the peace and happiness that elude so many today.

The Book of Mormon is a true book, written by ancient prophets of God for our benefit today. I know it, because when I read it with a sincere desire to learn and be uplifted, I am blessed with insight and personal revelation like that I have shared today. No one can ever take that from me, and I am truly grateful for a loving Heavenly Father who saw fit to provide a way for me to “go and do the things [He] commands,” just as the Book of Mormon has promised.

The Ultimate Manly Man Workout

December 21, 2009

You know you’re a real man if you can complete this entire workout without stopping to gasp for air like you’re about to keel over and die. I found it online when I was preparing to go to Navy Officer Candidate School a couple of years ago. I tried to do it this morning, and I didn’t even complete all of Round 1. It’s a butt-kicker, plain and simple:

Warm up:

50 jumping jacks

20 windmills

various stretches

Round 1:

20 8-count bodybuilders

20 4-count flutter kicks

20 squats

20 4-count pushups

20 4-count hello darlings

20 lunges (each leg)

40 small arm circles

20 burpees

20 4-count pushups

20 4-count flutter kicks

20 squat jumps

40 arm hurlers

2 supersets: 10 diamond pushups/10 4-count mountain climbers (don’t get up in between)

Run 1-1.5 miles @ 8:30 pace or better

And then, as if all that wasn’t enough–Round 2:

20 8-count bodybuilders

25 4-count flutter kicks

20 squat jumps

15 4-count pushups

20 4-count V-crunches

20 lunges (each leg)

20 press-press-flings

15 4-count diamond pushups

25 4-count flutter kicks

20 burpees

40 arm hurlers

3 supersets: 10 diamond pushups/10 4-count mountain climbers (do not get up in between)

Run another 1-1.5 miles (stop and do pushups when you feel out of breath)

10 8-count bodybuilders

Stretch–Done!

Anyone that can do this entire workout without stopping is an animal. My goal is to be that animal–preferably by the time classes start again on January 12, although if I am successfully completing Round 1 and getting into Round 2, I’ll consider that a victory. The plan is to do this 3 days a week, with a good old-fashioned 2-mile run on the off days. The best part about it is that there are no weights or other equipment required, so I can even do it while I am in Thatcher for Christmas. Wish me luck.

I hardly ever write on this thing

December 3, 2009

And now finals are starting, so it’s even less likely to happen. Oh well, maybe afterwards…

I just had the best birthday dinner

November 3, 2009

(DISCLAIMER: I’m not a food critic, as will be plainly evident by the end of this. I don’t know how to accurately and colorfully describe food. I do know how to eat it, though, and I do that well).

I wish I had taken pictures of it, because I don’t think my literary skills will do it justice. I got the idea from the Weber Grilling Companion app I recently purchased for my iPhone. After the excellence that was tonight’s dinner, I can pretty safely say that it among the best $5 I ever spent.

“What was this dinner that was so amazing?” you may ask. Steak sandwiches. Now I realize that on its face, “steak sandwiches” doesn’t scream “AWESOME!” Trust me, the name doesn’t do them justice. To start with, I grilled 3 red bell peppers and an anaheim chile, along with some onion slices brushed with olive oil. These were then tossed with a little garlic. I also toasted the sub rolls on the grill with a little butter. The steaks were two 1/2-pound filet mignons, which I grilled to about a medium.

Joining the peppers, onions, and steak on the sub rolls were blue cheese dressing and sliced hard-boiled eggs, all piled so high on the bun that I had to smash it down a little to eat it. If this were my creation, I never would have put eggs on it, but like Captain Planet, the ingredients’ powers combined blew me away. It was probably the best sandwich I’ve ever had. I wish every day were steak sandwich day. I finished that off with a man-sized slice of Heather’s homemade cheesecake. You really can’t beat that meal. And except for the cheesecake, it was mostly healthy-the meat wasn’t full of fat, the blue cheese was light, and the veggies were grilled in olive oil. It’s a win-win. All in all, I call it a perfect end to a good day.

I need to get in shape

November 1, 2009

I used to be a fit young man. I played a little football in high school, I played racquetball and basketball with my friends, and my metabolism was a raging inferno that allowed me to eat whatever I wanted to without thinking twice about it. No longer. I turn 29 in less than 72 hours, and those days are long since past. After study time and family time, there’s not much daylight left for sports or working out. Even if there was, I usually don’t feel like I have the energy to do it.

When I came home from my mission, I was a svelte 6’3″ 180 lbs. Two years spent walking 20+ miles a day just melts the fat right off of you. Then I got married, and my wife got pregnant. She couldn’t cook because she was sick all day long, and I never wanted to cook after I got home from school and work, so we ate a lot of Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. Over the 9 months of her pregnancy I gained 80 pounds, topping out at 260 lbs! I stayed that weight for a while. Somehow, I didn’t notice I was that big, although looking back at pictures from that time I don’t know how it escaped me.

The tipping point for me was tying my shoes. One day I realized that I was holding my breath when I bent over to tie my shoes because my gut was too big to breathe while it was sandwiched against my legs. I was completely disgusted, and that night I hit the interwebs to do some research. With the help of an online meal and exercise planner from Men’s Health, I was able to lose 50 lbs in about 6 months. I managed to keep the weight off for quite a while, too. My weight stayed in the 210-215 lbs. range for almost 2 years.

Then I started law school. I was in a new city, with new people, and a stressful new “job.” I went to school at 7:00 a.m. and came home around 8:00 p.m. After 13 hours of going to class and studying in the library, I just didn’t have it in me to work out. My diet suffered, too, and I started eating whatever was fastest, easiest, and closest. Luckily, though, I didn’t let it get so out of hand before I decided to make a change.

By the end of my first year (this past May), I was back up to around 225 lbs. Not a huge gain, sure, but the start of a bad trend. Over the summer I started to get back to the habits that took the weight off the first time–I was eating better, exercising more regularly, and drinking less soda (yes, I’ll admit, I drink more soda than I should, but more on that later). A couple of weeks into this new semester I weighed myself again, and was pleased to see I’d dropped a little weight, coming in at 220 lbs.

Then the storm hit. My workload this semester has been pretty intense, and I have found myself slipping back into last year’s patterns–long days at school filled with more frequent departures from tried-and-true healthy eating habits followed by more frequently excused workouts. I’m back up to 225-227 lbs., and I don’t like the view.

I haven’t gotten to the point of holding my breath to tie my shoes, but I can see my gut push out my shirt every time I sit down. I feel tired all the time, and I’m drinking at least 20 oz. of soda a day, sometimes more. I stay up late because I feel like I have to have at least a couple of waking hours where I’m not studying, which only makes me more tired and more likely to pound the Diet Mt. Dew. I don’t like feeling this way, but it’s hard to find the time and the motivation to make the necessary changes when life is so busy.

The other day my wife offered me a challenge–to get up at 5:00 a.m. every day, Monday through Saturday, and do P90X again. We had started doing it the summer before law school started, but once it was time to start moving preparations and what not we got off-track and never really go back on. I waffled at first, hemming and hawing and making excuses about why I can’t at this point, etc.

This weekend, though, sealed the deal for me. I have already eaten way too much Halloween candy, and there’s still more on the counter. The coming months will only bring more sweets, because what good are Thanksgiving and Christmas without pie and candy? Besides that, I want to join JAG after graduation, and I’ll have to meet the fitness requirements. Even though that’s still a little ways off, I might as well start early, right?

I am therefore making a pre-emptive strike and accepting my wife’s offer. To make sure I stay on-track, I will make use of this new blog and my pretty-much-unused Twitter account. I don’t have any delusions of mass amount of followers or people who really care aobut what I am eating and how I am exercising, but I’m hoping that knowing that the possibility, however slight, even exists that someone might be paying attention is enough to keep me motivated, even during finals.

To that end, I will be tweeting profusely, from what time I got up and went to bed, to what workout I did, to what I’ve been eating and how much water (and soda) I’ve had to drink throughout the day. Anyone who cares to know all of this can follow me at http://twitter.com/jacobbradylee. I’ll try to pay attention to how my body responds to everything as well, not just in terms of appearances, but energy levels and general moods, and I’ll use the blog to cover those more detailed topics.

All that said, I’ve got to hit the sack. 5:00 comes early, and I start right now. Instead of wishing me luck, how about some highly-motivated vibes, comments, and tweets?

Kids need to learn to compete

November 1, 2009

My five year old came home from school the other day and told me that they did a relay race in P.E. Naturally, I asked her who won. Her answer? “No one. No one needs to win.”

What kind of nonsense is this? P.E. teachers are supposed to be tough(er than the rest of the teachers, at least), not “lovey-dovey, everyone’s a winner, let’s all hug now” softies. Of course someone needs to win! Human beings have been competing since the beginning of time. It’s in our nature, and there’s no social utility in trying to erase that instinct. Species evolve because the strong survive, not because they all decided to share and share alike.

In the real world, there is always a winner and a loser. (OK, I’ll admit–win-win situations do occasionally happen, but they are hardly the norm). Life, as anyone who’s lived it can tell you, is often disappointing. That might sound a little pessimistic, sure, but I prefer to call it realistic. It’s just a fact of life that you can’t always get what you want. Sometimes you don’t win, and that’s OK; when it happens, you pick yourself up and try harder the next time, and you keep doing that until you do win.

The last time I checked, one of the major purposes of sending your kids to school is to prepare them for the real world. Telling them that no one has to win for them to all have fun does not do that. Half the joy of competing is the struggle to win, to overcome obstacles and defeat your opponent. Kids that have been led to believe that the world is sugar-coated with kisses and hugs and games where everyone’s a winner and everyone gets a trophy at the end of the season will necessarily have a hard time coming to grips with their first (real) loss.

I’m not saying that kids need to have their dreams crushed and beaten into submission with the cold, hard realities of life. They without a doubt need to be encouraged to work hard and aim high. I simply don’t see how they can do that without competition. In a world with no winners and no losers, where does the drive to work harder, to innovate, to achieve come from? If everyone is going to get the same trophy at the end regardless of the effort they put in and the results they achieved, then why bother trying?

Not to wax too historical here, but the Founding Fathers understood a thing or two about the nature of competition and the thrill of victory. I don’t think it’s going too far to say that one of the reasons they didn’t embrace a socialist form of government and a communist economy where everyone gets the same and no one wins is because while it may sound appealing to some in the short term, it’s crippling long-term. I’m sure they roll over in their graves every time they hear some school teacher tell his students that no one needs to win. At the very least they must roll their eyes. I know I do.

Nostalgia’s a beast

October 31, 2009

When I lived in Gilbert, I complained about it often-the traffic, the size, the drive time, the other drivers, you name it. I thought that moving to Tucson would be a welcome change-it was smaller, there were fewer people, things would be closer, etc. Well, cliches aren’t cliches for nothing, and hindsight really is 20/20. Driving through Gilbert tonight on the SanTan 202, I realized how much I missed Gilbert. First of all, we were on a freeway. In the middle of town. And there was hardly anyone else on it, even at 8:00 on a Friday night. Good luck finding a street like that in Tucson, at any time of the day. “Freeway” is an unknown word in Tucson, and “traffic” is all too familiar. I used to complain about driving 30 minutes from my house to school when I was at ASU, even though looking back that was pretty reasonable for a 20 mile drive. I still drive 30 minutes from home to school in Tucson, but the drive is only 11 miles. What the what?

That’s not all I miss about Gilbert, either. The malls were nicer, the move theaters were better in every way (Dan Harkins, I salute you and your family. Your theaters are a blessing to mankind, what with their 25 screens, comfortable seats, and brightly lit, non-scary atmospheres. Century Theaters, take notes-you are sorely lacking.), and there were 2 Apple Stores within 10 minutes of my house, 15 at the most, compared to the one that is now 20 minutes away.

Of all these things, though, something I miss more than just about everything else is Quick Trip. Seriously, if there is a better convenience store chain in this country, I have yet to encounter it. I don’t get really passionate about too many things, but I do love me some QT. As far as I’m concerned, QT is the Disneyland of convenience stores. I went in to one tonight after not doing so for over a year, and I had to stop and take it in. They literally have it all. There’s not a road trip drink I would buy that QT doesn’t stock. Add to that their ridiculous prices, and I honestly don’t know how joints like Circle K stay in business, given their limited stock and scary staff. The folks at QT are energetic, friendly, and efficient. I don’t think I’ve ever stood in line for longer than a minute, even during the morning coffee rush. They’re taking two people at a time on either side of the register, while Circle K is taking up to a minute for each item one customer set on the counter. I don’t know why QT isn’t a bigger deal, but it certainly needs to be.

Fortunately for Tucson, help is on the way-a QT is going up on Speedway. Fortunately for me, it’s on my way to school, which means I may never have to set foot in a Tucson Circle K again!

I don’t mean to imply by all of this that I am unhappy in Tucson. We live in a nice part of town, with excellent neighbors, and we really are happy with how everything has worked out. I’ve just come to realize that Gilbert wasn’t all that bad, and was even pretty good at times. One of those life lessons you learn with age, I guess-you really should be grateful for what you have when you have it.

That being said, I’m going to find a way to be grateful that I get to rock the baby now…