The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort. -- Robert A. Heinlein
Somewhere in the crusty outer layer of small towns surrounding the warm creamy center that is Oklahoma City.
It's not just a financial imperative, it's a cool piece of software. As my wife and I have worked to get our financial house in order, with our foray into the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace program, one thing we've struggled to find is a decent checkbook program to make our efforts work better.
We've tried Quicken, used Microsoft Money for a good long time, tried iBank upon our switch to being a Mac household, and wound up using MoneyDance for a couple of years. All of these are decent programs for managing a checkbook or keeping track of one's bank accounts, but there's something decidedly lacking in the budgeting features of each.
I've been to the Apple World Wide Developer's Conference a handful of times, and each time the Apple folks who gave talks at the event constantly harped on the user interface for the programs we were writing. What's the central focus of the program? What is "front and center" when you open it? What screen does the user return to again and again?
I never really considered how these questions and the concepts they teach could be applied to financial software, until my wife found You Need A Budget (YNAB). In all of the aforementioned programs, the central focus has been the transaction log or check register. There are budgeting features, but they are not the "central focus" or "main window" of the program. Getting to the budget usually involves opening a secondary window or a different view that's heavy on graphs and light on interactivity. The budget is usually a static thing, and changing the budget for this month changes the budget globally, and category balances aren't tracked from month to month.
Enter YNAB. In this program, the transaction log is secondary. It's there for you to use and interact with, but it's stripped down and simplified because the main focus of the program is your monthly budget. Your income for the month is listed, and you are expected to assign every last dollar to a category. Once all of your categories are assigned, you simply go about your business, entering transactions in the log (or downloading them from your bank) and making sure that every transaction is assigned a category as well. The interesting thing is that, immediately upon doing so, you feel almost compelled to go back to the budget screen and look at how things are progressing. This is good software design: keep the user focused on what's most important to the user, in this case, the user's budget.
Before getting YNAB, my wife and I would make our budget, and we would record/download our transaction log, but comparing our actual expenses to the budget was always harder than it needed to be, so we found we didn't do it as thoroughly or as often as we really needed to. With YNAB, the budget and the effects of our current transactions are always front-and-center. The budget is this month's budget, but we can also look at last month's budget and the month before's budget, and so on. We can see how we've been doing every month, and category balances carry over from month to month. If we budget $100 for entertainment, but only spend $50, the remaining $50 is listed as a balance in the entertainment category for next month. This allows and encourages us to moderate the budget in each category and reduce our expenses (and thus grow our savings).
Since getting YNAB, we've maximized our monthly savings, accounted for home & auto maintenance, and done all of the things a good budget is supposed to do for one's finances. We'd been putting in the effort for a long time, but the tools we were using just didn't work with us to achieve our goals. Switching to YNAB has had the same effect on our efforts that switching from a manual screwdriver to a drill has on one's ability to drive screws -- it puts the power of technology behind our efforts, instead of making us do all the work.
The one complaint I have is that YNAB uses an interpreted platform from Adobe, like Flash, which creates an extra layer of complexity and makes the program feel less responsive. The upside of this is that the Adobe platform allows it to be distributed on both Windows and Mac, but I would prefer a native-compiled program for better responsiveness and fidelity to the end-user's operating system and UI standards. In all, this is a minor complaint, since the rest of the program produces major results in what's important to me: the state of my household finances.
I'd give YNAB a 4 out of 5 stars and heartily recommend it to anyone who, like me, has trouble creating, maintaining, and reconciling a monthly household budget. It's a great piece of software for devotees of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University, as well as for anyone who's wanted a little more out of their budgeting tools than what's usually provided with checkbook programs.
One of the major criticisms of Apple's new iBooks app for the iPad is that it didn't have a process for self-publishing. Now it does.
However, it lacks the polish one usually expects from Apple's solutions, perhaps indicating that they've rushed it out the door:
There are some requirements though but help is available. You'll need to have:
*ISBN numbers for the books you want to distribute
*the ability to deliver the book in EPUB format
*the book pass EpubCheck 1.0.5
*a US Tax ID (sorry world, this is only open to the US at this point)
*an iTunes account backed up by a credit card
*a fairly good idea of where you'll sell and how much you'll sell
*an Intel-based Mac running OS 10.5 or better (sorry PC users, their game, their rules) and meet some reasonable technical requirements
Perhaps it's just the bullet points talking, but the Kindle self-publishing model seems a lot more streamlined and user-friendly, like they're trying to actually help you publish. Every requirement comes with an corresponding way to meet it.
* Small publishers and authors can take advantage of Amazon's self-service tools through the Amazon.com Digital Text Platform (DTP).
* Publishers who have a relationship with an Amazon Kindle vendor manager should read more about Kindle Title Manager.
* Publishers and individuals who are comfortable working with HTML can use KindleGen (see the KindleGen section below) to create content, and eBookbase to upload files.
* Kindle Previewer (see the Kindle Previewer section below) lets publishers and individuals validate the content formatting of Kindle books created for Kindle devices and applications.
* Publishers who have many titles to convert, but may not have the time or technical expertise, might want to consider outsourcing to a conversion house.
For more information on any of these options, or to see a complete explanation of how to make a book available on Amazon Kindle, please see the Amazon Kindle Publishing Guidelines.
If you have further questions regarding how to sell your books on Amazon Kindle, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kindle Newspapers, Magazines, Blogs & News Feeds
* Publishers can self-publish content as a blog or news feed using Kindle Publishing for Blogs beta.
* Publishers interested in making other types of periodicals available for Amazon Kindle should contact email@example.com.
Eventually I hope to see an Apple interface for publishing that lets me upload a text file through the iBooks application, have it formatted, charge me for the bookkeeping requirements and BLAM! Listed on the store. That would be more Apple-like, IMO.
Yesterday my mother-in-law took us on a balloon ride. She always has the neatest ideas for activities.
Here's some shots of the balloon being inflated:
Then we all piled in and launched... got a good shot of our shadow with the second balloon stretched out and being prepped for inflation.
A few minutes later, we were well on our way and I got a last shot of the second balloon almost ready to launch.
Finally, it was fascinating to see the mansions hidden amongst the trees, houses you would never see from the ground, hidden as they are from the roads.
We had a bit of trouble finding a place to put down, but our pilot was a pro and got us down in a tiny little field just barely big enough for the balloon.
The only mishap was getting back into the van once we had the balloon packed up. I went to step up into the side doorway and whacked my head on the door latch. It wouldn't be worth mentioning (since I bang my head on stuff all the time -- you would too with a melon this big), except that it is literally the hardest I have ever hit it. I actually lost motor control for a few seconds, and flopped onto the step while I tried to reboot. This morning the only lasting effect is a really sore neck right up around the base of my skull.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: If you hold strong opinions about this subject, and you know me, it may not benefit our relationship for you to read this. Consider this carefully before reading on.
I've never written about abortion on this blog, beyond mentioning it in passing. My primary reason is that any discussion about abortion is a no-win scenario, and like Captain Kirk I just don't believe in no-win scenarios. The "official" debate is tiresome: neither side listens to what the other side has to say, and both simply spend their time shouting past one another, trying to see who can come up with the most emotionally overwrought display. More to the point, I've talked to (and read articles by) people on both sides of the issue, and while there are many passionate opinions, for the most part I haven't gotten the impression that there are very many well-considered ones.
A well-considered opinion is an opinion worth having because it took some time, effort, and soul-searching to actually arrive at it. It goes beyond "rights of the child vs rights of the mother: pick one". It requires some research. It requires being willing (and able) to think "outside the box". Most of all, it requires some careful and honest consideration of what all sides have to say, not just the folks that agree with us.
I'll start off by saying that at first glance, I am personally horrified by the very idea of abortion. However, there are plenty of things which horrify or otherwise disturb me at a visceral level, but which I cannot bring myself to advocate in favor of banning by force of law. My own emotions or discomfort are insufficient reason to threaten violence against my fellow (wo)man. It's therefore necessary to consider further.
In terms of setting government policy, I also find myself unmoved by scriptural arguments. At the very least, there are two problems with passing a law based on scripture: the first is that anything of the sort is very likely unconstitutional, in violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause. It is possible to pass a law against murder, not because the Bible says that murder is wrong, but because there is virtually universal agreement that murder is wrong. It can be argued from any number of religious or secular viewpoints, and even anti-regulation libertarian/anarchist types like me, with our foundational belief that all rights are property rights, have no problem accepting the basic premise that murder is wrong and should be against the law. So with regard to abortion, it seems necessary to make a non-scriptural argument against it, or at least in favor of the idea that it equates with murder.
This leads me to the second reason I don't find the Bible particularly helpful: arguing with anyone who doesn't believe in the Bible pretty much nullifies any points one might make. Some might say that we should convert our opponents, but it seems rather dishonest to lead someone into relationship with God for the sole purpose of entrapping them into conceding a political point. The strategy also presupposes success in the conversion effort, which is not a foregone conclusion. Kirk Cameron may be convinced that he can convert anyone, but I have my doubts about his (or my) ability in this regard, especially since it is my belief that the Holy Spirit does the converting, not me.
Even if we are to agree with our adversary in being Christian, and that we both "believe in the Bible", this does not necessarily result in an agreement about what the Bible says. Doctrinal disputes are already legion, over things as minor as what kinds of food are permissible to eat, and remain largely unresolved. It's folly to think that solutions to an issue as large as abortion can be agreed upon even among fellow believers, because in essence, they may also be "Christian", but it does not follow that their standard of morality necessarily matches our own. If we can't agree among ourselves, it's going to be difficult convincing the rest of the world that we know what we're talking about.
So what is one to do when arguing a moral point with someone who does not agree with one's own basis of morality? This is the question I asked myself many years ago, and the only answer that seemed right was to study other systems of morality and ethics. I didn't recognize it at the time, but this also implies a responsibility to integrate the new knowledge into the existing belief system, a process which is far more painful and arduous than it might seem initially. The more emotional the subject, the more difficult it is to accept that we may be wrong about some or all of our position.
For a lot of people, the debate over abortion is completely encapsulated in a fight over the legal definition of the beginning of life. Some will claim that life properly begins at conception, others at delivery, and others somewhere in between. I use the term "legal" here specifically to delineate it from a "moral" definition of the beginning of life. "Legal" in this sense means "that which we are willing to use violence to protect". Paraphrasing Justice Holmes, the law is a statement of conditions under which public violence will be brought against an individual. When we make a law, we are stating that we are willing to use violence against those who break it, and as such we need to be circumspect in our process. A morally just law excuses equally violence by individuals against lawbreakers as well as violence by the State, and any individual proposing a law should consider whether they are willing to personally use violence to enforce its conditions.
Several years ago, I read an article that proposed we legally define the beginning of life in the same terms by which we define the end of life. As the author understood it, the legal end of life happens at the cessation of brain function; therefore the legal beginning of life would be the beginning of brain function, which he had ascertained happens about the end of the first trimester of a pregnancy. By his approach then, we would allow all first-trimester abortions and prohibit all others.
I found this approach moderately satisfying in that it was at the very least logically consistent. It wasn’t until several years later that Murray Rothbard’s section on children in The Ethics of Liberty would lead me to contemplate the rest of the issue.
Surrounding the issue of abortion are a few basic concerns:
First, there are the fundamental property rights of the mother vis-a-vis her body. Many on the “pro-life” side of the argument are quick to dismiss these as unimportant.
Second, there are the fundamental property rights of the child vis-a-vis its body. Again, many on the “pro-choice” side of the argument are quick to dismiss these as unimportant.
Balancing these rights against one another is, in a lot of ways, the true crux of the abortion debate. Whose rights should win out? Whose should be abrogated? What about when the mother’s health is at stake, could it not be said that the child is aggressing against her? I’ll come back to this.
Third, there is the question of what to do with all of these unwanted children who would be born if abortion were completely outlawed and successfully prevented in all cases. The normal argument is to adopt them out, but this is usually made by people with no understanding of the adoption process in the United States. As a friend of mine once said, "If it’s illegal to sell children, why does adoption cost twenty thousand dollars?"
This is no small point. My wife and I explored the idea of adoption for a time. There were basically two paths: become foster parents and hope for a chance at some point in the future to adopt one of the kids you were fostering, or write a check for several thousand dollars for a chance at adopting.
Neither of these was palatable to us. We doubted our ability to emotionally handle the taking in and giving up of foster children. It probably takes a special sort of strength to care for a child who's been abused or neglected or who's come from an unhealthy environment, only to see them go back to those environments after having cared for them over the course of several months or years. I don't believe I could do it, and with a child's future and health hanging in the balance (not to mention my own ability to cope), I'm not about to try.
The second option is even worse. The best situation I found was to write checks totalling $1500 or so to "be considered" for adoption, with several thousand more coming due if one is actually approved. It's like having to send $1500 along with your resume when applying for a job. My friends who adopted through a private law firm got a call one afternoon saying "we've got a baby for you, if you want him come to the hospital and bring a check for $8000". That was of course before they got hit with all of the mother's medical bills, which came as part of the package and drove the total price closer to $20,000. The $8000 was just for the lawyers to do the simplest part of the process, and did not guarantee that the adoption would actually be successful. Had the mother changed her mind (and she was given ample opportunity to do so, by law), my friends would have been out the money for the law firm and still without an adopted child. In my head, this translates to "gambling for babies"... high rollers only, please.
There are "free" ways to do an adoption of course, but it requires that the transfer be made essentially within one's social circle. You have to know someone who knows someone, and hope that everything goes the friendly way. We got into one such situation, but got punted right back out, not because anything was wrong with us, but because the mother giving up the child was having a fight with her own mother and didn't feel like being cooperative. Last I heard, the kid was going into the "write a big fat check" system. It's also rather perverse to be wishing or hoping that the teenaged daughters of folks in my social circle go out and get pregnant just so I can have an inexpensive way to adopt.
All of this is to point out that the adoption system is not as easy and quick as pro-lifers would have you believe. It may be so for mothers giving up their children, but it is downright hostile to prospective parents, and a lot of this could be changed by undoing the excessive regulation over the adoption system. Unfortunately, the folks who'll turn out to march with signs in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic don't seem to be all that interested in improving the adoption system to make it less adversarial for those of us who want these children (though to be fair, neither do the pro-choice folks).
It was a science fiction novel (a series of them, really) that led me back around to the problem of mother's rights vs child's rights. In David Weber's Honor Harrington series, Honor becomes pregnant during one of the later novels (I believe At All Costs). In this far-future setting, women in technologically advanced societies such as Honor's Star Kingdom of Manticore have the option to skip the whole stretch-marks and weight-gain bit and simply have their embryos "tubed". Essentially the infant is grown in an artificial womb from the time it is a small cluster of cells until it's ready to be "born".
This, coupled with the horrific stories that appear every once in a while regarding aborted infants who survive the process, brought me to realize a singular fact that seems completely absent in the American abortion debate: terminating a pregnancy is a separate issue from terminating a life. Apparently some other countries have taken this into account, considering this from the article: "According to Italian law, if the possibility exists that the fetus can live autonomously, an "interruption" can only take place when the mother's life is in serious danger and in that case doctor's must adopt "every appropriate measure" to safeguard the life of the child."
The more I considered this, the more it became clear that it is not entirely necessary that the mother's rights conflict with the child's. Both can be respected if we allow abortion to mean termination of a pregnancy, but not termination of a life. If that is accomplished, the only problem to be solved is technical: maximizing the survivability of premature infants, developing "artificial womb" technology, and so forth.
Granted, there are issues to consider. First is the claim by some feminists that they not only have a right to abort the pregnancy, but that this right encompasses an equal right to deny the child its very existence by virtue of the fact that it is at least partially comprised of her genetic material. This cannot be allowed to stand, else it must necessarily include any mother's (or father's) right to kill her own child at any age, and this is clearly untenable. One might argue that the right to kill is necessarily attached to the act of aborting a pregnancy, but it is unclear why this would be so, from a moral point of view. Once our genetic material has become part of some separately identifiable being, whether it be a full person or a clump of cells, it no longer belongs to us but to this new being, regardless of whether this new being is physically attached to us or not. Achieving physical separation by aborting the pregnancy fulfills completely the necessary obligation to allow the mother control of her body. Killing the child is unnecessary for such purposes, and violates the child's right to its body.
The second issue is the cost of caring for premature infants, which I understand is astronomical. Until we develop "artificial womb" technology, it is likely to remain so, and even then it may not be cheap. One of the basic tenets of a philosophy founded on property rights is that no one has the right to demand survival at the expense of another, which unfortunately puts the product of an aborted pregnancy in the undesirable position of simply dying of neglect. Indeed, this is the other half of the horrific stories previously mentioned where the infant survives an abortion. Once again though, it is something which could be handled if the excessive regulation surrounding children (not to mention medicine) were made more reasonable. Charities could be formed to cover such expenses, donors could be bumped to the front of the line of adoption lists, and all of the energy that presently goes into fighting to make abortion illegal could instead be funneled into caring for those who no longer have parents. These same charities, or different ones, could also help fund further research into survivability and technology that would make the process cheaper.
The third issue is one that is almost never considered: the rights of the child's father. It is always presumed that he doesn't care and would rather the child didn't exist, but this is unfair in the extreme. It's borne out of the idiotic assertion that abortion is solely a women's issue rather than being a human issue. The only person I've seen in "major" media who really takes any time at all with men's rights in the family is Cathy Young, who's written a fair number of articles on the subject for Reason. It seems to me that the father of such a child should be given the option to maintain his parental rights even if the mother chooses to sever hers. Of course, he would then become responsible for that child's medical debt, but I daresay there are at least some men who would gladly take on the responsibility.
The fourth issue brings us full circle back to the question of what to do with all of these test-tube babies, and the answer here is that there has to be a literal revolution in the way that we handle adoption. The laws need to be rolled back, rewritten, reorganized, and streamlined so that the child's interest is protected but prospective parents can more easily get involved in the process. Given that our anti-market health care system is likely not going anywhere, and is likely to become even more anti-market, some provision would need to be made to have premature infants added to the health insurance of prospective adoptive parents.
In terms of what could be done now, the most obvious is to prevent the killing of aborted infants while continuing to allow the termination of pregnancies, with the added presumption that termination of pregnancy also terminates maternal rights. The disturbing part of this is that many such infants would likely die of neglect with no one to fund their care. It would be a test of the pro-life crowd's dedication to their principles to get such funding in place and working to provide for all of these children, not just to the point where they're no longer in need of intensive medical care, but also when they reach the stage of normal infancy. If the figures I hear about abortion are correct, it's going to require a massive re-thinking of the way orphans are handled. I imagine entire churches becoming dedicated orphanages, along with secular charities and the like.
On the good side of things, I think it would provide many churches with a real and tangible mission, one that is completely lacking in many places. I have visions in my head of an entire congregation of families collectively looking after children who are wards of the church, or even adopting them straight out of the church. It may require a different definition of church or family or both, and it's possible that churches may need to specialize in one form of service or another to prevent conflicts of interest (ie, churches who tend to ex-convicts and the like vs "creche churches"), but none of these are insurmountable obstacles. It might also make some churches far more popular and some congregations far more generous than they presently are.
Consider: in the state of Oklahoma, gross per capita personal income is around $32,000 (2006 figures). If a congregation of 100 people tithed faithfully, they would be generating $320,000 per year. Certainly, some of this money would need to go towards the building, infrastructure, and salaries for the clergy, but surely even a congregation this small but this faithful could provide for a child or two, or at least donate substantially to cover medical costs for the products of aborted pregnancies? We also have churches with multi-million-dollar facilities that apparently exist only for the purpose of putting on a good show every Sunday morning. What if that money were channeled into something real, like the care of orphans and widows? How much more exciting would church be, with the whole congregation working to accomplish a task as important as raising a child?
The problem with the abortion debate is that those on the pro-choice side look at the scale of the task and simply declare that it can't be done, so it's easier to just kill the babies, while those on the pro-life side haven't even attempted to understand the real, practical problems that must necessarily follow from not killing them. One might argue that the mother should raise the child, but that perversely puts the child in the care of a person whose desire was to have it killed. The potential to solve this problem for the good of all does exist, but it requires the pro-choicers to not stand in the way, and it requires the pro-lifers to step up in a far more massive and unprecedented manner than has probably ever been seen before.
On the political front, pro-lifers need to be working to tear down the barriers to adoption. They need to adjust their definition of abortion, recognize that the mother has property rights in her body, and accept that this means the ability to end a pregnancy. At the same time, the pro-choicers need to recognize that the right to end a pregnancy is not the same as the right to kill the child. The child must be allowed to live if it can, by whatever means or aid comes to it, and that it has a fundamental right not to be aggressed against.
On the personal front, pro-lifers then need to aggressively seek to care for the children that are products of terminated pregnancies. This will probably involve additional political struggle, to gain the right to act charitably on the children's behalf, despite all of the red tape they will likely encounter. Some form of notification system would need to be set up and maintained. They need to recognize that in the short term, the cost of adoption will likely skyrocket due to the cost of medical care for premature infants, and they need to be dedicated, financially and spiritually, to the notion that each child needs to be placed in a good home regardless of the prospective parents' ability to personally pay off the child's accrued medical debt. This probably means being willing as a church or charity to service that debt in the new parents' stead, and folks need to understand that the cost could easily reach into the billions of dollars that would need to be raised.
Additionally, pro-lifers need to be seeking and funding research into cheaper, better ways to care for premature infants. This may mean working with medical research companies whose work might be considered unsavory for other reasons, but again the ultimate goal of saving children's lives is what's important here. It should also be a goal, even if the idea is only science fiction now, to some day develop an artificial womb. Artificial hearts, personal computers, and cell phones were once science fiction, but that didn't stop us from developing them.
Anyway, those are my thoughts. It's not a perfect vision, but I daresay it's more vision than I usually hear from others when the subject comes up. Call me a dreamer or a monster if you like, but don't come to me with the same tired old platitudes from one side or the other. Come with an opinion that has some actual work behind it, one that considers all of the issues and angles, or at least one that shows respect for the amount of work I've put into my own opinion. Cries of "baby-killer!" and "misogynist!" no longer hold any weight with me.
Here's the tornado tracks from last night. I drove right under the beginnings of #6, just a few miles west of where it touched down, and we live directly between the start points of 6 and 11.
I remember remarking to the wife-unit, "that cloud looks freaky... see how that one part is going against the wind? I think we got one starting up right here." She didn't believe me, of course. Then we got on I-35 and got the heck out of Dodge.
UPDATE: Got a new track picture, thanks to vortmax, and corrected my description based on his info. Thanks vort!
Last night we had a bit of excitement around here. We both work in Norman, and were planning to go grocery shopping after work, but I nixed the idea when the storms started popping up. It turns out we probably missed the Norman/Route 9 tornado by a matter of minutes, and I'm positive I saw its beginnings as we took the Route 9 bridge over I-35.
When we got home, Zack and Zoe were hiding in the shed. Zeus was lying on the hill where he could see the drive, enjoying the "breeze". We got the dogs inside, and watched the progression as another storm dropped on Purcell, the next town south of us.
People who say there's nothing to do in Oklahoma haven't been here during storm season.