Our Representatives Are Not Representing Us

Forget the environment. Forget our privacy. It’s all meaningless. What a week. I’m not party line supporter–and not interested in being described as conservative or liberal–and it is a very rare thing indeed for me to even broach politics, but this has been a very bad week. I can’t stand the level of irresponsibility I’ve seen in these past few months, I don’t care who what party it comes from. When legislation is repealed that would protect against climate change, albeit in a small but measurable way, and a climatologist is attacked–yes, attacked–by our legislators when he meets with them in committee, I have a hard time saying our representatives represent us. 90% of the scientific community, I’ve read, agree that humans are irreversibly altering our climate, but our GOP politicians refuse to believe it. Coal and oil pockets run very deep.

Then there’s the issue of congress selling out our online privacy. Earlier this week, both the Senate and House–strictly on party lines–votes to allow internet service providers (so that’s your AT&T, Comcast, etc) to collect and sell our personally identifiable information from their networks to companies who want it WITHOUT OUR PERMISSION. The sponsor of the bill lied about how it was unfair competitive advantage for companies like Facebook and Google to have and sell that data and ISPs can’t, but that’s apples and oranges. Those are about specific ad networks that are connected to those services. Which is why when you visit, say, walmart.com and browse for a cleaning product, you may see that very same product as an ad on Facebook. ISPs get EVERYTHING. And they have your personal information, such as contact info and maybe even your SSN. And instead of offering an opt out, now they can sell it all off unbeknownst to all of us.

Why is this an issue? Let’s play out a scenario. Let’s say the same said congress was successful in repealing the ACA and pre-existing conditions became a thing again. I just had a horrible illness. I’m also now paying for my own health insurance (at enormous expense). So Big Health Insurance Company A buys the data from my ISP, Comcast, and can see I’ve been researching “viral meningitis” for 3-4 weeks. Now they have information that can be used against me to deny me coverage.

That’s just a what-if. How many countless real situations will there be? Employers looking into potential hires. Some other kind of car, health, or life insurance able to see the kinds of things you look at and run their algorithims to say you are more likely to do this or that, and use it to raise your rates. The invasion of your PERSONAL, IDENTIFIABLE habits, locations, purchases.

I wrote all three of my representaties in the House and Senate, urging them to not vote for this. To not blindly follow their party into this terrible act.

Rep. French Hill has not replied, but he supported it. (Only two GOP representatives opposed it.)

Here is Sen. Tom Cotton’s reply (or his staffer/intern):

As you know, in December 2016, the FCC released a new set of rules which claimed to provide increased privacy protection, choice, and transparency in how internet service providers (ISPs) use consumers’ personal data. The rules provide broadband consumers an option to “opt out” if they no longer want ISPs to share their personal information with businesses for advertising purposes. Earlier this Congress, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced a congressional resolution of disapproval of the FCC’s data privacy rules. I proudly supported this measure as it would nullify the flawed rules which allow the FCC to regulate ISPs, while keeping the most important consumer privacy protections in place. I share your concern for strengthening our laws to ensure American citizens’ privacy is protected. As technology evolves, it’s imperative that our laws are updated to protect constitutional rights and reflect the modes of communication most commonly used. 

So get rid of the rule that enforced opt-out but that’s somehow ensuring our privacy is protected. What? If his claims are true then the vote would not have been strictly by party line. What Sen. Cotton doesn’t mention is the $70,025 he received from telecom. That’s nearly twice the median household income in Arkansas.

Here is Sen. John Boozman’s (staffer’s) reply:

I believe in protecting an open, free and vibrant Internet. Congress has a duty to see that our laws are fair, not only to the companies involved, but also to citizens across the nation that use technology every day. I believe the FCC should focus on removing barriers to competition and allowing the private sector to more effectively allocate our broadband resources. While we may not see eye-to-eye on this issue, please know I appreciate your feedback, and will keep your thoughts in mind should S.J.Res. 34, or related legislation come before the U.S. Senate for a vote. 

Barriers to competition? Allocate resources? My personal information is not a resource for my representatives to allocate by allowing these companies to have my personal data without my permission. He clearly does not have have an understanding of this issue if he bought into the lie it is about competition. And the $56,450 he received from telecom I’m sure had no sway in his “opinion”.

There is no justification for selling out your constituents. There’s no argument that can be made in defense of this bill other than that the Republican party believes that increasing the profits of telecom companies is more important than protecting the privacy of people.

Our Representatives Are Not Representing Us

Pulaski Tech Special Election

Hi, friends.  This is a message for those of you who live in Pulaski County.  But keep reading even if you don’t live here, if you are interested in an issue that affects me. 🙂

As I’m sure you know, I work at Pulaski Technical College as a director in our Allied Health division, serving as the administrator for eight health care degree programs in which we are partnered with Baptist Health, St. Vincents, and Arkansas Children’s hospitals.  A little less than a year ago I was promoted (officially recognized) to this position that kind of created itself as I volunteered to help engineer and lead more and more programs.  About two years ago, our college’s administration had a complete turnover with the retirement of our past president.  There has been a lot of change at PTC, focused on the quality of education we provide.

PTC’s enrollment has exploded in the last 5 years, where we now serve over 10,000 students, which I believe makes us the 4th largest college in the state!!!  As a state school, we are supported by state funds, but these funds have not increased with our enrollment.  We are blessed to say that higher education funds have not decreased, though.  But they have remained flat.  That puts us in the situation of being funded at about half our requirement.  This “requirement” is determined by a formula from the state itself.  Some colleges have full funding; others are like us.  But the state knows what it should be giving us but it can’t.  We should be receiving $31 million.  We get $17 million.

This is the lowest funding of all state schools who do not have a local tax support.  There are only six of the 22 community colleges in the state who are not supported by a local tax.  We are one of them.

Now, me personally, I hate two things about this.  I hate special elections that have one ballot measure.  And obviously I don’t want to pay more taxes.  But I’m setting these aside because of our need.  PTC is doing some really good things.  I know the street reputation of the school and you probably do too.  But times are changing.  Let me tell you my personal story briefly.

In this past year, I have had more fulfillment from my job under the leadership of my Dean and President than I ever have before.  We are doing some legitimately good things for health care and adult learners.  First, I was able to take a college-wide policy from the ground all the way through the Board of Trustees for approval.  This policy is called Prior Learning Assessment.  You may have heard of it called ‘adult experiential learning’.  Basically, it will enable PTC to assess learning from life experiences to award college credit.  This is great for adult learners wanting to turn learning from experience into a college degree and be afforded more and better opportunities.  Did you know the average age of our student is 30?  So this policy means something and PTC is a state leader in getting this initiative passed.

Too, I have assisted in the beginning of a new field of health care worker in Arkansas called Anesthesia Technology.  Think of them as the scrub techs for the anesthesiologist.  Through a grant, we established the program and have made it so it can be offered across the state by distance learning, not just in Little Rock.  To do this, we are also forming novel academic partnerships with other schools in the state.  This has never been done!  This has been a stressful, innovative, and challenging beginning that has pushed me into areas of new capability as an educator.  What does this program mean?  For the patient, it means the doctor is with you and not setting up and cleaning up after; and it also lowers the cost and turn-around to hospitals.

So what is this special election asking of you?  PTC is asking for 1.9 mills, which amounts to $38 per $100,000 assessed property value per year.  1.9 mills is lower than the other colleges who are at our level of state funding and have a local tax support already.  In asking this of Pulaski County residents, PTC will be giving a $10/credit hour discount to residents of the county.

What will the funds go toward?  The generated $11 million will start coming to the college in 2016, if approved, and there are three major areas I want to point out that it will fund:

1.  Support for our technical and industrial education programs.  The demand for graduates by businesses in central Arkansas is greater than we are able to produce at our current limitations.  Improvements and expansions are needed to better serve our students and industries.  70% of our students come from right here in Pulaski County.  We will all receive a return on investment by having more educated people in the workforce and off government assisted living.

2.  Science labs are in dreadful shape, a subject near and dear to me.  Our students needing sciences to get into health care programs such as mine sometimes have to wait a year due to space restrictions. Sciences fill up within hours of registration opening.  In this way, we cannot meet the standard of successfully preparing our students for health care jobs.  I want to be able to do better!

3.  We need to expand our advising services.  We have SIX full-time advisors for over 10,000 students.  Six.  Studies definitively show that advising is the best chance for student success.  We need to do better.

I’m asking two things from you at this point.  Set a reminder on your phone and please go vote on Tuesday, March 11.  And please share this with a friend who is registered in Pulaski County.

If you have any questions, I will honestly and candidly answer them.

Pulaski Tech Special Election

Intolerant to Sin

Today the country is in a tizzy about the issue before the Supreme Court.  I’m not an eloquent debater, nor do I desire to pick a fight.  So here’s my remarks as they are.

I believe followers of Christ will soon begin to understand biblical persecution in this country.  Probably not on the level of defending our lives like in other countries where the gospel is forbidden, but still on a level we haven’t experience or can’t comprehend.  In biblical history, there was something remarkable about when a country deviated into rampant sexual sin.

Yes, we, the Church, have done a poor job of standing for truth.  It should have never been from the standpoint of what we are against, thus alienating our neighbors under a veil of intolerance and hate.  It should have and should always be from the standpoint of loving people toward Christ.  Our message is not one of hate.  We don’t oppose love.  Quite the contrary.  If we were making disciples as Christ commanded, we’d be showing the world love.  And love’s name is Jesus.

The Bible teaches us to obey the laws and leaders of the land–UNTIL they contradict the Word.  Then, the choice is clear.  You obey God’s Word.  And here is where the hard times are coming for Christians.  We’ll continue to be branded under shrouds of bigotry, opposed in increasing arenas of life, and reduced in the ways we are able to make an impact in society, including our ability to speak what we believe when it opposes the idea of freedom.

Are we ready for that?  Maybe not.  Maybe that’s why some “Christians” are willing to oppose the Word of God on moral issues.  To convince themselves that it is okay to bend the commands or interpret the meaning in such a way that sin becomes allowable.  That road is much easier to take than one that leads to opposition and persecution.  Oh, Church, do we underestimate the destructive power of sin so greatly and understand God’s grace so poorly?

We in the Church have been so deeply rooted in the idea of choice and rights and freedom, we’ve forgotten the price that was paid for us and set aside the fact that when we accepted Christ, we gave up those rights.  Sin profanes the cross-work of Christ, grieves the Holy Spirit, and brings judgment from God.

We absolutely must be intolerant of one thing:  sin.

Want to argue that Christians should not legislate our “Christian morals” on others?  Wrong!  We legislate all sorts of morals!  You can’t murder, steal, cheat, or falsify yourself.  All biblical commands.  And if you want to draw an arbitrary line, then just remember, everything may be permissible, but not everything is beneficial.  And there is a very clear biblical distinction when it comes to the morality of sex.  Sexual sin–whether it is adultery, homosexuality, an act outside of marriage–is portrayed as a very different offense.  Not only is it a sin against God, it is defaming your body.

As long as even the Church is divided by interpretations of the biblical truth of moral issues, we will irrevocably be headed in an out of control spiral of sin. God bless America?  No.  God blessed America. And we chose to turn on our back on him, like so many nations before.

Let us not wage an offensive attack against these so-called taboo issues.  The only way  the Church can make an impact in our country is to portray Christ with our lives and proclaim Him with our mouths.  He will do the heart work that is necessary.

It’s time to stop sitting on the side-lines as followers of Christ.  Each of us is called to be fishers of men, to take the gospel to the world around us and the world at large.  So let us show people Christ’s love and tell them of the salvation He gives.  It will take effort and time and energy and investment.  This is not something we can package or put into a program.  The kind of disciple-making Jesus commanded is so much more.  It’s about sharing the Word, showing the Word, teaching the Word, and serving the world.

Our God commands it and is worthy of it.  And His name will be proclaimed for it.

Intolerant to Sin

The Debate About Glee

I had a great conversation with a coworker about this week’s episode of Glee, particularly relating to Kurt’s storyline this season. A lot has been said about the “gay agenda” on the show this season.  The thing is, this show intentionally portrays “misfits”. Fat, nerd, handicapped, gay, hoe, emo, stupid, etc. Anyone not considered normal by the mob. We all know high school can be very cruel. This show celebrates being different. And one thing to also notice is that every misfit portrayed has at least one person who accepts them and in an over-the-top way (Puck’s crush on the overweight girl, anyone?).

But out of all those words I just listed, which is really the hot-topic, taboo issue? Gay, right? So that’s what we are inclined to debate the portrayal of the most. It’s also the issue that most resonates with the show’s creator, Ryan Murphy. I’ve discussed how Murphy is “preaching to the choir”. Most people who watch the show are probably already okay with homosexuality as a lifestyle for those who choose it. But now I’m thinking that’s not who Murphy is targeting at all….it’s this young generation who maybe haven’t solidified what they think just yet.  My issue is that Murphy is trying so hard, I find it a little unbalanced.  The Santana/Brittany storyline a couple weeks ago seemed completely out of the blue!  Sometimes it feels like everyone is going to come out.  Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Shue does, after all his lady problems.  And the whole Karofsky bullying storyline sends out this strong message that if you are a homophobe, you must really be a closet gay.  What most viewers are at odds with in Kurt’s character, and why he has become so unlikable, is that he is guilty of being just as intolerant of straight people as he thinks everyone is of him.  I don’t have to remind anyone of the uncomfortable scenes of him sharing a bedroom with Finn, the intolerance to his friends wanting to pray for his dad when he was sick, or the wedding that ended up being all about him instead of his dad and Finn’s mom.  Everyone has to conform to him; he is always the character who has done nothing wrong.  Pop culture, big hits like this DO have tremendous influence, so if it were me and I wanted to teach tolerance to my viewers through diversity, then yes, I would change a few things.  Kurt HAS misstepped several times in his pursuit to end his persecution, and I would have him come to realize his own intolerance.

But here’s the thing we have to remember:  EVERYTHING is over the top about this show, including the representation of said “misfits”. One example: on this week’s episode the Kathy Griffin character–one of the judges at Regionals– was an obnoxious ultra-conservative, Sara Palin-esque character. For one second, I thought, “nope, I’m finally done with this show.” I really did. I did not like the portrayal of a Christian to be so overly and negatively painted; her line seemed way too forced anyway. Why the need to throw in a line about her not agreeing with gay people getting married and implying they are going to hell in a discussion about who should win a singing competition? That’s Murphy trying too hard!  (And by the way, being gay does not lead to separation from God–or hell; not having a relationship with Jesus Christ does.)  But then I decided, EVERYONE is portrayed that way. Look no further than Sue Sylvester for that evidence. She’s throwing students down stairs, shooting them out of cannons, and verbally/physically abusing them in the halls on a daily basis.  These would all obviously be criminal acts in real life.  It is just that *I* am particularly sensitive to the Christian character portrayal. I personally wish every Christian would be known more for what they DO stand for than don’t, but the reality is quite the opposite. Griffin’s character was portraying that reality in Glee’s way.

At the end of the day, Glee’s message is about celebrating diversity and it’s medium is through over-the-top comedy. That means it is going to cross a “comfort line” once in a while and it is up to each person to decide if that is worth the value of the entertainment they are receiving. This season has pushed me almost to that limit, admittedly, from–my opinion–the unbalanced tolerance storyline of Kurt. But the entertainment I get from everything else Glee does so well is enough to keep me in and enjoy it! And so I will!

The Debate About Glee


Last Friday, a buddy and I went to the mall and happened to stop by the Teavana store.  I made the mistake of saying “yes” to “would you like a sample” as we walked by.  That turned into a 30 minutes spiel, but it ended up being pretty interesting.  And wow, were those teas tasty.  See the problem, apparently, is that we have been hoodwinked by big tea companies to think that what we all typically drink as tea is really tea.  The difference in a Lipton tea bag tea and what they were brewing was immediately apparent.  Tea is meant to be steeped open leaf, not in little bags with ground up leaves.  I believe it.

Teavana was a little pricey for me; if I had bought everything the guy wanted to sell me, it would have easily topped $400.  They had cast iron pots (that get seasoned with each brew) and matching serving sets.  That was about $300.  Then he scooped out what I told him was my favorite tea–apparently a rarer Chinese white tea–which would have been another $100.  o_O  Yes, it was something like $20 per ounce!

I thanked him for his time, told him I am not really an impulse buyer, and explained that I would need time to think and research.  I happen to watch a tech podcast where the host is really into tea.  He even took a vacation to China last year just to sample local teas.  He really knows his stuff.  He recommended a site called Adagio.  I read their lessons on tea and found it quite interesting, actually.  Here are some of my notes (yes, I took notes): 

Tea, properly, comes from the plant Camellia sinesis.  There are three components to the plant that make the tea.  The essential oils, which give tea its aroma and flavor; the polyphenols, which give tea its astringency and health benefits (which are numerous); and caffeine, which gives an energy boost.  Tea comes in many categories, but there are four main families of them:  white, green, oolong, and black tea.  Each is processed a little differently.  Organic materials undergo oxidation, which more or less causes decay.  White teas are unprocessed, so they keep their fine white filaments on the leaves–thus the name.  They are allowed to oxidize very little, and as a result, are the highest in antioxidants.  Green teas are also oxidized very little but undergo a series of steaming, pan-firing, and/or rolling.  Oolong teas undergo the same processes and are allowed to oxidize anywhere from 20-80%.  And finally black teas are processed like oolong but are allowed to oxidize almost completely.  There is also a class commonly referred to as herbal teas, but they aren’t technically teas.  They are called “tisanes” and are caffeine free.  The variety of tisane blends is a bit overwhelming to me right now, but it can be flower, fruit, leaves….whatever can be steeped.

Proper brewing of tea should consist of pure, filtered water.  Approximately 2 teaspoons of tea per 6 oz water.  The water should be boiling for black, oolong, and herbal teas; about 185 F for green and white teas.  Steeping time is about 3-5 minutes for black and oolongs; 2 minutes for green and white teas.  I’m not quite sure what these descriptors mean–seems kind of relative–but they note that “delicate” teas can be enjoyed with seafood, salads, and chicken.  “Bright” teas are best with meat and spicy foods.  “Rich” teas for desserts”.  And “Pu Erh” teas for digestive and calming effects at the end of the day.

I’m pretty excited to get into this, if the samples I had at the mall were any indication.  I’ll let you know how the tasting goes when my supplies arrive!  I welcome the opportunity to cut back on my caffeine intake, but I don’t think I’ll quite give up on my “grande white mocha, extra hot, no whip” addiction just yet.


A Case for Cutting Cable…Or Not?

I’ve toyed with the idea of cutting cable and going with an internet-based TV model and wanted to do the numbers on if it would be worth it.  Let’s face it, the DVR has revolutionized the way we watch TV.  It used to be that a station’s decision to air a show at a certain time dictated when you had to be home to watch.  Now, I know plenty of people who–even if they are home–wait at least 15 minutes into the show so they can fast forward commercials.  I’m the same way. The only time I ever see commercials is during live sporting events.

There’s a couple of other annoying factors.  First is the sporadic breaks that networks take between new episodes.  Especially when a show is heavily serialized, like Lost, it is frustrating to have to wait for, say, sweeps month.  (That’s when ratings dictate how much networks will charge for ads based on viewership.)  Some networks heard this cry and the old model of starting the new season in September and running it through May is slowly dying.  Shows like “Lost” and “24” began mid-season (January/February) and ran straight through.  Networks are also introducing new shows staggered throughout the year.  But with a new show, who wants to invest themselves in it and it end up being canceled?

Not only are commercials loud and annoying, but so are the in-show lower third banners.  They are becoming downright distracting and obtrusive.  I watched three seasons of “Big Bang Theory” on DVD to catch up with the current fourth season.  Nice and clean.  Just the show.  Now that I’m watching live, I’m completely disgusted with the network’s self-promoting banner ads.  Unfortunately, they are becoming bigger and more frequent BECAUSE we are DVRing and skipping their commercials.

Technology has made it so we have a choice in how and where we view our favorite shows now.  The market is still young and in flux, so who knows what this will look like a year from now, even.  But here’s what I would consider except for a couple of problems.  You may think the problem is no DVR, but it’s not.  I’ll refer to it later.

Cut cable.  The first thing you can do is watch your local channels in high definition over the air. In fact, that is the best quality you can get.  There is no compression from the cable provider.  You’ll catch a lot of sports, news, etc.  Yes, you lose the DVR for shows but just wait on that.

Add Hulu Plus for $7.99/month.  This gives you access to limited-ad supported, whole seasons of shows on the major networks.  This effectively acts like a DVR.  You just have to wait 24 hours before the show is available on Hulu.  There’s usually 4-5 30 second ads per hour long show.  Hulu is expanding where you can watch, instead of just a computer.  It’s on all game consoles and i-devices.  It’s also coming to Boxee (a set-top box that allows you to connect to internet “channels” on your TV).  $7.99 is a lot easier to swallow than $79.99, huh?

To supplement Hulu, go with Netflix, which begins with a streaming-only plan at $7.99.  Netflix is so popular, it accounts for 20% of internet traffic in the US at peak times.  That’s enormous.  I’ve only recently tried streaming, when it was added to the PS3.  I’m watching the entire back-catalog of Stargate SG-1 right now.  The first few seasons are only in 4:3 standard definition, so it looks fine on my TV.  But when I’ve tried to watch a 16:9 SD stream, it was awful.  I’m very interested to see how HD streaming is going to look.  For a few dollars more, you can add disc rental and you gain the ability to watch episodes of a season of your show back-to-back rather than live.  Of course, you have to wait months and won’t get to talk at the water cooler with your coworkers about what happened on last night’s episode.  I like to talk about shows, so that is a concern for me, but then again, that’s where Hulu comes in.  Netflix is for those shows not on Hulu.

Well, now it is time to address the problem I have with this model.  Live sports.  Obviously, you still have the over-the-air local channels, but there are a lot of sports on cable networks like ESPN and Fox Sports.  Well, I see two options right now.  1) Boxee has an ESPN3 channel, which effectively takes care of most of cable’s sports.  2) You can buy internet packages for each sport.  Some you get the whole season, every team.  Others you can pick a few teams.  A few examples:  Baseball has MLB.TV, which I found for $99.95 for the entire 2011 season. NBA has a package for $64.95 for all season.  NHL has one for $119.95 for 40 games/week all season.  Unfortunately, the NFL has no internet package due to their exclusive all-access pack with DirecTV.

The quality of the streams would be a concern for me, which is my second problem.  Everyone knows I love hockey; it would be a concern for me if the stream was not in HD.  But not just that, all of the streams from Hulu or Netflix that aren’t available in HD, whereas they are with cable.

So let’s look at the cost savings here.  That’s probably the primary concern.  I pay $74 per month for HD cable and $45 for high speed internet with U-Verse.  That’s $1,428 a year.  If we cut the cable and bump up the internet to ensure we get good speed, internet will go to $55 per month.  Add $7.99 for Hulu Plus and $11.99 for a one-disc/streaming Netflix plan (with Blu-Ray, of course).  That’s $899 per year without any sports packs.  So savings are $529 or about 34%.  However, I would want baseball and hockey, so we have to add in $99.95 and $119.95, bringing my yearly total to $1119.66.  That’s only saving $309 or 21%.

So now I’ve written this long blog post to only find out the savings for me is probably not enough to justify what will probably be a loss in quality by streaming across the board.  The $309 is arguably worth keeping a DVR, maintaining HD quality, and having the ease of just turning on the cable box.  But if you aren’t as picky as me about HD quality and don’t need the sports packs, you can potentially save a lot of money. Of course, if you don’t already own a gaming console that can do these things, you’ll have to buy one which will eat into those savings the first time.

This ended up being a pretty indecisive post, but truthfully I was writing it live as I researched. I didn’t know how it would turn out when I began it.  Turns out, it is probably easier to just keep cable for now.  Ha.

A Case for Cutting Cable…Or Not?