What Does One Senior US Senator Think of Term Limits?

I attended a meeting at a coffee shop with Senator Chuck Grassley from Iowa when I was his constituent a few years ago. This is the Chuck Grassley that is internet famous for his Twitter feed.
It was a totally informal meeting, and I was a bit shocked he was really there. About 20 of us and him sat and stood around a big table, and we could ask him anything we wanted.
I wanted to ask something – ANYthing – so the first thing that popped into my head was term limits.
I knew how stupid this question was as it came from my mouth.
I was asking about term limits to a Senator who has been a Senator longer than I’ve been alive; he’s been a Senator since 1981.
I asked as nicely as I could what his thoughts were on term limits, and he took no offense to it. In fact, it was very easy to see why he’s a politician when I got to meet him; he’s quite charming in person. When he took my question, he made it feel like it was just me and him in the room; his voice and body language are pitch perfect for making someone think, “wow, he cares about me!”
So, I asked my question.
The senior Senator’s answer: he used to like the idea when he was younger, but not anymore. (Not exactly a surprise, right?)
He said he stopped liking the idea of term limits because lobbyists don’t have term limits.
I thought it was a fairly smart answer while I stood there.  It sounded smart, it was a fact I had not previously considered. 
On second thought, I think I was only impressed because it was an unexpected answer.
If I could reply to him now, I’d say, “Even if the same lobbyist sticks around for decades, wouldn’t it be better to cycle in more people, so that there’s more of a chance that some of those people would be immune to the lobbyist? At a minimum, in a Senator’s last term, they should be fairly immune to lobbyist donations to a Senator’s reelection campaign… although that doesn’t stop a lobbyist from committing outright bribery.”
I’d be curious what he’d think about that.
I’d be curious what precisely a lobbyist can do that a new Senator has no defense against, but that an over-30-year Senator can apparently handle without issue.
I have my doubts that there really is a difference.


I’d also be curious if corruption in politics has been studied before, and to what degree.  For instance, have US House and Senate members ever admitted to accepting bribes – or other shenanigans – and then have a researcher look at when this happened and determined what year of a House/Senate member’s term it was done in?
Maybe, on average, Senators really do take more bribes and can be more easily pushed around in their first 1 – 6 years.
But maybe they don’t.
This wikipedia article may be a good place to start the hunt… although that’s just a list of people convicted of it. I bet there’s a lot more people that got away with corruption without any repercussions.

The sky is a dark purple tonight

The purple Yoda died today.

I felt like collecting my thoughts about him, since my opinion of him changed a lot over the years.

I remember when I first heard about him that I thought he was weird.  He was far from normal, both in looks and the sound of his music. This was roughly six-year-old Karl reacting this way to his songs or music videos back in 1989 or 1990, and even though I know I liked weird when it came to Gonzo of the Muppet Babies, I hadn’t cultured much appreciation for Prince yet.

But I knew his music.  Not just that his songs were catchy, but they had a distinctive sound.  They were unlike everything else on the radio.  His voice was very recognizable, but also the sound itself was different; I wasn’t savvy enough to pick up on what was different, but just think about his huge hit Purple Rain.

Purple Rain has no bass line.

What kind of pop song has no bass line?  A Prince pop song, that’s what.  And it’s amazing and unique.

I kept listening throughout my childhood whenever he would come on VH1. We rarely had MTV, and when we did, Mom didn’t really want me watching since that had more risqué content.  Funny that VH1 showed Prince, though, with such, um, entendre-titled songs as Cream, Get Off, and even Little Red Corvette… not exactly family-friendly material on VH1, either!

I definitely remember the video for Kiss, complete with Prince’s amazing disgust face (which he brought back years later for his Black Sweat video). I remember thinking this was a scandalous song simply because it was talking about how he really wanted to kiss this girl… and that was it.  Whoa!

Prince was scandalous to my grade-school ears and sensibilities.  That makes me wonder; aren’t we all extremely intrigued at stuff we are told is controversial?

And don’t we eventually calm down about controversial stuff as we get older, thinking we’re either too old for it, or that there’s something inherently bad or negative – either for us or younger people – about controversial stuff?

Whether it’s Elvis, Prince, Madonna, Eminem, or Miley Cyrus, older people turn up their noses at it, and younger people embrace it precisely because of the direction of all those old people’s noses.

Then I got a little older

When I was roughly 13 years old, after playing a piano recital I had been working on memorizing and playing well for months, I came home after it in the night and saw a special on Prince. It was while he was “the artist formerly known as,” but it was talking about his prolific and talent-filled accomplishments.  Watching that quick hour or two of television – probably in the lead-up to a new album release of his – I realized he was an incredible talent.  The sheer number of instruments he could play well, and that he not only composed but likely performed all of the music on all of his early albums, was mind-boggling to me.

I instantly respected the hell out of the guy with the symbol for a name.

Prince struggled while we watched

Over the years, I saw his struggles with ownership of what he makes, dealing with bosses (his music labels), his love life, his sensitivity about his appearance (try to find videos or photos of him where the tall women he had onstage tower over his short frame… they’re hard to find), his transformation from someone best known for his dirty mind to someone who openly celebrated a fairly conservative religion as a Jehovah’s Witness (he even went knocking door-to-door!), and eventually pretty much having all things forgiven as went on to some pretty major mainstream success, playing at the Super Bowl in the rain.

Most of us don’t get to play the Super Bowl, but hopefully many of us get to work up to big events in our life that we’re very proud of at all ages of our life. Perhaps the Super Bowl was almost like Prince’s retirement, or at least a way of the world saying, “Hey, you’re all right, and you’ve earned the country’s respect.”  The same idea that comes at anyone’s retirement party… even if the retiree was a little weird to work with at times.

I guess I see in Prince a character that transformed before my very eyes as I got older.  Kind of like how many people listen to Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone over the years and realize new things about it as they age, I kept listening to Prince’s music and learned new things about him and his music.  Not only did I pick up on all the saucy bits, but I realized how many human faults this extraordinary musician had.

If you ever think you can’t be special because you have faults, just remember all the faults and challenges even a world-renowned musician like Prince had.  And like another great musician we lost this year, we have it a little easier than Prince, because we get to listen to Prince’s music for inspiration.

Writing a Daily Today I Learned (TIL)

Inspired by Josh Branchaud’s idea sent to Hacker News, I’ve created my own Today I Learned (TIL) on GitHub.

I doubt I’ll write in it every day, but it’s a good motivator to see someone who has collected a lot of little things they’ve learned over a long time and compiled them into a space like Josh did.

It’s probably going to be mostly programming-related, but I might branch off into the world of travel, too – git is useful to track any type of writing!

Why 24 News Networks – Even ESPN – Are Silly

Does it mean anything? 

I think it means one team scored more points. Maybe one team is getting better or worse as a general trend. Or maybe it was a fluke. 

At one point, news media answered questions in the headline. Now that’s optional, if not frowned upon at some places: giving away too much in a buzzfeed headline will reduce the number of clicks. 

This ESPN headline is exciting because it lets the reader ask all of these questions in one’s head, rather than actually telling the reader any worthwhile information. 

Inbox-almost-zero in 2016


Above is the Mac Mail app and Things, a task manager I use to track what I need to do each day.

At this time in 2015, the number on the Mail app would have been likely over 100, and Things probably wouldn’t have even been open, since I had given up using it effectively sometime in 2014.

Sometime in the second half of 2015, I realized I wasn’t being strict enough with myself about ensuring I knew what I wanted to get done each day.  I turned to Things, took an evening to organize a bunch of the little tasks and ideas I had jotted down over the last year, and started using it as the GTD method intends:

Something in the “Today” bucket (which drives the number in red) should only be there if it truly needs to get done.  It isn’t a prioritized wishlist – the “Today” view should simply be the absolute bare minimum.  If you get nothing else accomplished today, what MUST be accomplished?

By being diligent and keeping my expectations reasonable, I’ve kept my Things’ Today list and Mail Inbox at a manageable quantity throughout  the first 18 days of the year.

I’m unreasonably proud of this fact.

Here’s to hoping the next 348 days (it’s a leap year) follow that same pattern!

Happy 2016!

It’s been a busy year so far for me, and I haven’t posted much, but highlights of the year include:

  • watching old home videos of my Grandma and other family members in Germany
  • hearing my Dad bring joy to people in various care facilities by playing his guitar
  • getting to be in Boston with Diveena

A few fun things I’ve done while in Boston:

  • checked out the show floor at the American Library Association
  • saw the play Disgraced, by Ayad Akhtar (what a play!)

More photos and other thoughts to come about my travels – for now, I’m focused on work, life, and enjoying time with Diveena!

Economic impacts of confusing baggage / security policies (or) how I didn’t know what I could buy at the duty free shop in Narita and neither did the duty free employee

Johnnie Walker Platinum bottle in hand, I waited in line at the Narita airport Duty Free shop, ready to purchase it as a Christmas gift for my Dad. The cashier stopped me, pointing out that since I arrived in the USA in Denver, but had a domestic USA connecting flight to Bismarck, I couldn’t carry this one liter bottle of distilled goodness between Denver and Bismarck as a carry on, since I have to go through security again. 

Good point. 

But wait, I’ll get my checked luggage when I enter the USA, right? 

I always have in the past… but I’ve rarely had a connection to another domestic airport after I arrive in the USA. I haven’t flown internationally *that* much in my life. Usually I arrive from overseas to Minneapolis (MSP) or Chicago O’Hare (ORD) and then drive to wherever I’m going, so I get my luggage and leave. 
So, hmm, I’m questioning whether I’ll get my luggage when I arrive in Denver, or when I arrive in Bismarck. 

Further compounding my confusion: the nice service I had while flying out of the USA. 

When I flew from Los Angeles (LAX) to Auckland (AKL), New Zealand, my checked bag went all the way from LAX to AKL, even though I had a stop in both Taipei and Sydney.

So… do you know definitively, off the top of my head, if I can buy duty free in Tokyo and get that bottle home?

I’ll wait for your guess. 

Turns out yes, I could!

Even though I have another flight into BIS – an international airport – I do indeed have to wait to grab my checked luggage at Denver. Then I wheel it through to a little room beyond the baggage pickup, dropping it off with another person to send on to its final destination of Bismarck. 

In between there, I could have unzipped the checked bag, put my whiskey bottle in there, and had it in Bismarck. 

But the rules were confusing enough that I didn’t know, and although I don’t travel internationally too frequently, I try to go at least once a year, which I suspect is more than the average us citizen… Todo: citation needed. 

My backup plan, in light of the information at the Narita duty free shop, was to buy a bottle at the US duty free shop. When I could show my international boarding pass, they’d see I just got into the USA, and let me buy duty free. 

Any guess whether that was possible?

Nope. It’s not allowed. 

The guy at the duty free in the USA (which also had that bottle of Johnnie Platinum!) informed me that duty free is only outgoing from the USA. 

So… Here I am, no bottle to give my Dad. Guess I’ll buy something in Bismarck. 
The result: I had to pay tax on the bottle. Good for whoever is taxing it, not good for me as a consumer. 

There is zero incentive for the government to streamline, simplify, or clarify this process, since the end result is more tax money for them… unless they truly want to inform more than increase revenue. I can hope for the former, but expect the latter doesn’t make anyone in the government too unhappy. I admit, it’s a cynical viewpoint. 
That’s the story of the Christmas gift that ended up costing me a few dollars more – and in fact, Johnnie Walker Platinum was only available in duty free stores for awhile, so I have no guarantee I can even get it in Bismarck. 

Hopefully this post can help anyone else facing a similar on-the-spot question like I experienced in Narita! If anyone knows if either of my yes/no answers above aren’t always that way, please post in the comments!

United Airlines UA 138

I got about 5 hours of sleep on a 9 hour flight – that can summarize the goodness of this flight. 

There was wifi onboard for $17 (which I skipped), a nice movie selection including a couple films I didn’t see on any other flight recently (Whiplash and Mad Max: Fury Road), and decent food (but not as nice as Nippon!). 

I was lucky enough to have an empty seat beside me, so I could spread out some, move the backpack for extra leg room, and generally get as comfy as one can in economy class. An eye mask and a Betty White audiobook carried me off to dreamland – although the Betty White book is read by her, and is pretty good, the bit I heard!

Nippon Airlines NH 816

Very impressed with Nippon Airlines. Took off from Kuala Lumpur and ended up in Narita. A thorough meal (pictured below), good movie selection (lots of new stuff, and for a limited time, all six Star Wars films were available for free!), and plenty of room to walk around. Nice bonus that perhaps is TMI: a bidet in the bathroom (yessss).

The only bad part: it had both Fantastic Four films available for free. #superheroMovieSlam

The flight had wifi onboard. I considered getting it, but the signup page mentioned the Internet could not be used for about half the flight, because we would be over Chinese land and water. Surprising… I wonder if this is a technical limitation, or political?