Wednesday, September 27, 2017

On kneeling during the national anthem

I'm not sure where the custom of playing the national anthem at the outset of some athletic events originated. I have never questioned it. But lately there has been a lot of controversy about athletes, coaches, etc. kneeling instead of standing during the rendition of the national anthem. This has led to a lot of weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth, general ill will, and a lot of virtual and actual yelling.

I'm not a sports fan so I rarely attend live sporting events, Nor do I watch broadcasts of sporting events. When I have been somewhere that the national anthem has been played, I have proudly stood and placed my hand over my heart. In situations like this I will sing along if it seems appropriate. I do this because of what America means to me.

This country gave my ancestors freedoms that they lacked in their home countries. It gave my father citizenship a few years after he moved here from Germany. It gave me the opportunity to grow up with a level of prosperity and opportunity that relatively few throughout the annals of history have enjoyed. But I know that some in our country have been less fortunate.

I am particularly fond of a poem titled American Spirit by Bill Fries (aka C.W. McCall):
In this poem Fries reminds us that We The People are America. The USA is us, the people of this country. All of us. Fries says that we are "the Star Spangled Banner up there in the sky." All of us. The cubicle worker, rancher, nurse, construction worker, soldier, truck driver, executive, police officer, retiree, janitor, farmer, child, teacher, homeless person, pastor, warehouse worker, judge, plumber, actor, pilot, food service worker, etc. Not only are we all Americans, we are America.

Given that there are some 323 million of us scattered over nearly 3.8 million square miles, we are necessarily a diverse lot, with different backgrounds, experiences, and ideologies. There is no single right way to be an American. Nor is any law abiding citizen more American than any other. The military veteran is no more American than the music producer, nor is the farmer more American than the athlete. The American flag represents each of us, but each of us has a unique relationship with America.

I doubt that any American citizen thinks the country is so great that it lacks serious problems; although, we may comprehend and prioritize problems differently. To me I see a nation that, even with all its flaws, has produced the greatest level of widespread opportunity and prosperity in the history of this world. When I hear the national anthem I feel a swell of gratitude that demands that I acknowledge this blessing.

When I see highly paid people involved in professional kid's games deliberately kneeling rather than standing during the national anthem, it looks like a bunch of ungrateful spoiled brats, regardless of how they view certain national problems. They are making the impossible perfect the enemy of the realistic good.

But I would never want to force anyone to stand or place their hand over their heart to honor the flag or the national anthem. You see, my dad grew up in a country where failure to engage in mandated patriotic displays was punished. We call that place Nazi Germany. We don't want to be like that.

Toward the end of his poem, Fries says, "We are that one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. And because we all live in the land of the free, you don't have to say it at all unless you want to." When people say that those who fail to engage in traditional patriotic displays stand against everything that this country stands for, I counter that the freedom to refuse such displays is a key element of what America really stands for.

From my perspective, professional athletes and others who deliberately kneel during the national anthem have chosen a protest method that is too vague. Exactly what are they protesting? Police racism? Inequality? President Trump? Something else? Perhaps different protesters are protesting different things by the same action? How will they know when their goal has been achieved so that they can once again stand during the national anthem? None of this is clear.

Marketing people call this bad branding. Using such a strong symbol with such a muddled message can't help but raise the hackles of many who cherish the symbol. Maybe they'd like to help. But it's not exactly clear what they are supposed to help with.

While I am willing to stand up for the freedom of people to protest in a non-violent manner, I also defend the right of people who disagree with the substance or manner of a protest to refrain from buying goods or services that support the protesters. They are free to prove their sentiments through a boycott. The question is whether they can really stay away from a beloved activity long enough and in large enough numbers to make their point.

This gives us a view into the substance of America, where we have a broad marketplace of ideas. Despite the sharp differences on the matter I have discussed, I feel that America is robust enough to navigate the situation and come out stronger on the other side. It's what America does. Even in our current pampered age, I believe that America retains a degree of grit and resilience that will keep it going for a long time.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Six months sleeping on a Purple Mattress

Who hasn't hated their bed at some point? Each of us spends a lot of life sleeping. Complaints about beds are pretty common, but people often have difficulty finding something more suitable to sleep on.

My wife and I have been through a series of beds and mattresses over the years. One of my contributions to our marriage was the king size waterbed I acquired during a brief stint working as a waterbed deliverer. We had that bed for a number of years. But there are reasons why the waterbed fad died out. Most waterbeds were high maintenance, difficult to move beasts that offered too much wave motion and sucked you back in when when you tried to get out.

Upon exiting the waterbed craze we went through a series of standard mattresses on a standard foundation. Even when we had "pillow top" memory foam and when we regularly flipped and turned the mattress, each of these setups eventually ended up with two sunk areas and a ridge between them.

At least, that was my main complaint. I do OK sleeping on just about anything. After all, I have spent hundreds of nights camping on a foam pad on the ground, usually sleeping alright. My wife hasn't been so lucky. Her joints provide a constant source of pain that make sleeping on most mattresses a miserable experience. I am generally a back sleeper, while she is a side sleeper. We are presently in our mid-50s and are within recommended BMI for our respective heights.

I had finally had it with our last mattress. My wife was often spending portions of each night sleeping on a recliner. She wasn't ready to spend money on a new mattress but I insisted that we find something that would work better for her. I figured that anything that would work for her would be fine for me.

We decided to follow the recent online mattress shopping trend. After all, it couldn't really be much worse than shopping in a furniture store where you flop on a bed for 30 seconds and try to figure out how well it will work for many hours night after night for years. With online shopping you get videos, lots of information, professional reviews, and user reviews that you can peruse at your leisure instead of having to make a decision on a furniture floor.

There are a lot of online mattress companies out there nowadays that try to differentiate themselves from each other through various approaches. It turned out to be quite difficult to choose. We found several sites quite helpful, including Sleepopolis, The Sleep Sherpa, Sleep Like the Dead, and others.

Many factors go into a mattress buying decision. Price range, sleep patterns, how warm you sleep, materials, reviews, return policies, etc. The reason there are so many options is that no single mattress or single provider is going to provide the best situation for everyone. You have to do homework to get some idea of what might work best for you.

Purple is the color of materials on the inside not the outside
After a lot of research we narrowed it down to three options. When we considered the pros and cons of each of the three, the Purple Mattress seemed to fit our desires best. But the king size model cost $100-$200 more than the other brands we were considering.

The factor that pushed us over the edge was Purple's 100-night money back guarantee. At first we were angling to buy the mattress from Amazon, but then we read some user reviews that warned that the 100-night guarantee is only offered on purchases direct from Purple. So we bought the thing from Purple.

We didn't buy a platform to put the mattress on, figuring that we'd just plop it down atop our existing foundation. That was a big mistake. More on that in a moment.

When the mattress arrived it was left on the front porch in a long roll tightly wrapped in watertight purple packaging. The packaging was pretty dirty from shipping so I cleaned it before hauling it up the stairs. I'm not sure about the twin or queen, but I do not advise trying to move the king on your own. I managed it by lifting one end at a time, pivoting, and bringing that end back down pointing the opposite direction. You need some serious strength to pull off that kind of thing and even then you could seriously injure yourself.

Although I was able to get the mattress into the master bedroom by myself without injury, there was no good way to open and unroll it on my own. Later when my wife was home I used the packaging cutter (which looks like an industrial strength letter opener) to cut the packaging. As other reviewers have reported, the cutter broke. But I was able to manage anyway. Oddly enough, the mattress was rolled with the downside in and the upside out. The easiest thing for us to do was to roll it out upside down and then awkwardly flip it over.

One of the strengths of the Purple Mattress is that it is designed to expand to full size within a couple of minutes. We had bought sheets from Purple that are designed to work better with the mattress than regular king sheets. We like these sheets. The new mattress had an obvious scent. But it was not noticeable to us after about two weeks.

As mentioned above, we realized right away that putting our new mattress on the old foundation was a bad idea. As is the case with most king size foundations, ours consisted of two twin box springs side by side on a king frame. The adjoining walls of the two box springs created a sturdy partition that made the middle of the bed feel like a ridge. We realized that this had contributed to the valleys and mountains in our past traditional mattresses.

Although we had wanted to avoid the expense of a new foundation, we quickly ordered a new platform from Purple. Unfortunately the thing was on back order, so we had to wait for a few weeks to get it. I was concerned that the mattress would suffer permanent damage during that time, but when we put the mattress on the new platform the middle of the bed was just fine. The platform was superior to any we had previously seen. Very sturdy. No squeaks. The platform provides 15 inches of clearance, which is far more than a traditional bed. Our 67-lb Imo-Inu dog has taken to running through our room, passing under the bed. He also likes to sleep under the bed.

We obviously decided to keep the mattress as we approached the end of our 100-night trial. I waited until we had used the bed for at least six months before writing a review. I have seen too many product reviews from people who have had the product for a few days. Those can give you a fresh-from-the-package vantage. But with a mattress you really want to know how well it's going to work for the long haul.

From my perspective the mattress is quiet and comfortable. It does sleep cool, which is something I desired. That hasn't been a problem even on cold nights. The edges of the mattress aren't as solid as the edges of traditional mattresses, but that's never been a problem for me. The thing I like most is that my wife now sleeps all night on the mattress instead of retreating to a recliner.

My wife says that she doubts that there is any bed in the world that would allow her to sleep 100% pain free, due to the current condition of her joints. She is always in pain; it's just a matter of how much. But she says that the Purple Mattress at least allows her to be comfortable, unlike our past mattress. When I asked her if the Purple was the most comfortable bed we have owned she responded that it's and apples to oranges comparison, because she has a different body than she had when we were younger. She thinks it works as well as any bed could given her current condition.

Since we have had the bed for only half a year, I can't really speak to its durability. So far it seems quite durable. For what it's worth, the bed has a 10-year-warranty.

And there you have it. We pretty much like our Purple Mattress and platform after six months of use. We will have to see how long it continues to serve our needs. I can't tell you whether you would like a Purple Mattress or not. If you're in the market for a new bed I suggest you go through the same research process that we did to find which product promises to work well for you.