Archive for December, 2008

Two Thousand and Eight

  • Married the greatest woman on the planet
  • Lived in 3 houses in 2 towns
  • Brought home a Chocolate Labrador named Hershey
  • Got back in touch with some old friends
  • Lost touch with others
  • Started a new blog
  • Bought a Nikon to document my trip on this rock
  • Started a twitter account (ew)
  • Bought a car; first one in 3 years
  • Saw a few of my friends get married
  • Saw a few of them have children
  • Came out as an Atheist to my friends and family
  • Started running again
  • Continued to hone my cooking skills
  • Held Emily when she needed it
  • Was held when I needed it
  • Finished my 25th lap, and getting ready for another


Plans for next year:

Buy a couple of kayaks, figure out where Em and I are going to live in a more permanent capacity, bring home a little brother for Hershey, get more involved with my company, win an Emmy (or at least a Telly), spend more time with my friends, get better at French Gourmet and Asian style cooking, gain about 10-20 lbs, enter (and hopefully win) a few photography competitions, and just in general be glad to be alive.


It frightens me, the awful truth, of how sweet life can be” – Bob Dylan


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A while ago, Bill Donahue was on the O’Reilley Factor screaming about how the evil atheists were waging a war on Christmas.  He then wondered why the American Humanist Association bought ads on D.C. buses that said, “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness sakes” during Christmas, and not during a Muslim holiday like Ramadan.  Personally, I don’t see a difference between Christianity and Islam; both are nothing more than outmoded cultural memes that really have no purpose in society; but I can narrow down 2 reasons why the AHA chose Christmas (I’m assuming, of course – I wasn’t in the room when this was decided).


Well, one reason is the last line ‘be good for goodness sakes’; it’s a lyric from ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’.  A timely choice of words, considering many people had probably heard that song in the store/on the radio prior to boarding the bus.


The other reason is what I think Mr. Donahue would be able to readily recognize – marketing.  After all, his strange obsession with the ‘sanctity of Christmas’ is deeply rooted in his religion’s ability to market themselves when their particular sect was first starting out.


A first example, and probably the best is the choice of December 25 as the time of celebration.  If Christianity’s Jesus was to have been born on that day, why would his parents have fled the Roman census by going to Galilee – an event that happens in March?  It was chosen because it was the day of the Pagan Winter Solstice among many winter festivals that other religions in the area had been celebrating for generations.  It’s a fantastic example of early Catholic marketing – as are many Catholic and later Christian traditions and beliefs (Easter, anyone?).  After all, it’s easier to get someone to believe in your religion if you tell them they can keep the traditions they have and merely change the name and target.  Or just bludgeon them until they relent.  But the first way is less messy.


Even the use of the Christmas Tree – a tradition dating back to Germanic Paganism where an evergreen tree would be brought into the house and decorated with lights to celebrate ‘Lichtfest’ or Light-Fest, on the shortest day of the year (Dec 21).  Other pagan traditions brought in an evergreen tree to promote the idea of life in a season where so many trees look ‘dead’.


Mistletoe, and subsequently the tradition of kissing underneath it; is a Scandinavian tradition rooted in the Norse gods, and the death of a character in Norse mythology named Balder.  The meaning behind kissing underneath it is due to the fact that the plant is seen as a plant of peace starting with the tradition of, “If enemies met by chance beneath it in a forest, they laid down their arms and maintained a truce until the next day.”  Which evolved into kissing beneath it.


Caroling, is something that many people view as a traditional Christmas pastime; although few would know it’s original term known as Wassailing; an Anglo-Saxon tradition of singing to apple orchards to promote a better harvest the following year.  It eventually became a tradition of going from door-to-door to your neighbors wishing them a good year.  Even so far as to enter your neighbors house in New England and make demands trick-or-treat style (‘now bring us some figgy pudding’ and ‘we won’t leave until we get some’)


Even Santa Claus; a modern mythological figure that is a first (I think, anyway) because it’s based on a real person – has many features that are borrowed from the Norse god Odin (not the least of which is his looks).  During the festival of Yule, Odin would lead a great hunting party in the sky, being pulled by an 8-legged horse named Sleipnir (8 reindeer?), who could leap great distances.  Children would leave their boots filled with straw, carrots, or sugar for Sleipnir to eat, and Odin would reward the children by leaving gifts.  Much like hanging stocking above a fireplace, leaving cookies for Santa, and opening the gifts that he leaves.


And even my favorite tradition; Christmas Ham.  Which started in Germany as a tribute to Freyr, the god of boars.  Although, many historians think that it started in England.  Regardless, it’s delicious.


So when I hear about the ‘War on Christmas’, I can’t help but shake my head and sigh.  Can you really get so upset over people redefining your traditions after you started your ‘traditions’ by doing the same?

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Now I’ve seen everything

In an amazingly bold move, a noted Actor/Director/General Entertainer and (probably) nice guy Robert “Steely Guns” Redford, lent his star power (down 5% according to IMDB) to a lawsuit in Utah to stop the government from selling public lands to oil and gas companies.  Watching the news report on television, I can tell you I was moved compassionately as he sat before an image of a blue sky and clouds that was digitally inserted behind him while he sat in a climate-controlled room before the cameras.


Now, I know the liberal media is going to pander to this and mention it over and over on the outlets they have their slimy mitts on leaving the average Conservative only daytime cable news television, evening cable news television, blogs, websites, newspapers, magazines, and nearly all of the AM radio airwaves (those that aren’t being used to discuss sports or the weather; both using a very liberal slant; and not in the way I just slanted it).  So I’m going to form an opinion using the same process I always use:

  1. Reading a headline, then causally skimming the article (too many words, nothing is that complicated)
  2. Forming an immediate opinion based on the information given; no need to look into it further; that’s what the newsy-guy/girl (either or, not both.  Although that would be awesome!) is for
  3. My gut. (hasn’t let me down yet)


So I fire up my blog-o-matic and am absolutely content and ready to scream at the problem until it goes away – or until something else happens that I form an even bigger and far more pressing opinion about.  After all, this is an anonymous blasting of how I feel.  And since that’s important to me, it obviously means it’s important to you.  I’d ask if I’m wrong, but the sheer power of the rhetorical nature of that would break your eyes. (Boom, bitches)


I have to say (so I’m going to) – I’m absolutely torn about this.  On the one hand, the liberals are once again telling me how I should feel (Fox & Friends isn’t on for another 15 hours!).  But on the other hand, the land is really pretty.  And a brownish-red.  But still pretty.  And I like pretty things.  Do you see this font?  It’s a nice one.  I chose it because it’s pretty, and because I care about the well being of my readers.  I think it’s either Verdana or Lucida Sans; hard to tell at that size (on my editor it’s a much-too-fancy san-serif font).  Anyway – sure, I could start a fund to purchase the land from the government for slightly more than they’re planning to lease to the companies, thereby preventing this purchase now and from ever happening again, but you have to remember, this is a Free Market Society.  And do you know what’s free?  Opinions.  And you have to respect the fact that I am capable of making them, no matter how ill-informed and ridiculous they may be (it’s also my opinion that my opinions are better than yours.  Let that sit and stew for a while).


Now with liberals and Conservatives on both sides making their cases (with photos being slowly panned across the screen), I have to filter out the junk and tell you what you should think.  Because I’ve already figured out what I thought (re: 3 point plan earlier), and therefore if you haven’t formed an opinion yet, you are in need of one.  Which I will provide.  And hopefully you will then put on your blog (like an embarrassing ex, everyone has one) with the title “HE WAS/IS RIGHT” (obviously you’ll choose one verb, and not post both with the slash inbetween.  I’m not calling you stupid, I’m just making myself clear).  Then I will get more and more famous, then make appearances on Leno and Fox & Friends (fingers crossed!), where I can talk about how I form opinions (re: 3 point plan mentioned above), and why my opinions are just great.  And I mean great.  In fact, I’m going to throw a capital letter on that.  My opinions are Great.  There we go.


I’d bold it as well, but then I may be infringing on Tony the Tiger’s intellectual property.  Then I’d have a liberal lawyer calling me wanting to sue me for copyright infringement which drives up healthcare costs and that’s why we can’t have socialize medicine.  So we’ll just stick with the capital G.  (Hopefully Warren G doesn’t read this.  You’re welcome all 3 of you that got that reference).


So that leaves us with the purpose of this entire section of your computer screen; my opinion.  And I’m going to go with Robert Redford.  The land has to stay pretty.  And here’s why:

  1. Rush Limbaugh doesn’t have a key wall to put a blue sky on while he talks about this (then again, he may be high enough on vicodin that he sees a pretty blue sky while he talks about it)
  2. Fox & Friends isn’t on for another 14.6 hours (I have a widget-countdown thingy)
  3. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was awesome (shove that up your ass, Clint Eastwood)
  4. My mom likes Robert Redford, and if you don’t like him, that means you don’t like my mom.  So then I’ll have to kick your ass.  (Over the internet.  I’m assuming I’ll use mocking images from 4chan.  Try your luck, my search skillz are sick, yo)
  5. Fox & Friends isn’t on for another 14.58 hours.  (my math skillz, however, aren’t)


So there you have it.  Save the land in Utah.  I know I’m probably never going to go there.  And most likely neither are you.  Robert Redford may have gone once (How’d he get the photo put behind him?  Well?  Yeah, I thought so.).  But regardless, those dozens of people who venture into the wilderness only to be bitten by snakes (no Sam Jackson reference here, sucka), become lost in the endless brownish-red expanse, or die in one of the frequent flash floods that hit the area – they’ll thank you.  And what’s more important than that?


That’s right, my opinion (it’s Great).  I’m glad you were paying attention.  (Tell your friends!)

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Oh, I think you know how this is going to go.


I’m not going to sit here and weep for a set of companies that can’t adjust to market demands.  I’m not going to pine for an organize workforce that made unreasonable demands on their employers, forcing them to fall behind in the market and sell inferior products at higher prices.  I’m not going to feel a modicum of sadness if they end up going bankrupt.


Because shit happens.


Everyone from the Wall-street journal to the New York Times, to Fox News, to CNN, to egotistical bloggers (like me!), all go on and on about how the bailout is needed.  How, without details, throwing cash at a set of companies from a pool of money that was taken involuntarily will solve the problems they have.


GM, Chrysler, and Ford all occupy about 47% of the US auto market.  That means if you count every car purchased in this country, about half are ‘made’ in America (sans the pieces and parts that are made in Mexico, Japan, China, Taiwan, Australia, and many other countries).  If those 3 companies go bankrupt, it doesn’t mean that the obvious demand goes away.  Nor does it mean the supply.  Those machines, buildings, supplies, workforce, etc, can all be bought up by other companies, retaining the same badges, equipment, employees, and factories.  Essentially what happened (a few times) to the auto industry in England.  You’ll notice that the auto industry was bailed out there as well – and even nationalized, all to no avail.


Berkeley Business College even did a report titled “Vehicle Choice Behavior and the Declining Market Share of U.S. Automakers” by Kenneth E. Train and  Clifford Winston, which was published in the International Economic Review.  In it, they did a very concise and well-reasoned approach to examine why the US auto market was facing a steady and inexorable decline in their market over the past few decades.  And their report’s findings were very surprising:


We find that the U.S. industry’s loss in share during the past decade can be explained almost entirely by relative changes in the most basic attributes of new vehicles, namely price, size, power, operating cost, transmission type, reliability, and body type. [ … ] Arguments based on subtle attributes such as the design of interior features, unobserved responses by consumers to vehicle offerings, or even measurable attributes beyond those listed above do not play a measurable role in the industry’s competitive problems. Similarly, changes in loyalty patterns, whether an automaker’s product line is broad or narrow or includes a hot car, and changes in dealership networks do not contribute much to the industry’s decline.


Basically, they made crap.  Their cars were proving to be inferior both in tangible (horsepower, fuel mileage, space) and intangible (looks, feel, sound) when compared to similarly-priced foreign competition.  It’s basic business; you and your competitor make the same product, he makes it better for less, he’s going to get more business.

The report even went on to say,

Our finding suggests that U.S. automobile executives should focus more attention on understanding why their companies seem unable to improve the basic attributes of their vehicles as rapidly as their foreign competitors are able to improve their vehicles’ basic attributes, and try to remedy the situation.

What a novel approach.  Adjust to customer demands.

So when I read about some people who feel like the automakers are somehow entitled to a bailout, I have yet to understand why.  They are a business.  The market they operate in has changed.  They should either change or die out.  It’s so very, very simple.

So no, I’m not going to feel bad if they go bankrupt.  In fact, I honestly hope they do.  I hope that Vauxhall comes in an buys Pontiac, that an Indian company (Tata Motors) purchases Saturn, that Volkswagen buys Chrystler, and on and on; I hope that the new management steps in, quality is increased, and the same group of guys that built my Ford Escape will build next year’s as well.  I hope they get a new boss, and with increased quality control, and the knowledge that the cars are built here by Americans, those same guys will be able to know that they’ll have a job over the next 20 years.  That the company they work for is competitive and stable.  That it’s not run by the same people who ran it into the ground in the first place.


Incidentally, my Ford Escape is a 2005 built on the Ford CD2 Platform that was developed by a joint venture between Mazda and Ford.  The CD2 Platform that was used on all Ford Escapes was made in the Mazda Hofu Plant in Yamaguchi, Japan.


The Nissan Xterra that I am planning to buy next, besides being a superior vehicle, has the added benefit of being built in Smyrna, Tennessee.


Gotta love buyin’ American.  Yee-haw.

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Watching the Daily Show, I managed to see Mike Huckabee go on and on about the Republican stance of ‘smaller government’ without actually acknowledging what that really means.  It’s typical of that party, ‘make the government small enough to fit in a person’s life’; without actually acknowledging the power of the Free Market.


The problem is, many people have an incorrect idea of what the Free Market is.  They think that it is essentially Wall Street; which isn’t true.  I think this problem mostly stems from Republican talking points saying they ‘believe in the Free Market’ which is why they need to ‘get rid of needless regulation’.  Case in point; W. Bush is (was?) the most heavy-handed regulator of market forces since Nixon.  Granted, he had to undo all that nasty de-regulation that….Clinton….did…..  weird.


Anyway, the Free Market is not Wall Street.  Well, it is, but it’s so much more.  It’s like trying to explain the Internet and saying it’s essentially a library.  It’s true, but it’s limiting.  The Free Market is best explained by Jefferson when he would use the term ‘Marketplace of Ideas’.  It’s a method of dealing with concepts by allowing each and every idea the same audience, and allowing the audience to decide which is important.


A great example is Wikipedia.  Wikipedia has no formal ‘watchdog’ group; it’s regulated entirely by the users that inhabit it.  It even has the same, if not better, percentage of factual errors as the big boys of the encyclopedia game.  Think about it – Wikipedia is culmination of the most important thing we have (all of human knowledge), and I don’t know a single person that doesn’t use it regularly.  It’s fast, easy to browse, and as up-to-date as the most breaking of breaking news.  And yet, it exists entirely without a centralized group dictating the right and wrong.


That is the Free Market.  It’s the idea that all of us, in concert, when given the freedom to make our own decisions will make the correct ones.  Both Democrats and Republicans believe in this to an extent, but won’t take the plunge to realize the perfection of it.  The Free Market isn’t Wall Street, or Main Street, or any Street; it’s just us.  It’s all of us working together to build a society that allows the most freedom and happiness available.


The reason it’s such a cornerstone of my worldview is not because I distrust those in power, or I have some deep abiding hatred of the gub’ment; it’s because I don’t trust in my judgement to be 100% correct all the time, for everyone in existence.  I really only know what’s best for myself, and feel I am in the best position to make decisions to that effect.  I know I have trouble digesting mushrooms, so I avoid those.  Cancer runs in my family (like everyone’s, really), so I don’t smoke.  I don’t drink beer regularly because of the family history on my father’s side.  I drive an SUV, because I have trouble fitting into smaller cars, and we need something that can haul stuff around – besides, it’s only driven on the weekends anyway, so gas isn’t a problem.  And on it goes.


These are all decisions I’ve made, because I know that they’re best for me.  So I just have this strange disconnect when I think about putting a mandatory charge on myself or anyone else so my decisions can become your decisions.  I don’t see the point in taxing cigarettes because ‘they’re bad for me’; I know they’re bad for me, I don’t really need anyone forcing me to know that.  I’m pretty sure everyone knows they’re bad for them, so why have this redundant system that costs money?  And if people still want to do it, I don’t see why not; it’s their health, not mine.  They can do whatever they want to it.


But people really should have the freedom to make that decision.  Good or bad.

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Data Science Automation Inc. (sounds totally legit) in Dayton, Ohio (where the largest Air Force base in the US is located) has posted a job listing asking for a scientist to work on their ‘Tiny Flying Robot-Computer’.


I don’t know what the hell they are going on about when they talk like this…


Identify and document software requirements

Create object-oriented program architectures

Develop software using object-oriented programming techniques

Work in product-oriented teams

Work independently and on group projects in a professional office environment

Short term travel to domestic and international sites 20% – 30% annually

Follow CSIA-audited industry best practices to reduce client risk

Follow DSA project execution methodologies to Plan, Implement, Educate and Support


…But I really want to apply.


I will go assume the mantel of ‘The Harbinger’, and my foes will feel the wrath of the Halicron Initiative as we storm your cities and lay waste to your civilization.  Now I just need to find that abandoned missile silo that was on eBay a while back….

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In Washington State they recently allowed the Freedom From Religion Foundation to erect a giant sign next to a nativity scene exclaiming rather rational, straight-forward atheist counter-points to the obvious Christian display next to it.  According to the article it’s merely a placeholder for a plaque that’s having problems with delivery.  Naturally, being an atheist, and therefore a member of the most ill-trusted group in America (suck on that, pedophiles!), I had a very deep emotional reaction to this.


And I’m against it.


Freedom for religion in this country works both ways.  Just because the text explicitly states something, and the viewpoint of an atheist is that there is no god, doesn’t mean the constitution does not apply to them.  You have to take the obvious meaning behind the words and examine the purpose of the law, and not what it explicitly says.


For example, your wife comes home from the movies.  You ask her if she had sex with another man.  She tells you ‘no’.  She doesn’t think she is lying because she met a woman at the movie theater headed back to her place and had sex with her there.  However, she is lying, because the question being asked was not about the sex of the person she’s cheating with, the question was if she’s cheating at all.


Likewise with freedom of religion.  It is not, ‘if you have a god, good for you the rest can piss off,’ it is in fact ‘we’re staying out of that entirely’.  It’s not about political correctness, or a bunch of weasels trying to destroy the sanctity of a religious holiday.  It’s about a public debate and personal choice that the government not only shouldn’t, but actually has no need to weigh in on.  There is absolutely no reason why any state, city, or national capitol needs to do anything religious of any kind in any official manner.


I don’t get why this is a gray issue at all.  If the mayor of Pittsburgh wanted to erect a giant statue of a football player in a Browns uniform thundering over a Steelers linebacker, it would never happen.  Likewise if the City Courthouse had a ‘doorbusters sale’ from Khol’s where they had racks of clothes available for purchase right on the spot.  These are obvious things that don’t fall under the purview of government centers, why is religion any different?


I have no problem with a person, business, or charity pounding their chest and screaming at the top of their lungs any religious nutjob ideal.  But when you involve the government, and thereby everyone else, I have an issue.  Because right now, in that town, the citizens are being forced to not only support, but maintain, a viewpoint that they may not agree with.  And no matter which way you cut it, that’s wrong.

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