Thursday, December 30, 2010

Microlending Abuse

Microfinance has apparently been good for many people, but for others it has been a disaster.

More than 70 people committed suicide in the state from March 1 to Nov. 19 to escape payments or end the agonies their debt had triggered, according to the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty, a government agency that compiled the data on the microfinance-related deaths from police and press reports.

This quote was a bit of a jaw-dropper.
“If you can’t profit off the poor, it means that no companies will service the poor -- and then they will be worse off than earlier.”

I get the sentiment, but it's still seems a cruel thing.

Here is a recent paper arguing that the best way to help many poor people is international migration.
In addition to estimating per-capita income gains of 30-40%, we find that participating in [New Zealand's seasonal migration program] leads to greater subjective well-being, more durable asset purchases, housing improvements, and in Tonga, a large increase in secondary schooling. Moreover, as a recent evaluation by New Zealand’s labor department found, these gains came with minimal displacement of native workers, and overstay rates of less than 1%.

This is very interesting and I hope more groups exploring the poverty problem take a look at it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Problem With Talking Heads

Not the band, the sort you find on your TV. Ta-Nahesi Coates hits the nail on the head.

So for instance, making this specific to me, let's say I go on television and say "We can salute the bravery of the Confederate Army, while deploring their aims." This is a fairly conventional point which relies on relatively established mores. They are, in this case, 1.) Slavery was bad 2.) The men who died at Gettysburg, Antietam, and Vicksburg on both sides, were brave. Or some such. Moreover it makes me sound fair-minded in my willingness to allow for a kind of moral out for all sides, regardless of their sympathies.

But let's say I go on television and say, "Confederate bravery is neither unique, nor in and of itself, praise-worthy. Mohammad Atta was brave. The kamikazes were brave. But bravery in service of evil should never be commemorated." This is a problem. Even in writing it, I've had to take up more space then the previous assertion. Likely, I could edit it down to a sentence or two. But I leave it this way to show how much space and time it takes me to make the more contentious point, one that challenges our accepted thinking, (the 9/11 bombers were brave) and leaves no room for an honorable retreat. Pushing the point further, I could, as was done the other night, simply call the firing on Fort Sumter a terrorist attack. This is almost certainly untrue, but it incites our visceral disgust for terrorism and thus leaves the point of commemorating implicit.

He's not the first to make this point and for all the complaining about the problem, I'm almost (but not quite) surprised that the format has lasted this long. I can't stand 99% of the programs that have a couple of heads shouting banal talking points back and forth. It educates no one and only worsens our discourse. Unfortunately, most people are looking for reinforcement of already formed opinion and not honest, challenging debate.

One thing I've tried to instill in my daughters is a willingness to question one's own beliefs, to always be accepting of new ideas, to test them, to mull them over. If some new fact or circumstance causes a person to rethink some notion they have held and to change their mind, that should be respected and not ridiculed. This can be disconcerting at times, but in my mind the rewards outweigh the drawbacks.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Catcalling Isn't Cool. Really.

A woman goes off on men who catcall.

Am I saying men should never talk to women in public? No, not at all.

There’s a huge difference between harassing a woman and trying to start a conversation. Here are some tips: talk to her, not at her. Treat her with respect: be aware of her personal space, ask her how she’s doing or what she’s reading instead of commenting on her body parts, look at her face instead of her chest. If she ignores you, drops eye contact, or walks away, back off. It wasn’t rude of you to approach her, but she’s not being rude if she doesn’t want to keep talking to you, especially if you initiated conversation while she was running an errand, waiting for the bus, or on her computer at a coffee shop.

Let’s say you’re not interested in having an actual conversation, but just want to let a woman know she’s beautiful. Go ahead, it’s a free country; just do it respectfully. Don’t be threatening, don’t make animal sounds, don’t follow her. Most women I know wouldn’t be offended if someone told her she was looking great or had gorgeous hair or a beautiful smile. But don’t expect the woman in question to feel the same way, and don’t act aggressive if she rejects your advances.

It seems somewhat amazing to me that men would still do stuff like this, but clearly it happens. The author talks about a lack of respect for women and that is clearly a big part of it, but I wonder how much of it is motivated by fear, as well. Men are intimidated by beautiful women. Whistling at a women walking by or making lewd comments is easier than approaching her and talking to her which could lead to rejection. No man likes that. By keeping the woman at a distance the man allows himself to fantasize that she finds him just as attractive and that he has a chance if he "really wanted to talk to her."

Not that this makes this kind of activity okay. I don't have any sons to teach to respect women, but I do have two daughters which means I need to teach them how to handle this sort of crap because unfortunately it seems inevitable that they will have to deal with it.

Elie Wiesel is a "Holocaust Winner"

According to Fox News if you can believe it.

Stuff like this is typically seen by a few people beforehand. How is it that this could get by all of them?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Memoirs of a Geisha

I finally got around to watching Memoirs of a Geisha tonight. It wasn't a bad film, but it left me with an odd feeling by the end. Am I the only one that found it strange that this movie 1) mostly romanticized this act of making women second class citizens and 2) mostly made women the bad guys when it was the patriarchal society that created geisha?

On the plus side, the cinematography was incredible and the score was beautiful.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fantasy Book Covers

This is interesting. Orbit Books analyzed book covers from 2008 to 2009 and produced the chart above breaking them down. It is funny to line up fantasy books (or any genre really) and see how similar they are in many respects.

Physical Books Are Not Going to Be Gone in 5 Years

Nicholas Negroponte, founder of One Laptop One Child, thinks that hard copy books will be gone in five years.

"[Books] will be [gone] in five years," said Negroponte. "The physical medium cannot be distributed to enough people. When you go to Africa, half a million people want books ... you can't send the physical thing."

Negroponte emphasized the efficiency of being able to put hundreds of books on the laptops his organization sends to villages. "We put 100 books on a laptop, but we also send 100 laptops. That village now has 10,000 books," he said.

Negroponte is right about the ease and importance of e-books in third world countries, but I think it's crazy to think that physical books won't be around in five years. For many people, myself included, the joy of books goes beyond their content. I like to touch them, smell them, see them on my bookshelves. I'm a huge tech geek and I like e-books, but I love my dead-tree versions and don't plan on ever parting with them.

This is not unique to me or to books. People listen to vinyl records still despite the prevalence of mp3 players. People enjoy driving old cars despite new ones that have power steering and anti-lock brakes. E-books may overtake their tangible counterparts in sales and importance, but they will never completely replace them.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Lost Footage From 2001 Discovered

Not the year 2001, the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. As one of the greatest sci-fi flicks ever made, this is very exciting.

Speaking at a presentation of 2001 in Toronto, Trumbull and Larson talked about the footage they’d seen which they said is in “perfectly preserved” condition. And while they didn’t screen it, it’s assumed the footage contains at least some of the 19 minutes Kubrick himself cut for pacing purposes after the premiere...

B-b-but Terrorists!

From the always-worth-reading blog of Glenn Greenwald.

If American citizens don't object to the permanent seizure and copying of their laptops and cellphones without any warrants or judicial oversight, what would they ever object to?

This is the sort of thing irrational fear leads to especially when exploited by the ruling class.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

History and How It's Taught

I recently watched Band of Brothers with my daughters and it got me thinking about how we teach history in schools. My youngest daughter is one of the typical kids who says, "I hate history. It's boring." My oldest daughter appreciates it a bit more, but only certain periods. World War II is not one of them. Both of them, however, really enjoyed this series and it's not hard to understand why.

Band of Brothers is about people.

It seems a bit silly to say that, but think of how history is typically taught. Lots of dates. Lots of big picture events. When students learn about people they are larger than life characters that are hard to relate to (think George Washington crossing the Delaware River or Alexander conquering much of the known world. We read about giants of history who seem to have little in the way of human flaws and we don't hear much about what life was like for the average person.

Now, dorks like me are still fascinated by all of this stuff, but the typical person is not. They need it to be more personal, to seem more relevant. And that's okay; we can do that. The problem is that the people teaching history are typically closer to my temperament and can't understand why anyone wouldn't be excited by studying troop movements in World War I. If students got to read more about "real" people, the people taking part in these events and learning about ways their lives may have been similar to their own and how they are different, I guarantee many more of them would be engaged. We also need to make the towering figures of the past more real. Instead of pretending the Founding Fathers were pinnacles of humankind, point out things like Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, George Washington grew marijuana, John Adams wouldn't wear dentures and spoke with a lisp.

Granted, the big picture stuff is important, but most kids aren't going to care about it if teachers can't make it real, can't connect the kids with it on a more personal level. It doesn't take a movie to do this, but it does take better textbooks than we typically have and teachers willing to understand that history needs to come down to a smaller level to get kids interested.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Questions for Opponents of DADT Repeal

1. Before President Truman issued his order to integrate black people into our military, 63% of the troops opposed it. Should Truman still have gone ahead and issued this order?

2. Do you believe civilians should have control over the military? Or should it be the reverse?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Quote of the Day

From a story about teen prostitution.

"It's not the best deal to have sex with 15 different guys in one day and only get a cheeseburger at the end of it," says Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Sharmin Bock.

Now, if they were given fries and a shake, too, it would have been so worth it.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

"Technology trumps religion."

I find the sci-fi author always interesting.

I’ve taken to Twitter like a duck to water. Its simplicity allows the user to customize the experience with relatively little input from the Twitter entity itself. I hope they keep it simple. It works because it’s simple. I was never interested in Facebook or MySpace because the environment seemed too top-down mediated. They feel like malls to me. But Twitter actually feels like the street. You can bump into anybody on Twitter.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

What Attracted Me to My Ex-Wife

Insecurity is a bad ingredient for a relationship.

A friend recently mentioned on Facebook that she wondered what attracted me to my ex-wife. I replied that I often asked myself the same question. Which is true. I have a habit of ruthlessly thinking about and examining my life and the choices I've made. If you're honest with yourself which I have worked hard to be, it can be very liberating; however, it can also be somewhat depressing. Coming face-to-face with one's flaws is not the most comfortable thing in the world. Be that as it may, hopefully I can stop myself from making the same mistakes again or offer frank advice to someone who needs it.

So, on to the topic at hand - my ex-wife and what the hell was the attraction there. It's simple, really.

She was attracted to me.

I met her when I was 16 and I was certainly not at my best then. Not that anyone really is at that age, but I was definitely at a low point. I harbored a lot of anger and that drove many of my poor decisions. One of the biggest drivers of my anger was my insecurity. It's hard to underestimate how poisonous this can be to a person.

My insecurity stemmed from a number of things. I had few friends. I was picked on a lot. I was pushed around. I never felt I fit in anywhere. I certainly didn't have enough confidence to really talk to girls and I didn't expect any of them to actually be interested in me, anyway. My relationship with my mother was quite strained at this time and my relationship with my father was virtually non-existent. I had no adult figure in my life to mentor me or help me navigate this tricky time for any kid growing up.

So, when a young woman I worked with showed an interest in me, how could I help but "fall in love"? She was the first girl I dated, the first girl I kissed, the first girl I had sex with, and ultimately we got married. Her declaration of love for me shored up my deep insecurity and allowed me to feel better about myself, no matter how hollow this ultimately was.

Looking back now, of course, I cringe at what I did, what I thought. The warning signs that this was not a good relationship were all over the place, but they were willfully ignored. No one I knew, friends or family, thought she was right for me, but I was too stubborn to listen even if I had my own doubts (which I made sure to bury very deep). How could I walk away from someone who seemed to love me in a way in which no one else did, especially when I was sure no one else would?

Of course this set my life on a bad path that I am still trying to recover from. She got pregnant a few months after we started dating and my first daughter, Erica, was born just six months after I graduated from high school. Instead of going off to college I was working full time to support my new family which grew by another daughter the following year. The marriage dissolved a few years later when I finally woke up and realized how wrong she was for me, how unhappy I was. She got custody of our daughters then because she had a lawyer her grandparents paid for and frankly I wasn't ready to be the dad I needed to be then whether or not I had money for a custody battle.

Back in 2008 I realized the time had come for me to fully assume my parental responsibilities and get full custody of my daughters. Their mother did not provide a safe, secure environment for them and there was no convincing her to change what she was doing. It took over two years, but it was finalized earlier this year and now I have full custody of my lovely daughters.

This is wandering away from the core of this post, though. Insecurity is what led me to my now ex-wife. It took me a long time to get over that and I'm not sure that even now some of it doesn't linger on, rearing its head in my subconscious from time to time. It's a poisonous thing, insecurity. I wish there was a magic bullet cure for it especially now as I see it in my youngest daughter and I feel near helpless trying to combat it. My own experiences with it give me a tiny bit of insight into what she is feeling, but the sheer power of it is overwhelming. I feel like Frodo walking into Mordor.

But I'm not going to give up. I owe her that.

Pictured above is me (looking like I'm fresh out of junior high and demonstrating why I need some facial hair even now otherwise I don't look much older than that) with my then girlfriend (we weren't married, yet) and our oldest daughter on Christmas Day 1996, about six weeks after Erica was born.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Galileo Was So Wrong!

The great thing about teh GoogleTubes is that it allows crazies to easily find each other.

Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right is one of the most unique and penetrating books you will ever read. Now complete in Volumes I and II, authors Robert Sungenis and Robert Bennett take you on a tour of science and history the likes of which you would have never believed possible unless it were told to you in detailed and graphic form. Has modern science led us down the primrose path and convinced us of something that they cannot prove and that is in actuality false? Were the Fathers, the Medievals, our popes and cardinals of the 17th century correct in believing that the Earth, based on a face value reading of Scripture, was standing still in the center of the universe? Come with an open mind and allow these two authors to show you facts and figures that have been hidden from the public for a very long time. This is a page turner that you will find hard to put down, once you get riveted by the astounding material these authors have assembled for you. Prepare yourself, however. Your world will be rocked, literally and figuratively. Not only will you see from Volume I how modern science has documented for us in bold fashion that the Earth is motionless in space and occupies the center of the universe (yet have done an equally remarkable job in keeping these important facts out of our educational system), you will now see in Volume II how deeply the popes of the 17th century were involved in condemning heliocentrism, guiding the process step-by-step and finally castigating it as "formally heretical." You will also see how effusive is the data in Scripture that teaches a geocentric universe in the most detailed exegesis of Holy Writ ever presented to the public on this topic. Lastly, Volume II offers detailed and comprehensive documentation of the consensus of the Church Fathers and Medieval theologians on geocentrism. It also covers all the statements and teachings of modern popes and councils, such as Gregory XVI, Benedict XIV, Pius VII, Leo XIII, Benedict XV, The Council of Trent, Vatican I, Vatican II, and a special section on John Paul II in his re-examination of the Galileo case. These are facts and analyses that every Catholic should avail himself. The most important thing you will receive from this astounding study is a very close relationship with God. For once you see that God, his Church, and Holy Scripture have given us the unadulterated truth, proven by modern science itself, you will have no choice but to put yourself completely in His trust and care for everything else in your life.

And here I thought I was the center of the universe. Maybe I need to write a book to prove it.


The Post has an interesting article up on "Five myths about prostitution."

2. Men visit sex workers for sex.

Often, they pay them to talk. I've been studying high-end sex workers (by which I mean those who earn more than $250 per "session") in New York, Chicago and Paris for more than a decade, and one of my most startling findings is that many men pay women to not have sex. Well, they pay for sex, but end up chatting or having dinner and never get around to physical contact. Approximately 40 percent of high-end sex worker transactions end up being sex-free. Even at the lower end of the market, about 20 percent of transactions don't ultimately involve sex.

Figuring out why men pay for sex they don't have could sustain New York's therapists for a long time. But the observations of one Big Apple-based sex worker are typical: "Men like it when you listen. . . . I learned this a long time ago. They pay you to listen -- and to tell them how great they are." Indeed, the high-end sex workers I have studied routinely see themselves as acting the part of a counselor or a marriage therapist. They say their job is to feed a man's need for judgment-free friendship and, at times, to help him repair his broken partnership. Little wonder, then, that so many describe themselves to me as members of the "wellness" industry.

I think the assault on Craigslist is misguided. Prostitution is not going to go away. We would be far better off legalizing it and regulating it (and, yes, taxing it). This would allow us to more easily keep women from being abused by pimps and such. I don't think this is the same as condoning the practice. It's recognizing that prostitution is not going away no matter what we do and we're better off conducting it within safe boundaries rather than in the dark.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

How Language Shapes How We Think

Interesting, especially the stuff about geographic languages (all directions are given in terms of north/south/east/west, never left/right, for example).

Roald Dahl Was Cursed

Read this fascinating piece on Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach amongst many others. I had no clue how rough his life had been.

Dahl had an idyllic childhood until the age of 3, when his older sister suddenly died and was followed, weeks later, by her heartbroken father. This was the beginning of a toxic tsunami of bad luck that would toss Dahl around for the rest of his life. When he was a boy, his nose was cut off in a car accident. (A doctor sewed it back on.) Then he was shipped off to boarding school in England, where he suffered all the traditional miseries. In World War II, he became one of the RAF’s most promising pilots—only to crash his plane, on his first official day of flying, in the Libyan Desert. As he lay there fighting for consciousness—his skull fractured, his spine wrenched out of place, his eyes swollen shut by burns, his poor reattached nose driven back into his face—his airplane’s machine guns, stoked by the heat, started shooting at him. (Dahl later mythologized this, telling people he’d been shot down.)

And there's more. No wonder his stories weren't idyllic.

Weekly Secret


How sad. And how many other gay people feel the same way? I would tell this person that they should come out. First, they don't know how it will affect their family. It might not be that bad. Second, if they do not take it well, it is their problem. No one should have to pretend to be something they are not to spare the feelings of someone else.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Growing Inequality

Today, the wealthiest 1% of Americans account for 24% of the nation's income, up from approximately 18% toward the beginning of the 20th-century. Slate's Timothy Noah is writing a series of articles exploring this growing inequality that is worth a read.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Not Drinking

I know exactly how she feels.

Three years after quitting drinking at the age of 27, I've accepted my role as the non-drinker at any given dinner party or social event. I'm happy with my decision to teetotal, but some of my peers are less so -- for example, my friend's roommate.

"So you're not drinking? At all? Really?"

I have never had alcohol, but I have never begrudged anyone else the choice to do so. Drink and drive? Yeah, that's dumb. I'll judge you for that. Drink until you puke and have a nasty hangover? I'm not going to feel sorry for you. But if someone wants to drink, that's their choice; I really don't care. So, I guess it puzzles me why me not drinking would make people uncomfortable.

It must be an insecurity thing. If people were completely comfortable with their decision to drink, then it wouldn't matter if someone else chose not to. Drinking alcohol is such a huge part of our culture that you would think there wouldn't be as much insecurity about it as there is.

The best comment (of all time!) in regard to me not drinking was a coworker years ago. "I'd respect you more if you drank." No comment necessary.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

"He was one of us."

Read this moving story about a young Iraqi boy who worked with our military as an interpreter and guide. Things like this are worth keeping in mind whenever we debate military action. The costs are many and they are born by people far from the decision makers.

Cosmic Ghosts

Scientists have discovered the remnants of a black hole eruption equal in power to a billion supernovas. Makes us seem sorta small, doesn't it?

Should the Social Security Retirement Age be Raised?

Ezra Klein changes his mind and says, "No."

Start with the basic rationale for raising the retirement age. As Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has argued, when Social Security was signed into law, the retirement age was 65 and life expectancy was 63. "The numbers added up pretty well back then," he said on Fox News. But that's misleading. That figure was driven by high infant mortality. If you were a white male who'd made it to age 60 in 1935, you could expect 15 more years going forward. If you're a white male who lives to 60 today, you can expect 20 more years going forward.

Moreover, those averages conceal a lot of inequality. In 1972, a 60-year-old male worker who made less than the median income had a life expectancy of 78 years. By 2001, he had a life expectancy of 80 years. Meanwhile, workers in the top half of the income distribution shot to 85 years from 79. Insofar as the argument for raising the retirement age is that "Social Security beneficiaries live a lot longer today than they did in 1935," it should be restated as: "Social Security beneficiaries tend to live somewhat longer today than they did in 1935, and that's much more true of rich beneficiaries than poor beneficiaries."

And so what? Lurking beneath this conversation is an unquestioned assumption: We live longer, so we should work longer. That's pretty intuitive to members of Congress, who seem to like their jobs and don't seem to like the idea of retiring. It's also pretty intuitive to blogger/columnists, who spend their time in air-conditioned rooms opining about pension programs. But most people don't work in Congress or in the media. They work on their feet. They strain their backs. They're bored silly at the end of the day. By the time they're in their 60s, they want to retire.

The bizarre thing about this debate (as with many other policy debates) is that the outcome of this debate will have a large impact on many poor people. Now, how many poor people are involved in the decision-making process? How many members of Congress would be negatively impacted by raising the retirement age or reducing benefits? That's not to say some of this might be necessary, but it is something to keep in mind whenever these people come back to us, the American people, and say that something needs to be cut.

Weekly Secret


Many of the secrets on PostSecret are sad and this one is no different. Here we have someone who seems to love someone else wanting that someone else to lose weight so that his/her family will love them as much. If these family members don't love the person with their extra weight, who says they will love them without it? And can the author of the postcard really love this person if they want them to do something shallow to gain someone else's love?

It seems more likely to me that the author wants the person to lose weight and is using his/her family as an excuse which is sad. Helping and encouraging someone to lose weight for their health is a good thing. Doing the same because you find yourself loving someone less for their weight is just sad.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Breaking News!

Glenn Beck is a liar. In other news: water discovered to be wet and the Pope is actually Catholic.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Beauty of Math

One of the reasons I so enjoy math is because I find it beautiful.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Problem With Getting Sick Is That It's Expensive

In addition to talking to my doc about depression, I also needed to talk to him about the stuffy nose I've had for eight or nine weeks now. It's severity comes and goes, but every day I've had a little bit of congestion. I've never had allergies, but it seems I may possibly could be sort of coming down with 'em. Or it's something else. Hard to say at this point. But he gave me a script for Nasonex. I've never used it before or known anyone who has which made for a wonderful surprise when the pharmacist asked me, "Did your doctor tell you that this costs $108?"

Uhm...WTF? He most certainly did not telling me I would be shelling out triple digits for some stuff to spray up my nose. Is it made out of cocaine or something? Is there any chance I could get instructions off of the GoogleTubes and cook some of this stuff up at home?

So, I shelled out over one-hundred dollars that I do not have for some spray crap that may or may not help. I'm sure it's hard for docs to realize how much money that is for a very poor single dad. It's human nature to slip into thinking that our life is normal and that everyone lives pretty similarly.

Understanding this, though, doesn't make me feel any better about paying $108 for a small bottle of stuff to spray inside my nose. Cocaine is probably cheaper.

The Problem With Depression Is That It's Depressing

I've been struggling lately. It's funny to me how most people who have been around me for the past few months undoubtedly have no idea. My daughters and mother probably do because they see me more often and at home where I'm more likely to relax and display my "true" feelings. Everywhere else I go I put on a face, the best face I can, because how can I say to my coworkers, my boss, and other people I interact with, "Sorry. I'm feeling really depressed right now so I'm not inclined to work on that project"?

I've had bouts of depression here and there before, but nothing like it's been lately. Many days I come home from work and sit in my room doing nothing. I come up and eat dinner and then go back to my room doing nothing. I get up and get something to snack on and then I sit...doing you guessed it, nothing. When I go to work I somehow manage to put forth a modicum of effort, but not enough for the growing work load I have. What this adds up to is that I've flunked the last two classes I took, gotten behind at work, haven't made a number of the doctor appointments I should have, haven't really cleaned my room in awhile, not taken care of a number of small things around the house, not gotten the oil changed on my vehicle, and a whole host of other things that I really should because I...just...don'

This sucks. Mind you, I don't have any sort of suicidal ideations. I just have no will to do anything.

So, I finally got around to seeing my primary physician today. Do you know how hard it is to talk about stuff like this? I suppose you do if you've ever felt like this, but if you haven't, let me tell you, it's damn hard. I've been seeing this doc for four years now and I like him a lot, but that doesn't make it much easier to rip yourself open and spill your guts. I haven't hardly talked about this to my friends or my mother. And today I had to tell this doctor that I needed help, that I was crashing and needed him to help me come in for a smooth (or at least not so rough) landing.

He gave me a script for Prozac. This did not really make me feel better. In fact, I found it...depressing. I'm already taking three pills a day, one injection a day (two on Saturday), and I'm hooked up to a machine 24/7 that pumps stuff in me to keep me alive. The last thing I want is another goddamned med to take every day. A small part of me also can't help but think, "You mean to tell me you're taking a pill 'cause you feel sad? Man up, sissy! Get over it!" I know this isn't logical. I know that these drugs have a good purpose. I know that I won't necessarily be taking it forever. I'm sure once I'm taking it (or some other similar drug if this one doesn't work) I'll feel better, but right now I'm just feeling depressed about taking drugs for feeling depressed.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Expanding the Home to Make Room for More...Books

I like these people.

When the Ainsworths met their breaking point, they did something even bibliophiles might consider drastic: They bought the house next door, added a two-story atrium to bridge the 15-foot gap between the houses, and converted most of the neighbor's house into a two-story library with cherry shelves, a mezzanine, fireplace and a rolling library ladder.

"It's the pièce de résistance of the house," says Sue.

I must admit to some jealously. Check out the pics of their beautiful home/library.

Epistemic Closure

As usual, the best news source around nails it.

"I almost gave in and listened to that guy defend Islam with words I didn't want to hear," Gentries said. "But then I remembered how much easier it is to live in a world of black-and-white in which I can assign the label of 'other' to someone and use him as a vessel for all my fears and insecurities."

Added Gentries, "That really put things back into perspective."

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Panhandlers With Credit Cards

A journalist hands out prepaid credit cards to panhandlers and documents the results.

Diet Pop and Diabetes

Several years ago before I started getting sick I made a conscious decision to try to start eating healthier. This included drastically reducing the amount of pop I drank. I drank a lot, mostly Pepsi (or as a I like to call it "nectar of the gods"), probably about a six-pack a day on average. As much as I loved it, it actually wasn't that hard for me to cut back. In fact I probably had one can a month if that.

Fast forward to May 2008. I'm diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and now I have no choice in watching what I consume (well, I suppose I do have a choice, but I digress). Beverages I must be extra careful with. Grab just about any drink nearby - milk, juice, tea, pop - and check out the label. What does it have? Carbohydrates. Carbs are the thing I have to count when I am eating anything to ensure I am giving myself the correct amount of insulin. The problem with carbs in liquids is that they are processed much more quickly than carbs in solids (which is why diabetics who are getting hypoglycemic are directed to drink something like orange juice). That means a diabetic's blood glucose level is going to spike up drinking something like this unless he or she is very careful.

Now, I still drink juices and such with meals, but what about between meals? I'm just like anyone else in that I drink something when I'm sitting at my desk or watching TV or whatever. And I'm just like most people in that I get tired of water and want something else from time to time. But I can't just mindlessly sip on juice or pop because it usually has quite a few carbs. If only there was something other than water that didn't have carbs...oh, pop doesn't!

Before I came down with diabetes, I never went near diet pop. Give me the real thing! I'd tell myself thinking about the wannabe-stuff with contempt. Now, however, I had to swallow my harsh words and try it out if I wanted something other than water to easily drink. It turned out to not be that bad and I became hooked. Now I'm drinking a couple of cans a day and again thinking to myself I need to cut back. It may not have sugar, carbs, or calories, but diet soda still has health risks and I'm already sick enough as it is. I don't need to have more things go wrong with me.

I guess I'll just have to learn to love good ol' H20.

Weekly Secret


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Understanding One Quadrillion

A helpful visual guide.

The Commerce Clause

Here is a ten-minute video from about the Commerce Clause of the Constitution and how it relates to the new healthcare bill.

Though I mostly support the healthcare bill, I do think this is a reasonable debate to have. My problem with this video is that it seems edited to make Erwin Chemerinsky come off as having wildly crazy theories while everyone else is rational and correct. Now, perhaps Chemerinsky does that on his own; but you wouldn't know it watching this video. It doesn't matter which side of a debate does this; it's wrong and it's irritating. If you obviously have the correct position, then letting the other side clearly articulate their ideas should not affect the strength of your argument.

But it seems pretty obvious that for most people, well-reasoned and polite debate is not the American way.

h/t: Radley Balko

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Really Facebook?

Facebook (500 million+ users) is suing the people behind Teachbook (fewer than 20 users) over their use of "book" in their name. This is another sad example of the 500 lb. gorilla knocking the little guy around. No one is going to confuse the two or start thinking that "book" is somehow getting diluted. Which one do you think has the money for a court battle like this? Right. So, who wins nearly by default. Right. Sad but true.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Something Deserving of Protest

This is something actually deserving of protest.

Government agents can sneak onto your property in the middle of the night, put a GPS device on the bottom of your car and keep track of everywhere you go. This doesn't violate your Fourth Amendment rights, because you do not have any reasonable expectation of privacy in your own driveway — and no reasonable expectation that the government isn't tracking your movements.
That is the bizarre — and scary — rule that now applies in California and eight other Western states. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which covers this vast jurisdiction, recently decided the government can monitor you in this way virtually anytime it wants — with no need for a search warrant.

This is all sorts of fucked up. There's no other way to put such an egregious violation of basic civil liberties. As conservative (label alert!) as the current Supreme Court is, I can't see them letting this stand. God, I hope not, anyway. This and not the Muslim community center (not mosque) near (not on) Ground Zero is something that people should be up in arms about.

The Problem With Labels

Check out this discussion between Conor Friedersdorf and Conn Carroll on Bloggingheads in which they discuss labels and labeling (e.g. conservative, liberal,etc.) Specifically, Carroll likes them and thinks they are a useful shortcut. Friedersdorf disagrees.

I find myself much closer to Friedersdorf. Labels can be alright as long as people using them and reading (or hearing or whatever) them remember that they are not always accurate, that they are mental shortcuts that are not capable of fully describing a person.

Unfortunately, this typically does not happen. We divide everything into oversimplified black and white groups. As such, one label becomes a signal of good and its opposite becomes the moniker of the scary other, the bad (like...conservative and liberal). We form teams. The team you belong to is obviously the good team and so the other team is the enemy. That also means that someone supposedly part of your team who disagrees with you in some way must clearly not be on your team whatever you may agree on. He or she is apostate and must be cast out like Carroll does with Andrew Sullivan.

What this means is that a label can end up obfuscating just as often as it clarifies. A journalist or blogger or anyone writing for an online audience is typically trying to explain a topic or their views on said topic. If using a label is not going to aid in that endeavor, then it should not be used. Carroll's argument that these labels help him understand a writer and their biases and the "holes" in their arguments was just bizarre. A person's ideas should stand on their own. You shouldn't need to know what label they are in your world-view in order to judge the merit of the argument. Carroll's use of labels this way allows him to agree with anyone on his team whatever the merit of their position and disagree with someone with the wrong label in the same manner.

In fact the reason I don't like to call myself a liberal or a conservative or any other label is because it is too easy to make that a neat little box to put someone in and I don't feel like I fit in a box like that at least not politically. Some labels are okay - male (nothing confusing about that...for me), dork/nerd (uhm...I play Dungeons & Dragons, love Star Trek, read Lord of the Rings over and over, can recite quite a bit of pi off the top of my head, so there's no real disputing of that one), father (I've tried not claiming my two daughters; it didn't work). Maybe there are a few others that I can accept. But when it comes to politics, I think it's far too broad a subject and the labels far too meaningless to let one apply to me. Do I typically lean left? Yeah. Do I agree with orthodox liberals (whatever those may be) on everything? Definitely not. As Friedersdorf said, calling me a liberal would not tell you much about how I thought politically.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fox Makes It Too Easy

Why can't the mainstream media demonstrate the same level of analysis that The Daily Show does on a regular basis? Watch in awe as they demonstrate the intellectual dishonesty that exists on Fox.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Parent Company Trap
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Harve Bennett Interview

Harve Bennett is credited (along with Nicholas Meyer) as one of the saviors of Star Trek. After the enormous expense and lackluster box officer performance of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the prospects of further movies was grim. Bennett stepped up and with virtually no knowledge of Trek when he agreed to the project, he went on to make some very successful and good films. Naturally then, I hold him in high regard so it was nice to see an interview with him over at Trek's official site. Check out part one here and part two here. There was nothing really new in it to a junkie like me, but I enjoy hearing directly from people behind the scenes.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Is Curiosity Good or Bad?

Stanley Fish writing an opinion piece for the NYT says that curiosity is not so good.

That’s exactly what Paul Griffiths, professor of divinity at Duke University, is afraid of. Where Leach welcomes the enlargement of curiosity’s empire, Griffiths, who is writing a book on the vice of curiosity, sees it as a sign of moral and spiritual danger: “Late modern societies that are fundamentally shaped by the overwhelming presence of electronic media and the obscene inundation of every aspect of human life by pictures and sounds have turned the vice of curiosity into a prescribed way of life” (“Reason and the Reasons of Faith”). The prescriptions come in the form of familiar injunctions: follow the inquiry as far as it goes, leave no stone unturned, there is always more to know, the more information the better. “In a world where curiosity rules,” Griffiths declares, “unmasking curiosity as a destructive and offensive device . . . amounts to nothing less than a . . . radical critique of superficiality and constant distraction.”


In short, curiosity — sometimes called research, sometimes called unfettered inquiry, sometimes called progress, sometimes called academic freedom — is their God. The question, posed by thinkers from Aquinas to Augustine to Newman to Griffiths, is whether this is the God — the God, ultimately, of self — we want to worship. Given the evidence, including Chairman Leach’s address, the answer would seem to be yes.

I suppose it's to be expected that an attack on curiosity would come from a person of faith. I'm not sure I've ever seen someone criticize it from a secular point of view.

It's a shame because I think curiosity is one of the greatest assets of humankind. Curiosity has allowed us to search out the entire world and beyond. It has given us medicine and the computer and democracy. Yes, of course, no advancement of knowledge comes without a cost, but I think that the price has been worth it. We are better off in many ways (not all) than we used to be. We can't learn anything without someone being curious enough to ask, "How?" and "Why" and "What if?" Without learning comes stagnation. With stagnation comes regression. Soon we find we are barbarians. Would we be able to eliminate slavery and enact women's suffrage without curiosity? Hardly. Somebody has to question why we have these institutions and why we are keeping them. That takes curiosity.

Fish brings up going "too far" and crossing moral boundaries due to "insatiable" curiosity. But does that mean curiosity is a bad thing. Some people eat too much. Should we then declare food a bad thing, something to be avoided? Not likely. We learn to moderate ourselves. We teach our children how to respect boundaries. Avoiding it completely is cowardly.

It's also interesting that Fish condemns curiosity as something that "distracts men from the study and worship of God." But how are we supposed to learn about God if we aren't curious about Her? Wouldn't a lack of curiosity lead to apathy? I think it would. So, I think some level of curiosity is necessary for human growth whether spiritual or not. Now Fish may think much less curiosity is desired than I do, but I don't see how we can be fully human without the ability to be curious.

Now, I specifically avoided one of the biggest points of Fish's essay, that of Adam and Eve and Original Sin. Such a topic requires much more space than a blog post. Suffice to say that I don't think that the lesson he learns from that story is specifically applicable to humans today.

h/t: Sullivan

What a Stud

This made me laugh.

Source: Fail Blog

A Vote for Pac-Man

Some hackers demonstrate how easy it was for them to install Pac-Man on an electronic voting booth.

Check Out the Big Brain on Philly

The city of Philadelphia wants bloggers to start purchasing a $300 business license whether or not they make money because they "could" make money. In the annals of stupid ideas...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Zoom Zoom

Don't click this link if you don't have time to waste. National Geographic has created a series of beautiful pictures that you can click to zoom in and see the smaller pictures making up the larger one. Click on one of those to enlarge it and then click it again to zoom in on it and pick a different photo. A very cool idea indeed.

Teal and Orange

A film editor complains about color in Hollywood films.

Those of you who watch a lot of Hollywood movies may have noticed a certain trend that has consumed the industry in the last few years. It is one of the most insidious and heinous practices that has ever overwhelmed the industry. Am I talking about the lack of good scripts? Do I speak of the dependency of a few mega-blockbuster hits to save the studios each year, or of the endless sequels and television retreads? No, I am talking about something much more dangerous, much deadlier to the health of cinema.


He's got a number of screenshots to show what he's talking about. I never really noticed before, but now I won't be able to watch any movie without looking for this.

Weekly Secret


Wow, there's certainly a lot of emotion here. Whenever I read something like this, my curiosity is piqued. What was this person's childhood like? What are they like now? Was their childhood as bad as they make it sound? Who knows? Whatever the story is, though, this person is clearly carrying some baggage.

What Is Multiple Sclerosis and What Is Its History?

Two questions I know you have been asking yourself. Well, maybe you have been if you have it or know someone who does. I just discovered these two videos on MS on just this very topic. The first explains exactly what MS is (or at least our current understanding of it) and the second is a history of the disease. Did you know that one of the first people we can definitely say had MS was Lidwina, a saint from the Netherlands in the late14th/early 15th century? Now you do.

This takes about ten minutes to get going.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Blame It on the Sunspots

I mentioned it previously, but I'll harp on it again because I think it is important. We all suffer when one political party is more interested in running cranks for office than intelligent, credible people. I mean, how are we supposed to tackle climate change and its numerous, complex ramifications when the GOP wants to put forward candidates blaming it on sunspots?!

Mid East Peace Talks Back On?

I hope so.

U.S. officials told Jewish community leaders on a private conference call this afternoon that they believe Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is on the verge of joining Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in accepting an invitation to resume peace talks.

But the officials acknowledged that details of the talks have yet to be finalized, plans for a presidential visit to the region remain unclear, and hopes of drawing other Arab leaders and Hamas into the process ride on the momentum of the talks themselves.

Copyright Law

Via Ezra Klein comes this very interesting TED talk on copyright law. She focuses on the fashion industry (which has very few copyright protections), but makes some broader points about copyrights that are well worth considering.

I think it would be quite fascinating to see what the video game industry looked like if there were fewer (or no) copyright protections.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Executive Branch is Not the Only Branch of Government

Yglesias writes about the foolishness of blaming all government problems on Obama.

Something to add to the growing “what’s Obama done wrong” literature and the “what’s wrong with the ‘what’s Obama don’t wrong’ literature” literature is that too often these discussions seem to me to forget that the United States Congress is composed of free and equal human beings who are responsible for their own actions. For example, it may or may not be the case that a different approach on the part of Barack Obama or his staff would have caused Ben Nelson to do different things low these past several months, but it’s absolutely certain that had Nelson wanted to do different things that different things would have happened.

Given that to err is human, I think we can take it for granted that some errors existed in the White House’s approach to legislative negotiations. But it’s also clear that members have their own volition. A skeptical Blanche Lincoln could have responded to the $800 billion stimulus request by asking Barack Obama “what does Christina Romer think? will this really fill the output gap?” Vulnerable House members could have challenged Rahm Emannuel “if things turn out to be worse than you guys expect, we’re all going to lose in the midterms—wouldn’t it be more prudent to build in provisions for additional stimulus if necessary?” The members who insisted on exempting auto dealerships from the jurisdiction of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau could have said “you know what, Michael Barr is right, this doesn’t make any sense; we should do the right thing and tell the dealers to stop whining.”

He calls the tendency for this the "soft bigotry of low expectations." I'd also say that it's easier to point to one guy to blame for something than to say, "Well, it was the fault of at least some of those people over there, some more than others."

It's Not the Teachers, It's the Culture

There's has been some interesting back and forth on Andrew Sullivan's blog recently about education and poor (primarily African American) communities. Some of his readers have come out strongly against the notion that teachers are to blame for under-performing students, claiming that the problem lies with families that don't care about school and rampant gang problems.

I'm not talking about single parent families, although that's an issue. (You've also got a lot of kids in group homes - that's worse than the single parent issue.) The real problem is that the “system” doesn't run the schools. Gangs do. I can't tell you the number of bright, upwardly mobile freshman who were determined to break the mold and get out of Compton but were waylaid by gangs. By junior year most of them are gone, afraid of being killed if they return to school, usually for some ridiculous breach of gang etiquette like looking the wrong way at a banger. I can see their faces now, lost in the miasma of the inner city. That's the real tragedy.

This is one of the reasons that when I think about how I would like to reform our education system, one of the things I would work on doing is breaking down the barriers between school and the rest of the community. Schools should be tightly integrated with the families of their students and the businesses in the area. Of course this isn't going to make gangs magically disappear, but I think it it's important for education to not stop at 3:00pm. This is also a great way to show students that learning is not limited to sitting in a classroom. Schools that are more integrated with the community at large can give students something to be a part of that isn't self-destructive like gangs and drugs are. It can help parents by giving their kids something to do while they are working.

This would require a major paradigm shift in how we think of education, but I think it is a necessary step (along with more individual curricula) in improving our schools and getting away from a model still based on medieval universities.

Of course, policies to deal with poverty would also help.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Muslim Community Center Near Ground Zero

Because human beings were involved in the 9/11 terrorism acts that brought down the World Trade Center, I think it would be terribly insensitive for any humans to build anything near Ground Zero. We need to think about the victims here, you know. Yes, yes, I understand that human beings were also killed that day; but I think you're just dodging the real issue. Dirty, scumbag humans were behind the plot therefore no humans must be allowed to build there.

It's just that simple.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Weekly Secret


These are the fears that Republicans are becoming so adept at manipulating. It's sick and it's McCarthyesque (the manipulation, not the fear).

GOP Not Interested in Governing

Check out this bizarre segment on Anderson Cooper in which Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex) just makes stuff up.

Crap like this is actively harmful to our country. When you have one party (out of two) more interested in fear mongering, lying, and just generally saying whatever they think they need to say in order to return to power (see ACORN, the Muslim community center near Ground Zero, the Black Panthers, healthcare reform, and so on) then effective governance is virtually impossible. While I may typically lean liberal on many issues, I still think that a credible, (at least somewhat) intelligent opposition party is crucial for making government run better. Ideas, any ideas in any field, are honed and tempered in the fires of opposition. An opposition party should be saying, "Why not try X, rather than your Y?" And X isn't stupid stuff like repealing the 14th Amendment. It's a genuine, legitimate different approach to whatever problem is being addressed. In this way, genuine compromises can be achieved or at least the legislation can be changed to make it even better. I don't think that any one political party has a monopoly on the right answers. I firmly support vigorous political debate; it's healthy. But both sides need to have some integrity and intellectual honesty. Without it, debate is pointless.

So, what is it going to take for Republicans to grow up?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

RPG Reunion

It's always nice to see role-playing and D&D getting good press.

It was Vickery who entered the contest to reunite the group. They had fallen out of touch over the years, but were excited to see each other and have another Dungeons & Dragons adventure.

"I definitely miss it," Howe said. "The thing that I miss most about it is just getting together with my friends. Hanging out, talking, making fun of each other. That sort of getting together doesn’t happen as often."

"And that’s why I feel that D&D will never be completely replaced by games like World of Warcraft or anything like that," Vickery added. “Because role-play is at its base a social experience. You can try to synthesize that with technology, but you can never replace the feeling of having four or five of your best friends around a table, rolling dice and talking."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Star Wars That Wasn't

Check out this fascinating interview with Gary Kurtz of early Star Wars fame.

“I could see where things were headed,” Kurtz said. “The toy business began to drive the [Lucasfilm] empire. It’s a shame. They make three times as much on toys as they do on films. It’s natural to make decisions that protect the toy business, but that’s not the best thing for making quality films.”

Most interesting of all is the way Return of the Jedi was originally imagined.
“We had an outline and George changed everything in it," Kurtz said. “Instead of bittersweet and poignant he wanted a euphoric ending with everybody happy. The original idea was that they would recover [the kidnapped] Han Solo in the early part of the story and that he would then die in the middle part of the film in a raid on an Imperial base. George then decided he didn’t want any of the principals killed. By that time there were really big toy sales and that was a reason.”

The discussed ending of the film that Kurtz favored presented the rebel forces in tatters, Leia grappling with her new duties as queen and Luke walking off alone “like Clint Eastwood in the spaghetti westerns,” as Kurtz put it.

Kurtz said that ending would have been a more emotionally nuanced finale to an epic adventure than the forest celebration of the Ewoks that essentially ended the trilogy with a teddy bear luau.

I think this just confirms my idea that Lucas is a fantastic idea guy, but he needs people around him to hammer those ideas into a better shape. There's nothing wrong with that, of course; it's just too bad that Lucas became so big that no one was willing to say to him, "Uhm, that's dumb. What if we took that idea, though, and tried this." Certainly it couldn't have made the prequels any worse.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Politics of Fear

Speaking of demagogues manipulating people through fear (and hyperbole).

Ben Quayle is scum.

UPDATE: Okay, maybe Ben Quayle isn't so bad. I mean, his horrible ad did produce this awesome parody.

The Uninformed Electorate

Thomas Jefferson was a staunch believer in informed citizens as demonstrated by these two quotes.

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.

Imagine his consternation then at the results of a recent Pew survey. Americans were asked 11 questions about various current events. On average, people only got 5.8 questions correct! The questions are very simple, but people don't know the answers. What does that say about the state of our nation? We certainly seem to be living in an age where education and knowledge are disdained as elitist which is, I believe, a serious problem. We face serious, complex issues such as global warming. Naturally not everyone is going to be up to the task of solving things like this, but we certainly need most people to have a baseline understanding of events so they can't be manipulated by power-hungry demagogues more interested in advancing their own interests than the interests of the electorate at large.

Some people are always going to be smarter than others, but we should all demand of each other to be as knowledgeable as possible about as much as possible so that we can make informed decisions. People will naturally still disagree on things, but disagreement based on reasoned thought is much preferred to disagreement stemming from ignorance.

For the record I got 11/11 on the survey. I'm not bragging. The questions aren't hard and people should do better than 5.8.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Of Course Cops Don't Support Being Recorded

Radley Balko has written a lot about the trouble citizens encounter when they attempt to tape on-duty law enforcement. Today he posted an article in which he interviewed three law enforcement officials to get their take. Unsurprisingly they all support punishing citizens that record on-duty cops.

"You have 960,000 police officers in this country, and millions of contacts between those officers and citizens. I’ll bet you can’t name 10 incidents where a citizen video has shown a police officer to have lied on a police report," Pasco says. "Letting people record police officers is an extreme and intrusive response to a problem that’s so rare it might as well not exist. It would be like saying we should do away with DNA evidence because there’s a one in a billion chance that it could be wrong. At some point, we have to put some faith and trust in our authority figures."

We should have some trust in our authority figures, but we are fools if we don't take prudent steps to monitor them to ensure they are not abusing their position (if only their were some sort of appropriate Latin phrase for this).

The broader point I want to make, though, is that of course cops are not going to favor allowing citizens to record them. No one stands up and says, "I am in favor of more oversight of my activities." That's perfectly natural. No one goes to their boss and says, "Hey, can you stand over my shoulder a bit more to monitor what I'm doing?" No one wants to feel like someone else is scrutinizing their every move. But the more power someone has, the more important it is for checks to be on that person to ensure that abuse does not occur. Trying to criminalize the recording of officers while on the job only makes it look like the cops have something to hide, that they can't be trusted. And if they are doing their job properly, what do they have to hide?

This is, of course, to say nothing of the ludicrous notion that taking pictures and recording events in a public arena can in any way be illegal.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Weekly Secret


I think I've embraced mine for a long time, but it's only in the last few years that I have really come to be...proud of it (for a lack of a better phrase). I wouldn't want to be any other way.

Color America in the Age of Black & White

Check out this amazing series of color photos from the late 30s/early 40s.

Pretty amazing considering color had just been invented.

h/t: Radley Balko


For a little over a year now I've had to deal with the Worst Boss Ever at work. Due to some restructuring and reorganizing, he became the manager of our department and it was disastrous. He has no people skills or leadership skills. At all. He knew everything ("With my HR/Risk Managment/Database/ background..." or my favorite "I worked security at a concert once.") He liked to throw around his title ("As I am the manager...") He lied frequently about things big and small. He didn't want anyone to do anything without asking permission first (including for example answering questions about incidental matters directly pertaining to my job). He couldn't stand any questioning or criticism of anything he decided. He talked down to everyone. He stopped talking to you if you called him on his bullshit and issued orders to you by proxy.

In short, he's scum and working for him was a nightmare.

Thankfully, he was recently removed from his position. Due to another restructuring (for "budget" reasons) he no longer has anyone working for him (but he got to retain his manager title *eyeroll*). This has had the magical effect of dramatically raising the morale of everyone in the department. I've also stopped looking for another job. It's made me think a lot about leadership, though, and how companies really seem to struggle to find good leaders.

The greatest leader ever.

I have risen to a leadership position in a number of the jobs I have worked. In fact, I was a closing shift manager at Taco Bell when I was 16. How did I earn these promotions? By working hard and being competent at my job. It wasn't necessarily because I displayed any leadership qualities. Did I receive any training on how to lead or manage people when I was promoted? Nope. I was thrown to the wolves and expected to succeed.

So, as it is, much of what I know about being a leader has come from my own trial and error and watching leaders around me. This recent manager of mine was kind enough to teach me a whole lot about what not to do. The thing is that nearly everyone has worked for or seen in action some really pathetic supervisor. Why is that? I would think that companies would have an incentive to provide training and direction on leadership skills to people in those positions, but they often do not. Competence at a non-leadership job somehow seems to translate into "This person has management potential."

Bad leaders don't just have a negative impact on the people working for them, but on the company as a whole. People are not as motivated so they aren't as productive as they could be. People leave to find other employment and another person has to be trained to take their position. Why wouldn't a company want to prevent this from happening instead of encouraging it by setting people up to fail?

Any leadership training will naturally have to include lessons learned from watching Kirk in action.

UPDATE: Fixed picture.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Suburbs

Arcade Fire's latest album, The Suburbs, is out now and you can stream the whole thing on NPR. I've listened to it twice now and I think it is just as good as their first two albums, although I think it is like both of them in that it will take several listens to fully appreciate it.

It's the End of the World As We Know It

I got an interesting little pamphlet in the mail the other day from a group called Family Radio. In big bold letters on the front it proclaimed...


I guess I don't need to worry about finishing school or going to work anymore, I thought as my feeble mind tried to come to terms with the fact that the world is ready to exit stage left.

I guess I shouldn't be amazed anymore by the lack of critical thinking in humans and our very short historical memory, but I am every time I see something like this. These people are apparently not cognizant of the fact that Christians have been predicting the imminent end of the world and the return of Jesus since about, oh, five minutes after he died. Check out this handy reference guide of apocalyptic predictions. I just pinched myself and indeed it seems the world has, in fact, not ended.

Oh, and my own calculations indicate the world will end on March 3, 2011, so you better hurry up and save your soul.

Here's another Chicken Little recently predicting armageddon.

He's probably just trying to sell books, though.

Christian eschatology and it's many forms has been fascinating to me ever since I read the Book of Revelation as a wee lad. I wonder how much of the constant predictions of the imminent end are driven by a fear of this world, a fear of this harsh, cruel world. The typical conception of paradise certainly sounds far better than what we have here. When you look at our world and it's many faults and hardships and battles, I imagine that some people just think, "Screw it! I don't want to deal with this. I want my buddy, Jesus (and his Calgon), to take me away!" People are good at doing everything they can to avoid hard things and pain. Being whisked off to heaven seems a good way to do that.

Oh, and my calculations indicate the world will actually end on March 4, 2011, so I hope you get right with JC 'cause I'm not wrong like all of those other people. Really.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Weekly Secret


It shouldn't be a secret that I approve of this notion.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

On Shaving and Facial Hair (Or Lack Thereof)

I'm on vacation from work this week. One of the best parts of not working is not shaving everyday. I dislike shaving; it's a pain in the ass. So, when not working I try not to shave much. It is nice, but the downside is that it is a painful reminder of my lack of facial-hair-growing skills. Today is the sixth day since a blade has touch my face and here are the pathetic results.

Here is a straight on shot.

I know what you're thinking. Shane, you said you haven't shaved in six days, but your face hardly looks different. Yeah, don't remind me.

So, here are my profiles.

Six days and look how little is there! It's very patchy (which is probably giving it too much credit) and there is clearly more on my left side than on my right. I suppose I should be grateful that I can grow what I can and I am, but it would still be nice if I could, you know, have a full face of hair if I wanted it. My dad can grow a jungle on his face in just a couple of days. Why couldn't he pass that on to me instead of the receding hairline?

Anyway, in just a few days I will have to return to hacking off the seven hairs on my cheeks (five on the left, two on the right) and then I can go back to pretending that I could grow a full beard if I really wanted to. I just gotta believe.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bruce Bartlett, advisor to Reagan, Treasury official under Bush 41, and known liberal wacko has this to say about the current Republican party.

The Republicans don’t have any credibility whatsoever. They squandered whatever they had when they enacted a massive UNFUNDED expansion of Medicare in 2003. Yet they had the nerve to complain about Obama’s health plan, WHICH WAS FULLY PAID FOR according to the Congressional Budget Office. The word “chutzpah” is insufficient to describe how utterly indefensible the Republican position is, intellectually.

Furthermore, Republicans have a completely indefensible position on taxes. In their view, deficits cannot arise from tax cuts. No matter how much taxes are cut, no matter how low revenues go as a share of GDP, tax cuts are never a cause of deficits; they result ONLY AND EXCLUSIVELY from spending—and never from spending put in place by Republicans, such as Medicare Part D, TARP, two unfunded wars, bridges to nowhere, etc—but ONLY from Democratic efforts to stimulate growth, help the unemployed, provide health insurance for those without it, etc.

The monumental hypocrisy of the Republican Party is something amazing to behold. And their dimwitted accomplices in the tea-party movement are not much better. They know that Republicans, far more than Democrats, are responsible for our fiscal mess, but they won’t say so. And they adamantly refuse to put on the table any meaningful programme that would actually reduce spending. Judging by polls, most of them seem to think that all we have to do is cut foreign aid, which represents well less than 1% of the budget.

He speaks a little better of Dems.
Consequently, I have far more hope that Democrats will do what has do be done. The Democratic Party is now the “adult” party in American politics, willing to do what has to be done for the good of the country.

But, then he says this.
Unfortunately, I don’t think Democrats have the guts or the stamina to put forward a meaningful deficit-reduction programme because they know—as I do—that it will require higher revenues. But facing big losses in the elections this fall I can’t blame them. That leaves us facing political gridlock between the sensible but cowardly party and the greedy, sociopathic party. Not a pleasant choice for those of us in the sensible, lets-do-what-we-have-to-do-for-the-good-of-the-country independent centre.

I think this means we're fucked.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Kay Hagan Knows What Is Important

Recognizing the accomplishments of athletes. This is what elected officials are for. Not for crafting substantive legislation on matters like the economy or war or anything like that. Nope. Recognizing the achievements of highly paid, very famous sports figures is what it is all about.

Or something.

h/t: Ezra Klein

Monday, July 26, 2010

Art vs. the Artist and Growing Up

Tasha Robinson has a great article on the AVClub discussing how our perception of an artist and what they have said or done may color our view of their work.

It’s hard to know exactly where knowing the context of a work—knowing about its creator’s history and goals—fades into bias, and an inability to see the work for itself. It’s hard to come to any piece of art without bringing our personal baggage with us. Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves whether a given film, show, book, or whatever is meaningful and worthy, and we do that with all the knowledge at our disposal, often more subconsciously than consciously.

But I still think that while we can’t help how we interpret something subconsciously, we can help whether we let an artist’s words or actions completely distract us from our own direct, personal reactions. And in the end, letting those things get in the way is unfair to ourselves, and to our own emotions. And it’s unfair to the art itself, and whatever it may move us to feel or think. Regardless of its intent, regardless of its creator’s behavior, regardless of what anyone else who experiences it says, something speaks to you or it doesn’t, all on its own.

It's a thought provoking piece and worth your time to read in full.

The main thrust of her topic is how what an artist says outside of their art can influence our perception of the art, though she also touches on an artist's actions (e.g. Mel Gibson). I've found that many books and movies I enjoyed as a youngster I now have a different understanding of or appreciation of whether or not I have learned more about its creator. One book, though, took on a much different tone for me after learning more about its author and reading it through more mature eyes.

I'm referring to Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. I read this book when I was eleven or twelve and fell in love with it. How could an intelligent, outcast kid not love a book about an intelligent, outcast kid who is tasked with saving humanity? I read it more than once and it became one of my favorites. I strongly recommended it to many people.

Then I grew up. I found out that Card has a strong dislike for Muslims. He doesn't like gay people. He wrote a book about evil liberals overthrowing the American government and the courageous conservatives that must restore things to their natural order. In short, I found him to have a rather despicable world view.

But, that wasn't going to change my love for Ender's Game. How could it? None of that stuff was in the book that I could recall. So, a couple of years ago, I decided to read it to my daughters. I couldn't wait to share one of my favorite books with them.

It was different this time, though. I still enjoyed it and my daughters certainly did, but I couldn't help but seeing his political beliefs coming through and frankly I found it appalling at times. This essay does an excellent job taking apart many of the problems with the book, but I want to focus on the one thing that really shined through reading it again. If you have not read the book (and I do encourage you to because despite its issues, it is a very engaging story) stop here because spoilers ensue.

As Ender becomes more and more isolated by his trainers and is put through more and more torture and more students die at Ender's hands, it becomes clear that the ends justify the means for the protagonists of the book. The climax of this is Ender's genocide of an entire race of aliens that humans had been at war with. Topping it off, in the denouement, while Ender is vilified for becoming the Xenocide, he is portrayed in a sympathetic light. He did just what he had to in order to save humanity. He also didn't know what he was doing because he thought he was still just training.

In the essay I linked to above, an interview with Card is mentioned in which he states, "I don’t really think it’s true that ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions.' Good people trying to do good usually find a way to muddle through. What worries me is when you have bad people trying to do good. They’re not good at it, they don’t have any instinct for it, and they’re willing to do a lot of damage along the way." This is a very scary road to go down. If a person has good intentions, can they really do no wrong? And, who judges whether or not a person's intentions are good? One person's good can be another person's bad. I see Card reading Watchmen and unequivocally applauding Ozymandias's actions at the end whereas Alan Moore makes the reader very uncomfortable if he or she finds themselves thinking that what Ozymandias did might be justifiable.

I think there are definitely lines that should not be crossed, that the ends most certainly do not justify the means. Reading Ender's Game when I was young, I did not see Card's beliefs shining through. But as I mentioned earlier, reading it through more seasoned eyes and after having read some of the vile crap that he spews, I have a more troubled outlook toward the book and frankly am appalled at many of the things Card stands for. I do think that art should stand on its own, that its meaning or interpretation is between the connoisseur and the art. However now that I know what I know about Card and now that I have grown up and learned so much more, I can't put that away and look at it the same way I did when I was twelve. I suppose a part of me longs for the naivete of my youth. A part of me wants to simply enjoy the story as a simple tale of a boy far more talented and intelligent than all those around him who must overcome adversity to save the human race.

It's a great story, but I'm saddened that it's not the same story anymore.

UPDATE: Changed the first sentence because by the time I got around to finishing this post, it was not today that Tasha's article was posted.