Sunday, July 27, 2008

TV Wasteland

TV is a wasteland, but occasionally a few things worth watching sneak out. Lately we've been enjoying Morgan Spurlock's always thoughtful 30 Days. Morgan Spurlock made the great documentary, Super Size Me, about our addiction to fast food.

From the official site, 30 Days "... examines social issues in America by immersing individuals in a life that requires them to "see the world through another's eyes,"". Sometimes that person is Morgan, sometimes not. We just watched an episode tonight that had a pro-gun-control lady from the Northeast spend 30 days with a pro-gun father and son from Ohio. The strength of this episode and most 30 Days airings is that it doesn't beat you over the head with one viewpoint. Often, very entrenched people come to see an issue from a different perspective and are the better for it.

Other programs have explored religion, gay marriage/adoption, the coal industry, animal rights, etc.

Something else that we've been watching is not a show per se, but a network. Cox Communications here in the Valley just added Planet Green to the digital cable tier that we get. It's got an outstanding lineup with a fairly obvious theme (environmental issues) that includes:

  • Living with Ed - reality show with one of Hollywood's earliest environmentalists. It's funny but has a lot of useful information.

  • Renovation Nation - a building program that shows how to take existing homes and significantly improve their efficiency. It's host is a former host of This Old House.

  • Wa$ted - This is a series that looks at real families, shows the ways in which they are wasteful and inefficient, and provides cheap ways of changing that.

There are a bunch of other great programs but you can pretty much turn on this channel at any time and find an interesting and useful show.

On a lighter note, we enjoy watching Doctor Who very much and were surprised to see Richard Dawkins in a cameo on the program when we watched a taped episode tonight.

"When television is good, nothing is better. When it's bad, nothing is worse." -- Newton Minow

"The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little." -- Ray Bradbury

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pray for daughter who doesn't believe

I saw this article on the little atheist news ticker I have on the side of my blog. Evidently, it's Christianity's answer to Dear Abby:

Pray for daughter who doesn't believe

DEAR DR. GRAHAM: Our 17-year-old daughter says she doesn't believe in God anymore, and now she even refuses to go to church with us. When we try to talk with her about it we just end up in an argument. What can we do? -- Mrs. S.McD.

DEAR MRS. S.McD.: The most important thing you can do is to pray for her -- because only God can overcome her spiritual resistance and draw her back to Himself. Jesus said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44).

But you also can let her know you that love her, despite your differences -- and by doing so, you'll be showing her that God loves her also. Don't let your discussions degenerate into arguments; this will only make her more determined to keep her position. In other words, don't let this become a test of wills between you -- your will battling against her will -- because almost the last thing she wants to do right now is admit she is wrong. The Bible says, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1).

Let me encourage you also to ask her why she has come to this conclusion. Has someone influenced her? Has she been reading one of the recent books on atheism? Atheism has become something of a fad in recent years, and this may have influenced her.

But the real reason, I suspect, is that she wants to run her own life -- and that's far easier to do if you push God out of your life. Help her realize what she's doing, and then warn her of the dangers. Above all, urge her to look at Christ, for He alone came "to bring you to God" (1 Peter 3:18).

Contact the Rev. Billy Graham c/o Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 1 Billy Graham Parkway, Charlotte, NC 28201, phone 877-247-2426, or see the Web site

It's priceless in its raw condescension. See, all of us atheists are really only trying to exert our independence. We really believe in God, but he complicates our thinking, so we push him away. Those evil "atheist" books by Dawkins and Harris and Hitchens are the latest cool fad, so we're hip to that. Oh, brother.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any more!

I think I'm losing my ability to stay on the sidelines in political discussions and put up with bullshit.

I go to a networking group breakfast meeting every Wednesday and have done so for 9 years. It consists of small business owners, a realtor, an insurance agent, etc. Early on in my business, it was very useful for increasing my client base. I'd already decided to leave the group for several reasons nothing to do with politics. My son is starting back up to school soon and with my wife using the scooter to commute, there is no way she can take him to school. Our meetings happen right when I would be taking him to school. So, I get the job of taking him. That's OK. My son is a lot more important that a networking meeting. Besides, my business is so self-sustaining, that I've really outgrown the need for such a group. But, with the way recent discussions seem to be leaning, and with a contentious election impending, I feel more and more possible political conflicts will happen during the meeting and I'm not anxious for that to happen. While it's not my reason for exiting, it's something that cinches my decision.

The mortgage lady in our group was giving a talk today and had started to broach that line into political advocacy instead of giving us information about her business. She said that it was really important who we voted for. It was about to go to the next level when another person in the group asked her which candidate would be the best, in her opinion, on a mortgage issue she was talking about. At that point, I saw things going downhill quick and I feared we would hit a point of no return, so I said, "Don't even go there." And, thankfully, she didn't. I have been in this group for 9 years and we've coexisted great because we are all enthusiastic about our businesses and do our businesses well. And because we had never discussed politics, save some oblique references. If that hadn't been the case, I would not have stayed in, as I know that I'm probably one of only 2 or 3 progressives in the group (of 16).

I was beginning to sense a change last week when I had given a talk on the sustainability of computers. The presentation was relevant in both a business and topical sense (see the main thrust of my talk here). The aforementioned mortgage lady had twice given smart remarks during my talk disparaging Al Gore (whom I had not mentioned), and "carbon footprint" (something else that I hadn't mentioned). My talk was not political. I didn't say where I got the quiz from. I didn't talk about candidates or who to vote for. I didn't criticize existing politicians. I merely talked about ways in which each of us could save energy and money. But, as most Republicans do, she made it into one by assuming anything to do with the environment implied "liberals". I didn't choose to engage her in a discussion then, but after this week's comments, I decided it was time to either tell her to stop or get into a full-on, knock-down, drag-out, discussion. Since I'm leaving in a week or so, I chose the former. But, believe me, if she goes there again next week, I'll go ahead and choose the latter. She works for Bank of America (who just acquired Countrywide) and she's worked for three mortgage companies of dubious origins before that. Add on to that the fact that she is advocating for a candidate whose main economic adviser, Phil Gramm, "wrote the Gramm-Bliley bill, an act broadly deregulating the financial industry -- and now blamed by many economists for the epidemic of speculation and fraud that has shaken the global economy." Many are calling him the architect of the mortgage crisis we are mired in.

Now I don't want to paint the whole group with the brush represented by this one lady. But from subtler comments over the years by others, I could discern their leanings. Too much of a push by a more vocal member might be enough to make each meeting into a right-wing talking point run-through. Not my idea of fun.

Another occasion happened at my first client after my meeting. It was an older gentleman and his wife. He's a retired police officer. They were kidding about the constant political e-mails that she was forwarding to him and was there a way he could block them. He commented how the two of them were going to be voting for different candidates for president. Being retired police, you would assume that he was the Republican, but actually, he's very liberal. He's been very active in committees that led to the light rail system now being built in Phoenix.

She started to say how she couldn't understand how anyone would vote for Obama, and I came back with, "I wouldn't vote for McCain for dog-catcher, let alone President". I continued saying I respected his service but he's an economic idiot, has no self control and is completely out of touch. And then, I immediately apologized saying that I was completely out of line and should never bring up politics inside someone's house when I was a guest (especially a client's house). Neither one of them was actually offended and the husband, I think, was actually very amused. I didn't actually bring up politics, I just responded.

I have no problem not bringing up politics in mixed environments. It's just that I'm slowly losing my ability to not respond in kind when others bring up politics and make fools of themselves.

I haven't really been talking about politics directly on my blog for awhile because the nomination process has very little to do with real issues like governance, the war, economics, etc. Besides, McCain is just much too easy of a target. I always thought W was a dream target, but he at least realizes how stupid he is and shields himself off from public speaking most of the time. McCain has no clue and puts his foot in his mouth on a daily basis.

I don't want to talk about politics. I want to talk about improving people's lives, improving the planet, studying the human condition. If I start talking about politics too much, it's because others make those issues into political ones. And I'm not doing anyone favors by not talking about it. As Plato said,

"Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber."

Monday, July 21, 2008

My Kung Fu is Best

As I'm diligently removing spyware from a client's teenage son's computer today, that son's little brother (about Alex's age) sidles up to me and asks, straight-faced, "Do you have hacking skills?"

Resisting the urge to break out laughing, I answer, "Yeah, I suppose I do." He seemed genuinely impressed. He's of that great age that still has wide-eyed wonder sans irony or sarcasm. Thinking about that humorous exchange carried me through four more tedious clients.

Keeping in the computer milieu, I thought it might be interesting to try and name my top 5 favorite "computer" movies of all-time. To qualify, they have to be either about computers or have a computer as a main character. Be sure to note that these are my 5 favorite and not necessarily the 5 best. Some of these are decidedly bad movies with inaccurate computer portrayals but have a certain campy charm. And some movies (like the Matrix) rate higher here than they would against more important movies (2001) in a normal list I would do because they fit more with the computer theme. Any movie with a hacker will automatically rate higher.

1. Matrix - A seminal groundbreaking movie with cool effects, kick-ass kung fu, just the right amount of philosophy and religion, and a creative plot. And a movie couldn't really be any more about computers than the Matrix.

2. 2001 - Not really about computers but has, arguably, the most memorable computer character ever in HAL 9000. This is the oldest movie in the list and has certainly shaped pop culture and people's views of computers and artificial intelligence.

3. War Games - Again, very dated, but that can be forgiven since it came out in 1983. Like 2001, it helped to give the public an idea of what AI could mean.

4. Hackers - This is one of those cheesy ones I was talking about. The way in which they choose to visually show hacking is embarrassing. Fisher Stevens is laughably bad. And the movie seems terribly dated now. Despite all that, I still get a kick out of it. Hackers has just enough references to UNIX and phone phreaking to give it a little old-school hacking cred. Plus it's got a couple of my favorite actors in Jonny Lee Miller (of Trainspotting fame) and an early Angelina Jolie. These two would later marry in real-life.

5. Pirates of Silicon Valley -- This was a TV movie, but was actually pretty good. It was about the early days of the PC and had Noah Wyle as Steve Jobs and Anythony Michael Hall as Bill Gates. Not a particularly cinematic or crafty movie, it's merit has more to do with giving a pretty accurate history.

You could make a case for some others, like:

The Net
Total Recall
Enemy of the State
Johnny Mnemonic

But some of those are just plain bad (The Net, Johnny Mnemonic), or that I can't remember (Tron, Sneakers), or just use computers as a plot device, not as a focus.

"The most likely way for the world to be destroyed, most experts agree, is by accident. That's where we come in; we're computer professionals. We cause accidents." -- Nathaniel Borenstein

"A computer is like an Old Testament god, with a lot of rules and no mercy." -- Joseph Campbell

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Political Song of the Day - KMFDM - New American Century

I heard this song on Pandora on a Ministry channel I had created. Great song, which you can hear here, with timely lyrics:

"New American Century" by KMFDM

Count your blessings
Walk the line
Don't move too fast
Or fall behind
There are rules you must obey
They get re-written by the day
Don't do this - don't say that
Your every move is logged and tracked
By the all oppressive eye
Spy satellites in friendly skies

The new american century
Has only just begun
No one exempt from the tragedy
Counterattack start pushing back

Fight the power
That chokes your speech
Fight the power
That makes you bleed
Fight the power
That propogates lies
To keep you weak
Keep you in line
Fight the power that reigns you in
Divides and conquers
Defines your sin
Fight the power
For one and all
Before the power swallows us whole

No one dares to say a word
Our panic drives all human herds
In the land where cash is king
Our silence bought and sold for free
The future's banging on our door
When real I.D. will be the law
Love thy neighbor and turn him in
It's called patriotism

The world is watching in disbelief
Chanting shame on you
How can you stand by so quietly
Letting them rape your liberties

You can't be bothered or concerned
You see no reason for alarm
Prejudice, religion, hate
Usher in new mandate
Absolute and resolved
One nation under one god
Lack of interest has its price
As we're stripped of all our rights

Those who cannot learn from history
Are doomed to repeat it!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hate Badges

"We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another." -- Jonathan Swift

"You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do." -- Anne Lamott

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Bachelor Once More ...

Expect many blog posts from me this week. The wife and kid are on vacation in Iowa and I will be bored out of my mind in an empty house with nothing better to do than blog.

Some pics from the beginning of their trip.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Short Movie Reviews

I've seen a lot of movies lately but am not going to take a lot of time to give extensive reviews on those that are not outstanding (in either a good or bad way). So, here are my sound-bite reviews of a few I've seen:

Wanted - Borderline violence porn but pulls itself back from the precipice by stylizing it Matrix-like. Having some decent acting talent helps the movie (McElvoy, Jolie, Freeman). Definitely has some Fight Club moments -- nerdy office-jockey turned sexy ass-kicker. Trying very hard not to sound too much like a male here, but probably failing, the Jolie butt shot is a bonus. I suppose it could have been a stunt butt. Grade: C+

Happening - Shyamalan says it's just a B-movie, but the environmental parallels are not hard to see. That's OK ... Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead put messages in B-movies too. Fairly suspenseful but suffers from what most M. Night movies suffer from ... they're not the Sixth Sense. This movie is not as bad as some people are making it out to be. Grade: C

Kung Fu Panda - Abandons the wink-wink, nudge-nudge, inside-joke, pop-cultural references of too many of today's animated movies and is the better for it. Good animation, good voice talent (Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan) and a heart-warming (though trite) story. Grade: C+

Prince Caspian - I guess one of the fun things for me in the first Narnia movie was to try and identify all the Christian symbolism. Other than that, it was fairly boilerplate fantasy fare, but not bad. This one seems to tone down the imagery, or the book it was based on didn't have as much. I'm not sure as I haven't read it yet. There's a lot of fighting in this one, but not a lot of new character exposition. I guess I'm just ambivalent about this one. Not good. Not terrible. Grade: C-

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Why I'm Not Patriotic

Why I’m Not Patriotic
by Matthew Rothschild
(In memory of George Carlin.)

It’s July 4th again, a day of near-compulsory flag-waving and nation-worshipping. Count me out.

Spare me the puerile parades.

Don’t play that martial music, white boy.

And don’t befoul nature’s sky with your F-16s.

You see, I don’t believe in patriotism.

It’s not that I’m anti-American, but I am anti-patriotic.

Love of country isn’t natural. It’s not something you’re born with. It’s an inculcated kind of love, something that is foisted upon you in the home, in the school, on TV, at church, during the football game.

Yet most people accept it without inspection.


For when you stop to think about it, patriotism (especially in its malignant morph, nationalism) has done more to stack the corpses millions high in the last 300 years than any other factor, including the prodigious slayer, religion.

The victims of colonialism, from the Congo to the Philippines, fell at nationalism’s bayonet point.

World War I filled the graves with the most foolish nationalism. And Hitler and Mussolini and Imperial Japan brought nationalism to new nadirs. The flags next to the tombstones are but signed confessions-notes left by the killer after the fact.

The millions of victims of Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot have on their death certificates a dual diagnosis: yes communism, but also that other ism, nationalism.

The whole world almost got destroyed because of nationalism during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The bloody battles in Serbia and Bosnia and Croatia in the 1990s fed off the injured pride of competing patriotisms and all their nourished grievances.

In the last five years in Iraq, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have died because the United States, the patriarch of patriotism, saw fit to impose itself, without just cause, on another country. But the excuse was patriotism, wrapped in Bush’s brand of messianic militarism: that we, the great Americans, have a duty to deliver “God’s gift of freedom” to every corner of the world.

And the Congress swallowed it, and much of the American public swallowed it, because they’ve been fed a steady diet of this swill.

What is patriotism but “the narcissism of petty differences”? That’s Freud’s term, describing the disorder that compels one group to feel superior to another.

Then there’s a little multiplication problem: Can every country be the greatest country in the world?

This belief system magically transforms an accident of birth into some kind of blue ribbon.

“It’s a great country,” said the old Quaker essayist Milton Mayer. “They’re all great countries.”

At times, the appeal to patriotism may be necessary, as when harnessing the group to protect against a larger threat (Hitler) or to overthrow an oppressor (as in the anti-colonial struggles in the Third World).

But it is always a dangerous toxin to play with, and it ought to be shelved with cross and bones on the label except in these most extreme circumstances.

In an article called “Patriot Games” in the current issue of Time magazine (July 7), Peter Beinart, late of The New Republic, inspects his navel for seven pages and then throws the lint all around.

“Conservatives are right,” he says. “To some degree, patriotism must mean loving your country for the same reason you love your family: simply because it is yours.”

And then he criticizes, incoherently, the conservative love-it-or-leave-it types.

The moral folly of his argument he himself exposes: “If liberals love America purely because it embodies ideals like liberty, justice, and equality, why shouldn’t they love Canada-which from a liberal perspective often goes further toward realizing those principles-even more? And what do liberals do,” he asks, “when those universal ideals collide with America’s self-interest? Giving away the federal budget to Africa would probably increase the net sum of justice and equality on the planet, after all. But it would harm Americans and thus be unpatriotic.”

This is a straw man if I ever I saw one, but if the United States gave a lot more of its budget to eradicating poverty and disease in Africa and other parts of the developing world, it might actually make us all safer.

At bottom, note how readily Beinart disposes of “liberty, justice, and equality.”

He has stripped patriotism to its vacuous essence: Love your country because it’s yours.

If we stopped that arm from reflexively saluting and concerned ourselves more with “universal ideals” than with parochial ones, we’d be a lot better off.

We wouldn’t be in Iraq, we wouldn’t have besmirched ourselves at Guantanamo, we wouldn’t be acting like some Argentinean junta that wages illegal wars and tortures people and disappears them into secret dungeons.

Love of country is a form of idolatry.

Listen, if you would, to the wisdom of Milton Mayer, writing back in 1962 a rebuke to JFK for his much-celebrated line: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

Mayer would have none of it. “When Mr. Kennedy spoke those words at his inaugural, I knew that I was at odds with a society which did not immediately rebel against them,” he wrote. “They are the words of totalitarianism pure; no Jefferson could have spoken them, and no Khrushchev could have spoken them better. Could a man say what Mr. Kennedy said and also say that the difference between us and them is that they believe that man exists for the State and we believe that the State exists for man? He couldn’t, but he did. And in doing so, he read me out of society.”

When Americans retort that this is still the greatest country in the world, I have to ask why.

Are we the greatest country because we have 10,000 nuclear weapons?

No, that just makes us enormously powerful, with the capacity to destroy the Earth itself.

Are we the greatest country because we have soldiers stationed in more than 120 countries?

No, that just makes us an empire, like the empires of old, only more so.

Are we the greatest country because we are one-twentieth of the world’s population but we consume one-quarter of its resources?

No, that just must makes us a greedy and wasteful nation.

Are we the greatest country because the top 1 percent of Americans hoards 34 percent of the nation’s wealth, more than everyone in the bottom 90 percent combined?

No, that just makes us a vastly unequal nation.

Are we the greatest country because corporations are treated as real, live human beings with rights?

No, that just enshrines a plutocracy in this country.

Are we the greatest country because we take the best care of our people’s basic needs?

No, actually we don’t. We’re far down the list on health care and infant mortality and parental leave and sick leave and quality of life.

So what exactly are we talking about here?

To the extent that we’re a great (not the greatest, mind you: that’s a fool’s game) country, we’re less of a great country today.

Because those things that truly made us great-the system of checks and balances, the enshrinement of our individual rights and liberties-have all been systematically assaulted by Bush and Cheney.

From the Patriot Act to the Military Commissions Act to the new FISA Act, and all the signing statements in between, we are less great today.

From Abu Ghraib and Bagram Air Force Base and Guantanamo, we are less great today.

From National Security Presidential Directive 51 (giving the Executive responsibility for ensuring constitutional government in an emergency) to National Security Presidential Directive 59 (expanding the collection of our biometric data), we are less great today.

From the Joint Terrorism Task Forces to InfraGard and the Terrorist Liaison Officers, we are less great today.

Admit it. We don’t have a lot to brag about today.

It is time, it is long past time, to get over the American superiority complex.

It is time, it is long past time, to put patriotism back on the shelf-out of the reach of children and madmen.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Friday, July 04, 2008

10 Things You Can Like About $4 Gas

I've told my wife several times in the past (as much as 5 years ago) that maybe what the country really needs is $5 gas. People don't really respond en masse unless you hit them in the pocketbook. They won't really think of alternative transportation unless they have a financial reason for doing so.

It's a sad fact. It's just not enough of a reason for some people to do the right thing because it's good for our future or the environment. Cheap gas is not a fundamental right, though Americans seem to believe it is.

Well, I've gotten my wish. Don't get me wrong, I know it hits the lower income people big time. I've been there. But high gas prices hit the big guys too. And when it hits enough people, they will clamor for easier and cheaper modes of transportation: more bus routes, mass transit, park-n-ride, etc. People will stop thinking it's cool to have a Hummer, a Viper, a monster trick with a ridiculous lift kit. Maybe men trying to make up for inadequacies elsewhere (in the Freudian sense) will measure their virility with MPG instead of vehicle size. That wouldn't be so bad, would it?

Here's a list that digs even deeper into the benefits of higher gas prices:

Ten Things You Can Like about $4 Gas
by Amanda Ripley for Time Magazine

The world had long assumed that Americans were just unrepentant energy pigs. If gas prices went up, well, we kept our Explorers aimed at the horizon, and little changed. We truthfully didn't have lots of options. Unlike Europeans, we didn't have jobs we could bike to or convenient public transit. Gasoline prices never stayed high enough long enough to force those kinds of shifts in how we lived.

Now here we are. Gas prices are near $4 per gal., as no one needs to tell you, and they are likely to stay that way. Most of us still don't have the alternatives we need to adapt with grace, which means that many will adapt just by suffering. We will run out of gas on I-80, ease our minivans over to the shoulder and tell the kids everything is O.K. We'll fall behind on Visa bills to pay for gas so we can buy food made ever more expensive by energy costs.

But it's also true that Americans are finding options where there seemed to be none. They're ready to change — and waiting for their infrastructure to catch up. They are driving to commuter-rail lines only to find there are no parking spots left. They are running fewer errands and dumping their SUVs. Public-transit use is at a 50-year high. Gas purchases are down 2% to 3%. And all those changes bring secondary, hard-earned benefits.

"You suddenly are reminded how the economy works," says Eric Roston, author of a new book about energy, The Carbon Age. "Nobody wants high prices for oil. But there's also no faster mechanism to change behavior." The suffering will go on. But the story, like any good tragedy, is not without redemption ...

1. Globalized Jobs Return Home
2. Sprawl Stalls
3. Four-Day Workweeks
4. Less Pollution
5. More Frugality
6. Fewer Traffic Deaths
7. Cheaper Insurance
8. Less Traffic
9. More Cops on the Beat
10. Less Obesity

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Political Song of the Day -- Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell

Heard the Counting Crows version on the radio on the way home today. Good song and message. Originally released in 1970 by Mitchell but just as relevant today.

Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot
Dont it always seem to go
That you dont know what youve got
Till its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

They took all the trees
Put em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see em
Dont it always seem to go
That you dont know what youve got
Till its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Hey farmer farmer
Put away that DDT now
Give me spots on my apples
But leave me the birds and the bees
Dont it always seem to go
That you dont know what youve got
Till its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Late last night
I heard the screen door slam
And a big yellow taxi
Took away my old man
Dont it always seem to go
That you dont know what youve got
Till its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot