My blog contains a large number of posts. A few are included in various other publications, or as attached stories and chronicles in my emails; many more are found on loose leaves, while some are written carelessly in margins and blank spaces of my notebooks. Of the last sort most are nonsense, now often unintelligible even when legible, or half-remembered fragments. Enjoy responsibly.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Wait, There are still Good Reasons to Panic!

My mother and Edgar left this morning for Texas with a large order of Pilates Apparatus from their Studio. Naturally, we were very interested in the hurricane that is making landfall in Louisiana and headed directly towards their final location. So on went CNN and after a couple minutes of weather information, mandatory evacuation notices, and history about Katrina, they went live to several people on location.

As each person checked in they repeated about the same things, "everything is going well", "people are moving out nice and orderly", and "this isn't that bad". Each time they would cut back to the studio person who would immediately tell you what could go wrong. As if to say, "Wait, there are still good reasons to panic!"

Now I understand the need for ratings, but do you really want to over-hype something that our country has a very recent history of handling poorly? The increased bombardment of “what ifs” and nightmare scenarios only increase the possibility that people are going to see it as hyperbole and ignore it, or when the storm doesn’t live up to the extreme conditions, take the news less seriously next time. This means fewer people watching next time. So whatever gains you may have gotten with the “we all could die” stuff will be wiped out next time.

So please, just give us the facts and move on. We’ll do the panicking on our own.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

6 things the Palin pick says about McCain

by Jim VandeHei, John F. Harris

The selection of a running mate is among the most consequential, most defining decisions a presidential nominee can make. John McCain’s pick of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin says a lot about his decison-making — and some of it is downright breathtaking.

We knew McCain is a politician who relishes improvisation, and likes to go with his gut. But it is remarkable that someone who has repeatedly emphasized experience in this campaign named an inexperienced governor he barely knew to be his No. 2. Whatever you think of the pick, here are six things it tells us about McCain:

1. He’s desperate. Let’s stop pretending this race is as close as national polling suggests. The truth is McCain is essentially tied or trailing in every swing state that matters — and too close for comfort in several states like Indiana and Montana the GOP usually wins pretty easily in presidential races. On top of that, voters seem very inclined to elect Democrats in general this election — and very sick of the Bush years.

McCain could easily lose in an electoral landslide. That is the private view of Democrats and Republicans alike.

McCain’s pick shows he is not pretending. Politicians, even “mavericks” like McCain, play it safe when they think they are winning — or see an easy path to winning. They roll the dice only when they know that the risks of conventionality are greater than the risks of boldness.

The Republican brand is a mess. McCain is reasonably concluding that it won’t work to replicate George W. Bush and Karl Rove’s electoral formula, based around national security and a big advantage among Y chromosomes, from 2004.

“She’s a fresh new face in a party that’s dying for one — the antidote to boring white men,” a campaign official said.

Palin, the logic goes, will prompt voters to give him a second look — especially women who have watched Democrats reject Hillary Rodham Clinton for Barack Obama.

The risks of a backlash from choosing someone so unknown and so untested are obvious. In one swift stroke, McCain demolished what had been one of his main arguments against Obama.

“I think we’re going to have to examine our tag line, ‘dangerously inexperienced,’” a top McCain official said wryly.

2. He’s willing to gamble — bigtime. Let’s face it: This is not the pick of a self-confident candidate. It is the political equivalent of a trick play or, as some Democrats called it, a Hail Mary pass in football. McCain talks incessantly about experience, and then goes and selects a woman he hardly knows, who hardly knows foreign policy and who can hardly be seen as instantly ready for the presidency.

He is smart enough to know it could work, at least politically. Many Republicans see this pick as a brilliant stroke because it will be difficult for Democrats to run hard against a woman in the wake of the Hillary Clinton drama. Will this push those disgruntled Hillary voters McCain’s way? Perhaps. But this is hardly aimed at them: It is directed at the huge bloc of independent women — especially those who do not see abortion as a make-or-break issue — who could decide this election.

McCain has a history of taking dares. Palin represents his biggest one yet.

3. He’s worried about the political implications of his age. Like a driver overcorrecting out of a swerve, he chooses someone who is two years younger than the youthful Obama, and 28 years younger than he is. (He turned 72 Friday.) The father-daughter comparison was inevitable when they appeared next to each other.

4. He’s not worried about the actuarial implications of his age. He thinks he’s in fine fettle, and Palin wouldn’t be performing the only constitutional duty of a vice president, which is standing by in case a president dies or becomes incapacitated. If he was really concerned about an inexperienced person sitting in the Oval Office we would be writing about vice presidential nominee Mitt Romney or Tom Ridge or Condoleezza Rice.

There is no plausible way that McCain could say that he picked Palin, who was only elected governor in 2006 and whose most extended public service was as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska (population 8,471), because she was ready to be president on Day One.

Nor can McCain argue that he was looking for someone he could trust as a close adviser. Most people know the staff at the local Starbucks better than McCain knows Palin. They met for the first time last February at a National Governors Association meeting in Washington. Then, they spoke again — by phone — on Sunday while she was at the Alaska state fair and he was at home in Arizona.

McCain has made a mockery out of his campaign's longtime contention that Barack Obama is too dangerously inexperienced to be commander in chief. Now, the Democratic ticket boasts 40 years of national experience (four years for Obama and 36 years for Joseph Biden of Delaware), while the Republican ticket has 26 (McCain’s four yeasr in the House and 22 in the Senate.)

The McCain campaign has made a calculation that most voters don’t really care about the national experience or credentials of a vice president, and that Palin’s ebullient personality and reputation as a refomer who took on cesspool politics in Alaska matters more.

5. He’s worried about his conservative base. If he had room to maneuver, there were lots of people McCain could have selected who would have represented a break from Washington politics as usual. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman comes to mind (and it certainly came to McCain’s throughout the process). He had no such room. GOP stalwarts were furious over trial balloons about the possibility of choosing a supporter of abortion rights, including the possibility that he would reach out to his friend.

Palin is an ardent opponent of abortion who was previously scheduled to keynote the Republican National Coalition for Life's "Life of the Party" event in the Twin Cities this week.

“She’s really a perfect selection,” said Darla St. Martin, the Co-Director of the National Right to Life Committee. It is no secret McCain wanted to shake things up in this race — and he realized he was limited to a shake-up conservatives could stomach.

6. At the end of the day, McCain is still McCain. People may find him a refreshing maverick, or an erratic egotist. In either event, he marches to his own beat.

On the upside, his team did manage to play to the media’s love of drama, fanning speculation about his possible choices and maximizing coverage of the decision.

On the potential downside, the drama was evidently entirely genuine. The fact that McCain only spoke with Palin about the vice presidency for the first time on Sunday, and that he was seriously considering Lieberman until days ago, suggests just how hectic and improvisational his process was.

In the end, this selection gives him a chance to reclaim the mantle of a different kind of politician intent on changing Washington. He once had a legitimate claim to this: after all, he took on his own party over campaign finance reform and immigration. He jeopardized this claim in recent months by embracing ideas he once opposed (Bush tax cuts) and ideas that appeared politically motivated (gas tax holiday).

Spontaneity, with a touch of impulsiveness, is one of the traits that attract some of McCain’s admirers. Whether it’s a good calling card for a potential president will depend on the reaction in coming days to what looks for the moment like the most daring vice presidential selection in generations.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Now With More Labeling!

I love to make grand and exorbitant breakfasts and it was during one of these recent culinary quests that I got to wondering why most people eat cereal as their first meal of the day. We all know that in the morning your body needs protein, yet breakfast cereal, because TV, radio, and print ads, is what is most available in the United States. Why? Why on earth should someone load themselves up with something that will only drag them down? Sure it’s easy and cheap, but those are the worst two reasons to do anything (High School relationships aside).

So off I went to the local grocery store to take an overly observant trip down the cereal aisle. What I found is that shopping for breakfast cereal is a self-realization process. Everything ever learned by sociologists, psychologists, and marketing people is on display for all to see. There are huge boxes with large glossy pictures and descriptions of all of the wonderful things that the product will do for you. “Lower your cholesterol” “Good for your heart” “Now with More Fiber!” scream out at the hapless shopper while proclaiming that they are made with “Whole Wheat”, “Clusters”, and “Real Fruit” and all part of a balanced breakfast (once you eat a banana, drink a glass of orange juice, and swallow a multivitamin). All you have to do is find one that appeals to you and then you get to question your value system, intellect, and upbringing.

Now walk down the produce isle. How many signs do you see extolling the virtues of the fruits and vegetables? Are there any? Probably not. Instead you will find unassuming food in large crates adorned with small stickers telling the cashier what code to punch in to ring up the item. This has lead me to believe that the more a food product tells you that it’s healthy, the less chance it actually is.

This same thinking is echoed when someone tells you that they are trying to eat healthier. They usually are just choosing the same items with a “Low-Fat”, “30% Less Sugar”, or “Now with more Vitamin C” instead of switching over to something that involved a couple million years of evolution instead of several months of lab alterations. It is if we think that our scientists can better nature with a couple of beakers and a white coat. The natural world has produced its first plants over 475 million years ago. Kellogg made his first breakfast cereal about the same time as we started driving automobiles. Moreover, it is what we as a species spent the last 50,000 years eating. Now I’m all for science in areas where we need some help, but healthy food is not one of them. And our audacity to believe that we can create a better breakfast through marketing is not only ridiculous, it’s laughable.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to do further research on my recent purchase of Double Chocolate Cookie Crisp.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Entry for August 27, 2008

"People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power." - Bill Clinton

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Hey Look, I’m a Proud Corporate Shill!

There’s something that I don’t understand, and it’s probably I’m not cool, but why the hell would someone advertise for a company when they are not getting paid for it? Let me back up: I went to the mall for something and noticed that it was infested with tween ridiculousness posing for each other in a “who can look more like everyone else” contest. Amused, I observed said nervous and skittish creatures for a good ten minutes and noticed two things. 1) I don’t know how anyone makes it through those years of sublime awkwardness and intellectually insulting social grooming, and 2) if you stare at young kids for too long you may appear to be "creepy".

The thing that stood out from everything else was that each of these children was sporting some sort of obscenely placed label somewhere on their person. Now this is something that I try very hard not to do. I may have a small logo on my breast pocket, but never anything else. Anything more than that comes off as either too showy or just pathetically lower-class.

We as a society, through our marketing and impulse-buying culture, end up infantilizing adults, so that they have no deeper understanding of themselves than the brand names that define them. It’s like we’ve forgotten to teach our children that the purpose of advertising is to make people buy what they don't really need. So if you’ve decided to purchase something with a big advertisement on it that you can wear around, you are basically telling the world that you’re both easy to manipulate and not very deep.

Now that I have a son I am more aware of how we indoctrinate as mindless spenders, hell-bent on finding happiness through our stuff. Daily or weekly purchases sustain us until we are able to get the newest, shiniest, toys with the larger price tags. Children’s clothes are festooned with labels, as if clothing companies assume that other toddlers will think your toddler is cool because he’s got Tommy Hilfiger overalls. From there on out all the child sees are labels: Labels on him, his parents, and the world around him. He sees that others are plastered in logos and identifies those as part of their personality and the normal way to happiness.

The simple act of consuming something of decadence, superior quality, or limited quantity should not be the reason for happiness. Alternately, if you cannot enjoy something without alerting others of your consumption, you are deriving your pleasure not from the thing but from the sole exclusion or inclusion of others. True pleasure comes from slow, deliberate, deep enjoyment. And when you define yourself as someone who can be happy without the trappings of materialism, you are finally free to live for yourself.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Silent Racism

I’ve lived in the South off and on throughout my life, but this is the first time that I’ve really immersed myself in what I would consider the “Deep South”. There is still a very distinct divide between the races here, although no one is allowed to talk about it. Instead they just watch each other through the corner of their eyes, cautiously check on each other to make sure everyone is doing what they are supposed to, and always make sure to treat each other with purposeful distance.

The public areas are still segregated, with some general overlap and a couple of people who have crossed the race lines. A high percentage of the older generations still act as if things could go back to “the way things were” at any moment. It’s an odd, discomforting feeling to be around those who see each other so disdainfully, yet wont ever voice that opinion. The silence truly is deafening.

Maybe I am sensitive because I have seen a different way. While living in several other places within the US, I noticed that the racism or bigotry was more socioeconomic - with persons of one class looked down on another. These classes usually were inhabited by a single race, but were not defined by that characteristic. Here in Anderson, SC, the classes are very specific and divided sharply across race lines. Socioeconomic classes only apply to those in the middle-upper to upper class people.

It would almost appear that the local population does not realize that heightened race awareness is more important in changing racial inequality than judging whether individuals are racist. This inability to discuss the issue only increases when it cannot be openly discussed and creates a taboo of racial discussion - creating more segregation.

I know that there will always be racism, and while I refuse to fall into the trap of perpetual white guilt, there needs to be a recognition of our history and our differences. I am saddened by the elephant in the room that is racism here in the South, but do not know how I can combat this behavior. I treat people as equally as I can, talk about race openly, and believe to be honest about any prejudices I have. I’m frustrated that I can do more than this because I’ve seen better. And I don’t know whether to pity or envy those who have seen no different. Injustice comes in all forms, but it is always at its worst when it is silent.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Your Soul Saved at Half the Price This Exit!

This last week I traveled from the South to the Northern Midwest and back again, stopping liberally along the way. I have done several cross-country trips over the last few years and have noticed the same thing no matter where I go - people love to advertise their religion. To me, this is an extremely odd phenomenon. Personal beliefs, spirituality, and faith are private matters and really shouldn’t be discussed with everyone traveling on I-75. Yet there they are anyway, trying their hardest to show you how much they believe as you fly by at 70MPH. So if I may, I would like to address these people for a moment:

Erecting billboards proclaiming that Jesus is the King of Kings next to signs for Budweiser proclaiming they are the King of Beers probably takes away any reverence you hoped to instill in passing motorists.

Painting a hymn on the side of your fertilizer barn kinda undercuts your message.

There's nothing like a fifty-foot cross made of aluminum siding to say, "I'm a recovering alcoholic with unresolved issues".

It you feel the need to build a 60ft fiberglass Jesus bursting out of a lake, maybe your belief in him really isn’t as solid as you pretend.


I know you love your God, but trying to tell the world using the same methods as insurance companies and restaurants brings your personal beliefs and spirituality down to a base level. Or to quote the Bible, “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” (Matthew 6:5-6). Anything else cheapens your beliefs and lowers them to petty advertising and shows you as desperate for social approval.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Travel Often or Die Wondering

“Every body perseveres in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by forces impressed” - Newton

Over the last two months I have traveled over 7,500 miles and visited several countries, with many of those miles up and down the US in different vehicles with plentiful stopping. During my recent travels, I have had an abundance of time to see the East coast and Midwest in great detail. What I’ve realized is twofold. First, my equilibrium is in a constant state of motion. I cannot sit still, and that is how I like it. The force that is usually required to slow an object is rarely ever great enough to adversely affect my momentum.

This need for motion has led to a never-ending quest to do and see everything - and I think that this is healthy. Seeing more than your own town is not only a good idea, it’s essential for gaining a perspective greater than your neighborhood has to offer. And in these times of increasing paranoia and increasing globalization it is absolutely necessary for all of us to get out and see the world.

The second thing that I learned was there is large percentage of Americans that never travel. According to the US State Department, only 20% of Americans have passports. (In contrast, 40% of Canadians hold passports). In 1857 Mark Twain quipped, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

That means that a considerable amount of US citizens have never seen a major museum, a good ballet or symphony, or immersed themselves in a different culture. They have never been to a major metropolitan city in the U.S. or anywhere in the world where millions of people from all races live together comfortably and normally all the time. And so they are afraid - of everything. This leads to a downward spiral of fear, unsubstantiated hatred, and blind religious fervor (see my next blog “Your Soul Saved at Half the Price, This Exit!”).

From these realizations and thousands of miles on the road and in the air, I have come to the conclusion that what our country needs right now is for more of us to get out and see the world. I think what they will find is people just like them, with slightly different customs, religions, and foods, who hold many of the same values and manners. They will find that everything else is just politics.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

John Wayne Was a Pussy

John Wayne received a deferment claiming that he had a wife and three kids to support while other actors, younger and older, in similar circumstances hurried to enlist and fight for their country. While promising to enlist he ignored additional summonses from his draft board until his studio could intervene on his behalf. Unfortunately, he is held up as the great American man in many people’s eyes.

This type of coward always overcompensates for their spinelessness and unashamedly supports military interventions so they will feel like patriots and men of courage. To further the fake front, it is equally important to label people who avoid service or dissent against a war as cowards and traitors.

By waving the flag and calling for war, they become courageous, strong, and patriotic. By denouncing those who disagree, the dissenters become cowardly, unpatriotic, and weak. Perfect examples of this are George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who avoided combat by any means while depicting a true war hero, John Kerry, as an effete namby-pamby.

In my lifetime this tactic has been the republican and conservative strategy since Ronald Reagan, who also avoided combat, attacked Jimmy Carter, who served aboard nuclear submarines. These Reagan and Bush types not only portray themselves as he-men and strong, but their opponents as nerdy, shy, losers. We have seen this bullshit chest thumping and finger pointing over the last couple of years in both our government and in a medium percentage of the population. They spend all of the time that they could be working on the hard tasks and ideas, trying to make others who have done the hard work, look like pansies for not just throwing rocks at a situation.

So here I sit, a liberal with a who understands his weaknesses and thrives on facing difficult challenges; who will no longer put up with being told that I am not patriotic because I don’t support our coward of a president. My heroes do not exist in macho-bullshit stereotypes, but in those average people who choose to face life on their own. It is in them that true strength and courage will always exist.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Mae Govannen


I am a nerd - have always been and always will be. I do try to hide it, but it always ends up shining through. My favorite books and movies all fall into the sci-fi or fantasy realm, I have more computer certifications then any normal person (especially anyone who no longer does computer support) should, and am constantly reengineering everything that I can get my hands on. Worse than that, my blogs, lectures, and home decorations all have a decidedly nerd theme. I can quote Sagan, Tolkien, Heinlein, Vonnegut, Feynman, Carrol, Bova, and Shakespeare on command. Frankly, I wear my nerdiness like a Jedi wears his light saber (J. Díaz).

That is not to say that I fit any stereotype. I don’t have glasses, play video games, watch that much TV, or would be caught dead dressed up at a convention. I have been known to be quite successful with the ladies and have a long history with organized sports. In high school I was in drama, the chess club, and some AP classes, along with playing football and being a captain of the soccer team. I had good friends, a sex life, and an active social life. Yet I started this blog post with a couple of words that will only be understood by .05% of the population - and I am proud of that.

And you know what; no one should be ashamed to be a nerd. Nerds rule the world, control information, run industry, invent things, send people and robots into space, split atoms, create tomorrow's technology, and are clever and witty. I am proud to be a nerd and think that the rest of the nerdly world needs to speak up - as soon as their SG1 torrent finishes downloading.

Curate ut valeatis,


Sunday, August 03, 2008

Entry for August 03, 2008 (Part 2)

Violence - the last desperate act of someone who has just lost an argument.

Entry for August 03, 2008 (Part 1)

Pacifism - A philosophy of nonviolence, historically only practiced by those who rely on the killing and dying of others in defense of their privilege to practice that philosophy.