Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thank Goodness I Am Not An Aspiring Writer

I love to write. This blog, more than anything else, is testament to that, and it is hardly the only writing I do. It is among the less thoughtful and more abbreviated (sometimes) writing, and so aside from email it is the most frequent.

This writing is my venting, my cathartic release. While it is keyed such that I don't mind anyone reading it, it is not posted with the notion that anyone will. I'm not trying to catch a break or pick up followers or do anything else other than box in my thoughts. To give them structure and see whether they make as much sense to me as the feelings that stirred them. Often they do, sometimes they don't. I am often amused by going back and rereading something only to find that I disagree with myself at the time. More often I find that what I have written is not really a fair representation of the whole of my thoughts, but a small portion siphoned off that was jumping around actively for some particular reason.

This is preamble to my saying that this little op-ed is an interesting read. It is not entirely related.

I am...

Through the process of reading various "About Me" pages, and trying to encapsulate my own self into the sectioned off headings with character limits, and having other self descriptions sent me, I have come to the sad conclusion that there is little that a person can put there that will be an adequate description of anything, though they can be wonderful conversation starters.

One can not effectively define oneself absent some already understood definition. If someone describes him or herself as "inetligent," it probably says more about the person than if he/she had described him/herself as "intelligent," but what exactly? Is the person being ironic? stupid? careless? With the wealth of spell checking out there, including in web browsers, you almost have to go out of your way to misspell common words.

More, to take the above example, intelligence is a difficult thing to self-ascribe. I'm a pretty damn thoughtful and knowledgeable individual, but I do hesitate when it comes to saying anything about my intelligence. We use that word as a measure of one's mental prowess against another, and how can I claim that my own mechanism of thought combined with my particular knowledge is greater than others? Still, in the end I would describe myself as intelligent, but the inner conflict regarding that is invisible. Are other more confident in their statement of their own intelligence and does that make them more or less intelligent, and should I care?

The category that seems most frustrating to me is about passions. To me it seems, passion is what gets us out of bed in the morning, it is the source of drive behind many if not most of our waking actions. While many different things can qualify, being passionate about "life in general" is not really possible.

*this is being posted incomplete a week after the date...future edits possible but unlikely.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Twitter ≠ Blog ≠ Newspaper

There are good and bad newspapers. There are highly researched, informative blogs that are every bit as good if not better than many newspapers/journalists. There are informative twitter threads. None of these are not the same as any other.

For most people a blog is more akin to a journal. They maybe read by a few more people, but they are not the equivalent of a newspaper. Twitter is more akin to chatting or txting (and is used as such) than it is to anything else.

So this article raises my ire a bit. Neverminding the idiocy of suing someone to make far more public a comment that would otherwise have been read by a tiny number of people, or that, even if they are correct about the mold issue they look worse as a result of this (I wonder if the decision to sue was run by marketing), the real issue I have with the article is that any internet published set of words could even conceivably be held to the same or similar standards as journalism.

Yes, I know, it would be nice if all journalists would be held to the same standards as some blogs out there, but still...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Food Animal Cruelty

For some reason I seem to be seeing more about this of late. I read one thing on how to humanely kill/cook lobster, that also dealt with the humanity of how we cook shellfish (mostly by boiling them alive). There also seems to be a lot now on feed lots and how inhumanely chickens are treated in the run up to being delicious.

On the one hand, there are serious issues associated with most of the protein part of our food consumption. Cattle are voracious eaters. It takes a monstrous amount of land and crops (and energy) to raise cattle to the point where we slaughter them. Feed lots are breeding grounds for disease so the animals are all pumped full of antibiotics as a precaution which aids in the production of resistant strains. Many fisheries are strained and many farmed fish types are environmentally or ecologically troublesome.

That said, the notion of humanity in how we kill, butcher and cook food animals always strikes me as odd. Animals consumed by other animals in the wild don't draw this ire (Dear God, those lions didn't use any anesthetic before killing that gazelle and it took the poor creature minutes to die!). In more impoverished nations, larger animals are often bled to death, whereas here, they are killed quickly with a slug fired by pneumatic action into their skull. None of it sounds pretty or nice, but these animals are food and we are omnivores. It is certainly possible to get complete nutrition without eating animal flesh, but it is a fair bit more difficult. No flora can provide complete protein (on its own) and lots of good fatty acids are also harder to come by.

It is really only wealthy people with too much time on their hands who can afford the luxury of worrying about this. The attitudes they subject others to seem condescending to me (and likely others). The idea that we should care to treat pigs and chickens with the same level of humanity that we treat other people is insulting, particularly when one considers that we don't actually treat other people all that well. If we had rid the world of war, violence, hunger and poverty then maybe I could sympathize with people who felt compelled to make sure that, in the unlikely event that crustaceans can experience pain on some level comparable to us (they can't***) that they were executed in a fashion that would cause less suffering. But we don't live in that world and these people seem to me to mostly have severely out of whack priorities.

I do think that people should be given a better appreciation of where food comes from. It would be a good idea for schools to have field trips to farms, fisheries and slaughterhouses, particularly more urban (and suburban) kids who are less likely to get exposed to such things. I also think that overconsumption of meat is a problem, and I don't eat a whole lot of it myself (lots of fruit and veggies and grains). The amount of farmland, water, and energy it takes to produce meat is
insane, and going full vegetarian really is a green thing to do. It also takes more discipline and meal planning (or supplements).

But, hey, meat is tasty, and there is no valid (rational) reason to ditch it entirely. For the environmentally conscious there are more and more meats that are produced in a sustainable fashion. They cost a little more, but if you reduce the total amount, there is no reason that total food costs should go up.

I feel compelled to wrap up here by saying I do believe animal abuse is wrong and should be criminally punished. I have a dog, and I love my dog, and I will do a hell of a lot more than is purely reasonable to spare her pain and suffering, but she is not a person. It does not bother me in the slightest that there are peoples in the world who would and do eat dog meat. There are shades of gray here, but my main issue is when these issues are extended from pets and more intelligent creatures to rats, rabbits, and other lower thought order animals used for science and for food. I appreciate the notion that our actions toward those creatures beneath us are reflective of our character, but I also appreciate the need for food (animal protein) and scientific advancement and those lab and food animals are not people. (I'm not sure that I'm a whole lot more compassionate toward some people, but for the pain issue, this is a very valid point.)


Pain is a biological deterrent to actions that could result in the death or incapacitation of an organism. Something "hurts" so we learn to avoid that [action, location, thing]. But for us, the larger aspect of physical pain is emotional trauma and resulting empathy. We react with horror to the idea of being boiled alive, because we have experienced burns and see that as a decidedly painful and traumatic way to go.

It is only our ability for higher order thought and emotion, however, that produces this feeling. Only animals with some ability to form similar higher order thoughts--to extrapolate pain and anguish from the smaller amounts previously experienced and to empathize with the feelings of others--could really be said to be able to experience pain as we perceive it. This pretty much restricts it to primates and likely some other mammals.

The absence of that higher order central nervous system means our empathies are falsely placed. Maybe their response is more akin to when someone turns on a light when in a dark room. Some reflex that is not processed emotionally. We don't really know, nor can we, and our pathological need to project our feelings and emotions onto, not only other humans, but other and much lesser organisms is pathetic, and downright insulting to the real suffering experienced by millions of human beings on this planet.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Stating the Obvious but...

Of course geeks make the best boyfriends/spouses! My favorite is #7, and I certainly agree with reason #1, though I'm a bit surprised it's there. There are, of course, other reasons that are not listed, and most geeks also have the good-companion beta male personality (for full discussion read "A Dirty Job").

Geek is a word that tends to refer to specific things like computers, sci fi, anime, and science/math. It is really more general than that, though. Geeks are people who, for reasons passing the understanding of others, love to discover things, and challenge and complexity in that pursuit are enticing things. Male geeks, as such, treasure women (who will have them) above all else. We will never figure you out, but we love to try.

There is, to be fair, a bit of objectivity to that. Of course, geeks tend to objectify all people along similar lines, so it is not inherently sexist. And experimentation--from the kitchen to the bedroom--is not something that everyone is going to enjoy, after all, they don't all produce good results, they just all teach us a little more.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


This link has quite a bit of good, honest discussion, with an acknowledgment of the complexity of the issue. I think I've pointed out in the past here, that I think it should be legalized, and heavily taxed (also probably regulated for potency).

I do want to say that Norm Stamper starting out with "Any law disobeyed by more than 100 million Americans [...] is bad public policy," is really not true. That statement could equally be applied to speed limits. The number is not irrelevant, but its primary relevance is for different reasons: 100 million people who have not paid a dime in taxes on a product that could easily be taxed at if not above cigarette levels, is a huge amount of dollars.

What I really wonder, however, is if it were legalized and all the tobacco companies started selling and marketing marijuana cigarettes, what would the result be in terms of public support and laws? It seems that aside from the libertarians a large fraction of the pro-legalization group are also pro-anti-smoking (laws). That is a conflict. Smoking tobacco is bad for you. Smoking marijuana is also bad for you--maybe less bad, maybe worse. There may be benefits to smoking pot, and there may be benefits to smoking cigarettes (nicotine may help to maintain brain function). It's pretty damn hard to imagine that inhaling the smoke from any smoldering leaf is going to produce a net benefit.

I have a feeling that if marijuana is ever made legal it will in short order demand the same bad reputation (and restrictions) as tobacco. This wouldn't be entirely fair, as hemp has many uses as a cash crop besides drying and smoking, but it seems likely. I doubt if people would be any more ok with having pot smoke drift into their section of a restaurant than cigarette smoke. (The restaurants would love having patrons toking and getting the munchies right there.)

There is a rather bizarre tendency in this country to make laws as either fixes to small problems or to establish good morality/behavior. Smokers (and dog owners) seem to bear a large fraction of the brunt. For example: because we don't want to step on dog poop we make owners pick it up, and that is almost always with plastic bags that then go into a trash can and something that could have served as fertilizer for a patch of flora is now destined to sit in a landfill for decades if not centuries or longer.

Cigarettes are bad, so we tax the hell out of them and restrict where people can use them. I am really curious to find out what would happen if pot were legal.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Great Fucking Study

I read about this on Mon or Tues after my dog decided to undercut me while I was stepping up onto my deck causing a fall that resulted in a couple bruises, several scrapes and various levels of swearing...which must have made me feel better.

Just Saluting Those About to Rock:


(Not sure why AC/DC is on the brain; it is a rather abrupt transition from Regina Spektor, who was was there earlier).

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Drink Makers Hitting the Airwaves

I saw a commercial yesterday that starts out with a lie about taxes not making things better or some nonsense that too damn many people believe, then goes on to advise people to let their congress critters know that taxing soda and juice boxes is robbing them of little pleasures or some shit.

First (well, second I guess) sodas and juice boxes are not seen as simple pleasures to most people, they are seen as standard beverages, you know, like water. I'll add coffee, real juice, milk and beer to beverages that fit into that category. Wine and spirits somewhat less so. The problem with sodas and fake juice is that people drink it like water, and not like some inexpensive pleasure (or affordable luxury).

Third, the tax is highly unlikely to make much of a dent in sales. If the price of a case of Pepsi doubled, sales would go down, if it goes up by a 10% tax, then "eh?" and it could simply shift them over to slightly different beverages made by the same frigging company that are not taxed (I don't know if diet versions are part of this). This is because of the way people see these. If people stop buying soda for money reasons it's to save $5, not the extra 50 cents.

On an somewhat related note, I think that bottles (plastic and glass) and cans should have deposits on them in PA like they do in so many other states...I think it should be substantial too like a quarter per. At the common 5 cents, a case yields just over $1, at 25, that would be $6. People would pay attention then, you just return the next time you buy. I also think that it should only be fully returned for cans, 20 cents back for glass and 15 cents for plastic.

CNN Quick Votes

They almost always fail to have enough options. At the least adding a "Maybe" or "Don't know" to a yes/no question should be the default but every once in a while they provide a gem like:
Janet Jackson: Should she raise Michael Jackson’s kids?
That really needs a "Why the fuck are you polling the public on this?" response. It isn't even a question of "who cares?" but who even cares about the opinions of those who care about this? Normally I click on the results tab because I am curious about the results to a bad set of options for an online poll. In this case, I'm not even a little curious which is preferred by those that vote and I'm too frightened to find out how many [people] think their opinion on this should be recorded.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I Agree With Eugene Robinson

The whole article is here.
Republicans' outrage, both real and feigned, at Sotomayor's musings about how her identity as a "wise Latina" might affect her judicial decisions is based on a flawed assumption: that whiteness and maleness are not themselves facets of a distinct identity. Being white and male is seen instead as a neutral condition, the natural order of things. Any "identity" -- black, brown, female, gay, whatever -- has to be judged against this supposedly "objective" standard.
White male is an identity. It is an insanely overrepresented identity in the United States government at the federal level. Many historic rulings are testament to that (persistence of slavery, Jim Crow laws, women's lack of suffrage). That predominantly/exclusively white male courts have overcome their bias on occasion to rule in favor of the oppressed, the underrepresented, the minority, is to their credit, but those are landmark rulings because they are rare, they are exceptions (as the recent Ricci case proves the rule: white interest wins again).

For all the bitching about empathy and activism and quotas coming from white male politicians (Republicans all) you'd think we were a repressed minority. We're not. We are also not really able to represent those different than us any more than any other individual in any other group.

I'd like to think that I would do a pretty good job if given the opportunity to represent others (I have no desire to pursue that, but, hey, I'm sane), but the fact is that I could really only do a very good job of representing the real views and interests of the well educated, of scientists, of lower middle to middle class. I would do a piss poor job of representing the trust fund wealthy. I would do a horrible job of representing religious fundamentalists. I would do a crap job of representing many major corporations, and I would probably, frankly, not do the best job of representing the poor. Now I could still do a better job than most politicians (they are at the federal level far more wealthy than am I), but I lack a true appreciation for what it is like to grow up very poor, or in a crime infested area, or black, or Hispanic, or a woman.

Politicians repeatedly try and speak for those for whom they can't. I tend to believe that class and education (and probably gender) are a bigger predictor of one's point of view than race/ethnicity, but it isn't that simple. Even if those are more important in the later setting of viewpoints, physical characteristics, and racial/ethnic/gender identity are not insignificant. We see our own potential through the achievement of those with whom we identify. Our first blush ability to identify is based on appearance. As we grow, and hopefully become wiser, we come to know that appearance is not the critical component, but in those formative years, when opinions and direction are initially forming, appearance is what we have to go on, and we see our potential not in education but in people who look like us.

So while things like quotas do not necessarily produce the best immediate results, they would most likely prove successful,
in the long term, at enabling all the diversity and our society to recognize their fullest potential. Of course the long term gain vs. short term, well, issues, question is not one that is easily resolved. That which would most benefit our nation two, three generations or more down the road will have a negative impact on a particular group of people: white men. So long as white men dominate the political landscape things are likely to change only very slowly. Maybe good for me, but not for any other group in the country, and probably not for the country as a whole.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Apple: Determined to Control Everything

On the one hand, I can see why Apple doesn't want the negative publicity associated with people using iphone apps for porn, but when you hear from a company rep: "Apple will not distribute applications that contain inappropriate content, such as pornography," one must wonder if they realize that they include a web browser WITH THE PHONE. Is Apple the location of the last people in the country who are not aware of the internet and what it contains?

Or are they not aware of sexting or of the fact that people (mostly younger types) use cell phones to take naked pics then send them to others via email or mmtext?

Apple is holding back the tide of immorality. Just like China. People having access to naked pictures is so bad that upon the hint of it, there are CNN articles for god's sake. Next up: not-unlockable preinstalled net nanny. "No visiting porn sites on your iPhone young man." "You know that stuff will make your screen go black, right?"

The level of control that Apple insists on having over this crap is insane. They should either not allow 3rd part apps, or should only screen for damaging apps (like, say, viruses) but otherwise allow anything legal. I feel quite compelled to break out my phone and do a google image search on "boobies" right now.

Note: the article indicates that at least one of the images is of an underage woman, and while I've no problem with prosecuting the individual(s) responsible, it really isn't Apple's fault or responsibility. Of course, the more they restrict the more responsible they become. And if they had known and not stopped it...