Tuesday, January 12, 2010

You The People...

First, before I go on to my somewhat irrelevant tantrum I must send a note to someone in Brazil. You see, one of the nice things about having a counter (that little Sitemeter icon at the bottom right) is that it tells you who read your blog, where they are, and how they found you (search terms, direct links etc...). So, to the person in Brazil who was here yesterday: Dude, whoever you are, get some help. I can't imagine how google found my blog with the search terms you typed in. However, more disturbing to me, is that you thought to type that combination of words into google. Now, I have to figure out how to block your IP. Stay away from my blog you sick, pedo, freak.

Back to the sideshow now...

If someone needs to be called out, I'll generally be happy to do just that. I've written about, argued in person with, and advocated against some pretty arrogant, ignorant and insolent people in the past few years. Some people are just asking for a dose of coherent vehemence shoveled their way. If I get worked about about someone or something, I have been known to drop an F-bomb here and there, either as an adjective to describe a person or to modify the colossally stupid action they are taking. However, I have a line. That line is hate.

There are some people in the history of human-kind who were and are so evil, so mindbendingly deranged, that to invoke their name to describe another person smacks of the hate that created the namesake in the first place. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Ceausescu... just a few names that are responsible for what, 40 - 50 million deaths of innocents? To call George W. Bush or Obama the new Hitler; to claim that these two men (and I really despised W) are cut from the name curtain of Hell that spawned Hitler is just plain ignorant.

I was reading some of the coverage from the Detroit Auto Show today. Apparently some of the worst-informed, cream of the Fox News audience demographic decided to show up and hold the lamest protest ever. Among the protesters was a guy holding a huge picture of Barak with a Hitler mustache inked in. He was standing next to another guy who had a sign that said something like Socialism? Over your dead body! Clever right? Compare the guy to Hitler and threaten his life. Way to go smart guys.

Like him or not, comparing Obama and his brand of so-called, pseudo socialism (and people, compared to most of the rest of the world, he's no socialist) to Hitler and his genocidal mania is the saddest statement I think one can make about their intelligence level. Obama may cost you more in taxes. He may try to spread the wealth around. He may even create policy that sees the dramatic increase in the production of hybrid vehicles at the expense of V8 American iron.

However, he did not, has not and will not create a plan for the extermination of an entire race of people. Comparing rational, non-maniacal people to Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin etc... is just wrong. Get over yourselves and figure out how to make a constructive argument.

As a side note... the socialism thing? Take a political science class and learn something. I find it endlessly entertaining that the people most worked about about the idea that they could find themselves living in a socialist state, are the ones mostly likely to benefit if that actually happened - which it won't; under any President. Socialism at its roots is about creating equity, ensuring that all people have equal access to all resources and spreading wealth through all sectors of society. It's not perfect but it's also not inherently bad. If you are a middle-income American working a 40 hour week with no health insurance, and struggling to put some money away for retirement (I just described about 45 million people), you could use a little social equity. You could use some of the shifting of taxes that would see your taxes fall and the shortfall made up by high income earners and corporations. You could use subsidized or socialized medicine; paid by for by everybody's tax dollars so that the costs of medical are financially catastrophic to you.

And yet, the new Tea Party movement - created by Sean Hannity and the rest of the idiocy at Fox News - seems to be populated by people who need some social supports. These rallies aren't being attended by the uber-wealthy; people who should really be worked up by the thought of a socialist President. These rallies have people screaming about things like estate taxes when they have no idea that an estate tax would affect something like the top 5% of American income-earners and have absolutely no affect on the savings left after a career making $50k/year.

The really weird part, is that I can't figure out how two disparate groups of people have managed to completely misunderstand where their country is headed. On the one side, we have blue-collar, unionized workers railing against socialism and that it's hurting their jobs, when it was largely socialist ideas that created the Labour movement in the first place. Labour unions are all about socialism and the protection of people against the forces of rampant capitalism! On the other side you have right-wing, super-patriots who somehow think that 234 years of America are going down the drain because the new guy in charge feels that "All men shall be created equal" may actually be an idea worth trying to attain. All of these folks are bleating that socialism is destroying their country, when they don't have the foggiest ideas of what socialism is. They just mindless repeat what they hear from Hannity, O'Reilly, Limbaugh, that crazy blonde religious gun-nut pundit mouthpiece who's name escapes me, Carlson and the rest of the right-wing, but we'll call ourselves "fair and balanced" media.

I think a lot of what's fueling this is a lack of patience on the part of the American population. I honestly think that people felt they'd wake up the day after the inauguration of Barak Obama and that all would be right in America; they'd get their homes back, their jobs would be re-opened, their retirement funds would magically reappear, Iraq would fix itself and terrorists would simply decide to love America and never do anything bad ever again. Well guess what folks. It doesn't work like that.

Bush Jr & Co. spent eight years screwing over you, your country and by extension, the rest of us. And, as will all things, entopy - the inevitable trending of a non-maintained system to slide toward disorganization - is a faster process than rebuilding. Obama sold you on hope. What he forgot to tell you was to hang on and be patient. My advice is to turn off you tv, or at least watch something without a talking head telling you how bad your life is and who you should blame for it, go outside and take a walk. You still live in a country where capitalists cater to your every whim and desire - sad though that may be.

To the Tea Party protesters: If you must act like uninformed children then do a good job of it. Put down your signs, get an ice-cream cone, ride on a swing and whine to your mommies that the big dark man is being mean to you. Otherwise, grow-up, act your age and educate yourselves.

You'd be doing me a favour because Lord know I can't keep this ranting up.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Adam Savage isn't the only Mythbuster

I just started reading Christopher Hitchens' book, God is not Great. He (Hitchens not God) opens with a story about being in grade school in England and having an epiphany based on something his teacher said. She said to the class something along the lines of isn't it wonderful how God created the grass and trees in the colour green, for green is pleasing to the eye, whereas orange or purple grass would have been terrible. That's the gist of it anyway. Hitchens' epiphany was that his teach had got it wrong. The earth was not created for our enjoyment, rather we adapted the perception of beauty and comfort. Our eyes and sense adapted to what was already there.

I remember a similar moment when I was a young Anglican boy in a Catholic private school -St Joseph's in Victoria, BC. In grade one we were given a small book, sort of a primary study guide of the bible. We had a religion period where we would learn the classic stories of the Old Testatment and learn that if you live against God you'll surely go to Hell. Things began falling apart, or perhaps falling into place is a better term, for me and religion when we got to the story of Noah, the ark and a great Jesus-big flood that wiped out life on earth. Noah, apparently built the boat that God wanted and put two of every animal on board, thus saving the "good" fauna and his family.

I lived next to an ocean in a particularly rainy part of the world. Getting 40 days and nights of rain in BC's south west is not unheard of. Also, oceans are really, really big. I had never seen it rain so much that the ocean could rise and eat Victoria. I also had a really great grasp on nature from watching Wild Kingdom and all the rest of them. Even at seven years old, I knew there were a hell of a lot of animals in the world and that keeping two of each of them in a boat was beyond ridiculous.

I also was allowed to watch Nova occasionally, Cosmos regularly and had parents who would do their best to answer any question I had. So, when we got the sections about creation and it's six days of work and one day of rest nonsense... well, I had already been exposed to the big bang, light speed and the concept that the earth was 6 billion years old.

Adam and Eve couldn't hold a candle to Jane Goodall, Diane Fossey and Richard Leakey and their explanations of how we had descended from a common ancestor that we shared with Chimps, Gorillas and Gibbons.

Information is powerful. Truth is scary. Myth and story are comforting. Because I didn't believe any of the heaven/hell stuff I spent a lot of sleepless childhood nights, worrying about death and nothingness. I just couldn't go to that place that other people have that tells them "It's ok, when you die you go to heaven to be with Jesus".

I even remember having a kid-size dispute with Sherry Noel about it. Our families were camping one year and she said that if she died young that would be ok because she'd get to see Jesus early. Being that I was a polite kid I didn't outright call bullshit but, I do remember telling her that she was wrong. Pretty mean in hindsight. But, I was probably 8 years old to her 6.

Myth, as I said, is powerful stuff. All myth is about deluding ourselves that we are somehow unique and special among the cosmos; that other things may have exploded into being or evolved from something else, but we were created by a diety in his image. This is not limited to the Abrahamic gods either. Every human culture has given themselves privilege over everything else in the universe and decided that some other force created us, just for us.

These myths stand up with remarkable and unfortunate resilience in the face of science. Not to saw an old log but by way of illustration, school districts in the States are requiring science classes to include the bullshit, pseudo-scientific nonsense that is Intelligent Design.

And we keep creating new myths. Climate change denyers, oil-sands developers, land-developers, captains of industry, all cling to the myth that there is no environmental problem and, if maybe there is, that we can fix problems after we find them, but we sure as hell didn't cause them. What really gets me though is why conservationists, environmentalists, environmental scientists, environmental educators are portrayed as the deluded ones.

The environmental movement as a whole is not interested in taking away anybody's quality of life or their jobs. They aren't trying to hurt families or kill off hard-earned savings. They simply want to use science and evidence to build a cleaner, more efficient, more advanced, less impactful society; one that uses less water, less land, less fuel. They are attempting to build a world where your kids can drink from a stream without worrying about what may be leaching in from upstream. They are attempting to create transportation that won't poison the air you breathe. They are attempting to produce food that is nutritious and equitably available. They are attempting to keep the oceans' smallest life alive; the life that creates the oxygen we breathe.

What these people are trying so damn hard to do, is preserve the planet as the place that will sustain us. They understand that the technologies of a hundred years ago must pass and that new, cleaner tech must rise up to take it's place. They also understand that that tech will create jobs and profits.

And yet, myth continues to win the day in a lot of the world. Myths are the old stories we tell ourselves that things are ok; that we're special and doing just fine. The new myths are that we can't possibly poison the air, there's too much; we can't affect the ocean temperature, it's too big; we can't alter the climate, carbon's a trace gas.

History has shown that all myth passes into legend. New information is assimilated as new truth rises and old myths are put to rest. At this point, I'm hoping that our current myths of self-importance, profit as the final end and wanton environmental pillage for our new shiny toys, can be overcome by science and truth.

Because honestly people, if God is real He's gonna be pissed at us for messing this place up and we can't afford another damn flood.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Ho Ho Ho, Wait... what?

What's the difference between Santa and Tiger Woods? Santa stopped at three hos.

Gotta admit, I really like that one.

This is just a maintenance post. I've put a couple of new books on the Safari bookshelf and will engage in some ranting below.


Can someone please explain to me how one hour becomes three hours in less than five minutes? Let me illuminate you.

This past Sunday I called the local Canadian Tire (mistake #1 but I knew they'd be open) and asked how long I'd have to wait to get a set of snow tires put on my car. The person on the phone said "About an hour." Wow, one hour? That's almost unheard of so I confirmed with them. "One hour today? If I come down now?". They confirmed an hour and so off I went; book in hand.

I arrived at the service counter and asked again about the wait. "One hour. There's only a couple of sets ahead of you." Perfect. Set me up, put me in line and let's go.

An hour and a half later, I notice that the same truck that was on the lift when I arrived, is still there. I begin to feel a deep sense of foreboding. I also get my first look at the kid who will be doing my tire replacement; the person who literally, has my life by the snowtires and the quality of job he'll do. My sense of foreboding deepens. By deepens I mean picture yourself peering into the inky blackness of deep ocean crevasse and imagining yourself trapped in a small submarine, running out of air, kind of foreboding.

To say the young man in question was lazy would be unfair. Thick-witted? Possibly. Unkempt? Definitely. Slow? Like cold molasses in frozen crystal. Able to complete multiple tasks simultaneously? Not a snowball's hope on a hot day in hell. What he was was thorough. Painfully, sluggishly, anal-retentively, obsessive-compulsively thorough. I mean, how else do you begin to fathom a person who takes 15 minutes to change a set of windshield wiper blades on a pickup? Not the whole wiper arm assembly; just the blades.

Apparently (let's call him) Jed was the only tire-guy on that day and I think that rattled him. Every wheel that came off a vehicle and had either a tire fixed or replaced with a new tire, was given a two minute session with the portable power washer. Yep. Every single one. And, rather than clean all the wheels on the vehicle, he only did the one that actually came off and was put back on. Only had work done on the left front wheel/tire? Only the left front got washed. Weird. Notice how I italicized the word "portable" a few sentences back? The power washer was the gas-generator kind mounted on wheels. Rather than bring it to the tire station to wash the offendingly dirty wheels, Jed would open the bay door, back out the vehicle, park, lope over to the next bay door, open it, head back to the vehicle, drive in, get out, close both bay doors, do his ever-important washing of the one dirty wheel, open the door back up, back out, park, close the door, open the other bay door, pull back into the tire station, close the bay door and get out. He'd then shuffle to the desk, scribble on the work order and file it. Then he'd re-open the bay door, climb in the vehicle, back out, stop, get out, close the bay door and go park the car. Then he'd walk back to the service desk, pick up a new work order & keys, go wander around the parking lot aimlessly looking for the next car to work on, find it, drive up to the bay door, park (in one actually shutting off the car), walk in, open the bay door, back to the car and pull in. He did this every single time with every single car!

I won't give you the complete three-hour hour journey for my two snow tires. However the door/washing procedure was only slightly less absurd than Jed's obsession with his tools. I'm a neat person. I put my tools away when I've finished a job. However, if I know I'm going to be hammering nails all day long, I keep my hammer in a belt or at the very least, close at hand to the project I'm working on. Likewise, if I need lots of tools but only once or twice during a project, I'll put them away as I use them. However...

Changing/mounting tires in a shop requires four hand-tools: 1) an air-driven impact wrench, 2) appropriate size sockets, 3) a pry bar 4) some soapy water solution stuff with a brush. It also require a bloody big, hydraulic machine that apparently is designed to put tires on or off rims as a side effect of scratching the hell out of the rim's pretty, metal finish. Now, if you are going to be doing the same job, all day long, would you not keep the tools you need (in this case four of them) as close to you as possible and then put them away at the end of the day? I know I would. Not Jed though.

Nope, our boy Jed put away his sockets, his impact wrench, his pry bar and his soapy water after every, single, damn job. Seriously. Then, when he'd find his way back to his workstation with a new work order, he'd look around, scratch his head and go about searching for his tools. Apparently, surprised every time that they were in their drawer or holder or wherever stupid people put their tools.

Anyway I wasted three hours at Canadian Tire, gave them $200 for my trouble (and two new snow tires) and a meagre "sorry" when I question how I could be told "One hour" and end up waiting for three.