Thursday, October 27, 2005

There Are Few Things I Enjoy More...

...than watching Republicans eat their own young. That is exactly what they're doing right now, which is starting to turn incompetence into impotence. Fine by me, of course. Anything that keeps Dubyah distracted long enough to let the clock run out on this administration without letting him change the country is great. Not only that, but even if Dems don't control Congress after 2006, a much narrower margin would hobble all but the most bipartisan policy decisions he tries to make.

I found an interesting writer on Slate, Bruce Reed, who has put a lot of the thoughts I have had for the last few months into words. He's of course a Democrat. Some of his best gems:

Regarding the nomination of Ben Bernanke to replace Alan Greenspan at the Fed: "As one clever conservative told me, "I'm just relieved the president didn't nominate his accountant."

On Karl Rove, Reed writes: "But if Rove is not entirely the bogeyman Democrats would like to believe, he isn't the genius he and his own party believe, either. Whatever happens to Karl Rove, the Republican Party should learn to embrace, not dread, life without Rovism.
The Bush White House fears it will be lost without Rove's services. Then again, the Bush White House—and the country—seem quite lost with Rove at the helm."

Astute words on playing dirty: "Knee-Capping: Whatever the special prosecutor concludes in the Plame scandal, there are far, far worse things that Rove and company have done over the years—from knifing Max Cleland in 2002 to smearing John McCain in 2000. Jacob Weisberg may be right that no great joy can come from this prosecution. But whether White House aides intended to discredit the CIA or Joe Wilson, the whole sorry affair is an object lesson in why the knees you cap may turn out to be your own."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Putting Hurricane Katrina To Bed

OK, if this isn't a smoking gun, nothing is. It's nice to know once and for all that the blaming of everyone else for Michael Brown's shortcomings was truly just a Republican "circle the wagons" tactic and nothing more. I don't blame them for doing it, since both parties do it. However, I don't ever want to hear that FEMA was on top of things from any more people though. Ridiculous.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Bottom Feeders

Those bots that post comments to blogs with little links to their websites that they get a couple cents per hit from. Yeah, bottom feeders. So now for a little while at least, I will have to do the word verification thing for my comments. Sorry. Blame the owners of the bots.

I've been busy at work learning SQL. I've had exposure to it before, but not at all to this kind of depth. It's very interesting stuff, relational databases. Very logical, and it all makes a lot of sense especially once you get familiar the tables you work with most frequently.

Next weekend, my wife and I will be at the 49ers-Redskins game! When my favorite team comes to town, it's a must to go see them. Last time they were here, I had just moved down here fresh out of grad school, and didn't have the money to spend on tickets. I did see them beat the Eagles in Philadelphia two years ago in OT though. I'm sure it will be fun, even though the 49ers are simply horrible this year, much like last year. It's OK that they suck. I still want to see them play and put forth some solid effort!

Oh yes, and the Yankees are out of the playoffs since I last wrote. Few things warm my heart more than watching Steinbrenner fielding the best team that having no salary cap can buy, and losing in the first round of the playoffs. Hats off to you, George!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Swirling Around In My Head

This weekend I flew up to my alma mater, SUNY Geneseo for my 10th reunion celebration. I stayed with my old friend and college roommate Jeremy, his wife, and twin seven month old daughters near Rochester. I saw lots of people that I had not seen in years, and many that I had not seen since graduation actually. I had many interesting experiences over the course of the weekend, but it was much more a mental journey than anything else in many ways. When I go "back" someplace, like visiting people from Geneseo, sometimes I feel like I am emotionally traveling back to that time to an extent, and even though my years of undergrad are without doubt what gave me much of the mental strength that I have today, I often feel that strength drain when I get back in that environment. (I'm not including people like Jer who I have visited with often since graduation.) For instance, I had the strangest conversation with someone that I had not spoken to since we were in middle school together probably, aside from maybe a "hi" or two around campus when we ended up going to the same college after I decided to go to a neighboring high school. I'll get into that more some other time, as well as the conversation and why it took me back so many years. It was such a time warp. It's not that I'm a different person entirely of course since college. It's just "me plus ten years", after all. It gets me thinking though about who I am, what I want in life and why, priorities, alternate realities (something I've thought about a lot recently).

I think I have reached a couple conclusions so far. I know that others have thought these thoughts before, and I have as well, but I am finding these two magnified suddenly:

1. Much of the time, I learn what I need to know after I could have made the most use out of that information.

2. One lifetime is very limiting. I want to live a thousand lifetimes as myself and see just what I am capable of, the good, the bad, and the ugly (but mostly the good of course). I think people can do that to an extent, maybe throw a couple extra dice, but more than that is tricky. How can you tell how many sides it has, if after you throw it once, you are only told the number you rolled?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Tom "The Hammer" DeLay Indicted!

So it has finally happened. He was forced to step down (for now anyway), as majority leader. Couldn't have happened to a nastier person. Oh and by the way, Republicans should stop pretending that this is just another partisan attack. They are right when they say that this charge will probably not stick, but only because the burden of proof is for them to prove that DeLay himself knew what was going on and knew it was wrong. Because of the way the law is written, it's a high hurdle to jump. I'm just glad that he's finally being made to squirm.

Roberts was confirmed today. Fine. He's conservative, but at least he doesn't seem like a partisan hack.

Speaking of partisan hacks, did anyone enjoy Michael Brown on the stand in Congress? Hey, nothing is his fault at all! It's all the fault of the local officials he says. Is that what your extensive emergency management experience dictated, Mike? Those political patronage positions are only fun if you don't have to actually do anything, aren't they? Kathleen Blanco on the other hand did not take the bait, and steered almost completely clear of the issue, which was wise. I'm sure she could have done better as well. Brown is already gone though, so he can't possibly bungle anything like that again, though I find it hilarious that he has apparently been tapped as a consultant for FEMA now! Only in the Bush administration. He's loyal to a fault, I'll give him that, even when all evidence and common sense dictates that he should sometimes be otherwise.

Switching tracks to football now...Joe Gibbs has jumped the shark. He is another guy that just makes up his mind to go in one direction, no matter what the evidence dictates. He has Patrick Ramsey, a largely unmolded and untried new talent, (also untrusted, just because his predecessor and not Gibbs himself selected him for the team) and decides that he is finally going to start him. He's in for about a quarter and a half in the opening game and got slightly injured, but was only out for the rest of the game. Brunell was then in and after scoring all of three field goals against a bad team, is named the started. He beat the Cowboys with two touchdowns in the final few minutes of the next game against the Cowboys, but for almost the entire game before that he was just woeful. Now the Jets want Ramsey, but the Redskins won't trade him. Poor guy. The incompetence of the Redskins continues. They are the "home team" for where I live, but the San Francisco 49ers, my favorite team, are looking more competitive this year. They beat the Rams in the opening week, which was great, got blown out by the Eagles, and then last week nearly pulled the upset on the Cowboys. We'll see what the rest of the season brings!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

German Politics

So my German buddy Andi has had some things to say about German politics, and I thought I would chime in. Yes, Andi, to answer your question there has been a fair amount of coverage of it here as well. Just do a search on CNN or a similar one on Fox News or whatever news site you think is "the truth" and you will find plenty of stories on all of them. I also saw some video clips of their speeches after the election, and personally I thought they both looked really silly.

Schröder was going on about the fact that Merkel couldn't form her own government and saying that it meant that people didn't want him out of office, which I found pretty tough to swallow. He also said it was a really resounding vote that they did not want change, which I found insane. His party had after all lost a lot of support, and his party came in second in the polls!

Merkel was making similar overstatements in her speech, claiming a great "mandate" after winning the narrowest of victories (sound like a US president we know?). She may not even end up being chancellor even though her party got more votes than the SPD (sound like a US election we lived through not long ago?). She was pretty much demanding that she be given the chancellorship, even though she knows full well that she is not under any obligation to get it. She seemed pretty obnoxious.

So in short, I found both of them pretty unappealing, at least in their post-election speeches. Interestingly, in German elections, there is not the kind of culture war that we see in the US. Yes, there are differences between the old East and the old West, but that isn't the same thing that we have here between the parties. It seems that in Germany, no politicians from any of the major parties are trying to moralize from a political base, which is very refreshing. It really is all about the economy in Germany. In many ways, I think that should frequently be the over-arching issue. It's kind of like in football or any other sport. When the whole team wins, all of the hotheads on the team pretty much get along. In the same way, people that feel like they have economic opportunity and a decent future don't really feel like being angry at each other as much.

The Euro took a tumble after the election, and Germany seems to be in a pretty deep political crisis. We'll see how things go from here, but so far it looks like a mess. It's Europe's biggest economy and has the largest population of any EU country, so there is a lot riding on this. Let's hope they get this straightened out soon.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Finally The Story Begins!

Yes, I've been slacking on the blog. No, I haven't been slacking in real life. I've been working hard at work, and last weekend was the aforementioned wedding up in Albany. So here are a couple pictures of the vacation, and of course there will be much more later. I will also be sharing some interesting aspects of Europe that I have noticed from last year's Switzerland trip and this year's Germany/Austria trip. The cities that I visited on this trip were Munich and Hechingen (near Stuttgart, where my American cousin and his German family live) in Germany, and Salzburg and Vienna in Austria. In German, it's actually "München" and "Wien" (pronounced "Veen"), for Munich and Vienna, and the other two are the same in both languages. These first two pictures are from Munich. The first picture is a cute barmaid holding up a couple beers...just kidding. It's actually my cute wife doing that!

We were in the English Garden in Munich, which is a huge, almost Central Park proportioned park. It has fields, trees, a creek winding through it, lots of paths, a restaurant, a Chinese tower where they play live music quite often, some food stands selling pretzels, roasted nuts, and other goodies. Bikers were everywhere. A bunch of people were playing softball. Others were playing with frisbees. There were a couple spots where people were putting on impromptu concerts with bongo drums or xylophones or combinations of instruments, with small crowds of onlookers. We ate outside at the little restaurant there. We had just gotten off the plane shortly before we got there, and we decided to eat at the restaurant. Our waitress was very nice. I spoke a lot of German with her for the first part of the meal, but then she went over to English when she started talking about the lederhosen-clad musicians in the tower that they played a lot of American tunes. I had some sort of cut of steak with dried onions and a type of brown sauce on it I believe. Chris got the apple strudel for dessert, which I had a few bites of as well. It was incredible! It was served as a big thick slice in a bowl of vanilla pudding sauce. Best apple strudel I ever had, and to be honest I might have to include apple pie in that too! I should have gotten one for myself, but I knew there would be other opportunities. It's Germany's version of apple pie, a folk favorite, and they have it almost everywhere. Of course, I think Austrians claim to have invented it, but that's another story. They also claim to have invented the croissant. Who knows, maybe they did?

Anyway, the next day we had the world famous Hofbräuhaus beer hall high on the list of things to see. While we were finding things to do before dinner, we happened upon the Jagd und Fischerei Museum (Hunting and Fishing Museum), which had lots of stuffed animals of all kinds, and no, not beanie babies. These were all hunted and fished animals, and there was also quite an impressive collection of old rifles used by the gentry of the time, with fancy inlay patterns on the stocks and everything. The old sleighs were also pretty neat. I have pictures of those too, but for now here is a picture of me outside the museum with a bronze boar. More to come!

Friday, September 09, 2005

YES, There Are Vacation Pics And Stories Coming!

I know, it been several days now and nothing about the Germany and Austria vacation. It's been a very busy short week at work, and now I get on a plane to Albany in a few hours for a wedding in Saratoga Springs. So there are no pictures yet until Sunday. Then again, that's the first day of football season. VERY soon, OK?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

On My Own Schedule

So, I haven't written anything for a couple weeks, by far the longest drought on this blog since I started it several months ago now. My German blog has been idle for about twice that long, maybe longer. There is no particular reason for it. I used to blog a lot at work. My old work had long since failed to be exciting or challenging, so blogging was part of my way of filling my extra time with something else. Now that I have a more rewarding job, it is less of a priority. Also, months ago when I first started with this blog, politics was really starting to frighten me, and I just needed to make myself heard. It seemed that there would be no end to the power that conservatives would wield. I have seen their power start to wane now, and the pendulum is slowly swinging to something approaching normalcy. After a number of bad policy moves and public policy overstepping, the president and his party are rapidly falling out of favor with the public, and I feel the cool breeze of change in the air. Regular people are starting to stand up to the "turn back the clock on science and everything else we don't like or understand" types. It will be a little over a year before we know whether it is really a solid trend or not, but I am less concerned than I was, and therefore less motivated to write about politics. I'm sure the mood will strike me again, and probably soon, but not as often or as urgently.

Some quick movie reviews. I have seen several movies in the last few weeks, much more than usual. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was very clever and very funny. It definitely beat the original in my mind. I give it 8 out of 10. American Wedding, extremely funny, laughed through much of it, some implausible parts, but hey, it's comedy, 9 out of 10. Meet the Fockers, 10 out of 10, and I rarely put a movie there, one or two a year at most, laughed out loud through most of it. By the way, I think I'm in love with Alyson Hannigan. Hahhah! Can you blame me, really? No, not the nympho character she plays...she's kind of dippy in the movie. It's her "real life" looks and personality, cute, but very approachable. Approachability, if that's a word, is important! I'm afraid my wife would probably veto me though. Such is married life.

What else, oh yes, we are off to Europe next weekend. Last September we went on a tour of Switzerland for eight days (went through Globus Tours), including a tiny bit of northern Italy and the tiny country of Liechtenstein. It was my first trip to Europe, and second for my wife, first for those countries for both of us. This year, I made all of the Europe arrangements myself, plane, rail tickets, and hotels. Yes, there will be many pictures on here when I return! We will fly in to Munich, spend two nights there, train to Salzburg, a night there, train to Vienna, two nights there, and then all the way back past Munich to the town of Hechingen, near Stuttgart, where my cousin Jordan, his German wife and stepdaughter live. They have lived in Germany for about five years now I think. The trip will be great fun and the total price for the whole thing is exactly $1,590 each, which includes all transportation, hotels, and breakfasts. It will almost certainly come in under last year's total, and give us more free time. Of course staying at my cousin's helps too, but still it would be quite a bit less. Here is a picture of Schloss Hohenzollern, which is in Hechingen. We'll be taking a tour of that for sure.

The very next weekend we will be flying to Albany, NY for the wedding of one of three people I am still friends with from high school. They live in Boston, but I guess his fiance is from the Albany area originally. That is the aforementioned "flying on 9/11" trip, on the way back. Big deal, I say. Just please make sure the plane isn't going to lose cabin pressure is really all I ask. Oh, and then a few weeks after that I fly up to Rochester for my tenth college reunion. That should be a lot of fun too. I will actually be solo for that one though because Chris has a big event at work that she has to prepare for that happens the next week. I've never flown this much in that short a period before. I guess I'll get more used to air travel. Safer than driving, plus I get to nap. Anyone else got anything exciting going on? Do tell!

Friday, August 05, 2005

The Wrath Of (People That Think They Are) God

Maybe Frist isn't as unreasonable as I thought. When you get the thumbs down from the evangelicals, it makes me think that maybe he's doing something right. Support potentially life-saving research after seeing how it is done, and *gasp* studying the issue in more detail? Allowing a compromise instead of further partisan bickering? Can't have that! Consumed by their own wrath. I suppose it's fitting.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Something Oxymoronic About W Talking About "Intelligent Design"

I'm not going to actually write much more about that topic because it's just silly. "Species had to have been created by a creator because stuff's...well, stuff's too complicated...or something." Sorry Gomer, that's not science. Not that it will stop you from thinking it is. That goes double for you too, W. People fear what they don't understand, and you really don't understand it. If not for 9/11 you'd be barely a footnote in history. Hopefully Mark Warner will be able to undo the damage you have done to critical reasoning and research if elected in 2008.

So my new job as you have surely noticed is leaving me a lot less time for blogging. I actually had a really good training session today where for the first time I felt pretty close to being a subject matter expert on the things that I work on. That was a good feeling. The ramp-up time for this job is longer than any job before, but that's good too because that means it's complex, at least moderately vital, and it's not the kind of job that trained chimps can do.

I'm really starting to look forward to my Germany and Austria trip in less than four weeks. You may recall that we are going to Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, and Hechingen (near Stuttgart, where my cousin and his family live). I'll take LOTS of pictures, and post some of the better ones here.

In baseball news, aside from the better news that football is starting soon, what the hell is wrong with the Nationals??? Even worse, what the hell is wrong with the Orioles? They are tanking even worse, but I care even less, so I guess that's not so bad.

I'm currently enjoying a fascinating documentary on the Battle of the Bulge that I found on Netflix during my exercising time. It's all very interesting. The Germans had started near radio silence before the attack because Hitler was not telling much of anyone much of anything. He was of course extremely paranoid and thought that even some of his closest officers might be spies. We intrepreted this as "giving up" or at least a sign that he was conceding eventual defeat. Instead he was massing a quarter million troops for a counter-attack on a line that was thinly defended with mostly green troops across Belgium and Luxembourg. The Germans actually pushed quite a ways into Belgium before Patton swung around from his move on Berlin to halt the advance. It was a mix of complacency and confusion that caused the battle to be so costly for us.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Frist Sees The Light!

Yes, it had to happen sooner or later. Frist comes to his senses "suddenly" about stem cell research. Well that's good. It took several years, but he finally figured out that it's a good idea to do it. You don't become the leader in medical research by letting other countries beat you to the punch.

That "Energy Bill" is about the biggest piece of pork to come out of Congress, in all of US history, and that's saying a lot. We are giving energy companies billions in tax breaks at a time when they are making record profits, because we hope that maybe they will spend some of it on environmentally friendly projects and on producing more oil in the US? That's funny. That would be really, really funny, if it weren't also so incredibly naive. Republicans should be enormously upset about this nearly unprecedented level of pork too, but for some reason, they are not.

By the way, what's up with the Nationals and the Orioles in baseball? They were both leading their divisions, and now they aren't even in the wild card driver's seat! What happened???

Monday, July 25, 2005

Vegemite Is Australian For "Raw Sewage"

A co-worker and his wife who is from Australia just got back from there, and he brought back some Vegemite and some Timtams to work today. The Timtams are sort of like the Australian Oreo, the most popular cookie type food in Australia. They are a couple of rectangular wafers with a thin, soft, pudding-like layer of chocolate in between them, and the whole thing is dipped in a layer of regular chocolate. They're excellent!

For those of you that have no idea what Vegemite is, or who have only heard of it before, like me, oh it's quite interesting. It's about the consistency of butter at room temperature, and Aussies do actually like to spread it on bread and have it for breakfast. It smells, well, kind of salty, a hint of soy sauce maybe. You spread it on the bread or whatever you want to spread it on, but not a thick layer like peanut butter or jelly. Then you taste it, and that's when the real fun begins. It tastes like a mixture of soy sauce held together with that gelatin-like stuff on the outside of the meat in a can of spam, and a hint of pureed anchovies. It's awful. Eat it only if you want to be able to say you've had it. I don't plan to ever have it again.

Friday, July 22, 2005

A Thoughtful Evolution Article By A Vatican Correspondent

I got this article from a friend of mine who has does canon law and works for the Las Vegas Diocese. It is very thoughtful, and it dispels some of the myths about evolution by those that dislike it because they think it is diametrically opposed to Christianity.

So it looks like John Roberts may be confirmed with relative ease. I'm prepared to see how he rules on things. We'll see.

I also saw some statistics on schools, and it's no wonder so many Republicans think that public education is a failure. The better schools have a tendency (taken as a state average), to be in blue states. Go figure. Hmmm, it might have something to do with the level of commitment toward public education. Yes, it's expensive to educate kids. It's also expensive not to.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Justice John Roberts?

So this is apparently the guy that Bush wants for the Supreme Court now. I know little about him. I am trying to find some info on him now. I imagine he is probably anti-abortion and generally very conservative, but I will do some checking. There is a brief bio in the CNN story, and another here on the Fox News version if you prefer. Apparently he has recently said, "There's nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent." I guess we'll see, won't we?

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Some Things Haven't Changed

Republicans are complaining about the media being biased against them. The Vice President himself devoted part of a speech to how the media is making too much of the war opposition. The patriotism of people that do not support the President is often and openly questioned. The year? 1969. Some things haven't changed. There are few people that make me angrier than those that suggest that Democrats don't love this country every bit as much as Republicans. Slapping an american flag on your SUV doesn't make you a patriot. Wanting your leaders to do right by the country does. Of course the two sides have a different idea of what is right, and that's fine, but don't ever question my patriotism.

I've been watching a documentary on Vietnam as my exercising companion for the last few weeks. It's quite engrossing, and I'm finally almost done with the ten or so hours of content. There were some interesting people featured in it. It was the "American Experience" series by the way, filmed in the 80s, which makes it a bit dated, but it's history so it's pretty thorough. Henry Kissinger was heavily interviewed. John Negroponte was interviewed a few times as well. He seems to be the consummate diplomat, and quite respectable. John Kerry was also interviewed, and spoke well. Yes, the one that was dragged through the mud last year, that one. Anyway, it was all very interesting. It seems that from we could have gotten what we had wanted if we didn't keep supporting various murderous dictators in the south. I don't know what we were thinking with some of these people. How could we have expected that they would inspire confidence in the populace?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Driving Past An Iraq War Death?

I was on my way to work this morning and I passed a hearse. Normally, no big deal. I did notice that it actually seemed to have a casket in it though, which I don't see every day, but again not terribly unusual. However as I drew closer to it, I noticed that it had an American flag on the casket, the car was labeled "Military", and the car had government tags. It was headed in the direction of Dulles airport which was only a few miles from where I saw it, and I suspect that was where it was headed. I wonder if it was an Iraq casualty, or if it was someone else that was just getting a military funeral.

Speaking of untimely death, I just found out that Freda Sorce, (the wife of Don Geronimo of the Don and Mike talk radio show), died in a head-on collision near Ocean City, MD. That's really sad. They often had her on the radio, and she seemed like a genuinely nice person. It's all very depressing. Anyone have any good news?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Karl Rove, And Republican Boredom

Yes, it's too early to say for certain, but given Scott McLellan's verbal mind tricks at the press conferences, it is looking very much like it was Karl Rove that leaking the name of the undercover agent. You'll recall that our "fearless leader" W, said that whoever did it would be fired. Will he get his chance to make good on it? It's fun to watch Republicans squirm when they realize that their friends are not the magnificent people they make them out to be. Plus, come on, it's Karl Rove. Is anyone surprised? Really?

Oh, and this is another little gem I heard about. Here is the story from a Republican blogger, if you prefer. Tom Davis and John Sweeney are trying to push baseball around by issuing veiled threats about how baseball should not allow George Soros to co-own a team, and that if he is allowed to co-own a team, then maybe Congress would come down on them in some way. Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball, said today that the decision before them is not political. Good for him. It had to be said. First it's flag-burning, because you know it's such a terrible epidemic here, now they don't want people with opposing political views to buy some things, next thing you know they will start passing ordinances on the length of male fingernails out of boredom. This is what happens when the party in control gets power and then gets complacent. They get busy, then they get bored, then they get stupid, and then they get voted out. I'm just waiting for the last part to happen now. It won't come a moment too soon.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Because What IS That Thing???

OK, I just had to share this one, sent to me by a co-worker today. Even my wife, who loves nearly all animals, was taken aback. Apparently it won the "World's Ugliest Dog Contest". Very, very frightening.

On a more somber note, I hope they find the people who bombed London today. Why not write more about it? What's to tell? What else can I say? I have little to add to the story. I just hope they find who did it.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Born On The Fourth Of July

Today is George Steinbrenner's 75th birthday. I really don't care a bit about that, but it was a bit of trivia that I picked up from ESPN this morning. I actually can't stand the Yankees, or the Cowboys for that matter. Any team that is considered "America's Team" in any sport just conjures up images of bandwagon-jumping rednecks, like the rednecks that I went to school with until I switched to a much bigger nearby district for high school where my Dad taught for 30+ years. I'm not saying that it's "not OK" to like a team that you don't live near, because after all I am a 49ers fan (since before they won their first Super Bowl), and I've never even been to San Francisco. These kids were all living in upstate NY, and were Cowboys fans with no ties to Texas because it was the "cool team to like" for the in crowd. That is just lame. Oh, and by the way, how 'bout them Nats? They just swept the Cubs on the road. Impressive.

Sandra Day O'Connor is of course retiring. Get ready for the shitstorm. It has already begun. I am actually seeing a glimmer of hope here though. If Bush nominates Gonzales, it might not be all bad. Conservatives would prefer someone, well, more conservative. I don't think Gonzales is the best choice overall of course, but given the other options, he's probably the best choice. As for being the first Hispanic justice, that's good, but being an "advocate" for one minority group or another is not just shown by giving them positions of power. If W really wanted to make a statement about that group, he could quietly tighten up the borders while at the same time recognizing the contributions of those here, and keeping the same rights extended until they become naturalized. Conservatives would quickly lose interest in complaining about illegal immigrants getting benefits when they saw the dollars spent every year going down as people naturally integrate into our society. That would truly be "compassionate conservativism", but I think most people know that term is a ruse anyway.

My first week of work at the new job has been great! I have met lots of good people that are all very good at what they do as far as I can tell so far. There are certainly some systemic issues as with anywhere else, but the actual people that work there practically radiate competence, and that is a nice change. I understand that it's still the honeymoon period so to speak, and I'm just now getting beyond the surface of understanding, but I don't recall this same feeling after a week at my last job. Incompetence is easy to spot for me now. As for me, I'm just trying to keep up and make sure that I don't become the incompetent one! The bar has been raised.

Today I will be going to my friend Dan's house (Nicnerd on my blog), to have some beer and other Fourth of July food and festivities. Oh, and on Saturday we also got a new kitten from the Humane Society to keep our cat Snowball company. His name is Mojo. He's eleven weeks old, and he's quite a handful. Here is a picture, and don't let his rare picture of him at rest fool you. He's quite a juggernaut. The two kitties are getting acquainted slowly. We'll see how long the growling and hissing lasts from Snowball.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Out With The Old, In With The New

I had my last day of my old job on Friday. It went mercifully fast, especially since it was an "early out" day, so I left at two o'clock. I hugged all of my co-workers, the last of the Mohicans, the three women that make up the entire front line of the department now. I had lunch with my good friend Dan ("Nicnerd"), and soon after, the day was over.

Yesterday, I walked into my new job, just a few miles from my old one. I had an orientation, and got a nice new laptop. First impressions? I was in a less technical department of a more technical company, and now I am in a more technical department in a less technical company. For a non-technical company, their tech that they give to employees is much more impressive than what I had at my old company. I also feel like I am among a lot more "serious career" type of people. Nobody is just on a small "stepping stone" or just killing time at a "job". It's refreshing. These are all people that are "going places", and going there now. I have many, many more observations, but I will save those for later. So much to absorb. Until later...

Thursday, June 23, 2005

If You're Dying Of Exposure, THEN It's OK To Talk To Strangers

This is something that should be added to all of those lessons that are given to children. Of course I'm sure that by now you've heard about the eleven year old boy in Utah that got lost and was eventually rescued the other day. Have we really come to the point that we are drilling into kids so hard that strangers are not to be trusted, that kids will now nearly die, rather than be rescued by a stranger?

OK, I have to throw my lot in with the conservatives on this issue (perish the thought). It looks like municipalities can now do anything they please with your homes at any time, not just for reasons of "blight" or public works or whatever. Those reasons are already laden with conflicts, but I understand that sometimes they are warranted. Now they can just do anything at any time as far as I can tell. Sure, you get fair market value or whatever, but what the heck? Where does one have to move in order to ensure that they won't be forced to move again? Montana?

Oh, and by the way Hector, I was pleased to hear of your recent ebarfulation. I'm glad that you finally got a chance to ebarfulate. Now that you have ebarfulated, you will probably get more traffic. Ebarfulating is a wonderful way to start anew. The new definition that I have created is the act of making a major change or clean-up of electronic data.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

My Very Own Butterfly Effect

My rapidly approaching job change has given me quite a lot of opportunity to reflect on my life so far, and how I got to where I am. I assess this from time to time anyway, but when a big transition like this one comes up, I give this exercise more bandwidth. A great deal of life is opportunity, and what you do with it, and certainly being taught how to make sound decisions has been of the utmost importance. I feel reasonably sure that I could have ended up in nearly any city and ended up being successful. There are also chance factors that enter into our lives though, that guide us often unwittingly at the time, onto a path that fundamentally alters our lives from then on, and without which everything of the life you know today would be unknown. I know exactly where in my life the butterfly effect really took flight. (For those that do not know what the butterfly effect is, it is the idea that a very subtle change, such as the flapping of a butterfly's wings, can have a cascading effect down the line until a hurricane forms, just because of that one butterfly.)

For the first 18 years of my life, much of what happened in my life was of course heavily influenced by my parents. Being born to a certain set of parents, while it is of course of paramount import, fundamentally changes who you are by the very genetics that you inherit, so that doesn't really qualify. Of course, I did pick the college that I went to, and that was a big decision, however it was the college where my Dad got both his Bachelor's and Master's degrees, SUNY Geneseo. I have an aunt that graduated from there too, and another aunt and my grampa took courses there as well, so that clearly still traces back to family. So after arriving at Geneseo just days after turning 18 in the Fall of '91, I met my college roommate Jeremy Waterman, who is to this day a great friend of mine, though we don't get to visit as often as we'd like living 400 miles away. So anyway, fast forward five years later. Already by this time, several of Jer's friends had become mine as well, and I was in grad school at SUNY Oswego, in a program where his mother was and still is a professor. We were still roommates at that time, and one of our by that time many mutual friends was living down here in the DC suburbs of northern Virginia. We all decided we were going to move down there, but I was the only one that did. The others all found jobs around Rochester pretty much. So Peter and I lived down here for a year as roommates. Six months after moving down here, I met my wife Christina on an internet dating site, I was unsure of whether I wanted to stay in the area at first, with all of my other friends, and eventually even Peter too moving back to upstate NY, but economics and the deepening relationship with Chris meant that I stayed in this area. So everything that cascaded from my randomly chosen college roommate is what my life has become.

Just yesterday I was talking to former co-worker of mine that I just reconnected with after finding out that he just started working at the company that I will be starting with next week. He said that it's "all my fault" that he plays online role-playing games (MMORPGs, in gaming parlance). I got him to play the server that I played in Everquest shortly before he left the company. He now has a serious girlfriend that he met in the game. Without me telling him to choose my server over the dozens of other choices, he would not have met her. A close friend of mine, Nicnerd for those that have seen his posts, also played the same server as me in Everquest at my behest. He met his fiance the same way, because he was on the server I played on. So you see, it has all come full circle...The Butterfly Effect.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Saddam And Republicans Have Something In Common

Apparently they both admire Reagan. I found this story quite fascinating. Aside from his delusions of still being President of Iraq, and his past atrocities of course, this guy could pretty much be anyone's grandfather. It's so funny that when you strip away all of the pretense and power, that he's just another senior citizen. If Saddam were born in the US, or almost anywhere else in the world, he would probably be spoiling his grandchildren, gardening (which apparently he does in prison too), and eating his beloved Doritos. Instead, he becomes a brutal dictator, is overthrown, and now at 68 years old he will never leave prison. It's interesting to think of what he could have been, and should have been.

Now, this is very funny. If this doesn't get DC's "top cop", Chief Ramsey, to pay attention to rampant auto theft in DC, then nothing will. It's kind of like someone torching the fire chief's house. DC, for those that do not live in this area, has undergone a fair amount of economic revival in many neighborhoods, most of it related to the real estate boom. This has pushed a large number of poor people into one of the neighboring counties of southern Maryland, Prince Georges County. The murder rate has been going up there in the last few years as DC's has dropped. DC has long since not been the nation's "murder capital", but property crime is of course still a problem as it is with all big cities.

I generally don't care at all about celebrity gossip. It just isn't my scene. However, I do love a good real-life mystery, and the Katie Holmes - Tom Cruise thing seems to just get "curioser and curioser". It sounds like the Religion...*cough*Cult*cough* of Scientology might have gotten their hands on her from the beginning. I also heard on Howard Stern, reliable source that it is, that Jessica Alba (mentioned in the article here too), was "interviewed" for a part, and that she said it sounded more like a date interview than a movie role interview. Very interesting. I'm starting to think the conspiracy theorists are right.

Hey, Two Dogs, I haven't been following the Killen trial too closely yet. What kind of evidence do they have on him from so long ago? Is he just going to walk again? Figured being a Mississippi resident that maybe you would have heard more detail. By the way, on my way home I was in the usual slow traffic, and some guy in the biggest, noisiest pickup truck you can imagine, zooms up in the lane next to me and revs the engine as if he can move more than a hundred feet forward. "Who's this jackass", I thought, as I looked for a "W" sticker on the cab. No clues there, but then I looked at the license plate. "MS N8V" That gave me a chuckle, and I wondered if maybe Two Dogs was in town.

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Longest Week Ever

If any week will be, this will probably be it. I'm working my last week in a job where almost everyone I know knows that I am leaving. It's kind of like saying goodbye to someone after a visit but then bumping into them again unexpectedly and repeatedly just before they get on the plane or something. Not a big deal, but kind of awkward. Staying motivated to work is not a big problem because I don't want to leave the people I like with more work than they already are going to have to "make up for" by me not being here while they look for my replacement. We're pretty bare-bones as it is.

I'm getting war coverage burn-out, and I don't even seek out coverage. I've been in the apathy stage toward it for many many months now, but still it finds me. This "the insurgency is in its death throes" stuff is wearing thin. At a certain point, it seems like the Iraqis are going to have to simply sink or swim. You can't force everyone to care about their futures, and if it hasn't happened enough to our liking yet, is it really ever going to happen?

On a related note, Porter Goss says that we "have a very good idea" where Osama is hiding. We apparently can't get him because he is hiding in a "sovereign nation". What? Are you kidding me? That's what's stopping us? It doesn't seem like sovereignty been a big issue for us recently, rightly or wrongly, and in a case like this especially, why do we care so much? If he is in Pakistan, and they are *really* helping us, you'd think they would have come up with him awhile ago. I don't buy that Musharraf would be ousted if Osama were caught either. Osama supporters want him dead already, so what difference does it make?

Friday, June 17, 2005

Goodbye Neurocam

So after a very short time of "playing" Neurocam, I decided that I have more than enough real stuff going on in my life to bother continuing. The quote on the site says: "Some of the most rewarding experiences we have come about through random circumstances of which we have no real understanding. It is sometimes important to commit to something we know very little about if the act of commitment in itself becomes part of an experience." - Bridget Fischer, CEO, Neurocam International

If I were in college or something then maybe it would be my only commitment, but as it is, that is far from reality. Anyway, if you email them, they then start you on a series of "adventures", where picture-taking is highly encouraged, and you are asked to complete a series of tasks, each one of them with a premise behind it. Usually it's very much like pretending to be involved in espionage. The emails make it clear that there are definitely "real people" behind this at every step guiding you along. It's kind of interesting, but maybe I'm a little too left-brain to get the full "benefit" of this suspension of disbelief. There are lots of other bloggers that blog about it as well, mostly more right-brain types, and many find Neurocam endlessly entertaining, but it just wasn't exciting enough to me to justify the time spent. Below is what I emailed them on Wednesday.

Hi. I think neurocam is an interesting social experiment, but it's not really the type of thing I'm interested in doing right now. Playing pretend cloak and dagger is a really cool idea, but it just doesn't hold my attention as it once might have. I wish you all the best, and I will continue to enjoy reading about the experiences of others. You do add quite a lot of intrigue to people's lives, for what as far as I can tell is no pay, and that is admirable. Thank you all, and keep up the good work!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Results Are In On The TS Autopsy

Here is the story from Fox News and from CNN. Whatever your preference, it says the same things. Her brain was half normal size. When it comes to body organs, that is not a good number. It typically does not mean half-functioning. It typically means little or no functioning.

An autopsy on Terri Schiavo backed her husband's contention that she was in a persistent vegetative state, finding that she had massive and irreversible brain damage and was blind, the medical examiner's office said Wednesday. It also found no evidence that she was strangled or otherwise abused.

"The brain weighed 615 grams, roughly half of the expected weight of a human brain," he said. "This damage was irreversible, and no amount of therapy or treatment would have regenerated the massive loss of neurons."

So are all of those people that said she was "alive somewhere in there and just needed a little TLC", or that she could feel pain but not express it, and so much other such unsupported nonsense thrown out there mostly by conservatives, need to right now own up, and admit that shockingly enough, doctors know more about medicine than you do.

Now that we've gotten that unpleasantness out of the way... Let's hope that issues like this one, along with stem cell research, will show voters that there are many issues where it is clearly the Republican leadership that are out of the mainstream.

On an unrelated note, if you ever wanted to find out what life is like as a hostage in Iraq, here's a story on it. You can probably guess that the experience is not much fun.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

New Beginnings

It's official. I received a job offer yesterday from another company, and I took it! After more than two months, three interviews, and five interviewers, I made the final cut. I have been at my current company for over six years, and my current position within that company for a few weeks short of three years. It's a big step, but one I must take for my career. I'm purposely not going into a lot of detail here, mostly because it doesn't matter to most people. I got the offer yesterday during lunch, came back to find the written copy in my email, and accepted it shortly after that. Just before leaving for the day, I passed out my resignation to those that needed to get it, and walked out the door. My last day here will be Friday, June 24th.

I guess it's also a new beginning for Michael "The Kid-Toucher" Jackson, after he got off on his charges, so now he can get back to getting off on kids. It's too bad. Even the jury didn't seem to think he was innocent exactly, but they are probably right that the accusers came off as very unbelievable, and that killed this particular case against him. Hopefully he will never do it again, but history seems to indicate otherwise.

In other news, this guy that defected to North Korea is in the US for a week to visit his ailing mother. He defected in 1965. I think being forced to live in North Korea for 40 years is probably a fate worse than being in prison (a US prison anyway). Hopefully he will find peace. The people that protest him to this day need to get a life. He was young and made a mistake. He paid and then some, and he's an old man now. Time to let bygones be bygones.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Take Me Out To The Ballgame!

My grampa was born 90 years ago today! We sent him an album with some pictures from my sister's wedding. Happy birthday grampa! Some relatives are going over there today, including his sister Wilhelmina (Aunt Willie), who is 94, last I knew anyway. He lives in upstate NY, near Ithaca. Much of my extended family, including me, were born and raised in upstate NY. Our family lived just outside Auburn, which is about 30 miles SW of Syracuse. Here is a picture of grampa and I from last year.

My parents are staying at our house for a long weekend visit, and I took them to see this game last night between the Nationals and the Mariners, which was great fun. It was tied going into the bottom of the eighth inning, 3-3, and then the Nats, who were never in the lead to that point, blew it open with a six-run eighth inning, and went on to win by that score, 9-3. You should have heard the roar when they got the go-ahead run. Very impressive. The Washington Nationals are DC's brand new baseball team. They are doing really well this year and are even leading the NL East so far! They were the Montreal Expos until the league moved them this year to Washington DC.

On a side note, if you see anyone who looks like this and has this look on his face, it's a good bet he has either killed someone or is about to. Proceed with caution.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Non-Surprise Of The Week: GM In Deep Trouble

I saw a story just the other day about GM posting their twelfth straight declining sales month. For those of you counting at home, that's a full year of declining sales. Not good news for them. I saw a couple stories today that indicate that even for a company as enormous as GM, it's starting to hurt. Also, this editorial writer had an interesting take on it. Hector Vex had a post partly on this issue, which inspired me to write this post. Parts of this post are taken from comments that I put on his blog.

My first vehicle that was really mine was right after graduating college (undergrad anyway), in '95. It was an '87 Buick Somerset and the transmission blew up less than a year later, and the engine blew up less than six months after that. I don't fault GM for that though. It was old when I got it. The '94 Saturn SL1 that I got in '96 though was also a piece of crap. It had problem after major problem before I got rid of it for my first foreign car, a new 2001 Volkswagen Passat. It has had a couple problems, but by far the biggest problem was 100% covered by the warranty, so I didn't pay a dime. Yes, I did buy it new, but with the warranty not up until I hit 10/100,000 I'm pretty optimistic that my cost of ownership will stay low. GM is making the same stupid mistakes they did in 1981, when my parents bought their first Toyota. GM was still making boat-cars that people just didn't want. Today, they are still pushing hard for more SUV sales at a time when gas prices are dictating otherwise. (Hector says that they are trying to push their other models more too now, which I have not seen evidence of yet, but I will pay closer attention to it in the next few weeks.) They were also very slow to get on the hybrid bandwagon that is now booming. American reliability ratings are slowly improving, but they are still not good, GM vehicles especially (Ford is somewhat better). Make good cars and people will buy them. I'm not going to buy a vehicle that is going to bite me in the ass on the basis of making a "statement" that buying American is the way to go.

You also can't put much blame on those "evil unions". Why is that? Look at the countries where the other automakers are beating us. Japan. Do they work for cheap? Germany? Cheap labor there? Sweden? Cheap labor in Scandinavia? I don't think so. It has everything to do with market position, and not being agile enough to follow the trends. People buy Volvos, VWs, Toyotas, and the rest because they sell the types of vehicles that people want to buy. For the good of the US economy, it would be good for GM to do better, but don't expect me to advocate corporate welfare for them to cover their inefficient business practices.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

My Sister Is Married!

Here are some pictures of the happy event. In case anyone is wondering, I got all of these pics on my Fuji F-700 digital camera, including the digital video clip. First, my sister the beautiful blushing bride, married at 27 just like me. It will be difficult to get used to her with a different last name, not to mention all of the extra syllables in her new last name.

Katie and her brand new husband Kris dancing late in the evening. Katie still looks awake. Kris looks like he's about to fall over.

The proud Mom and Dad, at 56 and 62 respectively, looking great as always. They don't really like the spotlight too much, but they handled the whole thing with the utmost grace.

Katie with her maid of honor, Kim (on the left). Kim is very nice, and I talked to her quite a bit. She is recently married herself. I swear she's seven feet tall too.

One of the groomsmen, Rick, and his girlfriend Vanessa (though I might have mixed the names up with another couple, I met about 100 new people this weekend). Anyway, I chatted with her quite a lot also. She's very cute and funny. They've been together quite awhile but Rick hasn't gotten around to popping the question yet. If he still hasn't asked after they legalize polygamy, I will probably ask her myself.

My Aunt Doris, Uncle Chuck, and I. Uncle Chuck's wife is Aunt Vivi, who took the picture. Aunt Doris' husband, my Uncle Phil was at a grandson's graduation in Missouri I believe. My wife as I mentioned before, was at a friend's wedding in Chicago.

Aunt Vivi and Uncle Chuck during the "anniversary dance". They will have 50 years of marriage this January!

Click here for a short movie clip from when the wedding party was having pictures taken. They were told by the photographer to all jump in the air at once, and hilarity ensues!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

See You Monday After My Sister Gets Married!

Well, I'm off to my sister's aforementioned wedding in Florida near Jensen Beach tomorrow morning, flying in to West Palm Beach. My wife is off to her good friend's wedding in Chicago a couple hours after me. I'll be back with lots of pictures from my trusty Fuji FinePix F700 that I got for my birthday last year.

Meanwhile, maybe somebody can clue me in as to why so many conservatives (bloggers at least), think that Mark Felt (Deep Throat), is suddenly satan? Hey, that sounds like a sitcom name... "Suddenly Satan", starring Bob Saget... Anyway, whatever axe he may or may not have had to grind, do you think that we really would have been better off not knowing what a nut Tricky Dick really was?

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Parental Involvement: It's What's For Dinner!

So it seems that my conservative friends are once again beating the "public schools are all failures" drum, and the ever-present "and by the way it's the Democrats' fault" cymbals with it. I hate to upset the upstanding people in marching bands around the country with my metaphor, but I'm not part of the PC crowd, so as the Australians say, "Bad luck!"

I always find it interesting how many conservatives rail against public schools as a failure, and say that kids that go to private schools have a tendency to be more successful on the whole. Regarding the average success of the kids, you know what, it might surprise you to know that I think you're probably quite right! The problem for your "public schools suck" thesis though, is that this fact is largely irrelevant. Why? It's because you are completely ignoring the other variables that go along with it. I don't see any sane people going around saying that blacks are inherently more prone to commit crime than whites. This is because we understand that the "third variable" here is economic, and that when you adjust for that, there are almost no demographic differences there. Therefore, we correctly say that race has no significant effect. So what is the third variable in this case? Parental involvement. There are a large percentage of parents that are very involved in their children's education on every level and in most every school. Those parents are not generally the ones that have drug problems or are neglecting or abusing their children. I'm talking about everyday parents, most of which send their kids to public school. Parents that send their kids to private school and are willing to shell out the money to do it, are certainly going to fall into the motivated segment as well. If you were to eliminate the kids with disengaged parents from the public school figures, then suddenly your average is probably going to be right there with the private schools, not to mention a lot cheaper! There is not a high percentage of schools in this country that I would feel that a child of mine could not get a good education.

Of course, then there is the ideology question. Yes, there is always that. If the Sunday dose of religion is not enough for your liking, then by all means send your kids to private school. I would never begrudge you that choice. If you don't want your kids to learn evolution or sex ed or whatever you are railing against this week, then fine, go for it. If public schools are such a failure, and you aren't sending your kids there, why do you care anyway? You've got plenty of schools where you can learn your version of reality. Aren't these some of the same people that get upset when their choice of Pope was analyzed so thoroughly, since if they aren't Catholics, why should they care? The same ones that say that if you don't like the direction America is headed in, then leave? Take your own advice. Plunk down the 20K per kid to send them to private school and quit complaining.

This brings me to to the "plague of immorality" issue, touched upon in the last post. Parents today have more choices in how to raise their kids than at any other time in history. You have unprecedented geographic mobility, myriad school choices you can send your kid to, a couple dozen educational channels on TV, v-chips, web filters, movie, TV, and video game ratings, and all kinds of other ways that you can ensure that little Johnny sees the world in exactly the way that you want him to see it. Go ahead and complain that this stuff exists, but it still all comes down to parental involvement when you see how the kids turn out. The world is not falling apart nearly as much as you think it is.

Here's your nice generous helping of parental involvement. It gives you a strong brain and a healthy sense of ethics. What do you mean "why"??? It's because Paris Hilton told you it's what's for dinner! Now, eat up!

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Kids And Russia Both On A Rampage?

A kid in rural Ohio shot and killed a handful of family members and then himself on his own graduation day. A nine year old stabbed an eleven year old to death in New York City, with a steak knife. (What, she didn't have her first gun yet, you ask?) A couple kids in Florida beat a homeless guy to death because they were "bored". Why does this happen? Should we be outraged? Well, yes and no. Yes, we should certainly be upset at the loss of life, and try to figure out if it could have been more easily prevented. No, it's not any sort of cosmic evil. It's a few cases of screwed up families that clearly did not bother to teach their kids not to kill people. You can't blame that on politics or anything else besides that and be taken seriously. Take these same kids and raise them in your house, and they would be fine. This stuff happened in the 50's too. Most of my readers and I were just not around back then to remember it now.

Oh yes, Russia, at the rate your society is going, all of the other former Soviet states, the rest of Eastern Europe, and maybe even Africa and the Middle East will be modern democracies before you will. In other words, it will be centuries, if ever. You're lucky you can even get McDonald's to invest in you at this rate. Your business climate is a total mess. As soon as someone is successful and anti-Putin, whoops, you're guilty of...ummm, tax evasion, yeah that's it! See you in a couple more election cycles! *wave* Putin, you make ole' red-nose, Boris Yeltsin look like Abe Lincoln by comparison. Congratulations on setting your country back a couple decades.

Putin, barely avoiding a much-needed kick in the groin.

Various News, Personal Happenings And Otherwise

Neither my wife nor I have much family in the area, so for a few hours of Memorial Day, we went to a wine tasting at the Tarara Winery. Our company's summer picnic was held there last year, and it was a fun time, so she wanted to see it for herself. I'm not really a great judge of wine. In fact, I'm undoubtedly a pretty poor judge of wine, since I tend to simply like the sweeter types, but I am getting better at it, slowly. Chris is a very good judge of wine already. We brought a picnic lunch, and after we ate that we did a tasting. I thought it was mostly pretty decent, especially the dessert wines of course. Chris was less impressed, but still found a few that she liked. They were out of the "Vidal Blanc", the dessert wine I liked best and bought a bottle of from last year. We got something similar though that is good with chocolate. They actually give you a Hershey's Kiss when they pour that wine for tasting, so you can see how the wine complements it. Nice touch. Anyway, we bought four bottles of wine, including the "Wild River Red" dessert wine that I mentioned. They also had some jellies made of various wines too, which were definitely interesting to say the least, but not interesting enough to buy.

This Saturday, my sister (and only sibling), is getting married, near where she lives in Jensen Beach, Florida. I'll be flying down to West Palm Beach from Washington-Dulles Airport on Friday morning. I'm sure a good time will be had by all. Interestingly, she is 27, the same age I was when I got married. It will be nice to see everyone. I haven't seen my parents since Christmas, and I haven't seen my sister since Christmas 2002, about two and a half years! I was told by a co-worker that I should never let that happen again. She's right, and it won't. She's marrying a guy named Kristoffer, who goes by "Kris". He seems like a very good guy, though I will be meeting him in person for the first time this weekend. This means my parents will likely be permanently having to distinguish between my Chris and Katie's Kris when talking about our spouses. Lucky them.

The weekend after this one, my parents will be coming up to our house for a long weekend. We'll be seeing a baseball game on Friday night between the Washington Nationals and the Seattle Mariners. That should be fun! It will be only the second major league baseball game my wife and I have ever seen, and the first for my parents! I have always felt that my parents sacrificed a lot in order to raise my sister and I, so it's the least I can do to introduce them to some new experiences. They will leave from our house to Ithaca, New York, where my grampa Grow will be having his 90th birthday party at his house. It's definitely a big event, even though in my family people routinely live into their 80's. (I merely lived through the 80's so far.) My grampa has an older sister that is 95 now I believe, and still volunteers at a retirement home.

I finalized my European travel plans last week. Here they are:
August 27 - Overnight flight from Washington-Dulles to Munich, with a brief transfer at London-Heathrow.
August 28 - Arrive in Munich, Germany just after noon, sightseeing and sleeping
August 29 - All day in Munich
August 30 - Train from Munich to Salzburg, Austria, sightseeing in Salzburg
August 31 - Train from Salzburg to Vienna, sightseeing in Vienna
September 1 - All day in Vienna
September 2 - Train from Vienna to Hechingen, Germany (south of Stuttgart), to my cousin Jordan, his wife, and stepdaughter's house
September 3 - All day in Hechingen
September 4 - Train from Hechingen to Munich for the direct flight home taking off mid-afternoon and arriving back home the same day

Sound like a plan? This random person has some nice pics of what I will see in Hechingen.

Castle Hohenzollern

Hechingen Market Square

Friday, May 27, 2005

What If Tomorrow The One True Religion Was Revealed?

So tomorrow morning, everyone wakes up from their slumber. For some, it's been a rough night. Some are hung over. Some are up and ready to face the day very early. Others are up around noon. They all have one thing in common though. Just as they are waking up, they realize something. They all know what the one true religion is. Of the thousands of religions and sects of religions in the world, they suddenly know which one is correct (or maybe it's a mixture of existing beliefs, or brand new ones). They know which side of every issue the deity or dieties fall on.

1. Would people around the world get along better? Would there be less violence?

2. At the very most, only about ten percent of the world's population would have already "gotten it right" without this divine intervention. Do you think that some might be upset with their spiritual leaders for having not led them down the proper path? What would happen within cults?

3. Do you think that with a lot of these basic underlying issues "out of the way", that more human energy would be put to use in solving the more concrete problems facing us, or would we simply find something else to fight about and thus still cancel each other's efforts out?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Of Fingers And Burgers

Here is proof (if any was still needed), that some people are in serious need of a good screw:

The ad, which has been running in major markets since last week, has drawn the ire of television watchdogs, including the Parents Television Council. "This commercial is basically soft-core porn," said Melissa Caldwell, research director for the PTC. "The way she moves, the way she puts her finger in her mouth -- it's very suggestive and very titillating."

You can't make up that kind of comedy! Putting her finger in her mouth is probably as "suggestive" of bulemia as it is anything else. As an aside, I really don't even think Paris Hilton is incredibly hot. What hotness there is, is at least partially negated by her incredible stupidity.

OK so as I write this, it's currently 51 degrees, and it's going up to a whopping 57. That's depressing. Paris might need to cover up a little more in this weather. Don't do it on my account though, miss "heiress (moroness?) of the Hilton fortune".

It looks like the stem cell research bill passed the House handily, garnering dozens of Republican votes along with almost all Democrats. 238-194 was the final tally, a comfortable majority as with public opinion, but it won't be enough for an override. Oh well, guess the abortions won't go for any useful purpose after all. They'll just go out with the rest of the medical waste.

By the way, regarding my post yesterday, it seems many conservatives are incensed at the compromise, because they wanted a fight. Like I said, careful what you wish for. You're better off with what you got, trust me.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Cooler Heads Prevail On The "Nuclear Option"

It's about time some centrists got together and bucked the leadership on something. I'm getting tired of the all or nothing attitudes of some people. Yes, I know some people on both sides, conservatives especially I imagine, will be upset that there was a compromise made. You should be careful what you wish for. I think your centrist brethren saved you a few seats in the next Congress. The people we should all be thanking are the following:

Robert Byrd (West Virginia)
Daniel Inouye (Hawaii)
Mary Landrieu (Louisiana)
Joseph Lieberman (Connecticut)
Ben Nelson (Nebraska)
Mark Pryor (Arkansas)
Ken Salazar (Colorado)

Lincoln Chafee (Rhode Island)
Susan Collins (Maine)
Mike DeWine (Ohio)
Lindsey Graham (South Carolina)
John McCain (Arizona)
John Warner (Virginia)
Olympia Snowe (Maine)

Oh and by the way the Republican establishment is so stupid for not wanting McCain to get the Republican nomination. He's the best you've got, and he would beat Hillary easily if that's what you're really concerned about.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Embryonic Stem Cell Research Proves Naysayers Incorrect Already

Of course, this breakthrough was not made here in the US. Without the federal funding that is normally procured for potentially life-saving types of research, we are lagging behind other countries in this area. It's South Korea that "got there first" this time, with something that many fundamentalists that were against this research said could never be done. On a side note, I also find that interesting. On these issues that involve medicine, conservatives will trot out these same conservative doctors to repeat the party line on why it shouldn't happen or can't happen. Then the other 98% of doctors will say it can be done, but are less flashy about it because they rightly don't care about the politics of it so much. Then conservatives can say, "Well, doctors disagree..." It's very convenient for them. While some segments of America try to turn back the clock on science, other countries are simply going to take up the slack. We're already seeing that. Basically every other country in the world is snickering at our silliness. I hope that twenty years from now "other countries" are not where all medical progress comes from, and we aren't stuck in America learning about how the Earth is actually flat, six thousand years old, and all life was intelligently designed by the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

It looks like there may be enough votes though in Congress to overturn Dubyah this time, which would be nice to see for once. This is an issue that deeply divides Republicans, but that Democrats are in favor of pretty much across the board. There may be enough of a coalition there to even override a promised veto. We shall see. What is that saying? "The life you save, may be your own." Well put.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Flying On September 11, 2005

It looks like I may be doing just that because of a friend's wedding. I don't really care that I may be doing it either. Would you fly on that date, given a reasonable option, or would you avoid it?

I have lots of other things in the hopper for my blog soon, but I was too busy today to fully do any of them justice.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Could New Orleans Have Been Our Hong Kong?

As I have mentioned recently, I just finished watching The History Channel's "The War of 1812". I never knew much about that war except that the White House and a few other federal buildings were burned to the ground. I had forgotten that we actually invaded Canada too! The war started when the British started to take our sailors and force them to serve in the British Navy. This was called "impressment". It went on because they needed men in their battles against Napoleon. The French were the dominant force in Europe at the time, and so they saw it as justified.

There were only three decent-sized battles in the entire war though. First was DC, where we were thoroughly beaten, mostly in terms of an unorganized retreat as much as actual casualties. It would have been worse and the city would have had more damage from fire too if a very strong hurricane hadn't come right after the British took the city (no Weather Channel yet). That put out the fires and caused many British casualties actually. They then pulled out of the city. Then there was Baltimore, and the still-famous Fort McHenry attack, where Francis Scott Key wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner". That attack was an American victory, though it was more of a "holding our ground" kind of victory.

The third was the Battle of New Orleans. By the time this battle started, Great Britain had shipped thousands of extra troops overseas to fight, since they had just finished beating Napoleon at Waterloo in 1814. As troops massed outside New Orleans on both sides, a peace treaty had already been signed in Belgium, but of course it still took a few weeks for a ship to cross the ocean for anyone in North America to find out (no phones or even telegraphs yet). We were vastly outnumbered by a far better trained and equipped army, but won one of the most lopsided victories in military history! Some scholars believe that if the British had taken over New Orleans at the time that the peace treaty was ratified by Congress, that the treaty would have indicated that Britain could retain control over it. Thus Britain could have owned a significant city at the mouth of the Mississippi for a long time to come, kind of like with Hong Kong in China. Can you imagine if New Orleans had just become an American city in the year 2000 like Hong Kong?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Our Amazing Memory, And Some Movie Reviews

It's interesting how memory works. It seems that our memory works very much like a computer, or at least more like a computer than one would think. The major difference is that our memory is a lot more fragile and volatile. Bits get misplaced all the time. It's like a Google search where infrequently searched items are eventually inacessible or lost, and different types of information on the same topic can get disassociated.

Think of someone that you know, and think of the info about them in your head as audio files, video files, jpegs, text, and so on, or even as a database full of these things. After awhile, these parts can get jumbled, and cause us to forget. This is where you can place a name but not a face, or recall a person and an event very well, but forget the name. You probably used to have all of them together, and once your memory is jogged, you will again. The wild card with memory though is that our own experiences that we had previously will color our perception of a specific memory, and can cause us to categorize it completely differently. Computers don't really do this because to them, previous data doesn't affect storage of new information, but it does with people. This is just something to keep in mind. A pretty good (if heavily simplified), explanation of how it works is in this movie, believe it or not. It's an interesting indie film that I saw a couple weeks ago. Sure it's a movie, but it has a great deal of natural science in it, and some famous scientists speaking for long periods in between the acted parts. There is of course plenty of other more scholarly research on it on the net, which you can easily find with a Google search of your own.

Oh, and by the way, "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" is not all that great. It's not horrible, but it is also not particularly memorable. Unless you are a big fan of the book, catch it on video maybe.

A movie that's just plain not all that good is "Birth". Sure, Nicole Kidman is nice, but it's not nearly enough to carry this movie. It had some great potential too. It was an interesting subject, but poorly done I think.

I just finished watching: "The History Channel Presents: The War of 1812" as my "while exercising material" once I finished Ken Burns' epic "The Civil War" series. I have some observations about The War of 1812 that I never knew at all until recently. It had a lot more significance to our history than you probably think!

Update: My wife and I watched "Sideways" last night. It was OK, but not as good as the hype. Anyone watching "Revenge of the Sith" this weekend? Movies have been disappointing me recently. I want to see a good one!

Monday, May 16, 2005

Some Members Of The Flock Are More Equal Than Others

There have been two stories in the past week or so of people being denied membership or the full benefit of a church based not on their personal behavior as it relates to religion, but their views on the behavior of others. Lines are being crossed all over the place on church/state issues recently. (Only the second of these examples here has to do with politics directly, but there are other battles such as teaching ID, and so on of course.) You might be surprised to know that it's fine with me to an extent, only because I see a silver lining. The more this kind of thing goes on, the more independents will start to find this special kind of ultra-conservatism more frightening, and thus their Republican party benefactors as well.

The more recent one was from yesterday, about Catholics wearing rainbow sashes to show support for gays and lesbians in the church. They are being denied communion because of their show of support for a change in doctrine. They aren't even violating any church law. They are just expressing their opinion that they would like a change, and for that they are denied communion. Nice.

Then there is the genius minister of a church in North Carolina that decided to kick nine people out of their church because they didn't support Bush. My favorite part of the story: "Chandler could not be reached for comment today, but says his actions weren't politically motivated." Now that is comedy!

Saturday, May 14, 2005

A Blinding Realization

I'm beginning to think that arguing with social conservatives is just a complete waste of time. No, I never expect to make any significant difference in what they think. What really became clear to me today on Rightwingsparkle's blog yesterday was some of the parts outlined in my comments. See below.

First someone made a comment about how there was "shameless hucksters" on the conservative side of the issue, making hay for political gain on the TS issue. RWS replied in part:
I remember people like you who called the white civil rights workers in the south in the '60's 'hucksters." I hope you are proud to be in their company Dirk. Pathetic.

TS was "disabled"? Be serious. RWS, I'm not necessarily a fan of Dirk's arguing style, but for you to compare him to racists because he doesn't agree with you about TS is just plain insulting, and to use your words, "PATHETIC" or "SICK" or "SAD", just like trying to compare your cause to that of civil rights workers. I try hard to be polite, but that is beyond what I can stomach politely.

Erik, sorry, but that is how I feel. I saw injustice in the south and people who thought they were perfectly right in opposing civil rights.I see the life issues the same way. This is INJUSTICE. And I stand against anyone who feels it is ok to take innocent life. From the womb to the tomb.

I've been commenting here long enough to understand your positions well. That isn't what irritated me. Maybe it shouldn't. I know what to expect from conservatives in terms of their views. It just jolted me back to the reality that underneath the generally reasoned discourse, you believe that many of my beliefs are quite literally aligned with evil. It makes me wonder why I even bother to discuss things with social conservatives at all, when they see me and essentially all other Democrats this way.

Me again, after another Democrat commenter responded to my last comment, bold was added just now to part of it for emphasis:
Worrywart, well, call me naive, but I really sort of believed that some social conservatives could see past the culture war in their opinions of others, but it seems no matter how it's packaged, it's really the same. I'm beginning to think that the only reason some are even civil is because they hope that Satan's little helpers, so to speak, will convert to their side. In their minds, we are all agents of evil whether this is spoken or not, sugarcoated in "we hate the ideas but not the person" rhetoric. This whole thread has really hit me like a ton of bricks. It's seriously very depressing.

It's still depressing, but I'll get over it. I may need to re-evaluate what is or is not worth the effort.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A (Very) Brief Overview Of Evolution

Since there seem to many misconceptions about what evolutionary theory is or is not, and what has and has not been found so far, I feel like now is the time to explain it. There are more complete explanations than mine, but this is meant as an overview to answer some of the misconceptions.

First, evolution refers to change over time, generally millions of years to speciate (evolve from one species to another genetically incompatible species). Start in your head with one species spread out over a large area. In any population, selection pressure is present for more desirable genetic traits, in humans too, but when times are good and most of the population is able to reproduce, there is little reason for small differences caused by mutations to become the norm in the gene pool. The mutations are just folded into the normal population and you can have all kinds of variance. For long periods, there will be no evolutionary reason to change. Then there will be a physical barrier that will impede the exchange of genes across the entire population. We see this sort of thing all over the world today. Marsupials are almost entirely confined to Australia for instance. They happened to go in that evolutionary direction based on pressures found on that continent, whereas elsewhere it did not happen. The barrier can also be distance. If the range for a species is extremely wide, the same effect can occur.

Then, disaster strikes, as it does with regularity on Earth. An asteroid hits, the climate changes, a new predator moves in, or any number of other calamities, and the existing species or portion of a species must adapt or die out. Suddenly, the little differences aren't so little any more for at least one part of the population. The longer-legged creatures will run faster, and predators will eat the shorter-legged ones instead. The climate gets colder and suddenly longer fur is a real life-saving asset. Genes that were once scattered in the population are now heavily selected for, and the look and genetic makeup of the species can change quickly and dramatically. If there are enough genetic differences in the population over a long enough time, genes between the two of them become significantly different in length or structure. Fertility between the "old" and "new" forms suffers, and eventually they are so different that fertilization is impossible. We see the early stages of this in modern day horses and donkeys. They are similar enough to breed, but not enough to produce fertile offspring. There are other examples especially in birds where there are similar phenomena. Lions and tigers can breed, but the fertility rate is not the same as with the original species. We can see these various stages of speciation.

Speciation can result in many different outcomes based on what fossil evidence and genetic analysis tells us. Parts of the population could die out, leaving another part under different pressures unchanged. Two different species could result from one. One different species plus the original species could remain. The entire species could evolve into another. The whole species could die out and not be replaced. All of these scenarios can occur.

One logical fallacy that is often presented is that it is impossible to reproduce speciation in a lab environment. Yes, it is true that we do not yet have either a time travel machine or a time speeding machine where we can see what happens over millions of years in a bottle. We see all of the necessary phenomena that I have outlined in various stages of action, in the lab and in nature, but in terms of evolution, humans have only existed for about the blink of an eye, and you are asking for us to reproduce millions of years in a few decades. We aren't completely there yet, but it does not mean that it's "impossible". All of the individual building blocks necessary are there for speciation to happen, and observable. We just can't speed up time.

Another fallacy also presented is that there are no "missing links". Due to the selection pressures necessary to cause speciation, the "transition" period is pretty quick geologically speaking, about what would be expected from a quick extinction or adaptation to a (relatively) sudden change. The environment is generally similar for a long time, and a sudden shift makes the process accelerate. Without genetic material or any soft tissue at all for that matter, it is very difficult to prove beyond a doubt that something is a transitional form, but we do find these forms on a regular basis. Certainly for humans in this case we have more evidence than for many other animals. Cro-magnon man, Neanderthals, and other types all made an appearance, leading to where we are today. Cro-Magnon man especially were actually quite similar to us. Neanderthals quite a bit similar as well, but probably not enough to reproduce with modern humans. Even just yesterday another portion of a "missing link" was found.

This brings up the issue of "halves are useless". Evolutionary cul-de-sacs are everywhere. We still have an appendix. Ostriches still have wings. So do kiwi birds. Bulls don't need horns in order to survive any more, since they are domestic, but it doesn't mean they disappear. They are not selected against, so they continue. The eye is a frequently used example in the opposite direction. What good is half an eye? Not much. However, each form comes from the last form, so of course the more "advanced" form is heavily selected for, and the old form dies out. If the change is not a good one, it won't last long. People that throw out analogies like a watch randomly coming together from nothing are posing the question as if that is what evolution is. It is not. It goes from one functioning unit to the next. Those that do not function are selected against.

There is much, much more to this, and far more detail than I could possibly put in one post, but at least this is an overview. Post some of your objections if you would like and I would be happy to answer as best I can.

Update: Nicnerd IMed me from his conference and told me there were "truck-sized" holes in my post, and mentioned that there are shell fossils in the Himalayas. Interestingly, that particular fact is something touted by "Young Earth" proponents, which Nicnerd is not. I'm not sure where he got that info. His fact is correct. The Himalayas were formed around 25 million years ago when continental drift shoved the Indian plate into the Asian plate. The land portion of both of these plates were underwater at one time, when "shells ruled the Earth". This was from around 300 to around 450 million years ago, roughly. Shells in the Himalayas? We should expect nothing less!

Monday, May 09, 2005

What If Everything You "Knew" Changed Overnight?

What if tomorrow morning you woke up and just "knew". You somehow just knew there was no God, no heaven, no hell. What if your purpose on the planet was not defined by any external source other than your own environment, and it was up to you to define your goals in life and your method to reach those goals? In this scenario you would not have forgotten what you used to think or anything like that, or actually maybe it could? Maybe think about both possibilities! Maybe you would simply think differently at that point, or maybe you always thought it. It would not mean an absence of right or wrong either. It would just mean that humans and humans alone would decide what is acceptable behavior in society. Would it upset you? Would you be happier? How might your life be different? How would it affect your priorities in life? How do you think the world would be? What would be better, and what would be worse?

I already live my life with that assumption, though I am far from certain whether my assumptions are true or not. I usually don't give it a second thought, but I wonder how others would handle it.

Friday, May 06, 2005


Don't you just love internet jargon? So anyway, speaking of the internet, I thought this might be a good opportunity to let you in on some of my favorite sites, some of which I use all the time, some of which are just recent interesting discoveries of the moment.

First, a couple days ago I had got some excellent fudge that I ordered from Brigittine Monks that make it in Oregon. I got a pound of amaretto fudge and a pound of chocolate fudge royale with nuts. My wife and I watched something about them on Food Network a couple years ago, and I finally decided to actually give it a try.

Do you hate it when free sites require a ten minute sign-up so that you can gain access? Me too. This site solves that problem. Bookmark it or memorize it. It saves time and irritation, especially when trying to read the various news items that blogs link too.

This is a site I found through another blogger this week. It's damn funny! It's funny the way people that are on cell phones in a crowded city seem to be unaware that everyone can hear what they are saying, or maybe they don't care? Anyway, the site is here.

Having trouble with some phrase in German? Here is the place to go. I know that the "LEO" site is also popular, but this is what I have been using since I started practicing my German again a couple years ago. You can also curse me in German if you want. It'll be fun!

Thursday, May 05, 2005

You Gave Them An Inch, And Here Are The Miles

You see, until the social conservatives are finally shown that fewer people agree with them than they think, this is the kind of stuff that will happen.

First, it was the "droopy drawers" legislation is Virginia that was mercifully dropped.

Now it's "lewd cheerleading" in Texas, where football (and cheerleading), are a way of life, and the population is conservative enough that I can't imagine such a huge event isn't going to already be controlled anyway.

Even worse, some ignorant people in Kansas that wouldn't know the scientific method if it bit them on the nose, are trying to turn back the clock 80 years. My guess is that Kansas won't be pumping out very many biologists, if they manage to get them to not teach evolution as it is taught today.

What's funny is that even most of the conservative people that I know think these things are ridiculous, but because some conservatives are so convinced that the very far right is a majority, they are no trying to run roughshod over every institution they think that they can legislate. Hey, you asked for it. 2006 can't come soon enough.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Estate Tax Complainers

Before I start, let me just tell you that there was frost on my car this morning. I live in northern Virginia and it's May 3rd. Stop the insanity, and turn up the heat. It's almost summer!

Interestingly, most of the people that complain about the Estate Tax are not wealthy enough to have to pay it. Opponents call it the "Death Tax". I try not to get hung up on semantics, so you can call it what you wish. I found a handy calculator on a financial planning site. Put in your info. Do you qualify for the estate tax at all? It's doubtful. I hope that one day I qualify for it, and if I do, I guarantee that I won't complain about it! I would undoubtedly be among the top percent or two of the best off people in the world! I can understand the small business and farm angle. Make the cap higher on those so that there is less of a tax burden on them, but don't simply reward wealth over work for individuals. It is very easy to make money with money as it is. Isn't this kind of "perpetual hereditary aristocracy" something that we have always tried to avoid perpetuating? (I just made that phrase up, but that's what it is.) Is it really too much to expect that the great-great grandchildren of today's upper class might have to actually work a little bit?

Here is a snippet from an article from a few weeks ago on the subject.

The House vote pitted repeal proponents, who held that a tax on inheritances is fundamentally unfair, against Democrats, who questioned how Congress could support a tax cut largely for the affluent that would cost $290 billion over 10 years, in the face of record budget deficits.

As an aside, isn't it funny how on this and certain other issues, many Republicans will say things like "fundamentally unfair" or "it's perfectly obvious", and "everyone knows that...". I get a lot of those sorts of comments from my Republican friends that post here too. They never lack for moral certainty, even when their case is very difficult to prove. Don't you want to know who is going to pay for this $290 billion with a "b" tax break, if it passes? No, it isn't businesses, or the wealthy who got the tax break in the first place. You and I pay, or our children, or grandchildren. Is this what passes for "fair" in your book? It does not in mine. "It's double taxation" you say? OK, fine, so how do you propose we pay for it then, aside from trying to cut waste that we should be trying to cut anyway? Is there a plan in place? It certainly doesn't seem like it, and it's this kind of continued short-sightedness on tax policy that will get us in trouble in the years to come.