Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Guinness Difference

I just got back from a business trip to Dublin, Ireland.  While there, I had the pleasure to enjoy a vast quantity of Guinness.  I've always heard people say that the Guinness in Ireland is so much better than what we get here in the States.  I would have to agree wholeheartedly.  I think there are several reasons for this.  First, the Guinness in Ireland is simply fresher, but I'm not sure that alone is sufficient.  I also heard (no idea if this is true) that the Guinness brewed for export to the U.S. is brewed in Nigeria.  If so, that changes two important ingredients (this applies no matter where it is brewed, except in Ireland).  First, the water source will be different.  Being a home brewer myself, the mineral content of the water can have a direct affect on taste.  Second, the Guinness brewed in Ireland is all brewed with Irish hops.  I suspect that the hops used in Nigeria (or whatever) would be imported from Europe and is simply not the same.

After having sampled the Ireland Guinness, I did have a Guinness (or three) at my local bar last night.  It was clearly inferior to the Ireland Guinness, but even then, the Guinness here is still a damn good beer.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Insomnia Beer

I am a beer snob.  I don't drink any beer that has "light" in its name.  I don't drink beer out of a can.  I don't drink beer out of a bottle that has a twist cap.  I like trying foreign beers and I like trying regional and local beers when I travel.  One of my favorite beers is Four Peaks Kiltlifter.  It was my regular beer of choice at one of the bars I frequent.  During the first couple of months when I started to frequent this bar, I started having bouts of insomnia.  I eventually narrowed it down to the nights when I had been to the bar, and narrowed it down even further to the beer itself.  I changed beers for a few weeks and the insomnia went away.  This was very disappointing, but ultimately necessary.  Unfortunately, I need to add another beer to my insomnia beer list.  Smithwick's.  I've had a few while visiting Ireland and had very poor nights of sleep.  The good news is that if I stick to just Guinness, then no problems.  Yay!  Fortunately, I have a short list of favorite beers that don't give me insomnia.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

To be Thankful to...

Another Thanksgiving is upon us.  Thanksgiving is a holiday that I never really gave much thought to.  For me, spending time with my family wasn't that big of a deal because, well, we were always home and together anyway.  It always seems like a lot of work for 10 minutes around the table.  Anyway, as my life as changed, through marriage, separation, and divorce, the meaning of Thanksgiving has changed a bit for me.  So, here is who I am thankful to.

To Kathy, for being a good friend over these last 4+ years, and for introducing me to a whole host of new friends through the Parrothead Club.  I now have people that I know and care about (and care about me) all over the United States, from Southern California, to Salt Lake City, Iowa, Rocky Point, and numerous places in between.  Yes, I lived a pretty solitary life, even when married, and I am very thankful to her to have given me this opportunity to meet so many others.

To Rick and Julie, for also being good friends over these same 4+ years.  For letting me share a bit of your family with you, whether it be a house boat trip, trips to Rocky Point, Key West, or even being able share with you the marriage of your son and daughter-in-law.

To Annette and Eric, for sharing your home in Rocky Point and allowing me so many opportunities to come and visit and enjoy some raucous times with good friends.

To so many other of my AZPHC friends.  You guys have become like family to me.  Welcoming me into your homes and allowing me to share in all the joys, triumphs, and a few tragedies.

To Jen, who I have known since grade school, and now have an opportunity to know so much more.  I am very much looking forward to tomorrows.

To my kids, Isaak and Emma, while I have missed the opportunity to watch them grow up on a day to day basis, I am very proud of who they have become and enjoy seeing the growth and maturity in them every time I do get to see them.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

One Million Moms is Fucking Scary

So, there is this group out there called One Million Moms.  First off, they are an activist organization that is trying to clean up the moral failings of America.  They are also a "Project" of the American Family Association.  Take note, any activist organization that uses the words "Family" or "Justice" is likely to be a right wing crack pot organization.  Oddly enough, the AFA is such an organization.  Anti-women, anti-gay, and pretty much every over nasty and disgustingly wrong aspect of morality you can think of.

Anyway, this OMM group has called for a boycott of Ben & Jerry's Schweddy Balls ice cream.  They have called for a boycott of DWTS sponsors because ABC actually mentioned what the meaning of transgendered was.  DWTS is now accused of promoting the pro-homosexual agenda.  They are claiming credit for the cancellation of "PB Club."  That is Playboy Club, but apparently they can't bring themselves to spell out Playboy.  Adult toys being sold on Pharmacy websites.  Etc., etc.

One of their bigger campaigns is to have Google and Disney pull their support of the "It gets better" campaign to help counter the bullying experienced by LGBTQ youth in this country that has led to numerous suicides.

You can scroll through the various list of things they find offensive.  Basically, this is just a branch of the hyper-bigoted AFA.

My Issues with Obama

Before I get accused of being an Obama sycophant, I just probably take a few sentences and mention all the things that his administration has done that has really disappointed me. 

First, his failure to tackle the torture issue.  Under Bush, the US committed torture.  Plain and simple.  There are two parts to this.  One, Obama did nothing to look into the prosecution of those that committed torture.  Two, it now appears that we have outsourced our torture to other nations by shifting "enemy combatants" to other countries that may not be so unkind to certain interrogation techniques. 

Second, Obama claimed to want to be a very transparent administration.  While this administration is indeed far more transparent that probably any President before, this Administration has fought just about every attempt by the public to gain information via the Freedom of Information Act by citing the States Secrets Act.  As a side note, shame on the courts for granting just about every request made by the Obama Administration.

Third, signing the extension of the Patriot Act.  This is one of the most unpatriotic and unconstitutional pieces of legislation ever written and both Dems and Repugs alike extended it with nary a wimper as to how much of our rights have been forfeited.  The existence of the Patriot Act alone is indication that the terrorists already won.

Fourth, his massive clamp down on marijuana and medical marijuana.  Massive savings at pretty much every level of government, from towns up through the Feds, would save billions of dollars a year by simply ignoring much of the petty, misdemeanor possession charges.  Police would be redirected toward other crime prevention.  Prosecutors could focus more on felony cases.  Less money would be spent on incarceration and courts.  This alone would probably be a non-trivial stimulus to the economy.

Fifth, his inability to take control of the true message during the all of the deficit an debt ceiling debacle.  The Republicans set the message early and Obama had no choice but to give in to their whims or else the GOPers would have crashed the economy.  He is finally getting now, but the Repuglicans are brazen now.

Sixth, his ordering of the killing of the American born terrorist, al-Awlaki.  When I wrote that blog, I wasn't  sure how I felt about that act, but now I believe it was illegal and leads us down a slippery slope.  Not unlike what Bush did with the torture memos.  At the very least, al-Awlaki should have been indicted by a Federal Grand Jury for various crimes.  Treason being one of them.  Then issuing a request to the Yemen government to apprehend him and extradite him to the US.  Had al-Awlaki been killed in that attempt, so be it.  But at least the due process of law for an American citizen would have been followed.  Also, if there was any evidence that he rejected his citizenship, then the Administration should have asked a court to reject his citizenship.  This would have opened up the drone attack as a true military operation against a sworn enemy of the US.

Occupy, Sabotage, and the Liberal Media

I see that I have been neglecting my blog again.  Truth is, I am sort of disgusted by the same old shit from the Republicans and their blatant attempt to sabotage our economy as the 2012 election approaches.  So, with that in mind, I have not paid much attention to the whole Occupy Wall Street movement and its various off shoots.  Part of me wants to say, "OK, whatever."  But there seems to be some real grass roots stuff happening here.  There is no consistent message.  There is no spokesperson.  It is just a lot of people kind of tired of the Wall Street class warfare.  I don't even think it is really targeted at Republicans either, although, their efforts to call our freedom to assemble "anti-American" doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.  They didn't seem to mind the various Tea Party assemblies back in the day, but, oh well, just another example of Republican hypocrisy.  The real target simply seems to be obscene amounts of money.  Now, I don't really think they care if Banker John Doe makes a lot of money.  What they are tired of is that they are resisting any and all efforts to get the economy moving again.  New Flash!  Trick down economics does work!

I do have one question for every OWS protester out there.  Did you vote in 2010?  Will you vote in 2012?  Will you get your friends to vote?  Your family?  The Republicans have passed legislation in dozens of states to make it harder for folks like you to vote, so, pick it up, follow their idiotic rules, and get yourself registered and eligible to vote so we can wipe these misogynistic assholes out of the state legislatures and out of the House of Representatives so that we have a real chance of growing our economy again. 

So, with all the blatant Republican hypocrisy, the clear attempts and avoiding any and all responsibility for governance, the obscene attempts to paint Obama as the one not willing to compromise, the massive public support of pretty much every aspect of the Obama job plan, where the hell is our liberally biased media and why aren't they saying anything about it?  Yes, they are covering the story, but they aren't asking the right questions.  They are simply reporting politics and not discussing facts.  They seem to be so afraid of being called out as bias that they are afraid to call a spade a spade anymore.

I won't even start of the actual Republican presidential candidates.  The ones currently in office are fucked up enough.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

On the Passing of Steve Jobs

I've never been a big fan of Apple.  That really had nothing to do with Steve Jobs personally.  I'm not really a fan of the Apple business model either.  But, that doesn't mean I can't respect the contributions of Jobs to fields of personal computing and personal electronics.

I often tease friends about turning to the dark side as the seem to slowly covet a new Mac laptop or the iPhone.  While I don't see myself ever getting one of those devices, I have owned a couple of iPods.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the musical freedom that those devices have given me.

Without question, Jobs was an innovator, and his contributions will be sorely missed.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Arkansas Atheist Ad Campaign

An atheist bus ad campaign rolled out in Arkansas today.  The background story is of interest here because the ad, which says, "Are you good without God?  Millions are" was considered too controversial by the bus company and demanded a $36,000 security deposit to protect the bus company against vandalism. 

So, let's think about that for a second, the bus company was worried that people would be so enraged by that little sentence up there, that they wanted a special consideration made to run the ads (after a court ruled they had to because it was discriminatory not to).  The court ruled that $15,000 was fair (it isn't) and the Central Arkansas Coalition of Reason paid.

So, let's think about this, part two.  Who do you think the bus company was worried about vandalizing the ads?  Who else?  Christians.  What does it say about Christians that the bus company would be worried about them vandalizing their buses?  Hmm.

Would the bus company have been concerned about vandalism had the ad been a Christian message?  Probably not.  What does that say about the non-theists?  Hmm.

The Killing of Al-Awlaki

About a week ago, a US drone killed Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen.  He was purportedly a high ranking member of Al-Qaida and actively involved in plots against American interests.  The interesting point of all this is that he was American born, and therefore an American citizen.  So, the question becomes, was it legal to kill him without any legal due process?

I will say that my first reaction was good riddance, but at the time, I didn't know he was an American citizen.  Is it hypocritical to believe that Guantanamo Bay should be shut down all of its prisoners tried in a US Court of Law allowing due process of all, regardless of their citizenship, and then turn right around and not bat an eyelash at the killing of al-Awlaki?  How do the rules of engagement with respect to a war play out when the entity you are at war with is not a nation-state?  As an apparent "officer" of such a military entity, or as an acknowledged leader of such an entity a valid target in war?

While it is apparent that no US court will be willing to rule on such an issue since War Powers tend to be left to the discretion of Congress and the office of the President.  The one entity missing in all of this is Congress.  Congress should pass laws with respect to this type of action so that the guidance for the President is clear.  To avoid doing so is skipping out on its responsibility to enact such laws and therefore, they should not be so willing to criticize the President for this action.

I also can't help but think that if Bush had done this, there would be no end to the praise coming from the right as opposed to the guarded questioning of the legality we see today.  Also, to be fair, there are plenty on the right who applauded this action as well.  Again, whether I am bothered by that, I don't really now.

If I had to choose a side on this fight, I would say that I would be supportive of the action since he, by all appearances, was an active leader in a sworn enemy of the United States who willing left US soil to engage in activities against his country.  On the other hand, I can think of other situations where somebody has committed treason and left the country.  Under those circumstances, I'm sure the US would attempt to capture and extradite them to face trial.  The question then becomes, was he acting in the interest of a sworn and active enemy of the United States.

Lots of food for thought.

The Amanda Knox Tragedy

I have read only bits of pieces of the Amanda Knox story.  Certainly, there is something to be said of a trial by the press.  But the real tragedy is that a young woman was murdered four years ago and her killer is free, whether it was Knox, or her boyfriend, or somebody else out there.  Even if Italian prosecutors can successfully appeal an acquittal (that sounds so weird), I doubt the US would extradite at this point.  It would make for some interesting international relations.  But, at this point, even if the Italian police were to reopen the investigation without Knox and/or her boyfriend as suspects, it sounds like all the evidence is so tainted at this point that it may not be worth bothering.  The same thing can be said about the Casey Anthony trial, or the Troy Davis trial, or the Memphis 3.  When prosecutors are so focused on getting somebody, anybody, found guilty of a high profile crime, then there become two tragedies, the trials of the innocent and what they must endure, and the trials of a grieving family who must watch their killed loved one as nothing more than a footnote to a circus.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Picture Sharing

Just a few pictures/cartoons that have recently been shared to me.  They should all be self explanatory.

Lot's of Sports Fun!

It's been a good weekend for Valley sports.  The Dbacks beat the Giants Friday night to clinch the NL West, then followed that up with a shellacking of the Giants on Saturday night to eliminate them from the wild card.  Then, the ASU Sun Devils took it to the USC Trojans, or as one fried called them, the University of Spoiled Children.  But wait, it gets better?  How?  The Oregon Ducks beat the crap out of the UofA Mildcats.

As for lesser items, Liberty University lost.  Yeah!  Notre Dame won.  Damn them!  And, I mean that in the most biblical way possible.  I certainly didn't mind seeing Florida State or Miami lose.  Never cared much for the big three Florida schools.

Even though am I'm pretty much indifferent about the Arizona Cardinals, let's hope they put up a decent showing against Seattle.  They should win, but then again, this is the Cardinals.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Wait, What? Government isn't Supposed to Create Jobs

This is classic.

Michelle Bachmann visited a small business in Iowa called OMJC Signal Inc.  I will let you guess at what OMJC stands for.  Anyway, the owner, a very conservative Republican, runs a company that specializes in temporary signalling equipment most often used for road construction.  She cited the struggles of this company as an example of Obama's failed policies.  Um, OK.  They specialize in signalling equipment used in road construction. You know, like infrastructure, like, things government spends money on.  The same government that isn't supposed to create jobs.  This guy WANTS Obama's new jobs bill to pass.  It increases investment in infrastructure, for companies like OMJC to grow and hire people, and yet, it is her party that is standing tall and proud in the way of companies like OMJC to grow.

By the way, OMJC stands for Our Majesty Jesus Christ. 

Another prime example.  There is a bridge that connects Cincinnati with Covington, Kentucky. The bridge has been declared deficient and obsolete.  The bridge connects the state of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to the state of House Speaker John Boehner.  Both are rather infamous in their lack of interest in infrastructure spending, because, you know, government doesn't create jobs.  Only the private sector can create jobs.

It is so incredibly simple to point out the complete idiocy of the Republican position on these policies as to not even be funny anymore.  There are only two explanations. One, the Republicans have their heads so far up their ass, they can only see their own radical ideology.  Two, they intentionally are trying to sabotage the economy in the hopes of electing their candidate.  Personally, my money is on both.

American Electorate Needs to Get Smarter

A few days ago, I posted a link to this article about the fact it was three years ago to that day, when Lehman Brothers collapsed and set off the Great Recession.  The point being made was that Lehman Brothers and other major investment banks thrived on high risk investments and derivatives with little or no regulatory oversight.  Here we are three years later and all the Republicans want to talk about is the fact that we have to much regulation and that is inhibiting growth, especially with respect to the financial sector.  Lesson.  Not.  Learned.  Steve Benen went on to comment, "Republicans are awfully lucky most Americans don’t follow politics closely. If the public was better informed, I suspect GOP candidates would struggle to win any races at all."

This FB post spurred a couple of comments, the first being about how if we did have a smarter electorate, we wouldn't need political parties and people could run on their own merit.  And, second, we should disband the electoral college.

Certainly some interesting discussion points and they actually tie together.  So, another civics lesson.  One of the reasons why the Electoral College exists in the first place is that the founding fathers knew, quite simply, that most people were really not smart enough to vote directly for the President of the United States.  This is not to say our ancestors were stupid.  No.  Back then, we didn't have 24-hour news cycles and cable TV.  Newspapers were rare and most news was disseminated by a town crier.  The population as a whole was simply not informed well enough to make decisions on such important matters.  Hence, the Electoral College.  The idea simply being that the people should vote for someone they know locally, who they would trust to make the right decision as to which candidate for President they should vote for.  The Electoral College would then meet and cast their votes.  Back then, I think the runner-up became the Vice President, regardless of ideological affiliation.  I may be wrong on that.  Also, at some point, it became a matter of voting for the group of Electors who were committed to a certain candidate and their hand chosen running mate.  This certainly deviated from the intent of the founding fathers.  Also, at some point, it became a winner take all approach for most of the states.  Regardless of the percentage vote, the candidate who "won" would be able to send all of their Electors to the Electoral College.  Only a few states split their electoral votes.  Nebraska being one of them (They went 3 for McCain, and 1 for Obama I believe).  In the news more recently is the fact that Pennsylvania is thinking of abandoning the all for one approach and adopting the split Electoral process used by Nebraska. 

Also, I know of a couple of times where an Elector elected for one candidate did change their vote at the Electoral College.  These vote changes never had an effect on the outcome of an election however.

As for the party system, I think they are inevitable.  Having watched a number of governments with multiple parties try and and govern through coalitions seems somewhat crazy.  But then, the Republican Party has gone crazy with the Tea Party within a party.  I'm just not sure in this day and age if an independent candidate could pull off a national election without a major support base.  If a candidate were to be able to pull that off, I would have major concerns about special interests, like, say, the Koch brothers, being able to fund a candidate with now restrictions on amount they could give....Oh, wait...

As for that, getting smarter thing, I don't have any answers except that we need to do a better job of educating our kids about how government works, and how to think critically about things, and how to ask questions, and how to check facts, etc.  Most of the BS coming from the Republican candidates can't pass a basic sniff test, yet millions of sheep follow along.  The less informed the electorate, the better of Republicans will be, because that is when propaganda, when done correctly, can swing entire nations into doing some very despicable things.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Who Has the Guts?

The Republican Presidential hopefuls are giving the Democrats a gift wrapped in a pretty bow.  They are a bunch of idiotic, anti-education, economy sabotaging, homophobic, hostage taking godbots.  They are all the same, vying for the same extreme right-wing vote to get the nomination.  There is not a single sane, credible idea in the lot.

Along with the Presidential election, the whole House of Representatives is up for re-election.  See above description.

And, in the Senate, many long term Republicans have watched in fear and loathing as their party has taken a sharp turn to the right, yet they have said nothing about the guanophrenic approach taken by the House leadership.  They seem to be along for the ride.

You would think a reasonable, intelligent Democrat could squash these Republicans like a little bug.  Unfortunately, there don't seem to be many of them willing to have the guts to stand up and call these idiotic legislators out for their insane behavior. 

The only elected official that has really come out and called the Republican tactics has been Bernie Sanders, an Independent.

I sure hope the Democrats find their voice soon, because they have let the Republicans define the playing field.  I can only hope Obama is saving it up for the campaign once the Republican nominee has been determined.

Texas is Burning

Several months ago, Texas was experiencing a severe drought and some really nasty wildfires.  Since Governor Rick Perry had no idea what to do, he decided to pray, and issued a day of prayer for rain.  God's answer was apparently no.  Here we are, watching headlines of horrendous wildfires, an even more severe drought, and hundreds of homes destroyed.  Very sad. 

This is not to say that Rick Perry could have done anything different.  Not praying would have ended up with the same result, but at least he wouldn't look like an ass. 

It will rain again, and probably soon.  This is an inevitability.  And when it does, I'm sure he will claim victory for his prayer, because, whenever you pray for something that is inevitable, your prayer is always answered.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Nook Book

As I had mentioned in an earlier post, I have been doing more reading lately.  This is a good thing.  I also decided that it was time to consider my reading options, such as going electronic or not.  I looked at the two options (Kindle and Nook) and decided on the simple non-color Nook.  I decided I didn't need the fancy bells and whistles.  I didn't need to check email and the internet from it.  I didn't need social networking access with it.  I just wanted something small and simple that I can use to read.  The Nook fit that need very well. 

One of the reasons I went with an e-reader was because I am finding myself reading several books at once, depending on my mood.  A book on historical spy fiction, a book on atheism/skepticism, a book on science, a book on probability and chaos theory.  You know, the standard light reading...for insomniacs.  Anyway, I'm not always sure what my mood is and I find myself putting a book down after 4 or 5 pages and moving to something else.  Carrying around all those books for travel is not convenient.  Neither is getting out of bed after getting all settled to find the right book.

As a bonus, you can get a lot of free books.  In the case of the Nook, a lot of "classics."  You know, the books we were all supposed to read in school?  Admittedly, I have not read may of them, and I wasn't particularly in the mood to buy them or even to check them out at the library.  I've downloaded about 15 of these classics so far.  So, when the mood strikes me to read a classic, I have it handy.  I'm sure I will find a few "keepers" in my reading and as a result, I will probably still buy the hardback for the bookshelf.

Fitness Program: P90X Review

I started the P90X program back on July 4th.  I am now in week 10 of 13 and I have to say that I am quite pleased with the results so far.

When I stated looking for a fitness program for myself, I really had two things in mind.  Lose some weight and improve my overall level of fitness.  I knew the losing weight part was going to involve by diet and exercise.

Now, when I use diet in that context, I was not thinking about diet as in some sort of fad thing where you starve yourself.  No.  I was looking for a balanced nutrition plan.  Not being a dietician or a nutritionist (I'm not sure what the difference is), I knew enough to know that the diet fads were not the way to go.  While cutting calories will accomplish short term weight loss goals, these fads are simply not sustainable.  I don't think any of them can truly become a lifestyle change on their own.  When you cut calories, your body goes to its fat reserves to find the extra calories that it needs just to function.  The problem is that you are neglecting your body's need for X calories a day, so when your body does receive calories, the first thing it wants to do is store it as fat so it can keep it in reserve.  That is exactly the opposite of what you want to do.  With the P90X plan, you actually increase your calorie intake.  Why?  First of all, your body simply needs X calories per day just to function.  This is the couch potato caloric intake.  On top of that, you need calories to get you through other activities throughout the day, including exercise.  The idea here is that you need to convince your body that it will get all the calories it needs, so it doesn't go into fat storage mode (and give you enough energy to complete the workout) while convincing your body to dip into those fat reserves to fuel the calorie deficit of the workouts.  The P90X nutrition plan does just that.  I actually increased the amount of food I ate and the weight just melted off in the first month.  There were some meals where I looked at my plate and just thought there was no way I was going to eat all of that food!  That is the kind of diet/nutrition plan I like.  Bottom Line?  You need to eat to lose weight.  You just have to eat the right things.

I was a pretty decent athlete in high school, so I knew what it was like to be in great shape.  I also understood the amount of work and effort involved.  A 10 minute a day routine just doesn't cut it.  Neither does walking around the block every morning.  I wanted something that was going to work all parts of my body.  Also, I wanted something I could do at home that was instructor led.  In other words, a list of workouts on page 36 wasn't going to cut it for me.  I knew that I needed something that I had to keep up with, probably video.  I was prepared to have to do some cardio on my own.  Maybe a bike ride, perhaps a jog around the block. What I didn't want was a jazzercise,. hip-hop dance, or Taebo like video where I just do the same thing every day or every other day.  What I found with P90X was that it mixes a lot of traditional workouts with a nice mix of cardio and a few other pleasant surprises.  The very first workout was push-ups and pull-ups.  Basic, simple, this ain't no Taebo workout.  About half the videos are just good ol' hardcore gym type stuff.  Pick up a set of dumbbells and start pumping!  Chest, back, shoulders, triceps, and biceps.  There is also a legs workout with squats and lunges.  There is plyometrics where you get your feet off the floor and do some jumping around.  There is Yoga, yes Yoga.  A kickboxing video (Kenpo), a cardio video, and an all-around core muscle workout.  There is also an abs workout as well.  A real good variety of workouts that change everyday and keep things interesting.  Finally, the thing that made me buy this fitness program was the last workout.  Stretching.  A whole video dedicated to just doing stretching.  I had contemplated started my new "get fit" plan by doing some stretches on my own and just trying to improve flexibility and tightness so that I wouldn't get killed when I started a program.  Well, this program has it built in.

Overall, I am very happy with this choice and when my first 90 days is over, I plan to do the whole thing again after a few weeks off, and by off, I mean I will probably do the "rest" week routines.  All I know is that I feel a whole lot better and I can't wait to get home from work and do that day's workout.  That should tell you everything you need to know right there. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Changes are Coming Revisited

A couple of months ago I had a post about how some things were going to change.  I had stated four things that I was planning to do.
  1. Do something on the house projects every day.
  2. Practice my guitar.
  3. Blog.
  4. Get fit.
So, how am I doing?  As far as house projects go, I have not been doing something everyday, but I have accomplished some painting outside and I have done a few minor projects inside.  Not stellar, but not bad either.  As for practicing guitar.  Not so good.  I underestimated the time commitment related to #1 and #4.  Also, I just haven't had the motivation for it in recent months.  It is something I definitely want to work on, but the motivating factor just hasn't hit me yet.  Blogging?  Well, just check the archives for July and August.  I started out OK, but the wheels came off.  I'm trying to put the wheels back on.  The one thing that has picked up recently, unintentionally, is reading.  I am doing more reading that I have in quite some time.  I think that is a good thing.  Now, I just have to find a balance for guitar, reading, and blogging.

As for #4, well, I give myself an A+ here.  I did some research into some fitness programs back in May and June and found something that looked interesting.  I am currently starting week 10 of 13 of P90X.  Now, I'm not giving myself an A+ here because I'm all buff and ripped now.  No, far from it.  But I have lost a non-trivial amount of weight, added some muscle here and there, and I have greatly improved my eating habits.  Basically, I am very happy with the results thus far and I am looking forward to doing it all again.  The individual workout videos are anywhere from 50 to 90 minutes.  While this may seem like a lot, the fact that I don't have to drive to a gym and deal with all that stuff is easily worth 45 minutes alone.  Also, the fact that I am now cooking a lot more is taking up more time than I had anticipated.  The goal was to get fit.  I feel that I have already accomplished that goal, and I haven't even finished the program.

Where the Hell Have I Been?

That's a good question.  I've been right here.  Here meaning home and work.  Just doing my usual thing.  Except for posting blog entries.

Strangely, while I've been quiet on the blog front, a lot has happened in the real world.  Yet nothing has changed.

Our economy continues to limp along at a blistering slow pace.  Our President is letting the Republicans set the agenda with respect to public discourse, and not in a good way.  The Republican Presidential nominees are every bit as bat shit crazy as they were a month ago.  The Republican Party is the still the party of economic sabotage, anti-science, anti-education, anti-employment, and anti-sanity.

Oh, and a frighteningly large number of people still believe that a magical sky fairy exists to solve their life's problems.

It's almost like I never left.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What Extremist Means Today

"The greatest threat to democracy is the silence of thoughtful citizens in the face of extremists who will stop at nothing to get their way." ~ Robert Reich

If you heard that said two years ago, you would have thought 'extremist' meant radical Islamist. Today, it means Tea Party Republican.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Book Review: Breaking the Spell

Several years ago, I read both The God Delusion, and God is Not Great, by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens respectively.  At the time, I did not know that those two authors, because those books, were regarded as part of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, otherwise known as the New Atheists (or Gnu Atheists, because it is different).  The other two Horsemen are Sam Harris for The End of Failth, and Dan Dennett for Breaking the Spell.

Breaking the Spell is subtitled, "Religion as Natural Phenomenon."  Basically, Dennett argues that religion is nothing more than a byproduct of the growth of human beings.  Religion is really nothing more than a byproduct of cultural evolution rather than a supernatural force.  The Breaking the Spell comes from the fact that, until recently, talking about how religion is false is taboo and that, out of respect for religion, we should not burst the faithful's bubble, or, break their spell.

Dennett is a philosopher, and I did find comprehension of many parts of the book to be tough going, but, if you take the time to really comprehend what you are reading, the arguments are clear and concise.  He takes you through a journey of psychological, anthropological, and cultural research on what is religion, how it came to be, and how it continues to hold value for some many.

One of the many fascinating discussions in the book as to do with belief in God versus belief in the belief in God and how those differ and how important they are to hold of religion on so many.

If you are interested in understanding theories of how religion came to be and how it continues its grasp on billions of people, then you will want to read this book.  Dennett is not afraid of asking questions that will make most people of faith quite squeamish to hear the answer to.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Did I Do That?

A few days ago, Cheesehead posted a blog about haboobs.  In it, she mentioned a letter to the editor of the Arizona Republic and his offense of the word haboob.  Then yesterday, there was an article in the NY Times about the same letter.  I was also perusing Keith Olbermann's Worst Person in the World video from Current TV and thought, "Hey, this guy is a candidate for worst person."  So, I sent an email to Countdown with a link to the article.  Guess who the the Bronze Medal recipient was for Worst Person?  Yep.  I'd like to think I influenced that segment, but it could very well have been coincidence as well.  At any rate, a deserving recipient.

Friday, July 22, 2011

I've Run Out of Names

I don't know what to call the Republican Party anymore.  Crazy.  Idiotic.  Batshit insane.  I just can't fathom the fact that about 85 or so freshman legislators in the House of Representatives are holding not only the US economy hostage, but perhaps the World economy as well.  Not to mention the rock solid foundation that has always been the United States Treasury.  For what reason?  None.  Really.  There is absolutely no reason to carry this gambit any further.  I really hope it is a bluff, but these ideologues are dangerous, and may very well succeed in what the 9/11 terrorist attacks couldn't.  Completely destabilize the country and bring about economic chaos.

If anything, in a time of high unemployment and a sputtering economy, more spending is what is needed, strategic tax breaks are needed, and I'm not talking about lowering income rates, I'm talking about payroll tax holidays.  Short term things to put money into peoples pockets so they can spend.  Instead, the Republicans want to take money out of the economy and cause a default and economic crisis.  All for money that they already appropriated.  It is absolutely crazy, and anybody who agrees with it is mis-informed. 

Boner, yes, I'm going there, because his stewardship of the House of Representatives can be called nothing less.  Boner walked out on the debt negotiations, and an angry President Obama held a press conference not 30 minutes later and threw not only Boner's ass under the bus, but the entire Republican majority of the House of Representatives.  Finally!  You could tell Obama was hot and he was kicking ass.  Unfortunately, the Republican caucus has been completely blind to the polls where a strong majority of the country is placing the blame squarely on them.  Wall Street and business leaders, usually parked in the middle of the Republican camp, went to the House to talk to these people.  Wealthy Republicans have said they are willing to pay a bit more.  But these yahoos are determined to steer us to economic chaos.

Even channeling Ronald Reagan and the threat of default has done little to sway these idiot's minds.  Boner has lost his job.  He is in a lose-lose situation.  He may as well go out in a blaze of glory and do the right thing.  Twist the arm of his caucus until they break to raise the debt ceiling in a clean bill.  No strings attached.  I don't have high hopes.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Debt Ceiling, Balanced Budget Amendment, and Ronald Reagan's Ass

It is frightfully obvious to me, based on some of the recent comments in social media circles, that many people do not understand what the Debt Ceiling (or Limit) really is.  The Constitution grants power to Congress to appropriate funds to run the country.  The political process by which this is done has become very convoluted over the years, but basically, appropriations bills passed by Congress are basically telling the Executive Branch to spend the money.  If the money is not readily available, then the US Government sells bonds to raise the money.  After a certain amount of time, the US Government must pay back that money.  In this case, we have been borrowing a heckuva lot of money and the bills are coming due on a daily basis.  The Debt Ceiling basically restricts how much we can pay back to those we have already borrowed money from.  It has NOTHING to do with future spending.  This is simply paying back the money that the government has already agreed to spend.  It's like you borrowing money to buy a car.  Once you have committed to buying the car, you are obligated to pay the money back according to the terms of your loan. Failure to do so results in a default.  In the case of a car, it will get repo'd (and then you can appear on a game show).  In the case of a government, you default, and you leave a lot of people very angry for not paying your bills and less likely to loan money to you in the future when you will really need it.

So, to recap, the debt ceiling is about meeting our obligations for money we have already spent as a nation and has nothing to do with future spending.  These should be two separate arguments, but Republicans decided to be asses about it this time around because Obama is President.  They didn't give a shit about raising it again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, when Bush was President and he ran two wars "off" budget.  The Treasury still had to borrow the money however.

There are those who argue that the debt ceiling should be abolished all together.   Why?  Because Congress has already approved the spending of that money, why should they have to approve spending that money again?  Second, it is very likely unconstitutional.  The Fourteenth Amendment states,
Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
Former President Bill Clinton has states that he thinks Obama should stop playing games with the Republicans and simply order the Treasury to continue to pay the bills as directed by the Fourteenth Amendment in which the public debt shall not be questioned

Ronald Reagan.  Yes, Ronald fucking Reagan, begged for Congress to increase the debt limit when he was President citing unknown dire consequences if they did not.  This is the same Ronald fucking Reagan that Republicans worship and would ass kiss 'til the cows come home.  Even the homophobic ones!  (That's pretty much all of them, right?)

Also, in the case of current economy, the United States should be spending MORE money on a job stimulus.  What happens when you put people back to work?  Well, you pay less unemployment compensation and you bring in more revenue for payroll taxes and income taxes.  Duh.

The Republicans are also making a big deal of the Balanced Budget Amendment, which is another asinine idea of theirs.  Yes, it is populist.  Why should the government not live within its means like we all do?  But we don't.  How much do you own on  your house, your car, student loans?  Do you have the case on hand to pay for that today?  No, you don't.  Therefore,  you are in violation of your own Balanced Budget Amendment.  Our economy functions on credit and debt.  Large capital purchases are not possible without this.  Also, if the Government is forced into a BBA, then what do we do when a natural disaster hits, like Katrina, or the Big One is California?  What if we have to fight another war?  What if we have to stimulate the economy as a result of the next recession?  Then what?  Restricting the ability of the US Government to borrow money above and beyond its budget is absolutely critical to national survival, stability, and security.  To pass a BBA, no matter how populist, would be an incredibly stupid thing to do.  But then, we are talking about the Republicans here, so who the fuck knows that idiotic shit them come up with next.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Thoughts on TAM9 - Advancing Skepticism Online

I attended my first TAM this year, and I have to say it was a blast.  I will plan to do several posts on it over the course of this week.  Day 1 is mostly optional workshops on a whole array of subjects such as Defending Evolution in the Classroom (mostly NCSE panelists), Problems in Paranormal Investigations, Skepticism in the Classroom, and Advancing Skepticism Online.  The workshops were an additional fee and based on my flight schedule and my blog, I signed up for the latter.  The panel consisted of Brian Dunning who does the Skeptoid podcast.  Tim Farley who blogs on technical matters at Skeptical Software Tools.   Robynn "Swoopy"  McCarthy & Dered Colanduno of the Skepticality podcast.  Cristina Rad of OMGZitsCriss YouTube Channel, and Maria Myrback, who is the JREF Blog coordinator.

In all fairness, I have been up to my eyeballs in the more science driven blogs and atheist blogs and have not really paid a lot of attention to the skeptic blogosphere, so the only one on the panel I had heard about was Cristina, and only because there was a donation drive to fly her in from Romania.  Good thing to, because she was probably the most authentic and sincere one in the bunch.

Dunning turned me off right away.  He basically whined about how much work a podcast is, how he has less time with the family, and if he had it to do over, he might not do it.  he also blatantly said not to start a blog.  Wonderfully supportive!  He was also adamant that you should be on a regular schedule.  Jen McCreight had a good tweet in response to that,
A slightly unpredictable schedule keeps people interested, because they're waiting for something to show up. Basic learning theory.
Dunning also said that it shouldn't be hobby or something to that effect.  I'm not sure because I already tuned him out.  I won't be checking out Skeptoid anytime soon.

Swoopy made a comment that if you want your blog to be really popular, you should strive for G-rated, or maybe just PG rated.  Hearing that, and noting that PZ Myers was in the audience, I couldn't help but wonder what his opinion on that comment was.  I tweeted something in response to Jen about what PZ would think of that.  Sure enough, no more than 5 seconds after hitting send, PZ stood up, made a comment about something else, then said, "As for the G-rated thing.  Fuck that!"  Nice!  PZ only has one of the most popular blogs around.  You don't need to be clean to be popular.  I think Cristina nailed it though when said that it was important to just be authentic and also that your goal should not be to become popular.  It certainly wasn't hers.  Your passion and authenticity will attract viewers and readers, and from that, you will gain popularity.  Swoopy echoed that sentiment as well.  Well said!  I relayed this part to Cheesehead who felt the need to blog about her blogging experience and she is absolutely right with respect to authenticity and self-censorship when you feel it is necessary, but ultimately, that is the writer's choice.

This is not to say that NO blogs or podcasts should be G-rated.  If that is your style, great.  Also, there were some teachers in the room and they said they use those podcasts sometimes in lessons.  That is great!  The point is, don't try to be someone who you are not.

There was some Q&A.  What can we do online besides blogging, podcasting etc.?  Another swing and a miss here.  They said commenting was good on stories that may lack a skeptical viewpoint, but the panel was convinced that it the author won't change the article or update it.  I don't think that is true.  From my experience, the comment section on most newspaper sites is a heaping pile of shitheads (no G-rating) who sit around all day and just wait to call people names.  However, this does not mean that you can't respond to the journalist directly and provide them a skeptical viewpoint and avoid the mosh pit of the comments.  This was never said and it should have been.  Also, from a later panel, if you comment to the same journalist many times in this manner, they may just contact you back for a skeptical viewpoint before the publish an article.  You can also write editorials to the paper with the skeptical view.  If you belong to a skeptical organization, get your organization's name in front of those journalists and be the go to voice for them with an opposing viewpoint.

The rest of the panel was basically a disappointment to me.  Yes, having some dissension on the panel is a good thing, but they really didn't argue it on the panel, they just let the contradictions hang in the room.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Robert Reich

Robert Reich is the former Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton.  I'm not really sure why he didn't have a larger role in his Administration.  Also, why this man is not a top economic adviser to Obama, I have no idea.  Do yourself a favor and go to his website, http://robertreich.org/, and check out the videos and what he has written.  It is common sense stuff that is critical of both Republicans and Obama.  And, he has a vision for what we need to do for the future.  I'm definitely going to subscribe to his RSS feed from his website, twitter, and look at reading some of his books.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Following Republican Logic is Hazardous to Your Health

You can take your pick on who said what.  Between Boehner, McConnell, and Cantor, it all adds up to crazy shit.  The GOP is against a $4 trillion spending cut plan because they are concerned about the paltry revenue increases.  Try and follow the logic here.  They claim that it is not acceptable to consider tax increases because it is taking money out of the economy and putting it into the treasury.  OK.  With me so far.  But, they are perfectly OK with a $2.5 trillion spending cut because, well, that takes money out of the economy and puts it into the treasury.  Did you blink?

Let's review again.  They don't want to increase taxes because that takes money out of the economy.  Instead, they would rather cut spending in a Draconian way instead, because that takes money out of the economy.

Also, when they talk about the tax increases for the wealthy, the refer to them as the job providers.  Um, no, that is called trickle down economics and I think we can all agree that was a failure.  But, hey, let's try the same thing again, because it just may work.  Instead, they want to cut taxes.  Well, guess what, we extended the Bush tax cuts about 7 months ago.  Did it help?  Nope.  It didn't help in 2001 or in any of the years leading up to the renewal.  Do you know what those "job providers" do with the money they save on their taxes?  Yep, they invest it in Wall Street, so they can make even more money for themselves and the suits on Wall Street.  Then guess what happens, they want to cut the capital gains taxes so they can save even more of their saved money from taxes.

Our national problem is jobs, not the deficit.  We have record low interest rates and no one right now has any issue letting the US borrow money from them, at least until the GOP fucks it up by holding the debt limit hostage.  We need jobs, which means we need government spending.  Not cutting.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Feds Say No to Medical Marijuana

I have many things to be disappointed about with the Obama Administration.  Here is another example that ties into the whole "War on Drugs" and its miserable failure over the last 25 years (another Republican idea that stinks).
The federal government officially declared that marijuana has no accepted medical use and should remain classified as a dangerous and addictive drug. It will remain in the same class of drugs as heroin.
You can read all the details and history of the effort to reclassify marijuana as a lesser drug that heroin.  This effort even pre-dates the "War on Drugs."  It is also a prime example of how slowly the Federal Government works.

What does this mean?  Most likely a Constitutional challenge on States' Rights I would assume.  As more and more states are legalizing medical marijuana, and at least one state, Connecticut, actually reclassifying marijuana possession as a misdemeanor, the Feds are basically saying they don't care and will still go after the growers of medical marijuana.  If a state legalizes medical marijuana, does the Federal Government have the right to ignore that and raid them.  Or, are the states in violation of the Federal Controlled Substance legislation and in violation by their passing of such laws.

With the states facing major budget issues and prisons all over the United States dealing with overcrowding, there is quite a bit of financial justification for ignoring the marijuana issue.  I can't find the post now, but it is said that U.S. Law Enforcement spends almost 4 billion dollars a year in marijuana enforcement.  I can think of better places for 4 billion dollars to be spent, such as schools.  That number doesn't include the cost to incarcerate either.  Imagine how much could be saved by letting the petty marijuana people go?  Again, put that money into the schools instead.

Obama campaigned to do something different about the marijuana issue, treating it has a health issue and not a criminal issue.  You can read Ed Brayton's blog post on this from 2009 where Attorney General Eric Holder pledged to end medical marijuana raids.  Then this more recent post from a couple of days ago where the DOJ has done a complete 180.

Insanity is often described as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  The "War on Drugs," especially has it pertains to marijuana, has been a complete and dismal failure.  So, the natural reaction is to keep doing what we are doing in hopes it will somehow lead to a different result.

Update [7/11/2011]  So, the Feds say no acceptable medical use.  What does the science say?  Here is a Scientific American article that tries to address this question.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Tighten Those Wingnuts

Just when you thought those wingnuts Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum couldn't get their wingnuttery screwed on any tighter, they double down with split ring washers and flatten them with pneumatic tools.
It’s called “The Marriage Vow: A Declaration of Dependence Upon Marriage and Family,” and Vander Plaats announced that candidates who refuse to sign the pledge won’t even be considered for an endorsement. Given Vander Plaats’ sway among right-wing activists in Iowa — his group, The Family Leader, is a conservative power in the state — this will no doubt get GOP candidates’ attention.
So, what is in this lovely pledge that Vander Plaats is asking GOP candidates to sign?  Well, you can read it for yourself.

Basically, it asks the candidates to be faithful to their spouse (Sorry Gingrich).  It implies that a child born into slavery was "more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA‟s first African-American President."  Be completely and totally anti-gay and anti-porn.  And, asks them to be against "Sharia Islam."

The anti-Sharia movement has been very interesting to watch amongst the Religious Right.  They are basically claiming that Sharia law has crept in and is taking over our legal system.  What is ironic about this is that Sharia law is not very different than what some of these crazy evangelicals want to impose as part of their vision of an American Theocracy.  I mean, Sharia is a serious threat isn't it?  Hardly.  Less than 2% of the entire US Population consider themselves Muslim.  Many of them are very moderate in their views.  The thought that such a minority voting block could somehow manage to take over the US Legal System when the Religious Right has been trying to do that for decades (with some success) is asinine, but such is the fear and hate mongering of the Ring Wing Christians.

Sharia is also anti-gay and anti-porn, so there seems to be a bit of a conflict of interest there.

The always insightful Steve Benen has his take on this at is blog Political Animal.

Update [7/11/2011]  The Family Leader group that published the vow and retracted the slavery came with the following comment:
“After careful deliberation and wise insight and input from valued colleagues we deeply respect, we agree that the statement referencing children born into slavery can be misconstrued,” said Julie Summa, a spokeswoman for the Family Leader. “We sincerely apologize for any negative feelings this has caused, and have removed the language from the vow.”
So, it's not really an apology.  They were just concerned that others would "misconstrue" what they were saying.  Utter bullshit if you ask me.  Besides, that doesn't change the fact that Bachmann and Santorum still signed it with the original language.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Republican Sabotage of the Economy

Ever since Obama took office, major Republicans said quite openly and aggressively that they hoped Obama would fail.  From that day forward, they have been the most obstructionist group of politicians in many years.  Now that they have gotten control of the House, they are successfully implementing their plan of complete and utter economic failure.  Republicans keep asking where the jobs are, but they utterly fail to understand that jobs requires economic growth, which usually requires government stimulus.  The Republican theory is that companies won't hire because they are concerned about our debt.  So, what do they do, they hijack the debt ceiling as if that is something that controls our debt.  It doesn't.  The debt ceiling allows us to pay back our existing debt.  This is money that the government has already spent and is not tied to future spending.  By leaving elements of our economy doubting whether or not the US will meet its financial obligations is preventing job growth.  So, the Republicans have successfully managed to manufacture the necessary fear to make it appear Obama is failing, when it reality, history has shown that increase in spending to generate economic growth will do far more to reduce the future deficit by increasing revenue.

Steve Benen has a great blog post this morning on just this thing and has been advocating the position that the Republicans have no interest in seeing the economy improve prior to next year's election.

There other maddening thing the Republicans are doing is their insistence on no revenue increases.  Here is a chart that shows Reagan, of all people, proposed a deal that was 75% revenue increases.  Recent history does show that tax increases has actually spurred economic growth and that tax cuts, especially the Bush tax cut from 2001 does not provide the magic fairy dust trickle down economics that they think it does.

The Republicans are fucking with us in the worst possible way.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cancer Awareness Facebook Memes

9 inches :(
7 inches :(
6.5 inches :(

Come on.  Any girl would be happy with that!  Right!  Or,

I like it on table.
I like it on the kitchen counter.

Kinky girls.  Kinky.

What is all this nonsense?  Well, it is a Facebook meme for raising cancer awareness amongst the women while leaving the men confused and befuddled.

Question 1.  How long is your foot in inches?
Question 2.  Where do you like to put your purse?

Both of these started circulating on FB sometime in October of last year.

A similar meme was what color is your bra?

I'm certainly a big fan of cancer awareness, but it seems rather silly to me to raise cancer awareness while simultaneously keeping men in the dark.  Wouldn't us guys...Shouldn't us guys also be aware?

While it certainly may generate some fun and a few snickers here and there, I really don't understand the point of leaving the men in the dark on such an issue.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

So Help Me God

Religion has a sneaky way of penetrating even the most patriotic of ceremonies.  Every year, a large group of new citizens take an "Oath of Citizenship" or something to that affect.  For many years, this ceremony takes place on the 4th of July at Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson.  This oath, as written, ends with the words "so help me God."  Think about that.  Every new citizen of the United States is expected to say "so help me God."  Fortunately, a provision is provided in the rules of the oath that the "so help me God" part can be simply omitted by anyone who simply has to state that they object to it for whatever reason.  Phew.  After all, the Constitution of the United States, explicitly states that there shall be no religious test for elected office, it follows that there should be no religious test for citizenship as well.

However, even today, there are still laws in some states that explicitly forbid an atheist from holding public office.  Fortunately, in some states, this law is simply ignored.  In a few cases where it has been challenged, it has been ruled unconstitutional.

Then you get people like Texas Gov. Rick Perry who is holding a prayer vigil and a day of fasting and has invited all the Governors to join him. 
This is Governor Rick Perry and I'm inviting you to join your fellow Americans for a day of prayer and fasting on behalf of our nation. As an elected leader, I am all too aware of government's limitations when it comes to fixing things that are spiritual in nature. That's where prayer comes in, and we need it more than ever. With the economy in trouble, communities in crisis and people adrift in a sea of moral relativism, we need God's help. That's why I'm calling on Americans to pray and fast like Jesus did and as God called the Israelite to do in the Book of Joel. I sincerely hope you will join me in Houston on August the sixth and take your place in Reliant Stadium with praying people asking God's forgiveness, his wisdom and provision for our state and nation. To learn more, visit TheResponseUSA.com then makes plans to be part of something even bigger than Texas.
When Perry has been approached by the media to discuss this and the obvious conflicts involving church/state separation, Perry has declined to discuss it.  Here is what a spokesperson said on the Governor's behalf.
"He never talks about his faith," Perry spokesman Mark Miner said.
Yeah, right.  Only every other word out of his mouth.  Do you really want a political leader that is going to rely on prayer for answers to our nation's most difficult problems.  Has God ever created a job, or balanced budget?  Remember, Perry also called for prayer to put out the fires in his state back in March.  Never mind all the men and women who were working tirelessly to fight those fires.  Why even bother if God will provide.

Then you have people like Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Rick Santorum.  All three of which were called to run for POTUS because God spoke to them.  Sounds like God is a three-timing whore if you ask me.

Then you have the Mayor of Harrisburg, PA, Linda Thompson, organized a "prayer and fasting" program because, "Things that are above and beyond my control; I need God."  I bet the people of Harrisburg and feeling really good about that right about now.

Guess what?  God didn't call you to run for office, God won't fix your budget, and God won't decrease the unemployment rate.  That takes hard work and tough choices by those who we have elected to make those choices.  Leave your prayers and wishful thinking for church where it won't do you any good there either.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Atheism, Feminism, and a Blogosphere Apocolyptic Shit Storm

Have you ever posted something on Facebook that was pretty mundane and mildly uninteresting, only to have it blow up with dozens of comments in a matter of minutes?  Well, something like that happened in the atheist blogosphere over the last couple of weeks.  I am not going to link to all of the posts because there are probably about a dozen of them, along with blog comments that are relevant.  I'll try and hit the highlights.

Rebecca Watson, a blogger at Skepchick, often gives talks at various skeptic/atheist conferences on feminism and sexism, especially as it related to the atheist movement.  Rebecca was giving a talk on such issues at a conference in Dublin, then hung out with a bunch of people having beers and socializing when she decided to head back to her hotel room.  It is 4 a.m.  A guy gets into the elevator with her and asks her back to his room for coffee, she politely (and probably quite tiredly) said no.  She posted a video blog in which she mentioned this encounter and that it made her feel very uncomfortable, especially after just having given a talk about sexism that evening.  Her only comment here was to tell us guys, "Hey, don't do stuff like that."  Which I think is very justified.

Next, another female blogger (Stef) posted that she disagreed with this approach for various reasons.  This too is OK. 

Next, Rebecca called out Stef at her keynote address a day or two later.  I don't have all the details, but Rebecca got a ton of criticism for using her "privlege" and "position" as the speaker to call her out.  There are two schools of thought on this.  First, when giving examples of things you disagree with, you should be very specific as to who said what.  This stems from past history where atheist-friendly bloggers and made general accusations about other atheists, but when pressed for details and specific, could offer none.  PZ Myers stated this quite clearly in Rebecca's defense.  Others, such as Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist, and a public school math teacher by day, said that this is probably not the best approach if you want to encourage people to continue to speak up.  Emphasize what was right about the response and lead them to identify what was wrong with the response.  Fair enough.  In this case, both women are adults and have a public forum to express their views, so I'm not sure the classroom approach works well here or not.  This was but one side story on the whole "ElevatorGate" issue.

Next, Richard Dawkins (yes, that Richard Dawkins) made some comments on PZ's blog that basically told Rebecca to cool her jets and since the guy didn't do anything, she was overreacting, besides, he said, there are women in Muslim countries that have it far worse than Rebecca.  These comments have caused a major shit storm.  PZ verified that it was indeed the real Richard Dawkins.  Here is a case where being a subject matter expert (SME) in on area of atheism/skepticism does not make you an expert in all things related to atheism.  Dawkins, quite simply, doesn't get how a women could feel uncomfortable in that situation, especially since nothing happened.  His attempts to clarify have only gotten him in more hot water.  Dawkins is a SME on evolution and can debate just about anyone on matters of religion.  He is also a champion for equality and women's rights as they pertain to religious persecution.  But, he is not an expert on feminism and sexism and he just doesn't get it.  I hope he does.

There have been other posts by other prominent bloggers weighing in as well.  There certainly appears to have some hurt feelings and a few friendships strained. 

Next week, I will be attending The Amazing Meeting 9 in Las Vegas.  All of the major players in this brouhaha will be there.  I strongly suspect that one of them will get them all together to hash this whole thing out.  After all, that is what reasonable people do and atheists/skeptics sort of pride themselves on being reasonable.

So, two take aways from this.  Guys, think about the position you put women in under these circumstances.   You may know you are no threat, but she doesn't.  Be aware of the context.  Hey, if you've been flirting with her all night and you head off to the elevator together, then the question is not out of line or out of place, just be prepared to hear no.  Also, ask before you are in the elevator so she has an "out" if she isn't comfortable.  Another example is when walking along a street at night and you see a women approaching and she is alone, cross the street.  Take away any sense of distress she may have.  She will likely thank you for it even if you never hear it.

Second, know that not every one of the prominent atheists out there are experts in everything.  PZ is an expert in evolutionary biology, but knows not to speak a whole lot about astrophysics and the Big Bang.  Rebecca is a SME on sexism and feminism, but probably can't speak to much about evolution.  Same with people like Dawkins, or Hitchens, etc.  Some of them know they aren't experts and do well to avoid questions our of their area of expertise.  Others think they know more than they do and insert their foot in their mouths.

Finally, I will offer a couple of links to some good "summary" blogs.  Even if you do not consider  yourself an atheist or skeptic, there are lessons to be learned from these posts.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Pledge of Allegiance Facebook Status

I have seen this status posted by several friends today.  They run in different social circles and are not friends with each other.  I've also seen this posted numerous times over the last several months.  I can no longer not comment on it.  Here is the post.


First, there is no need to shout.

Second, the comment that "they no longer do this" is a blatant, flat out lie.  43 states currently have laws where the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance is required in some shape or form. 

Third, just because it was some how "traditional" that we recited the Pledge when our generation was in school does not make it right.  Contrary to popular belief, tradition and correctness are not one in the same.  If we still went by "tradition," then black people would still be drinking from their own water fountains.  Tradition is a way to indoctrinate the next generation in the ways of the previous generation and are often cited as a way to justify maintaining something that is wrong today.  This is not to say that all traditions are bad, keep the good ones.  Eliminate the bad ones. 

As a side note, the concept of tradition is very strong in the Republican Party. Is not tradition not a conservative trait.  Isn't being a Conservative all about maintaining what was traditional 20, 30, 60 years ago?  The funny thing with Conservatives is that 20 years from now, they will be fighting to maintain what progressives are fighting for today, such as gay marriage, etc.  Anyway...

Fourth, I will make an assumption that the target of those who post this wish to offend non-believers with the "under God" reference.  This is humorous to me because the whole reason for this Facebook post is that those with strong Christian beliefs are offended in their own right.  So, to make it right in their mind, they must offend back.

Fifth, there is an assumption that I am somehow not a true American if a I don't post this and share the same belief in the Abrahamic God that the Pledge is clearly referencing.  I do find that offensive.  Just because I, and millions of other Americans don't believe in the same Sky Fairy as you do doesn't make us less American.  Patriotism is not defined by religious beliefs.

Another side note.  A man who is often praised and cited as being extremely patriotic and is honored quite often is Pat Tillman.  Pat Tillman was an atheist.  Are you going to argue that he wasn't patriotic?

The "under God" part was added during the era of heightened McCarthyism.  It is a relic of fear and propaganda.  Strangely, the country was doing just fine with the pre-under God form.  I believe that the Pledge of Allegiance in its current form is unconstitutional and violates the First Amendment.  Numerous lawsuits had failed because those arguing in favor of keeping the "under God" are using the tradition argument for one, and also using an argument that God is somehow generic and not specific.  I already spoke about the absurdity of the tradition argument.  The generic god argument is also humorous to me.  Atheists don't really give a shit which god is mentioned because we don't believe in any god.  Also, if you were to go back and study the history of the current form of the Pledge, you would see that the intent is clearly the Abrahmic God in the eyes of Christianity.

Lastly, there are those who would argue that the Pledge of Allegiance, regardless of the form used, is, itself, unconstitutional.  Requiring a citizen of a supposedly free country to pledge allegiance to that country is somewhat dictatorial in itself. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

People Watching at Disneyland

I spent the better part of 3 days at Disneyland with my son last week.  Just walking through the park or standing in line, you really have no choice but to people watch.  Here are a few observations.

  • I have never understood why young couples feel compelled to bring their infant or toddler to Disneyland.  They have no clue what is going.  They will have no memories whatsoever of the event.  One parent is stuck on child care duty while the other one goes on a ride sans child?  I just don't get it.  At least wait until they are old enough to walk on their own and have some idea of what they are doing there.
  • Same as above, except with triplets.  Really?  WTF were you thinking?
  • What's the deal with wearing racer-back tops with regular bras?
  • Did you really stop to think that wearing sandals with 5 inch heals is going to work well for walking around Disneyland for 10 to 12 hours?
  • The R2-D2 Micky Mouse ears are awesome.
  • Riverbelle Terrace = Best breakfast in Disneyland.
  • Yeah, those black jeans and black top are going to make you one happy camper at 2 p.m.
  • I saw people in line reading books.  Amazingly enough, I saw no e-readers.  Wouldn't this be the perfect place for that?
  • I must look honest, I was given the "line timing" card twice by the ride entry cast member.  They give you a red card on a lanyard that they ask you to give to the cast member upon boarding the ride.  They use this to help update the "Wait Time" at the ride entry.  (Astro Blasters and Big Thunder)
  • Decidedly fewer Asian tours this year than in past years.  Tokyo Disneyland must have really cut into the guided tour business in Anaheim.  Thank the fictional gods.
  • Tomorrowland sucks.  Yes, Space Mountain is cool.  Star Tours is cool.  Astro Blaster was more fun than I expected.  That's it.  Yes, technically the Autopia and the Nemo Submarine ride are in Tomorrowland, but who cares.  Moving the rocket jets from the top of the old Skyway station to the front of Tomorrowland was dumb.  It's a big roadblock.  Traffic flow is a mess.  The old Skyway/Rocket Rods ride is an eyesore.
  • I really wish Monorails would have caught on more as a public transportation device.  I wonder if a raised monorail track would have been more cost efficient than the light rail lines currently in place?
  • The name of the Yeti in the Matterhorn is Harold.
  • Why do women insist on wearing tube/strapless tops?  It seems like they spend half their time pulling them up.
  • Same as above except with regular bras.  What look are you going for?
  • I actually made it a point to try and watch guys as well, but quite frankly, they were boring.  Although I did see a number of black socks with sandals.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Changes are Coming

I see that the frequency of posts has diminished quite a bit over the last several months.  Not that my interest in may of these topics have waned.  They have not.  In fact, some of them have become even more meaningful and interesting to me.  It's just that there has been a lot going on and motivation for doing a lot of things has just not been there.  Well, that is going to change.  Starting July 4th that is.  I have some family commitments I need to keep that are not conducive to this sort of change, so I have to wait, but it gives me time to plan it out.

Several months ago, I started quite a few home projects.  Many of those are still undone. I've gotten the chance to work on some of them this week, but they need my constant attention.  I will do something on these projects every day.  I don't care if its a single nail hammered in or a single screw screwed in, or moving a shovel full of dirt.  Something will be done every day.

I've taken the summer off from my guitar lessons so that I can really focus on learning about 9 or 10 songs completely and thoroughly.  I've promised myself to practice anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour each night so that by the end of August, I can bust out any one of these 10 songs and play them without having to look at them (and when I say bust one out and play it, that's it.  No singing.)

I need to blog.  I need to sit down and write at least one post everyday on some topic from that day.  Over the last several months, I've had things to write about, but I put it off, then a day or two later, one of the bloggers that I follow does a post on that same thing and usually nails it far better than I could.

Lastly, I need to get fit.  Ever since I turned 40, I've told myself that the time is now.  It only gets harder as you get older.  Notice I didn't say lose weight or diet.  It's just about getting fit.  Good exercise, good nutrition.  It also helps that I had a blood test and the cholesterol numbers that came back were not good.  Not horribly bad, mind you, but not good.  I still have a chance to do something about it without meds.  The weight loss will happen, although I'm hoping not so much to lose weight but to replace the low density fat with some high density muscle.  Let's just say the beer gut has to go.  Which means, unfortunately, that the beer has to go.  At least initially.  And no, that doesn't mean I'm going to start drinking that "Lite" crap either.  Mine as well go without.

So, here, in a nutshell, are my mid-year's resolutions:
  1. Do something on the house projects every day.
  2. Practice my guitar.
  3. Blog.
  4. Get fit.
 Let's get started!  (in a week or so.)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Kevorkian's Passing and Thoughts on Assisted Suicide

I had barely noticed the scrolling headline on the TV.  Jack Kevorkian passed away last week.  Known as "Dr. Death," Kevorkian is famous for inventing a machine which allowed people of little or no mobility to give themselves a lethal dose of medication.  The people were terminally ill and more often than not in great pain.

I just recently ran across a fantastic blog called Choice in Dying.  As Eric MacDonald describes his blog, "Arguing for the right to die and against the religious obstruction of that right."

Admittedly, assisted suicide has not really been on my radar screen as an atheist.  While having almost forgotten Kevorkian, several states, most notably Oregon, have passed or tried to pass assisted suicide laws.  I'm sure many of us recall the Terry Schiavo case from years back as well (while not an assisted suicide case per se, it was a right to day situation).

Before I continue, I am going to link to an opinion piece that ran in the New York Times by Ross Douthat, called, "Dr. Kevorkian's Victims."  Go on and read it.  I'll wait.

Back?  I hope you are as thoroughly disgusted as I am.  I wonder if Douthat has ever had to put a pet to sleep?  Let's just stick with that thought for a moment.  Almost everyone I know, regardless of their faith, has had to put a pet to sleep and send them to the "Rainbow Bridge."  We do this because it is the humane thing to do.  We do this because we love our pets.  We consider them family members.  We can't stand to see our pets suffer and even though we don't ask for their permission, more often than not, we know it is simply the "right thing to do."  Notice how the word itself is "human."  Yet, so many people are willing to deny that same humane ending for those who are terminally ill and suffering greatly.

I've never been in a position to have to deal with this issue with family, but I have certainly dealt with it with pets.  I also know that I could never write about or discuss this subject with the same courage that Eric writes about it in his blog.  If this is a subject that you care about or are interested in learning more about, then I encourage you to subscribe to Eric's blog.

Here are two other bloggers that have commented on the Douthat piece:  Ophelia Benson and Eric MacDonald.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Live Blogging Re-enactment of Judgment Day

5:55 pm:  Sitting at the bar in Macayo's in central Phoenix with a Dos Equis Amber watching the Giants and A's baseball game.

6:01 pm:  Didn't notice the time until one minute too late.  Looked around.  Nobody else seemed to notice.

6:10 pm:  Ordered another beer.  That was fun.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Left Behind

Does it make me a bad atheist to say that I'm kinda getting tired of all the rapture nonsense?

I mean, its all well and good to ridicule and humiliate Harold Camping because he is a top tier wing nut in every sense of the words.  And, as is often the case, these wing nuts cause real damage to real people and ruin lives.  There are stories of families that have sold everything and given it to Camping to promote his Judgment Day.  There are also stories of families euthanizing their pets so they are not left in the hands of the non-believers.  There are going to be more than a few people who are going to stare up to the sky in disbelief that nothing has happened, and then they are going to realize they have no place sleep, no money, nothing.  I seriously doubt Mr. Camping had a money back guarantee on his prophecy.  However, I'm willing to be that Harold Camping will be raptured, to some remote Caribbean island with the life savings of numerous families and the generous donations of others.

Hopefully, the "good" Christians, as they like to call themselves, will find it in their hearts to help these people get back on their feet.  Unfortunately, they are going to preach to them the same silly nonsense that got them in this mess in the first place.

In the mean time, atheists, skeptics, and Christians, among others, all over the country are throwing "left behind" parties tonight.  It's not like we haven't been telling you all along...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Does it Really Matter?

Now that we've had three solid days to reflect on the events of Sunday evening and the death of Osama Bin Laden, many questions are being raised about what really happened.  Was it legal to kill him?  Should we tried to capture him first?  Should we release the death photos?  Should we have buried him at sea?  Should we have treated the body with the appropriate Islamic customs.  Was there truly a firefight?

As more of the actual story leaks out and the press have gained access to the home and presumably some of the survivors, there will be questions about what really happened.

Does it really matter?

First, on the legitimacy of killing OBL versus capturing him.  The US had several options.  One, drop a couple of high explosive tomahawk cruise missiles on the compound.  Two, use a predator drone to fire missiles on the compound.  Three, use air power to drop a bomb on the compound.  Four, put boots on the ground.

Had the US chosen any of the first three options, the US could have made the claim that OBL had been killed but risked the possibility of the body being removed and therefore having no proof.  Even if they did recover the body, I don't think there would have been a single question about the tactics.  Afterall, we have dropped bombs and fired missiles into all manner of private homes along the Pakistan and Afghan border in attempts to target lesser AQ/Taliban commanders.  There have been numerous reports of innocent civilians getting killed in those raids.  While that is certainly not a good thing, you didn't see members of Congress or other political pundits criticizing the administration for carrying out such attacks.  Also, that tactic is certainly not new to the Obama Administration.  So, with all of that history, why question whether it was legal for the US to have ordered OBL killed?

He was the undisputed leader of the terrorist organization responsible for nearly 3000 civilian deaths on 9/11.  He is a commander-in-chief.  He is the head of command and control for AQ.  he is often seen carrying a weapon in videos.  Command and Control elements have always and will always be a legitimate military target.  It is the first thing that the US targets, whether it be in Afghanistan, Iraq, or even Libya.  The executive order barring assassination is really meant to apply to heads of state or other political figures in a non-wartime environment.  OBL was clearly not a head of state and he was clearly not killed in a peacetime action.

Also, you can only question the killing of OBL if you are a life long pacifist.  If you have in any way, been a supporter of the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, then you know that our troops are engaged in battle, not with the intent to capture and be nice, but to kill, unless the enemy clearly surrenders.

When those Special Operations forces entered that compound, they did not know what to expect, but they certainly were not expecting no opposition.  The story is that they were fired upon by a single person who was quickly killed in the return fire.  Now, with shots having been fired and the sound of several very loud military choppers hovering above, I don't think there is any expectation of surprise.  The expectation is armed resistance.  Also, remember that it is dark and you are entering a building of unknown configuration.  Yes, they have night vision goggles, but the time it takes to determine whether or not the enemy has a weapon is too long.  The number one priority is to secure the compound.  Even though the others who were killed were not armed, there were reportedly a large cache of weapons in the house.  This was not a hostage rescue mission.  Shoot to kill.  I have no problems with what happened.  In fact, I think the personnel involved deserve credit for incredible restraint.  Obviously, these are highly trained marksmen as they quickly and efficiently killed the enemy with one or two shots.  To think that they had the where with all to identify the wife and only shoot her in the leg is pretty damn amazing.

Now, with the body in possession and an incredible treasure trove of intel that would not have survived a remote attack, the US left the compound.  The US made the effort to analyze DNA samples and to document the body.  I'm sure that those photos will be shared with our allies if there is any doubt, but I don't think there can be.  What to do with the body?  Nobody wanted it.  I think the US made the wisest choice possible.  No, it is not Islamic tradition to bury at sea (unless land is not an option within the 24-hour window by Islamic customer).  In lieu of that, the US followed Islamic customs for burial preparation.  Should the US have done this?  Does it matter?  The effort to make that little concession shows respect for Islamic customs, but the political realities of an on land burial clearly took precedence over those customs.  A win-win in my opinion.

Also, I think Obama's decision to not release the photos is also a good one.  I don't particularly care to see it.  OBL is dead.  If people don't want to believe it, then they can waste the rest of their lives waiting to hear from him again.

Other issues that have resulted from this.  Was torture used to get any of the information used to isolate OBL's whereabouts?  This is not clear.  Were "enhanced" interrogation techniques used to get some of this information?  I think it is fair to say yes.  Is torture considered part of these "enhanced" techniques?  Leon Panetta said yes.  But, that doesn't mean that all "enhanced" techniques are torture.  This is a question we may never know the answer to.  The US was wrong to use torture, even if it did lead directly to OBL's capture and that will only be a black mark on this country and on the Bush Administration.

Lastly, the debate on who deserves the credit.  Well, Reagan was responsible for arming OBL when we as a Afghan freedom fighter against the Soviets in the 80s.  King George I, to the best of my knowledge, did nothing.  Under Clinton's administration, OBL was responsible for the parking garage bombing of the WTC in '93.  The African embassy attacks, and the USS Cole attack, as well as other actions.  Clinton had OBL on his radar, and, in fact, lobbed several cruise missiles into Afghanistan in an attempt to kill him in retaliation for the embassy bombings.  Would anybody have questioned the right to kill OBL then.  Clinton certainly built up the dossier on OBL.  Under King George II's watch, 9/11 happened.  (As a side note, it is not fair to blame GWB for 9/11 just as it is not fair to blame Clinton for the embassy bombings, etc.  GWB happened to be in charge at the time.)  As a reprisal, the US invaded Afghanistan.  There was no questioning the authority of the US take this action by any government at the time.  The US had been attacked on its own soil, and were rightly justified to go after its attackers.  The US almost had OBL in Tora Bora in 2002, but didn't follow through for whatever reason.  For some reason (Iraq), GWB lost his way with OBL and decided that he needed to go after Hussein instead.  I think we should have had OBL years ago and Bush could have and would have been able to claim full credit for following through on his promise of justice on the evening of 9/11.  Instead, the intelligence professionals continued to dig away at information that eventually led to the story as we know it, as described by Obama on Sunday night.  The US had known for nearly nine months that there was a high probability that OBL was hiding in plain sight in Pakistan.  Obama paved the way for this action years before by stating that we would go anywhere, without permission if need be, to get OBL.  And, he did.  The Pakistani's were caught red-faced.

The intelligence professionals that kept digging deserve much credit.  JSOC deserves credit for planning and executing the operation, and Obama deserves credit for not taking the easy way out, but instead, making a call to land troops, kill their target, and retrieve his body for evidence.  Honestly, an outcome that I never thought would happen.