Wednesday, May 03, 2006

It's about time

Wow. So it’s been an inexcusable while since I posted my last essay. I was gone for white water rafting guide school for 11 days, and then training for Primal Quest started consuming my life more than I’d like. I get back, and it looks like hard core conservatives have taken the place over. Now I know how a certain spineless and message less political party has felt for the last six years. Well, some things I just can’t let go unanswered….

Ain’t Nothing on the Radio
Your thoughts betray you. You may claim to like the look of NPR, but your style is conservative all over.

You start out by slandering its name right off the bat, changing “Public” to “Propaganda.” Rush Limbough would be proud. Yet, by the end of the second paragraph you haven’t put in anything to support the clause. By the third paragraph you mention how “tax cuts have been proven” to have pulled the economy out of the drain, with out burdening us with that actual proof. I suppose, there’s no need if we had already decided to believe what ever you say.

If you listen to NPR as much as you claim, then you would realize that its place in the media is to tell a more balanced side to stories. If the government promotes a plan, then NPR will look into the other side of story. In this case, they looked at the other side of the tax story. When they did spend five minutes discussing the opposite side, at least they did broadcast a university professor compared to a homeless man off the street, which a conservative radio show would have used.

Personally, I listen to NPR just as much as I listen to conservative radio. The key to listening to all radio is to take in their points open minded, and then question what you here. If you listen only to agree, then not only are you not learning anything, but it’s safe to assume that you’re wrong.

America is a Drunken Sailor
Look at us wrong, and we’ll challenge everyone in the bar as to who wants a piece, standing in defiance to an unseen enemy, and yielding only after the guilty, the innocent, and ourselves are worse for the wear.

Do I believe that? No, but metaphors are interesting things. They allow you to go from point A to point B with out actually knowing the way, but by instead following a familiar path. This works great when some one else knows the connection between two ideas that you are unfamiliar with, and can use a metaphor to explain it to you in a familiar way – assuming that person does in fact know what they’re talking about. If they don’t, then you can be screwed pretty quickly. Imagine trying to get around Chicago with a map of New York. Some of the street names may be the same, and you may even get somewhere by accident, or convince yourself that you DO actually see the Statue of Liberty out in Lake Michigan. Metaphors are often used as a way to manipulate the masses by laying out an over simplistic path for them rally across, and actual bypass the real issue.

The enemy Within
I’m getting sick an tired of hearing the “Liberals like the terrorists” argument, along with the other coercive propagandous slander spewing forth from the right in an effort to maintain power, sidetrack the debate, and mislead the people. This includes “It’s unpatriotic to disagree with ________” (fill in the blank with what ever plan they’re currently pushing), and “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” These are juvenile attempts to weaken critics standing before the debate actually begins. It’s dangerous to the country, and is the type of intimidation that shouldn’t make it past the grade school playground, and definitely not into the modern political arena.

Although I have heard some cries from the right regarding blame being placed on the US for its prior intervention in the middle east, I only take these cries with in the scope of future conflict avoidance, not as a solution to the current terrorist network. When you have a problem, the first step should always be resolution; you should not be concerned with assigning blame as to who caused it. When someone fucks up at work, the priority is to fix it. Wasting time blaming someone is counter productive. Afterwards, you can look at what caused the problem and work on making sure it doesn’t happen again. (Yelling at the person may or may not be part of this solution)

In the case at hand, the problem stated rather broadly is terrorism. Lots of crazy people want to blow up as much of our country as possible. Pretty serious problem. The first step is obviously to make sure they don’t do that. It’s reasonable to assume that killing some of them may be a regrettable but necessary part of that step. The second step is root causing, and future prevention. A very reasonable part of this step is to ask why these crazy people want to destroy us. Just saying “they’re crazy” doesn’t quite cut it. Anyone does not at least contemplate the possibility that the US did something to piss them off is being irresponsible.

Here’s a thought experiment to look at this. Imagine you walk up to an obviously disturbed mentally ill person on the street and punch them in the face. They in turn attack you. Is it a reasonable defense to just say they’re crazy, and have them hauled away while you walk away? I don’t think so, you’re obviously at some fault.

Ok, hold on; don’t get your Ronald Regan print under wear in a bind quite yet. I realized that’s a bit of an extreme example. Here’s a better way of laying out the same analogy that’s matches the current situation.

Imagine you’re walking down the street with a cup of coffee. While walking, you trip, and spill your drink all over a person next to you. He (or she) turns around, pulls a out a glock and shoots you. Did you provoke them? Yes. Was it by accident? Of course. Did their reaction in anyway match the provocation? No, not at all. Are they messed up and in need of getting their ass hauled away? Oh yeah. Regardless, you should WATCH WHERE YOU’RE FUCKING WALKING.

For those of you out there who have completely given up your ability of independent thought in favor of talk radio, the above example has you as the United States, the people on the street are the rest of the world, and the mental disable person you spilled coffee on is a terrorist.

Thank you for shopping at Wal-mart, please bend over to allow us to serve you better
I’m no fan of Wal-mart. I haven’t been for years. Those around me quickly learn this via tounge lashings handed out at the appearance of a plastic bag with that fucking smiling face on it. I do this not as an effort to sway opinions, but more as a way to open up discussion and see they HAVE an opinion. Most do not. They see Walm-mart just as what it appears on the surface, a dirt cheap, one stop warehouse convenience store. My foreign friends will comment on some of the negative aspects of American life, the mass consumerism, the superficiality, and the spread out cities, yet be in awe of a spectacular place like Wal-mart, without putting together the connection and dependency between them all. The more informed will be able to comment on how Wal-mart is a text book example of a modern supply chain in work. If you take any supply chain, or MIS classes, Wal-mart will always be praised as the benchmark of which to compare all others. That’s why they kicked the crap out of all the other crappy discount department stores. It has nothing to do with how they treat their employees; I’m sure you won’t find any employees that are better quality or paid more at K-Mart. They haven’t been doing anything different than any other stores haven’t been doing in the last fifty years, they’re just doing it better, plain and simple. They are the spitting image of the possibilities of capitalism.


There is a dark side to capitalism, however, that many of its proponents fail to acknowledge. The larger a company becomes the more money and power it obtains. The more money and power it has, the more opportunity it has to thwart the rules of capitalism. A large company can use money gained in one successful field to enter another field. This can be good, promoting competition, and increasing quality and price. At time though, a large company can instead try to use its position to eliminate the competition instead of competing with it. This goes against the ideas of what makes Capitalism all it is.

In the case of Walmart, I dislike their rural city business plan which requires them to remove all local competition.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Why I Listen to National Propaganda Radio (NPR)

Simply put, I listen to NPR for the same reason I use a Mac. Looks matter. Sure, under the hood neither NPR nor Macs can stand toe to toe with their competitors, but damn if they don’t look good trying.

While I can get better and more accurate news from Rush Limbaugh (seriously) than I can get from the National Propaganda Radio station, I enjoy NPR’s calm and quiet presentation of the “facts.” I like that their radio hosts have some extraordinarily abnoxious radio voices and I LOVE their music bumps. Conservative talk radio like Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham have too much “hype.” When Ingraham has to talk over with insults and screeching monkey sounds every sound byte of a Democrat talking on a news show, you have to wonder about her sanity and, more importantly, her ability to intellectually combat the Democrat’s arguments. And it’s not that hard to point out the flaws of a Democrat’s arguments. Hypocrisy is their philsophical backbone.

Yet listening to NPR I often find myself digging at my wrists with my finger nails trying to draw blood. A twenty minute segment on the effects of the tax cuts on the American economy which have been soundly proven without doubt to have pulled us out of a deep recession – that tweny minute segment will have fifteen minutes of a single professor of economics from UC Berkely telling us that the rich are getting richer from the tax cuts (which is an obvious effect considering who actually pays taxes) and five minutes of sharply edited and cut comments from a professor of a no-name university saying the obvious benefits of the tax cuts. And this is considered “balanced.”

I just wish we could return to the days before the Spanish/American war when newspapers wore their political affiliation on their sleeves. That’s why so many newspapers are named The Democrat or The Conservative. Newspapers clearly held an agenda just like today, but they were open and honest about it. Talk radio doesn’t claim to be a “balanced” source of news. I know the slant they will give the news when I tune in. And I know the slant that CBS and NPR and CNN will bring to their “news.” Even if they won’t admit it.

It’s the hyprocrisy that gets me. But who should be surprised that a Democratic leaning institution like “objective news” sources should be hypocritical? They are Deomcrats after all.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

America the Battered Wife

America is a battered wife. You know how you hear about a woman who is abused over and over again and keeps returning to the same man who abuses her and you say to yourself, “Damn, why does she do it?” Well, that’s America.

Every time we take a jab, we turn on ourselves and say, “Yup. I deserved that.” Terrorists want to blow us up? <> “Must be because of something we did.” France and Germany, two of the most philosophically defunct nations on the planet, don’t like our philosophy? <> “Well, they’re probably right. We are some pretty bad people who like capitalism.” A company like Walmart has made millions of Americans rich and given even more jobs that pay reasonable wages and offer better benefits than I get at my “professional” position? <> “Yup. They’re just preying on the weak.” The United Nations is so corrupt that a program like Oil for Food can be utilized by a dictator of a nation to make himself and conveniently anti-war nations like France, Germany and Russia rich? <> “We sure are a terrible country for acting unilaterally against those poor, poor murderers in Iraq.” Illegal Mexican immigrants flee their toilet country where the only way to succeed is if you have enough money to bribe your way to the top for a country like America where working hard is literally the best way to the top and when they get here they show their happiness for America how? By waving the Mexican flag? <> “Can’t say I blame them. I kinda hate America, too. We just gotta’ be a little more multi-cultural, I reckon.”

Gotta’ wonder why we keep coming back.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Castaway and Discarded

I saw the movie “Castaway” for the second time a few weeks back. Repeated viewings of movies are usually interesting and allow a more analytical experience. Castaway was no exception.

Overall, I liked it; it’s a good flick with a captivating plot, and Tom Hanks does a great job. The two things that stuck out as needing improvement, however, were the weakly portrayed romance (they expect you to take it for granted), and the way they mirrored the character’s coping on the island with the development of mankind. (Essential to the movie, but it comes off as being scripted. Okay, I suppose it was scripted.) Both of these faults were probably due to lack of time; you can only make a movie so long.

Whether I liked the movie or not is inconsequential to this posting though. What is of importance is the question that’s been nagging me ever since seeing the film the first time. (Well, besides that. We all know the box with the butterfly symbol contained a satellite telephone.) The question is whether or not a person becomes a better person from an ordeal such as the one in the movie.

In the film, Tom Hank’s character obviously loses a lot. His fiancée, five years of his life, and basically everything that he had previously defined himself by are now gone. The movie also hints at the psychological problems one could have integrating back to society; showing him rejecting the soft hotel bed in favor of the floor and flicking the light switch on and off as he did back in the cave. This list of things he lost out on could go on and on

What I’m wondering, though, is if there is any sort of a silver lining to it all? Did the experience that didn’t kill him, in fact make him stronger? Throughout the five years he learned lots of independence, and useful survival skills. He also freed himself from a life that was portrayed as being tied to a clock. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way suggesting he’s better off than if he hadn’t been stranded. What I’m asking you to do is to compare him to the person he was before the accident.

Which one has a more realistic view of life? It easy to assume the castaway character would definitely appreciate the subtleties of life a little more than he did before hand. Would he want to go back to the job he had previously though? He didn’t in the movie. (And if the movie showed it, it must be true!) Would he even be capable of taking his old job back? Maybe he wouldn’t be able to perform his previous job simply because he’d find it all mundane compared to the grand scheme of it all?

If this is the case, then not only did he lose all he had, but he also lost what he was. Talking about adding insult to injury.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

What Do They Want From Us?

I can’t figure out what the Left want done about Iraq. Do they want us to pack up and leave tomorrow with no further involvement in the country at all? Do they want us to stick it out until the end but not actually send our troops out into harm’s way? (In which case “the end” would come pretty quick in defeat.) I assume they want us to leave immediately. That is what they say, after all. But do they realize the gravity of the situation? Often it seems they are more excited and interested in the political sniping and watching the President’s popularity plummet than in anything that actually happens in Iraq. I think a strong case could be made to prove that anti-war protestors are less interested in the well being of our soldiers and the citizens of Iraq than they are in the “punishment” of our president. (Yes, I’m calling them “unpatriotic” as well as selfish and short sighted.)

Do the anti-war activists want us to actually react to their piss and moans for withdrawal or do they want us to soundly stay the course but be allowed to keep heckling from the sidelines?

All of this is not to say that the terrorists of 9-11 aren’t interested in Iraq. As evidenced by their very words (taken from the National Security Council’s memorandum “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq” ©November 2005):

- Osama Bin Laden has declared that the “third world war…is raging” in Iraq, and it will end there, in “either victory and
glory, or misery and humiliation.”

- Bin Laden’s deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri has declared Iraq to be “the place for the greatest battle,” where he hopes to
“expel the Americans” and then spread “the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq.”

- Al Qaida in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has openly declared that “we fight today in Iraq, and tomorrow in the
Land of the Two Holy Places, and after there the west.”

Do their words give you the sense that should we up and leave immediately they would just quit? That we would never again be attacked as we were on September 11? If you believe that, well, you can finish the saying.

If we leave now, we vindicate the terrorists of their tactics. Hacking off the head of Daniel Pearl will be proven a useful weapon against America. Attacking our soldiers from mosques so that we cannot fire back, butchering the families of local police officers, hiding behind America’s morals, enforcing radical versions of Islam on their fellow country men and women, forcing women to live as enslaved creatures – all of it will be proven to be the better life philosophy, the stronger strategy than the one America presents. One of not conquering Iraq and subjugating its citizens, but freeing them to choose their own life. Their own future. Giving them the gifts of self-reliance and self-determination.

If we flee now, the blood in Iraq will run thick down the streets. What we saw after the mosque bombing weeks ago will look like a warm-up for slaughter. Is this what the Left would have America create?

America does not become stronger by backbiting itself. It is no surprise that in World War II France fell in a short two months to Germany when its country was so dramatically divided on itself. It changed governments by the month in most cases. Few lasted a full year. They didn’t have a government on the day Hitler came to power or on the day Austria fell because of the great internal division the country was facing.

Is this the course of America? Will we hate ourselves into paralysis? I hope not. That hope is dim at best.

Tech-knowledge-ee

A week or so back a topic came up regarding the pros and cons of technology. Being the perpetual cynic, I had insinuated that technology might be taking a hold of civilization with negative consequences. It was noted that people of today have it better than any other time in history due to technology, and that any negative side effects are simply brought upon the users themselves. My initial counter reply didn’t post because my internet connection timed out, which is a good thing, because the more I thought about it, the more complex and revealing this issue became.

My first point in my original counter reply was that many users of technology bring negative consequences to the people around them, not just themselves. An example would be people talking on cell phones in inappropriate public places. It’s convenient for them, but also obnoxious to everyone around them. (This just happens to be a subject I’m particularly passionate about.) A better example would probably be weapons used to injure innocent people. This is the ultimate situation of someone using technology in a way that has direct bad effects on others. I have a gun, you don’t. You’re dead, I’m alive.

These examples suggest not only a duality of technology’s effects, being that they can simultaneously be both negative and positive, but they also hint at the relativity of the assignment of such effects. Since the user of the technology (person with a gun) would consider its use a positive thing while the victim (person with hole in chest) would most likely consider it a negative thing, it apparently depends on who you talk to when determining the inherent badness of a technological tool. It follows that if the determining factor is the person, not the technology, then the “badness” must be in the person, not in the technology. (There is a large hole in the way I laid out this argument, but it’s easily patched. I just didn’t bother writing it out.)

This leads to the common conclusion that technology is just a tool. All tools are made up of benign, inanimate objects assembled into clever uses of the six simple machines and often taking advantage of some sort of a power source to further the usefulness. (When talking about the simple machines, I consider the screw to just be a special application of the inclined plane, and instead replace it with the semiconductor doped depletion area to round out the six). Even something as horrendous as a nuclear weapon is just a mix of relatively harmless pieces assembled by man, and is only as bad as the person behind the button. (Oh my god, he just reference WMDs. Quick everyone run around panicking and start invading foreign countries!!) Saying that a weapon is evil is just the same as saying that a garden hoe is evil. Hell, why don’t we just say that the fulcrum, chemistry, and metallurgy are bad. Throw in the theory of gravity, relativity and Maxwell’s equations while we’re at it, and we can have an old fashion Amish square dance.

Or so the theory goes. Something still didn’t quite sit right with me. Does being a tool imply that no assignment of good or evil can be applied to an object? Here’s a simple thought experiment I used to test this theory we’ve come up with.
Imagine a man who wants his wife dead, but doesn’t want to be implicated in a murder. Instead, he tricks another man into killing her by telling him what ever lies necessary. Basically, he uses the second man as a tool in his plan. There is no doubt that the husband is guilty of debauchery in this case, but what of the second man? He wouldn’t have been involved had it not been for the husband, yet he chose to go along with it, and most any court of law in this country would hold him accountable. Hence, the tool is accountable for the action.

Ok, I’ll admit, that might be a little weak. I left out one very important aspect. Choice. The man in the previous thought experiment, regardless if he was being duped or not, still made a choice to participate. He could have opted out, even if it would have had dire consequences on himself. A garden hoe, on the other hand, has no say in what it’s used for. The tool is an object, and the entire concept of morality, good or bad, requires a decision making process to be discerned. That kind of goes back the entire Adam/Eve/Apple fairy tail, where we’re told that morality did not exist until people had the power of choice.

Well, we do have the power of choice, and morality does exist. The question I now ask is where does it exist? Can morality only exist in people, or can it be possessed by objects also? I started this essay talking about the negative effects of technology, with the intent of exploring the issues of how people choose to use it. So far, I’ve only been talking about whether isn’t possible for a piece of technology to be inherently bad. When the topic of “choice” is brought up, it seems ridiculous to try to say that an object can possess a quality involving morals.

That’s not too far of a stretch though. In addition to saying that a person is bad, we also say that that the action performed by that person is also bad. A murderer is a bad person. The act of murdering is also bad. We make this claim based on the results of the action. The person is considered bad because of their decision making, the action is considered bad because of the result. This type morality judgment, to decide how good something is based on the outcome (or intent of outcome), is a common practice in ethics and was laid out by John Stuart Mill, in his writings of Utilitarianism. A little introspection shows that this is often the same process by which we’ve actually been using to determine the morality of a person. We judge them by their actions, which are judged upon the results. A balancing of the good vs. bad outcomes must be performed as well. (This is where all sorts of snags come up in Utilitarianism.) My claim (finally) is that we can also place a judgment on the tools used. If the results are bad, then the tool is bad.

For many, this claim doesn’t really make a lot of sense. They still only see morality as some thing that should be applied to creatures with free will, and see it as pointless to try to apply it anything else. There is, however, a justifiable reason as to why one would wish to apply a judgment towards an object. If an object can be deemed bad, then we can make a decision regarding how to use such an object. If the object always results in bad results, we could say that it is a bad object, and should not be used. (Hey look ma, I just justified book burning. Ok , maybe not.) The opponent can still argue we’ve simply shifted the moral value of the act onto the object rather the person using the object.

Here’s one more example to illustrate my point. The common cold virus. Its not alive, it’s not moral, and it has no use, other than to make people miserable. No one made it, and no one chose to get or give it. There are no positive effects of it. It is useless, and I therefore label it a bad object. Any takers on this one??

Ok, now for a quick recap. I tried to demonstrate why I think it’s possible to consider an object as morally bad. Even if that object is just used as a tool, I mentioned that the consequences of its use can determine its judgment. I also stated that these results are often mixed, some being good for some people, and some being bad for others. The purpose of all this was to introduce the idea that an object can posses inherently bad properties.

This now brings me to the point I wanted to make two pages ago, but first needed to take a quick short cut through Canada to see all the scenery. My point is that I believe technology has inherently bad aspects to it. When it was stated that “Technology has no negative effects.” It didn’t sit right with me. I’m not a technology abolitionist by any means; I own a car, a cell phone, and with the amount of time I spend with my laptop, I could potentially be considered married to it in some cultures. Everywhere I look, I see misuses of technology. Yes, it is the peoples’ choice, but it seems that the more technology out there, the more bad decisions are made. Instead of using it to allow themselves to do more, they do the same amount, but just become lazier.

With that, I finally realized what it is about technology that irks me. It makes things easier. Every piece of technology or tool ever envisioned was made for the exact purpose of decreasing the work for man. What a beautiful thing. What a curse. That’s why I was having such a hard time identifying the inherent problem with technology, because the problem is also its glory. Any time things are made easier, it means you do less work. If you do less work, you can live a better life, but you also become weaker. If you are weaker, then you have lost something compared to what you were before. Regardless of what you have all gained, which is possibly magnitudes more significant than what you have lost, you have lost something none the less.

This is why every generation will always look at the following generation with a bit of contempt, and a bit of jealousy. The younger generation will always seem to have it easier, and never seem to understand what they have. The older generation will always look back at their own youth, and remember their trials and tribulations, but also remember what they gained by those experiences. I imagine that somewhere in the past there was at least one prehistoric man who looked on his younger companions with disdain as they used their fancy metal tools, when bone had always worked fine for him.

Perhaps Stan Lee said it best, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”
Yeah, that is the second time I’ve used that quote on this blog. I’ve just always thought it was cool.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

"Empty Heads Have Longue Tongues" – Bruce Lee

Sometimes a man just doesn’t have anything to say. He looks at his hands, works his thumb into his palm and watches the white trail of vacant blood vessels it leaves behind and thinks about that. He watches the gusting wind lean against the sides of cars on the freeway outside of the coffee shop windows and thinks about that. He notices the brown spots of stain along the outside of his porcelain white coffee mug. He feels the aching muscles in his back, the small headache he lives with, the cold toes in his shoes and he thinks that everyone must have little aches and nicks and knocks that they just live with on a daily basis and wonders if anyone has ever felt 100% at any moment in their life. He doubts it. He inhales deeply smelling the coffee beans being ground. Cringes at that crushing, random smack of burned beans on steel blades. He enjoys noticing things and not caring about any of them. He enjoys not thinking. It’s kind of nice.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"Dream Out Loud" - Bono of U2

I think Bono, as misguided as his political attempts are, is a magnificent person. His heart is true. His advice? Pretty good.

This last week, the “fit hit the shan” and a friend of mine and I started dreaming out loud. We’re starting a business together. It’s just a little baby-embryo of a dream and has a lot of splitting and replicating ahead of it, so I’m not going to shake it around too much to show you guys. It’s not the idea that’s important, anyway. It’s the juice.

People always advise to have goals and work toward achieving those goals as an elixir for happiness. I think they’re right. The clichés are boundless. Open sky ahead. Two roads diverge in a fucking snowy woods (I hate that Goddamn poem by Frost. Every damn high school graduation it’s used as the speech motif.) Bright and sunshiny days. Grabbing the reins of life. Steering your own ship. Blah, blah, blah.

What the clichés don’t capture is the shakes you get from a good vision. The way your stomach gets kind of light and you jump down stairs three at a time because your legs are that stiff jelly of anticipation and you walk around barefoot on cold wood floors to keep yourself grounded.

They miss the doubt felt. I’ve spent the last four years working in a marketing/sales position. I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of business owners. Many are stupid or lazy or clueless. Their businesses don’t fail. Yet, when I think about myself running a business (something I’ve thought about for a long time) I fear I don’t have what it takes. Somehow that slob car mechanic out in the middle of the boondocks whose front office reeks of grease and cigarrettes and who tells you dirty jokes to pass the time and spells the abreviation for advertisement as “add,” somehow he has the magic that you don’t.

The clichés miss the give/take of those first planning sessions with your partner. The introduction of idea after idea, most of them terrible. Some are liquid gold laced language. The structure debates on who is responsible for what and at what percentage. Labeling your customer. Birthing a brand.

Mostly, though, they miss the fact that joy is even possible in failing. That a lost endeavor is still an endeavor attempted. And that means quite a lot.

Stone Aged