Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Moron America and the Tea Bag Movement

Over the last year I have been developing an increasing hate-hate relationship with the news media. And Public Broadcasting is not above incurring my disdain. The other morning I woke up to yet another PBS news story about these moron Teabaggers.

This Tea Bag movement is a fringe nut-case movement of people who are too stupid to be embarrassed at disclosing to the world that they are absolute morons. Yet, the mainstream media gives these groups legitimacy by airing story after story about them.

How stupid are these people? The list is endless… but their crowning statement of idiocy is the choice of name for their movement: TeaBaggers.
From the Urban Dictionary:
teabagger - multiple meanings. 1) one who carries large bags of packaged tea for shipment. 2) a man that squats on top of a woman’s face and lowers his genitals into her mouth during sex, known as "teabagging" 3) one who has a job or talent that is low in social status 4) a person who is unaware that they have said or done something foolish, childlike, noobish, lame, or inconvenient. 5) also see "fagbag", "lamer", "noob"
Fortunately for their opposition, they didn’t call themselves New Patriots or the Not Tax But Spend Anyway movement. This is Moron America at its worst.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

It seemed like such a good idea at the time

There's been a lot of blogging about tattoos as of late; the following article I found quite interesting:

It seemed like such a good idea at the time...
Your tattoo, that is.

A report in the July 2008 issue of Archives of Dermatology found that women are more likely to seek tattoo removal than men and may be motivated by the social stigma associated with tattoos and negative comments made by others.

Researchers at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center conducted a survey of 66 men and 130 women who visited one of four dermatology clinics for tattoo removal in 2006. Survey respondents had an average age of 30 and answered 127 questions. Their answers were compared with responses to a similar survey conducted in 1996.

In 2006, participants reported they had gotten a tattoo to feel unique or independent or to make certain life experiences stand out. In contrast, the main reasons for seeking tattoo removal included just deciding to remove it, embarrassment, lowering of body image, getting a new job or career, problems with clothes, being stigmatized or marking an occasion, such as a birthday, marriage or newly found independence.

The 2006 survey also found that participants who had their tattoos removed were more likely to be women who were white, single, college-educated and between the ages of 24 and 39.

While the women were pleased with their tattoos when they got them, their feelings changed over the following one to five years. "While men also reported some of these same tattoo problems leading to removal, there seemed to be more societal fallout for women with tattoos, as the tattoos began to cause embarrassment, negative comments and clothes problems and no longer satisfied the need for uniqueness," the study authors write.

Source: Consumer Guide to Plastic Surgery

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Contracts with God

A friend of ours recently had a tree fall in their yard crushing their daughter’s car. They contacted their Allstate insurance company agent about filing a claim to get the tree removed and have car repaired.

Their agent told them that if the tree fell due to “natural causes”, because it was damaged (rotted, for example), the company would pay the claim. However, if the tree had been healthy the accident would be considered an “Act of God” and therefore the company would NOT pay the claim.

Consider the implication here – a business is not going to honor a contract because they feel that an unseen supernatural being has acted in a manner outside the realm of “natural causes”. God apparently capriciously decided to push a tree down on this young woman’s car; perhaps in punishment her for some sinful transgression. So naturally the insurance company doesn’t want to undermine God’s wrath by compensating the poor girl. SMITE!

So what if the insured doesn’t believe in God? Let us say this customer’s house if burglarized but the police cannot find any evidence of a break-in. Can the insurance company not pay the claim because they believe Fairies have stolen the TV and stereo?

I keep hearing stories like this and find myself glancing at the calendar to remind myself that we are living in the 21st century. How can “Act of God” be a legally enforceable provision of ANY legal contract in this day and age?

The tree fell. There is a natural cause for it falling, perhaps the extra-saturated rain soaked Oregon soil could not hold the tree, or it grew too large for its root base. Were it me, I would make the insurance company PROVE that God pushed over that tree.

I would also tell the agent that if he does not pay that claim, there is a damn good chance that a piano might fall on him while on his way home.

[Caption: "God at his computer". His finger hovering over the "Smite" key.]

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Paradox of Choice

When I was a kid, my “uniform” was blue jeans and a white t-shirt. The cuffs were folded up about six inches… they quickly filled with dirt and other debris which I would need to dump out before I came in the house. They rarely fit me and were ALWAYS too long. They took forever to break in and it felt like I was wearing a canvas tent on my ass – made that horrible shwoop shwoop as I walked.

But back then, that’s what they had; they were Blue Jeans. The all t-shirts were white; no one had figured out yet that you could print crap on them. Walk into a clothing store now, hell, any place that sells jeans and you are overwhelmed by the options; straight leg, skinny, boot cut or slim boot cut, rigid, destructed, faded, stone-washed or grey, pre-shrunk – how about original. There are too many choices.

It’s that way with everything now – I was trying to find tooth paste; did I want tartar control, whitener, how about sensitive teeth, fresh clean mint or zesty mint, vanilla? Do I buy it in a tube or a pump? Milk is simple, right? Do I get 1% or 2%, acidophilus or regular, paper carton or plastic jug? When I make it to the check out counter I am even asked: “paper or plastic”?

I saw a YouTube video of Barry Schwartz, author of “The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less” give a presentation at a TED conference last year and I HAD to buy his book. The gist of the topic is that we consumers are overwhelmed by the choices in our lives to a point where having so many choices actually causes stress in our lives. The constant assault on our senses by advertising targeted (quite literally) at us from every direction takes an unconscious toll on our psyche.

My Daughter One is a prime example. She has such difficulty making choices. According to Schwartz, she is a “Maximizer” – she is singularly focused on making the RIGHT choice. So she agonizes over every decision and spends inordinate amounts of time researching, comparing and categorizing. Then, after she has made her purchase, she worries that she has made an incorrect choice; that there was a better option that she has now missed.

My Daughter Two is a “Satisficer”; they select the option that is “good enough”. It fits the bill. I watched the two daughters deciding on which font to print on the napkins for Daughter Two’s wedding. Daughter One explained how one font was more elegant but this other font stands out more. After the discussion went on too long for Daughter Two, she plucked one of the fonts randomly, holding it up saying “this one”! When Daughter One questioned the decision, Daughter Two simply said: “It’s just a cocktail napkin, who cares?!”

But thinking about weddings for a moment… I’ve noticed that our kid’s generation seems to be putting off things like marriage and career decision much later in life than we did. The Book talks about that as well. Sure you are dating a cool guy right now, but who knows… maybe there is someone out there I haven’t met yet who is Better!

My wife notes that I am less than a Satisficer… I put almost no thought into my purchase choices. Instead, I am a Commando Shopper – My objective is to get in, obtain the needed item, then get out of the store in the shortest amount of time. As a result I often come home with underwear that is too large and socks that are too small.

Jeans? I buy Levi’s 501 34 x 29. Blue. Never anything else.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Latest Buzz

For a significant part of my working career I was a tech support field technician for the State of Oregon. Essentially I was the Maytag Repairman for the computers, routers, switches and everything wired into them for my region of the state. A decent job overall; I worked pretty much without direct supervision and got to be out and about at different offices to do my work.

Often people called me directly when they had a computer problem, but mostly my work orders were routed to me from the Help Desk, a central bank of technicians staffing phone lines taking service requests from users. The Help Desk would try to resolve the problem over the phone; and if they couldn’t, they would dispatch a tech (like me) to make an on site repair call.

One day I received a work order from the Help Desk; a user reported that their computer was making a buzzing sound. The Help Desk operator said they could even hear the buzzing over the phone when they were talking to the user. They couldn’t resolve it so I was dispatched to the location.

When I arrived I did my “detective” thing and started to interrogate the user; the usual questions like when did you first notice the problem and what have you tried yourself. As I was talking with the user, the computer buzzed for a few seconds and stopped. I heard it! I started looking at the screen and running a few diagnostics; about two minutes later, it buzzed again, but only for a few seconds and not long enough for me to clearly determine the source of the buzz.

As I sat there puzzled the user quipped “Yes, it even buzzes like that when the computer is turned OFF”. My eyebrows raised significantly.

There, it buzzed again. I began to time it with my watch. At regularly every two minutes (120 seconds precisely) it buzzed for 5 seconds. The computer’s CPU was placed on the floor under the desk so I got down on my hands an knees and put my ear to the side of the computer… looking at my watch, the buzz came right as expected. However the sound now appeared to be coming from over my head rather than from the computer.

I crawled out from under the desk and sat in the user’s desk chair; opening the desk drawer – there in the drawer was a pager. I watched as at precisely two minutes, the pager vibrated and danced around the wooden bottom of the drawer.

The moral of the story is that not all technical problems require a technical solution.

True story - The actual work order can be seen here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Driving Up Fear

My wife and I have owned five Toyota vehicles; our two current cars are Toyotas. If I listen to the news media I would be convinced that I should be taking out life insurance policies if I am to continue driving a Toyota. “If it bleeds, it leads” is an old news adage that rings particularly salient in today’s “you’re gonna die any minute” news environment.

The Media is salivating over the incidents of Toyota stuck accelerator pedals; the public cannot get enough and the news media knows it. But like so many things that garner the public’s attention, they do so because of their rarity. We are horrified at the stranger abduction of a child, yet the vast majority of abducted children are taken by a non-custodial parent. That isn’t news. Likewise, 40,000 people die each year in motor vehicle accidents. But what makes it into the news; the 19 people who died in stuck Toyota accelerator accidents.

So in the news yesterday is this guy who claims his Prius, (a model year that is NOT part of the heretofore acceleration recall class), accelerated out of his control necessitating a California Highway Patrol cruiser intercede to stop his car. You can read the article here.

Ok, I am going to go out on a limb here and document my skepticism on this guy’s particular claim. I am going on record that an investigation will reveal that this guy faked this incident for the purpose of gaining personal wealth through litigation. Here it is, my wager time stamped and documented on this blog. This incident smells like a stunt – so stay tuned.

In the mean time people are now wanting to trade in their Toyotas for a Ford. Good luck with that. Let me know how much you paid in maintenance to keep your Ford running for 200,000 miles.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Origins of Skepticsm

Mistakenly I have taken for granted that everyone pretty much knew what a Skeptic was. so I have occasionally been taken aback when people are puzzled when I have used the term as a noun and people look surprised. So perhaps a bit of explanation is in order from Robert the Skeptic.

Over the years since my birth I have been nagged with doubt – doubt that what people told me was always the truth; doubt that Santa Clause could really visit 5 billion homes in one night, doubt my dentist wasn't finding more income in my mouth than cavities, doubt that a supreme and loving God was looking out for my personal best interest.

I was also scared of a lot of things when I was a kid; ghosts and monsters and kids bigger than me. I had nightmares for weeks after I saw War of the Worlds at the theater – I was sure that the "green glowing light" at night emanating from the neighbor’s yard two blocks away was the Mars aliens constructing their craft just like I witnessed in the movie. Later that summer I was invited to their home for a night swim… their pool lights at night illuminating their yard with a lovely blue-green glow! The Mars aliens were noticeably missing.

That and similar experiences got me to thinking that there might be other more reasonable explanations for the conclusions our imaginations are so eager to construct about our world. I began to wonder why photos of ghosts always seemed to look like blurry blobs and why UFO photographs resembled hub caps suspended by strings.

I was also forced at this time to attend Catechism at our Catholic Church. I wondered why a loving God would place me in the clutches of cruel and angry nuns. I wondered if God didn’t answer my prayers because he understood Latin but not English. I wondered why some of the things people said were sins were not mentioned in the Bible, and so on whose authority were they declared to be sins.

I dove headlone into science in High School and immersed myself in it; I couldn’t get enough. I learned about DNA and that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. I learned about quantum mechanics and the strange physics of the sub-atomic world. I learned about the vastness of the universe and I found the real world so much more interesting and miraculous than the simple and ambiguous morality tales told to me in religious venues.

Then I found about Skeptical Inquirer Magazine published by the then named Committee for the Scientific Investigations of Claims of the Paranormal. CSICOP now called Committee for Scientific Investigation CSI. And after I tired of stories investigating lake monsters and Big Foot, wanted to know more about WHY people WANTED to believe this crap. I subscribed to Skeptic Magazine and joined the Oregonians for Science and Reason and Corvallis Secular Society. My skepticism grew until I myself became A Skeptic.

Then I contributed to the body of knowledge my self by producing my first documentary film: Andrus – the Man, the Mind and the Magic about genius and friend, Jerry Andrus; a poet, writer, philosopher and inventor of truly unique optical illusions and magic tricks. (By the way, most magicians are Skeptics; they know how to trick the eye appearing to defy the laws of physics).

So I am a Skeptic. As Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic (and contributor to my documentary) likes to say, “Skeptics like to keep an open mine, but not so open that our brains fall out”. Skeptics are all from Missouri, the “show me” state. We will listen to your claims but require you to prove your conclusions. Prove to us that light in the sky is from a craft visiting from another planet, that the movie of the ape-creature isn’t a guy in a monkey costume, that the “orbs” on pictures taken at the cemetery are not lens flares from street lights.

I was born with a Bullshit Detector in my brain - It has taken a lifetime for me to hone it into a finely-tuned tool. I’ve discovered that there is a lot of Bullshit in the world. But if you can shovel some of it aside, our reality is a truly remarkable place.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Hey buddy, can ya spare a buck?

During the Great Depression they were called Hobos, my Dad called them Bums, but today, the socially appropriate nomenclature is: “The Homeless”. Yes joblessness, divorce, abuse (both physical and substance) has caused some families to lose their shelter. But these are not the homeless I am concerned with but rather the guys who sit against the post office wall with a cardboard sign and an upturned hat, soliciting change from people passing by.

Often their signs say “God Bless” or “Homeless Vet”. They like to make eye contact with you; wish you a “good day” or ask you how you are. It’s designed to pull at your guilt strings because you have so much and they have so little. And inevitably I routinely see people drop money into their laps. And it irritates me to no end that people can be so naive.

Oh they need the money alright… the liquor store only takes cash. You won’t see these guys in the late afternoon or evening because the daily collection has been consumed from a bottle in a paper bag. How do I know this? I worked in Social Services for 17 years for the State of Oregon. These guys used to tell me all the “tricks of their trade” when they would come in for their Food Stamp appointment.

Enrique told me that he got the most money when he scrawled “Peace” on his cardboard. Frank and some of the other homeless “vets” would get military style coats from the Goodwill store. Most of these guys have never served a day in the armed services; I know because I had their records. I also knew that they sold their food stamps for cash (later sold their debit cards when benefits were shifted from paper to plastic).

They could also ask for small cash distributions for “job search”; to get a hair cut or buy a clean shirt. For a while I made them prove that they were using the money for that. My associates just gave them the cash; they figured that even if the money did get spent at the liquor store it was supporting the local economy.

The gullible public believes that if they don’t drop some spare change on these guys they will go hungry. But in most cities there are ample free food kitchens maintained by churches and local governments. These guys don’t go hungry. Look at them; do they look skinny to you? People don’t put any thought into their actions; they drop their dollar bills on these men not realizing they will go to sleep drunk that night.

True, most suffer what are called Personality Disorders and many are clinically mentally ill. Deinstitutionalization by the Reagan Administration closed off many of the governmental resources to this population and the numbers on the street skyrocketed.

Housing for the homeless is another myth. You could provide free apartments to these men and they would urinate in the corner and move back outside. The reason is that these people have opted out of any level of responsibility; they don’t want the responsibility of earning an income and maintain a place to live, or even responsibility over their own body. These people have opted out of life. The term is now socially incorrect, but it is still true – they are Bums. The most compassionate thing you can do to help these men is to keep your money in your pocket.