Think About It

The unexamined life is not worth living. – Socrates


It’s no surprise that I spent a lot of my supposedly formative years living an interior life – lots of reading, computer programming, games, etc. This is not to say that I never went outside. I had a dirt bike that I loved to ride in Minnesota, and camping had not lost its luster for me in those early days. Taking the L.A. River to Seal Beach on single-gear beach cruisers (in the years before anyone was pretentious enough to use the term “fixie”) was another great way to spend time with friends. I say that these were my supposedly formative years, because I think I’ve continued to form since then, with a nice burst of formation happening during my Army service. Travel truly is enlightening, and being forced to work and live with people from other backgrounds is a fine way to expand the mind as well.

I’m guessing a significant number of people live a life that Socrates would consider unworthy. They don’t examine their decisions, their beliefs, or their biases. They react to things which make them feel strongly, and don’t wonder if they’re being manipulated (intentionally or not). These people can’t comprehend that others do spend time thinking about why they should or should not believe things. Talking with them can be fascinating, but not for long. It’s like talking to the old Eliza chat program – it resembles a conversation, but nobody is actually conveying any information to the other participant.

Philosophers have come up with a number of terms and concepts regarding ethics. One of the concepts in ethics that is applicable to politics is “utilitarianism.” The basics are that we should make decisions based on the least harm or greatest benefit that the results would create. So, we should choose policies that have the best end result, regardless of the rationale for those policies. Deontology is another concept, which says we should make decisions based on the inherent rightness or wrongness of the actions, regardless of the eventual consequences. There’s a lot more depth to both of these concepts, and to the varying interpretations, but this should be a good start.

When we look at the society we have today, and the society we might dream of it becoming, we can think of doing the right thing, or we can think of doing the thing which produces the best result, and sometimes they’re even the same plan. That balancing act is tough to handle at times, but I’m not willing to just appeal to authority and make what someone else says is the One True Choice.

My views on society are, like most thoughtful people I know, not always perfectly coherent. There are always holes where I may not have spent enough time thinking through a position. Many times, I have to admit ignorance and try to avoid forming a concrete opinion on an issue that others have expertise and personal experience with. I’m generally on the side of utilitarianism, but there are times when you just have to do the right thing (apologies to Spike Lee). Fortunately, we rarely encounter a real-life version of the Trolley Problem in our lives.

This is all well and good, you say, but what the hell is the point? I’m mostly wool gathering, but it’s been prompted by seeing the sheer volume of people who will parrot nonsense, and when challenged, rely on “well we’ll never agree.” Yeah, if we can’t talk without rancor, we won’t agree. If we can’t both acknowledge the other as a fully-formed human being with opinions which are honestly held, we won’t agree. If we can’t put aside the silly name calling and tribalism and try to understand why we believe things that others think are ridiculous (and they believe things we think are ridiculous), we’ll never agree.

I’ve seen a few of my friends recently try to engage with people who have differing political views. My friends have all (and this is why they’re friends) been unfailingly polite, and attempted to defuse the defensive posturing to get to a core, “why do you say that” answer. Alas, I’ve never seen this end with a sharing of views. I’ve seen the defensive person just disappear or disappear after the “agree to disagree” comment, but at no point explicating WHY the opinion was held in the first place. It’s truly maddening.

So, I can only come to the conclusion that some significant number of our fellow humans don’t think much, and can’t understand those who do. Everything must be simpler when all answers are obvious, and nothing has nuance or subtlety. I don’t live in that world, but it sounds like a cartoon to me. I’ve found that humans are rarely caricatures. I know many gun owners who are in favor of stricter gun control. I know people who are pro-choice and pro-gun, in favor of environmental causes and also in favor of nuclear power. None of the people I would consider friends would call someone a “libtard” or a “rethuglican” except as a clear joke. I think the nation and the world would be better off if we could stop with the tribalism (and that’s what party politics are) and start trying to see the common humanity in our fellow people.

And, seriously – think about things.


As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives. – Thoreau

Testing Crosspost to LJ & G+

I’m testing a new plugin for WordPress to post to Livejournal. The old one seems to be inserting random characters in my posts, and breaking URLs and otherwise not functioning as desired. The fact that it hasn’t been updated in a year, while WordPress has been updated a dozen times since then, leads me to blame incompatibility between new WP and old plugin.

Be Skeptical

So many Facebook posts are mindless or poorly-considered reposts of something vastly misleading or irrelevant. Here are some I’ve seen this week.

For example, “Bibles are not allowed in schools.” This is not true, and has never been true. The only prohibition is that teachers and staff can’t force or coerce students in religion. There has never been a case that was upheld in which a student was forbidden from bringing a Bible (or other religious book) to school, nor from praying in a non-intrusive fashion.

“The President takes a lot of vacation,” claim folks on the Right. No, he doesn’t. He takes more than I do, but I also don’t have to be on-call even while on vacation. I’m not sure the President could ever be considered to be truly on vacation, as he takes his entire operations center with him everywhere. He does not take more vacation than his predecessors. Let’s say he keeps up the pace he’s been, which is around 21 days of vacation per year. That will be 168 days in 8 years, or just about the same number as Bill Clinton (174) and significantly less than GW Bush (1020 days according to his Library, with 490 of them in Crawford) or Reagan (335 at his California ranch). I can’t seem to find someone with good numbers on George H.W. Bush’s full term, but by all accounts he was below average in days away from D.C. in his term (another reason to like Poppy Bush). Obama’s vacations do tend to cost more than the Bush or Reagan vacations, since he doesn’t own a vacation home and has to pay (OK, we have to pay) for his lodging.

“American soldiers in the Middle East are being forced to observe Ramadan fasting restrictions!” No, they’re not. Well, not really. It’s complicated. If you’re stationed overseas, there are two sets of laws you need to follow. If you’re on-base, you follow US laws, as modified by the military and local command. If you’re off-base, you follow the local laws. In Saudi Arabia, it is literally illegal to not fast during the Ramadan days of fasting. That’s the local law. To ensure that US service members don’t run afoul of the local law, there are briefings telling them what they need to do, off-base. They can still go to the chow hall or Burger King on-base, with no problems of any kind.

Any statement that begins with “liberals believe” or “conservatives believe” is probably bullshit. It rises to near-certainty if the terms used are “libtard” or “rethuglican.” No group seems to be well-represented by the loudest members of that group in modern politics. Most conservatives and liberals seem to disagree with most of what the two political parties put forward as party platforms, as if “conservative” is not synonymous with “Republican” and “liberal” is not synonymous with “Democrat.” Go figure. Most actual people are not cartoon character villains, and pretending they are does no one any good.

I have nothing profound to say, just ranting about nonsense which is easily refuted by two seconds with the Google. Before you repost something that sounds great to you, maybe take a little time to find out if it’s got any basis in reality.

Bowe Bergdahl

I have a lot of veteran friends, obviously. But, I also have a lot of non-vet friends who may not fully understand what’s going on with Bergdahl, or not get why so many vets are ambivalent about his fate.

In 2009, Bergdahl was an odd duck, a leg infantryman (not qualified to jump out of planes) in an airborne unit. He was also apparently a bit of a philosopher, and seems to have become somewhat conflicted about the actions of the USA in Afghanistan. This is not uncommon among both vets and non-vets. It’s certainly true that we made some bone-headed moves, as well as smart moves. The balance is not something I’m going to get into, but it’s definitely an important backdrop for Bergdahl’s story.

He left his forward operating base (tiny outpost in dangerous territory) one morning, and was not seen again by the public except on video until this week.

So…the discussion centers around what the hell this low-ranking soldier was doing leaving a safe-ish zone in the middle of a war zone, while leaving his buddies to take up his slack. It becomes increasingly clear that Bergdahl was, at best, a confused young man. He apparently thought life should be more like the movies, and he was the hero. He may have thought he could change the Taliban into warm fuzzies, he may have just felt guilty about the small part he played in destroying pieces of Afghanistan. There’s no way to be certain at this time, but his motivations are almost beside the point.

The biggest point to veterans is this – he left his buddies in the lurch. He was part of a team. That team needed to trust *every* member to do his duty, and be where he was supposed to be, doing the job he was supposed to do. Any person missing not only reduces the effectiveness of the group by his absence, but reduces the effectiveness because they are duty-bound to try to find his ass. Trust and honor are words that carry a lot of weight in the military. These guys all needed to know that the guy sitting next to them would be capable and ready to defend each other without fail. One guy going missing isn’t just one guy – he’s a wound that is hard to heal in the body of that unit. The unit wants to be complete and whole, and will work to find missing or fallen members.

And this is what they did. His platoon (group of 30-50 men with guns) searched for him, taking away from their mission of defending a small part of Afghanistan. At least six people died during searches for Bergdahl. Some people say that the continuing low-level mission of “find Bergdahl” may have cost many other lives, but the military is not confirming that publicly.

Regardless of his motivations, and regardless of his causing disruption to his unit, there is also the constant reminder over the last five years that we had one prisoner of war in Afghanistan, and we wanted him back. We wanted him back because “No Man Left Behind” is a saying that soldiers believe in. He may have been a soup sandwich, but he was an American soldier, and damned if we didn’t want him returned to us. Several of my Army comrades have been posting “Bowe Tuesday” reminders for years, reinforcing that PFC Bergdahl was wanted back in the fold. Later, that became SGT Bergdahl, as without a determination of desertion, he was entitled to automatic promotion while a prisoner.

Now, he’s back, and the cost may be high (how valuable the prisoners we’re giving up are is a debate for someone with much more knowledge than I have about the subject), but he’s back. I assume there will be an investigation into his departure, but it will probably be very low-key and out of the public eye. I do know that he’s unlikely to ever serve another day as a normal soldier. If he’s still wearing a uniform in a year, I’ll be very surprised. I’m very curious whether his views on the relative value of American vs. Taliban culture and justice have changed.

So, welcome home, SGT Bergdahl. You’ve got some explaining to do.

Name-calling and Non Sequiturs

I may have, once or twice, stooped to derogatory name-calling when mentioning a major public figure in the past. If you look, I’m sure somewhere I may have called G.W. Bush “Shrub” as so many others did, thinking we were witty. But, in general, I referred to him as President Bush or Dubya. I can defend Dubya as not derogatory, as that’s what so many of his friends and family called him for decades. On those occasions when I was childish, I apologize for being childish.

It doesn’t seem that anyone on the Right is capable of calling the current President by his actual name. This does not make them seem witty, any more than referring to Bush as “Shrub” did years ago. Further, it seems that they can’t stop doing it, nor coming up with an ever-increasing list of names they think are clever. Not only are they not clever, they serve as a barrier to entry for anyone not already in the bubble where these things circulate. This may be deliberate on the part of some pundits, but certainly the average person one encounters is merely following along in someone else’s script. This has actually been going on far longer than the Obama administration. I can’t tell you how many times I had to ask someone to whom they were referring when they would use a completely impenetrable nom de wit for a public figure. Uncle Joe, Moochelle, Obummer, etc. – the list seems endless. The effect can frequently be that nobody who isn’t already part of the conservative movement even knows what you’re talking about and therefore won’t engage in conversation. This leads to conservatives erecting a wall of rhetoric, never hearing anything that doesn’t reinforce their belief that libtards and commies and nazis are taking over the government and the UN is leading troops into the US to round every True Patriot up and put them in FEMA camps, financed by the Amero coins and the Law of the Sea Treaty, or whatever Jerome Corsi wrote about this week.

I’m not saying liberals don’t engage in name-calling. I know they do. They’re just not as all-encompassing about it. Most of the liberal pundits will call Boehner by his actual name, no matter how tempting it would be to mispronounce it. And they referred to President Bush by his name most of the time. Most liberals do not call Republicans “Rethuglicans” except when a specific group is acting like bullies. Most of the time, these things are true. When conservatives refer to liberal name calling, they most often point to liberals calling conservatives stupid or racist or misogynist. This is a form of name-calling, to be sure, but they are at least actual words with known meanings, as opposed to “libtard” which is pretty darned weird. My theory on the ubiquity of conservative terms, as contrasted with the truly disorganized liberal canon, is that conservatives are just a whole lot better at staying “on message” and on framing debates. Hell, they even made “liberal” into a term so dirty that most Lefties call themselves progressive now. It’s impressive. The out party is much more likely to engage in rhetorical bomb-throwing, which is why the name-calling and general unpleasantness is heaviest from the Right currently. The Left should not get a pass on this either, but they’re just not as noisy about this particular gambit currently.

And then there are the non sequiturs. Yes, we get it, President Obama (sorry, B. Hussein Obummer) wears “mom jeans.” Haha. And this means what, exactly? At least come up with something that is relevant to the discussion, eh? Sure, it’s possible that unflattering casual wear is a thing that has some importance, but most of us do not work for GQ. Oh, and he wore a bike helmet? Yeah, so did GW Bush when he went for a bike ride as President. It’s just being a good example for the children of the country.

If you can’t call someone by their actual name, if you refer to anyone you don’t agree with by derogatory terms, do you expect to influence anyone? Or are you just trying to prove to your imagined audience of sycophants how clever you are, because you can parrot names someone else coined? It’s pathetic, and it’s a sure way to get blocked or ignored by me anyway. Grow up.

Trayvon Martin

Like anyone else with a functioning neocortex and access to modern media, I have an opinion about the Trayvon Martin shooting. And, like almost everyone else, my opinion was worth exactly zero in the legal proceedings that just ended. This is what is supposed to happen; if you’re not part of the case, your vote is not counted. Also, the media don’t share every iota of information that the jury received, but do add a lot of information that the jury is told to ignore from a legal standpoint. This is just how things work in America. There are rules of evidence that are fundamental to ensuring that innocent people don’t get convicted. These rules don’t always work, to be sure (check out The Innocence Project if you ever feel that police and DAs are infallible), but there are rules nonetheless.

The evidence that is agreed true by all legal experts is that Zimmerman saw Martin walking in the rain at night, in a neighborhood that has had a rash of burglaries. Zimmerman was told by the police dispatcher that they would prefer he not confront Martin directly, but that was not a legal order, just a request. Between that moment and the moment that the police showed up, the only other thing we all know for sure is that Zimmerman fired his pistol and killed Martin. We do not know who the original aggressor was. We do not know if Zimmerman was acting under some racist animus. We do not know what Zimmerman and Martin said to each other. If you claim to know, you’re wrong. If you claim that Martin assaulted Zimmerman before he was killed in self-defense, you are making that up. If you claim that Zimmerman gunned Martin down in cold blood, you are making that up. You just do not know.

I have my own biases and beliefs and feelings about the case, and I think Zimmerman is a well-meaning man who did something stupid that ended tragically. But, I don’t know that for sure, and it’s equally likely that any number of scenarios are true. The problem I had with the case from the beginning was not that a “white” (hispanic is not a race, no matter what Nixon thought) man shot a black “kid” (17 is not a little kid). The problem I had was the lack of a real investigation at the beginning. If Florida did not have a “stand your ground” law, the police would not have been allowed to just let Zimmerman leave the scene that night on his own. If the police weren’t so lenient with their definitions of what “your ground” meant, they would have launched a real strong investigation that night, rather than dropping it until public outcry forced them to investigate. That seems like a problem to me. You may disagree, and that’s fine.

Once the investigation was complete, it seems that the DA didn’t really have a good case but felt compelled to go to trial anyway, because of the same public outcry. This led to the fairly bizarre trial we just saw unfold. If the DA really didn’t think it had a case, it should have dropped it after the investigation. The Zimmerman trial did not help anyone feel good about our justice system.

Now, I’ve seen a lot of posts on Facebook with titles like “What about …” with some other shooting victim’s name at the end. These are all, without exception, some white kid who was killed by a black man. If that isn’t a classic case of race-baiting, the term has no meaning. What about those other people? Well, did their killers get investigated? Did their killers get charged with a crime, if it was deemed appropriate? That’s the difference, not what skin tone the guy with the gun had. If you think the uproar last year was because a white guy shot a black guy and got away with it, you’re not paying attention.

I’m really happy to see that most of the protests about Zimmerman being acquitted are peaceful (what’s up with Los Angeles?). I hope everyone understands that being acquitted in a criminal trial means that the jury found some reasonable doubts about his guilt. It does not mean that he was an angel or a devil, just that there is reasonable doubt. That’s how things are supposed to work. Sometimes, we let people go who might be guilty, rather than lock people up who might be guilty. If you think Zimmerman is a horrible person, it may make you feel better to realize that he’s going to be paranoid about vigilante justice coming for him for a long time to come. That may be irony.

Dear Abby

There are a number of media personalities who define an era. Those of us in Generation X grew up with a few TV networks and a relative conformity in popular culture until the late 1980s. This led to a few names being instantly recognizable, even if they were originally marketed to our parents and not to us. This was, after all, before the rise of child-centered life in America, when we were expected to be seen and not heard and did not get a veto over things in the home. It seems the icons of the Boomer generation are almost all gone now, and so the comfortable feeling of Gen X childhood memories are tainted as well.

My mother has always been a reader, and the books I read when I was a kid (at least between library visits) were frequently hers. Thus, I became a fan of Erma Bombeck, one of the great humorists of the 1970s and 1980s, who could be considered a precursor to the “mommy blogger” phenomenon of today. Erma died far too young in 1996, but I still remember the cover art for “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank.”

In the days of the Fairness Doctrine, talk radio was not nearly as pervasive and fragmented as it is today. One voice that everyone knew was Paul Harvey. When I attended a broadcast journalism class in the early 1980s, we put together a television news and commentary show. I chose to use the persona of Saul Garvey, which I thought was clever at the time. Paul Harvey died in 2001. And that’s the rest of the story.

We didn’t always have cameras following our every move in public, and we certainly didn’t have YouTube to share our private moments of embarrassment or inadvertent comedy. From 1948 until 1993, we got our dose of schadenfreude from Allen Funt and “Candid Camera.” Rarely mean-spirited, the pranks were hilarious and rather obvious to our older, jaded eyes today. Allen Funt died in 1999. I like to think he was smiling, and in on the joke.

This week, another of the great figures of the latter half of the 20th Century left us. Abigail van Buren was the woman everyone looked to for advice from 1956 until 2002. With wit and empathy, she made us all feel that she could be trusted with any secrets. Pauline Phillips died in 2013. Sadly, she was suffering from Alzheimer’s and was unlikely to be very much like her old self, but we can remember her wit, and her daughter continues the column with some inherited awesomeness.

I don’t think the younger generations will ever know the monolithic nature of popular culture we lived with before 100 channels of television and high-speed internet came along. We have so many more choices today than we did twenty years ago, not to mention the dark ages of the 1970s. Choices are great, and I love the options we have today. But, will there ever again be someone who is going to be remembered as such a pervasive part of everyday life as Dear Abby?

It’s Not That Simple

Why do these things happen? Why do they keep happening? What can we do to stop them from happening?

These are the obvious questions asked, screamed, and cried out whenever something as horrific as the Newtown murders or the Aurora murders reach the national news. We want things to make sense, and we want to fix things which are broken. For many years, various groups have worked to demonize various trends, items, and products in order to stop violence. There doesn’t seem to be a simple answer, but we don’t want to deal with complex ones. There may not even be a complex answer.

Homicide by weapon
Homicide by weapon 1976-2004

First, is gun violence on the rise in the United States or not? If you watch the news, you’d think every public place is only a hair’s breadth from utter annihilation from a nut with a gun. Although gun violence in America is higher than most other industrialized nations by a rather large ratio, it’s actually not at a particularly high level compared to our own historical norm. Many people think that we live in especially dangerous times, but that’s simply not true. We’re no more in danger now than in 1975. Of course, our parents didn’t have four channels of 24-hour news that needed to be filled. We hear about more violence, but that doesn’t mean we are experiencing more violence. So, we aren’t seeing any more gun violence than our parents saw.

Second, is restricting gun ownership a panacea that would prevent gun violence? This seems obvious to many people. More guns must lead to more gun crimes, after all. But, other countries have higher rates of gun ownership than the USA does, and have much lower levels of gun-related homicide. Switzerland is a great example. Every able-boded male between 18 and 50 is a member of Switzerland’s armed forces and there are approximately 2 million firearms in private hands in that country of 6 million people. Approximately 25% of Swiss households have a firearm in the home. That’s about the same percentage as the USA (The Swiss have 46 guns per 100 people and we have 88 guns per 100 people in the USA, since we seem to have a lot more collectors or arsenal-builders here). There were 0.52 gun homicides per 100,000 citizens in Switzerland in 2010. In the USA, that was 3.2 – over six times the rate. So, availability of weapons doesn’t necessarily lead to more gun violence.

Finally, does media violence lead to actual violence? We are not the only country with violent video games and television shows and movies. Yet, we are an outlier in terms of gun violence compared to those other countries. Studies sometimes show that violent imagery can cause violent behavior, but the imagery is usually out of context and not how we actually encounter those images in real media consumption. Further, looking at violent behavior in a lab is only interesting to the researchers; looking at the rise of media violence and whether that correlates to real-world violence is what matters to society. There is no such correlation. As anyone who has lived through the past thirty years could tell you, media violence has not decreased and yet (as shown above) gun violence has decreased. If there’s any causative motion, you might be able to claim that the rise of more violent video games in the 1990s (as opposed to the cartoonish games of the 1980s) has actually caused us to become less violent. There is no proof for that statement, but if you look merely at correlation and ignore plausible causation, you could make that argument. So, media doesn’t make our citizens more violent.

What does make the United States different from other countries? Why do we have more gun violence than societies similar to our own? Why does Canada have one-quarter the gun-related homicide rate the USA has? Is our society so different from Canada and England and all the other industrialized nations? Before we try to make sweeping changes to our laws, it might be educational to figure out whether the things we want to change would plausibly make any difference. It’s not as simple as “more guns” or “fewer guns” or “video games” – it’s not obvious, and it’s not something we have figured out yet. It’s not a new problem, it’s not an increasingly large problem, but it’s definitely a difficult problem. Banning one thing or another might feel like the right thing to do, but it likely won’t make a difference.

This does not mean we should just give up and accept a certain level of murders because we don’t have a simple answer to fix the problem. But, we need to actually identify the cause of the problem before we can fix it.

Surface = Zune

Microsoft’s announced Surface tablets remind me of Zune and not just because of the Metro interface. Sure, it looks nice. Almost everyone who ever touched a Zune said they were built phenomenally well. But there aren’t that many people who touched one. Why is that?

Of course, the “late to market” problem is obvious. Zune came to market after the iPod had already eaten Creative’s lunch and only a few players like Sandisk and Sony stuck around with new devices, all of which worked with Microsoft’s own “PlaysForSure” system. Network effects will lead to a difficult path for pure Metro apps, now that iPad and Android have years of customer buy-in behind them. Would you leave your current environment, just to buy all the programs you use a second time? This assumes that the programs actually materialize. And a tablet without Angry Birds is no tablet at all.

Besides the network effects, the Windows RT experience duplicates the Zune (and iOS too) in the locked-down nature of the entire ecosystem. You can’t boot anything but WinRT on the tablet (UEFI is locked), you can’t install anything except approved Metro apps from the Windows Store, there is no sideloading and no bypassing the paywall. Anyone who likes that sort of thing already has an iPad. Those who find those restrictions onerous won’t buy an iOS device nor WinRT device.

Competing with your own customers is a very Zune-like move I see in the Surface tablet. Zune tried a completely new ecosystem, ignoring the PlaysForSure ecosystem which had preceded it and annoying Microsoft’s former partners in the process. Surface tablets are going to be competitively priced with Microsoft’s own partners’ tablets. That’s not really competitive, it’s predatory in many minds.

Not Zune-like, but still weird to me is the whole announcement itself. I’d have thought that manufacturers would have learned by now that vapor announcements are just stupid. Look at Apple – they announce something when it’s ready for sale. Those few items which they may “pre-announce” have solid shipping dates and prices. Microsoft says their tablets will be competitively priced and will arrive eventually. Also, nobody was allowed to touch the full Windows Pro tablets. It makes one wonder if they’re hiding something there – not ready for even sympathetic tech media to handle?

Those covers do look neat though. So there’s that.

Everybody’s Special

Seeing as many birthday parties as I do (helping Kat at her job), it’s obvious things are different from When I Was A Kid. The new kid order is further highlighted by the end of the school year, which I’ll get to in a moment. First, parties.

Back when I was a kid, the only one who left a birthday party with anything other than cake in their belly was the birthday kid. I don’t know when it changed, but by the time Alex was attending birthday parties, the gift bag culture had developed. If you didn’t hand out candy and toys to the guests at a party, good luck getting your kid invited to anyone else’s. Are we teaching kids that even on a day when one kid is rightfully the center of attention, everyone is still Special?

When I was a kid, the only graduation ceremony you had (before college) was when you got a diploma after 12th grade. That is graduating. Any graduation that ends with, “See you in the fall” is not much of a graduation. I understand marking major events in a child’s life, but when Alex “graduated” from kindergarten, I don’t think he nor his classmates gave a damn about it. The whole thing was for the parents to prove their kid is Special. When he “graduated” from elementary school a year ago, I’m pretty sure the kids didn’t care much either. The boys seemed uncomfortable in their nice clothes, but otherwise they acted like it was just another day. Which it was!

I suppose in two years, he’ll “graduate” from middle school. It still won’t mean much to him, nor should it. Why have we started doing this? If your child doesn’t know how much you appreciate him on a regular basis, if your child doesn’t know how much you love him every day, do you really think a silly ceremony is going to make him feel Special? It seems like we’d be better off celebrating our kids’ individual (or team) achievements when they happen, rather than just wrapping up the year with one big ceremony. It seems to be an admission that we don’t have time to recognize actual accomplishments if we recognize “not being held back a grade” as worthy of a ceremony. When everyone is special, nobody is.

The Well-Heeled Gamer

Bloomberg News recently posted their look at how much it costs a family of four to be gamers. They apparently believe a family of four to be composed of members of Michael Bloomberg’s family, because they came up with some whoppers for their hardware choices.

They believe that gamers pay $3000 for a gaming PC and $800 for the monitor, in addition to having an Xbox 360 with surround sound system attached to a 60″ television and paying $200 per month for internet service. WTF?

I can play every game out there for Windows, and I built my machine over a year ago for $800, plus (generously estimating) $250 for the monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Today, you can easily buy a gaming PC or laptop that will play Crysis 2 or Arkham City or Skyrim for under $1000, all in.

They don’t stop with just a few ridiculous assumptions, though. They also believe we gamers routinely pay $250 for headsets. We all own iPod Touches, $250 chairs with built-in speakers, and pay full MSRP for 70 games per year (30 Xbox, 30 Steam and 10 iPod).

All of this stupidity leads them to say it costs $17000 per year to be a gamer. They are smoking crack. I buy at least a dozen or so games per year, but I never pay full price. I maybe drop $200 on games for the year, not the $2000 that Bloomberg thinks I do. And how many gamers who don’t work for a magazine actually own a steering wheel or other exotic add-ons? Nuts.

Stoopid Suddenlink

While playing Cityville and checking GearDiary for new geekery, suddenly the internet stopped. DNS requests are failing as unresolved for such smaller and little-known sites as Google. As of now, 20 minutes later, I cannot get to Google or Facebook or Youtube or GearDiary. Somehow, I can get to Woot and LOLCats and Livejournal.  Yet another example of high quality Suddenlink service.

SOPA

There are some people who are expressing incredulity that anyone believes the Internet Blackout scheduled for the 18th is a good idea. The argument goes something like this, “Not producing content on Wednesday is like not buying gasoline on Wednesday. You’ll just do the writing on Tuesday or Thursday, so what do you gain?” This fungibility theory of content is, I think, missing the point. While boycotting Texaco for one day is relatively pointless and unnoticed by the corporation you’re trying to hurt, that is not at all like blacking out Wikipedia for one day.

While gasoline boycotts are intended to send a message to the big oil companies (who don’t even notice the blip), the Internet Blackout is intended to raise awareness among the non-geek set. Those of us who read Gizmodo or Slashdot are very well versed in SOPA/PIPA and DMCA and all the other acronyms we hate to see pop up in a news story. But, think about your less-geeky friends who don’t know that DMCA is evil and don’t know what DRM is. They are like Jon Stewart, who only last week had someone in his audience ask him about SOPA and he had to profess complete ignorance. The normal folks in the world have not been following the SOPA debate and they aren’t mad about the United States attempting to erect the same sort of censorship plans as China (with the added benefit of giving corporations nearly unilateral police powers to shut down any site they don’t like).

How to get those non-geek people to add their voices to those of Vint Cerf and Eric Schmidt (who have already been ignored by Congressional committees because they don’t understand all that computer stuff)? You need to get their attention in a way that is hard to ignore. Since most people use Google regularly and Wikipedia frequently, slapping a giant black banner on those sites with, “Imagine if this site was down forever” will make at least some of them pay attention to what our elected representatives are proposing to do in our names. SOPA is bad legislation, it’s bad information security, it’s bad business. And, it won’t stop one damned pirate anyway.

Andysocial.com will be offline tomorrow. I know nobody will notice, since I have virtually no visitors, but it makes me feel better anyway.

Shredding

Dear former coworker,

I see you printed a lot of material for your online-only classes from University of Phoenix. Was it really necessary to do that at work and leave it in the shred bag? Also, have you ever tried to shred crumpled paper? Did you even attempt once in your two years of working here to shred anything yourself or just leave it all for me?

Fuck you very much.

Obligatory Steve Jobs Memorial Post

It seems the internet has decreed that all geeks must post some essay or braindropping to commemorate the passing of Steve Jobs. I would be remiss in my geek role if I were to avoid this responsibility, so here goes: a memorial for Steve Jobs from someone who has never owned an Apple product.

I know, my various geek and media brethren, the very idea of not owning an iPod or iPad or iPhone or iWhatever is impossible for some to comprehend. But I come here not to praise Jobs but to bury him. Or something like that, anyway. Regardless of my complete lack of Apple ownership, there is still a great deal of Jobsian influence in my life.

Continue reading Obligatory Steve Jobs Memorial Post

Guns Don’t Kill People, Video Games Do!

Much as Goldie Lookin Chain satirized in their great 2004 song (look it up), Norwegian game stores have taken to blaming tangentially related things for a violent act. The store, Coop, has removed such games as Call of Duty, Homefront, and World of Warcraft from their shelves after Anders Breivik expressed admiration for the latter and claiming Modern Warfare was a great training tool for his shooting rampage. Yeah, that will work.

Compromise…I do not think it means what you think it means

So, once again, we see the great Change agent deal with a recalcitrant GOP by a complete and utter capitulation. What does the President point to as a vital program which he has protected during this Great Compromise? Even Medicare and Social Security, which were considered sacrosanct by both parties not that long ago, are going to be looked at by the new and improved bipartisan debt reduction commission later in the year. Apparently the first debt reduction commission didn’t provide the correct answers that anyone wanted last year.

Meanwhile, the GOP gets to claim success in all their areas. No tax increases, even on the wealthiest people (they aren’t Job Creators just because the GOP says so; they need to actually create jobs to be worthy of that title) or greediest tax-dodging corporations (which have already taken their profits off-shore, so what threat do they have left?). And, the debt debate will continue through the election, providing a nice millstone for Obama to drag around.

Yay for change.

Gerrymandering and Extremism

As our elected putative representatives have, over the past century or so, completely gerrymandered the congressional districts to be mostly safe zones for one party or the other’s incumbents, incumbency rates are generally steady above 90% for national elections. Because of this, each member of the House is probably only interested in pleasing his or her “base” party faithful, rather than some hypothetical constituency which may actually contain people with whom the base disagrees. For example, here in  West-By-God Texas, nobody gives even the slightest lip service to any Democratic Party followers or liberal/progressive issues. Everything is about the conservative agenda, and who among the political class is hewing most closely to the Platonic ideal of perfection. What Democrats do run are obviously only serving as a token sacrifice, as they have no chance whatsoever of beating the 80% GOP voting record. Heck, many of the local offices don’t even have a D on the ballot; we may have more Libertarians running than Democrats.

Might this be part of what led to the current theater taking place in DC regarding the debt ceiling? The GOP House members don’t have to make any noise about compromising what they claim are their principles, even though nearly 80% of the USA says they should. They don’t need to worry about that because we don’t have a national general election for those seats – each of those individuals only has to play to the base back in the gerrymandered district. This means that only primary elections matter, so proving you can work with The Other Side is completely irrelevant. There is no other side, as far as it matters when re-election time comes.

This strikes me as being one really messed up way to run a government.

Counterproductive Security Measures

The base computer network seemingly doesn’t trust any security certificates from any signing authority other than Verisign. This means that every web site that uses any other registrar (which is to say, a truly stupendous number of sites) gets an error message that the site’s security certificate cannot be verified to a trusted issuer. This happens with my company timecard system, as one rather important example. Since the network doesn’t trust Entrust or others, this means there is no way to be sure that the sites I connect to which are not Verisign-approved are real sites or phishing expeditions. This means that every site which is not Verisign-approved is a giant red beacon of “ignore this security warning because it’s really not a problem after all.” Every non-Verisign site adds one more item to the list of things to ignore which good security practices tell you NOT to ignore.

Although the Air Force has decided (for reasons which escape me) to allow Youtube and Facebook access on-base (but not Google Plus or even Google Calendar), this week Flash is broken. This is a security configuration issue, as the flashing error bar on the top of the page says the addon has been disabled, not that Flash is literally broken. So, one more flashing error bar to add to the list.

Again, this just encourages users to assume that every error message is, in fact, in error itself. If we get inundated with false positives, we are being trained to ignore actual positives. This also applies to the wave of “helpful” messages which greet us whenever we log in; I challenge any user here at Goodbuddy to honestly claim they read those every time they log into the network. Just more noise to ignore, and train people to ignore all messages because most of them are trivia or wrong.