Thursday, October 17, 2013

Politics as Madness as Politics as Usual

Crisis, crises, Christ Almighty...

The loathing I have for our politicians and for many, many of our citizens has finally gone beyond any level where I can name it. This "legislate via Mafia tactics" nonsense has gone on long enough. The Dems tend to be spineless (though they seem to have found it this time), and the majority of Republicans are either spineless, or are simply willing to let their own party die for the sake of trying to score a few extra points with their most extreme constituents. And then there are Ted Cruz and Louie Gohmert - two ends of the exact same spectrum: one, the Hahvahd-educated son of Americans living in Canada, the other... how does one describe Louie, other than crazy imbecile? Cruz was well-known in college for his effete snobbery (you didn't go to Yale, or Princeton? begone with you, peasant!), while Louie might have only been known for his affinity to farm animals. Yet these two Republican poster-boys sorta worked together to bring the United States to the brink of financial ruin. It's nice to know that Cruz can work with someone whom he would normally consider beneath him. And it's nice to know that Gohmert can work with an Hispanic-American without resorting to calling him an ethnic slur.

Beyond that, I wish they'd stop working together, since all they seem to want is for the republic to implode.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Story Gets Better and Better

Let me get this straight: Alex Jones says that the World Trade Center towers were brought down on purpose, so that the US would go to war? Or to negate a bunch of freedoms? Or possibly to destroy the financial infrastructure of the US? Maybe even to initiate some kind of marshal law and/or gun control.

He's in good company. The Boston Bombers also believe/d that the 9/11 event was created by the US - to fan the flames of hatred against Muslims.

Alex Jones gets his information from other people on the interwebs, people who are (in most cases) obviously looking for some way to explain their drab, miserable lives by making wild accusations, or spouting off theories that would embarass even the Lone Gunmen. My favorite so far has been a video of a scruffy guy describing a photograph of one of the pressure cookers as "evidence" that it wasn't the actual bomb, the shape of the explosion was wrong, there were no shrapnel holes in the lid, etc., etc. Meanwhile, he's about two inches from his webcam and he acts like he's hiding from his mom.

And, of course, there are Muslim websites doing the exact same thing, saying stuff like "Israel performs lab experiments on live Palestinian babies to see how well their nerve gas works" or such-like. (disclaimer: I've NEVER EVER READ anything that actually said that, so pshaw)

This is what makes the Internet such an amazing, wonderful place. Anyone can write anything, without regard to consequence, but then the consequences actually come along and people die. I'm not suggesting censorship, but I am suggesting a better fucking education systems.

But my own relatives are taking this BS seriously, and it is beginning to piss me off. I love them dearly, and they're both very smart, smart people, but this is beyond insane. Alex Jones is propagating the kind of "journalism" that consists of asking zillions of contrarian questions in the hopes that more and more people will climb on his bandwagon, and even pay him money, in order to lend credence to his views. If enough people check into your website on a daily basis, if enough people buy your videos, well, Holy Shiite! Maybe one day Piers Morgan will invite you on his show so that you can yell at him endlessly. Only one problem that I see - what if almost everything you spout is total BS? What public interest are you serving by "asking questions", when it's possible that what every other news report (well... almost) is actually checking facts before they go and release any information at all. Maybe THEY are actually interviewing people who were REALLY THERE. As opposed to the countless whackos who you link to your site in order to fan the flames of inflammatory rhetoric that you spout, so that you get plenty of hits, and yet somehow manage to educate or even inform NO ONE. Because if you're not giving people facts, you're just screaming out GUESSES.

And I don't believe in guesses any more than I believe in God. Because it's important to remember one thing: while facts are immutable, beliefs are mostly self-sustaining falsehoods that live on and on precisely because there's no evidence to support them. In Alex Jones' case, if the evidence is at odds with what he's saying, that just proves there's a conspiracy to silence him.


Friday, April 19, 2013

Bombings and Other Extreme Sports

While there is a certain temptation to throw various sports metaphors at the criminal attack of the Boston Marathon, now is not the time. As they say, comedy equals tragedy plus time, and there hasn't been enough time yet.

We have been told that there are two bombers, brothers of Chechen background (sort of), legal immigrants, one of whom recently became a citizen. One of them is now dead, shot during a shootout in which the other brother managed to escape.

I am not going to say any more on the subject, because I am not convinced of any of the particulars yet.

What I will say is that I am tired, so VERY, VERY tired of people who claim to be concerned, thinking individuals, yet who are using Alex Jones as their source for all things accurate and truthful in the news. Alex Jones, who is convinced that the twin towers were brought down by a government conspiracy; who is convinced that the Sandy Hook Shooting was arranged by the current President to curtail 2nd Amendment Rights in this country; and who has said that the latest bombing was also arranged by Obama to find another way to take away our precious freedoms somehow.

Stupidity is SO exhausting, don't you think?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What Shall We Do with a Drunken Trader?

In the year of our Lord 2009, a fellow in Britain affected world oil prices during a drunken blackout. In an attempt to not say things like "I told you so" or "No shit, Sherlock", it is my duty to take severe notice of the, shall we say, flexibility of our commodities trading systems around the world.

The timeline, as I understand it, is this:

Steve Perkins, a trader at PVM Oil Futures left work after the end of a long, hard day.

(everything between now and 1:22 am is sheer speculation)

He went to his local, the Bung & Beaver, for five or six pints of the best bitter (or, to be exotic, five or six pint cans of Budweiser). He also stopped at a chip shop to get some delightful takeaway fish to go with the other few cans of beer sitting in his fridge at home. He also stopped at the offy to get a bottle of Scotch (unless he was upper class, in which case it was either Vodka or Gin).

After he arrived home, and haphazardly jammed the key into the lock, he opened the door to find his pet hamster waiting patiently for noms.

So he sits down at the telly, opens up his very hygenically-wrapped fish & chips (no more newspaper, folks!), cracked another can of beer (this time, some kind of shitty ale), and drank with his fish. More beer. More British Idol. More beer.

As we reach the late hour of ten o'clock, Steve is off beer and on to Scotch or one of the clear ones. On the rocks. Until getting up to get more rocks becomes too much trouble. He is sitting in front of his computer, surfing porn. Unfortunately, after ten pints of beer and half a pint of hard alcohol, he is no longer able to get it up, so he turns to the other manly thing he knows how to do: buy oil futures.

So, at 1:22 am (where we rejoin reality), he goes buck wild. And between 1:22 and 3:41 am, he buys up 69% of the world market in oil futures, equaling 7 million barrels of crude oil, valued at $9,763,252. Thanks to the volume and the fact that he kept raising his bids every single time he bid (being a drunken idiot), he raised the price on crude by $1.50 per barrel in a little over two hours. He calls in sick the next day, after an admin clerk calls to ask him why he went and bought 7 million barrels of crude, to which he probably replied, "bollocks."

Subsequently, an official investigation determined that he had a drinking problem.


They took away his traders' license, fined him around $116,000, and told him to go to AA or something like it. They say he will get his license back in five years if he can prove he is no longer a danger to the oil futures commodities market, or at least drinking a little less.

This is up there with the trader who wanted to get his firm in the Guinness book for first-time trading of oil at over $100 per barrel, or the computer-aided high-speed transaction systems sending the market into a tailspin after accidentally dumping stocks so fast the whole market lost a lot of value in a single afternoon. When do we start recognizing that human error and computer error should not have the power to affect the markets that much? It's up there with a mouse being chased by a cat being chased by a dog, etc., causing the fiery destruction of New York City.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Panera Cares but the Neighbors Don't

Panera has a small group of outlets called Panera Cares, essentially a pay-as-much-as-you-can restaurant that aids local homeless, while giving folks with more money a chance to subsidize the homeless and impoverished people in their neighborhood. This has led to an unfortunate side-effect - homeless and impoverished people becoming visible to the folks with money.

If there's one thing the well-off really hate to see, it's poor people in person.

Personally, I believe this is why the Occupy movement had such a hard time. A lot of people could simply look at the marginally hippie-esque garb of a lot of the participants, their obvious lack of resources, and think to themselves, "there but for the Grace of God, go I." And then yell "GET A JOB" at the few folks who actually had laptops or iPads or cell phones, because, of course, these were and continued to be people of means, who were just protesting to get a day off work or something. Or maybe, just maybe, they were people who had lost their decent paying jobs right after they bought iPads. Unfortunately, the media had a hard time with this dichotomy as well.

Don't forget, everything is either black or white.

Of course, the media latches onto the story and makes sure everyone is concerned about "safety", quoting one gentleman saying that if a sidewalk is blocked, well that's a concern. I dunno - a sidewalk is blocked in a minimall every time they have an outdoor shoe/handbag sale (sorry, ladies, but I'm married to a wonderful woman, and I've seen these things happen). Is safety an issue at that point? Are we afraid of roving bands of women who are blocking the sidewalks, trying to get cut-rate Manolo Blandniks at their favorite Needless Markup or at DSW Shoes (haven't they thought about how that reads? it's "Discount Shoe Warehouse Shoes" - while I realize they may sell other things, do they have any locations named DSW Cars, or DSW Fruit?).


This, then, follows the state of relations between the classes in America. Some people have money, and everyone else should just suck it up and, well, stay the fuck out of sight, because you're exacerbating my IBS. Or possibly my UBS. We got our dough, and we dislike the sight of people in stretch pants (unless they have a really fantastic personal trainer, plastic surgeon, or both). And we really hate to be reminded what greedy pricks we really are. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to live with such wealth? How much responsibility we have? - to make sure our children never have to lift a finger for as long as they live, and to be certain that they carry on our tradition of really hating the poor, because the poor are just shiftless, lazy bums, who didn't pull themselves up by their bootstraps with their trust funds, stocks, bonds, or college funds. And you know, God wants us to be rich.

Seems to me something about eyes, needles and camels is in there somewhere, but I forget - didn't someone of importance say that? Oh, right, he was poor - we don't have to listen to him.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Another Tragedy, Another Loud Yawn

Another twelve dead in Colorado, from yet another lunatic with a gun. Sorry, several guns, and many pounds of ammo. All purchased legally, and nowhere do we hear from the "responsible" gun owners a cry for better regulation or better enforcement of our laws. Only a "hang 'em high" attitude that doesn't bring anyone back, and didn't stop this whack job in the first place.

As a nation, do we care? These were young people, with their whole lives ahead of them. Conversely, they hadn't contributed very much yet, and with their future economic outlook, probably wouldn't have much chance of doing more. So will we miss them? Did we need them to begin with?

The NRA and their spokespeople (i.e., registered gun owners who defend everyone's right to bear any arms they can get) always bring up automobile deaths, as if driving a car and firing a weapon are the same thing. The thing is, an automobile accident is just that - an accident. And you have to take tests to be allowed to drive an automobile. Guns are test-free, unless you count the background check. And you don't always have to go through one of those, either.

But because the American way of politics is to ignore whatever happens in the next street, we will have forgotten about this tragedy by next week, or it will be eclipsed by another tragedy of equally horrifying proportions. We'll find a way to rationalize our apathy, since the NRA has so obviously gotten control of pretty much every politician's balls, and we know that no amount of popular outrage can fight against the right-wing money machine.

And we'll pass more "stand your ground" laws, so that we can have open gunfights in the public square, and more innocent bystanders will be killed by loose rounds, and no one will be to blame, since everyone was simply defending themselves from everyone else.

And I am numb and angry at the same time.

But what I'm not is afraid. I'm still not afraid of my fellow man. I refuse to see everyone as a potential criminal, the way that the folks in the conservative wing do. I get that some folks like to hunt for food, and I see nothing wrong with that. But self-defense? If you're a woman, I get it. Get a can of mace (which is often harder to get than a gun), and if some bastard tries to rape or sodomize you, give him the whole can, right into his eyes (or mouth - hurts like hell, still totally incapacitating, even lethal).

But if I were to live my life assuming everyone was out to get me, or that the government was out to get me, I'd get a house with much smaller, barred windows, better locks, steel doors, security systems and all that. Maybe I'm just naive, but I don't want to live my life in fear of everyone and everything. I was raised to be suspicious, and it never did me any good. Certainly, I've been taken for a ride occasionally, but otherwise, most people are decent.

And since we apparently won't be able to stop these bastards from getting guns and doing bad things, maybe the best we can hope for is to treat everyone as a friend, until they prove they're an enemy. To turn the other cheek, until they recognize our humanity. Because if we can't see other people as human beings, each worthy of life and happiness, we've failed our potential as a species.

In which case, dying off won't be such a tragedy after all.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Eat Like a Caveman, Act Like an Idiot

I have taken to the idea of losing weight, and I've begun a process of exercising and eating better, which will hopefully, eventually, turn me into a young buck of thirty. Seeing that I'm starting at age 51 might be a cause for concern but no matter! I can make this happen.

I've been hearing about yet another fad diet, called the Paleo, or Neaderthin diet (wow, there's a marketing concept). Many of my cow-orkers have taken it up. Several are also on the Kettlebell thing (the old Russian Special Forces, or Spetznaz, exercise involving cannonballs of varying sizes with handles). I can assure you that Spetnaz guys ate plenty of meat, and a lot of grains, and a few of them really, really like vodka. I have begun the hard process of Convict Conditioning, which is a set of bodyweight-only exercises, mixed with running and stairclimbing (real stairs, that is, not the machine version). I continue to eat my usual diet, with a higher level of protein and vegetables, and fewer (but not NO carbs).

Here's the issue I'm having with all this dieting advice: it's BULLSHIT. The Paleo diet tells us that human beings have only altered .005% in their genetic makeup since Paleolithic times, say, three million years ago. Therefor, we should eat the same kind of diet that they had available to them, high in protein and fat, mixed with non-legume veggies and minimal grain. There's a lot of stuff about keeping coffee and alcohol out of the diet, coffee because it interferes with digestion, and alcohol for the same reason, as well as the sugars in alcoholic drinks. Minimal dairy as well (depending on which version of the diet you read, since between 3 million years ago and 90,000 years ago, humans began tending animals as society moved to a more village-based organization - and hell, even the nomadic tribes dragged goats along with them).

So, pork rinds good, rice & most fruit bad.

Tell that to the native peoples of India.

Here's where this becomes a political subject rather than just a bunch of stupid dieting tips: all of this nonsense about Paleo vs. Atkins vs. Moosewood depends entirely on factory-farmed, commercially fished, already-been-processed or ruined food that you can buy in the supermarket, covered in God-knows-what pesticides or fungicides or herbicides. I had friends who worked in an organic grocery store, who were very careful to wear gloves when handling non-organic celery, lettuces or herbs, because if they didn't, their skin would be burning by the time they'd uncrated the day's take of celery.
The solution: stop eating processed, genetically altered, nitrogen-enhanced foods that don't grow during the time of year near where you live. Local, fresh produce, meat, fish and dairy are all good. I understand the vegetarian/vegan impulse, but I figure if I know where the animal came from, and make sure it really didn't die screaming, I'll be okay with the meat I eat. I also won't eat any farmed fish. Organic whole grains are great, but white rice is a staple all over Asia, and, sure, people get fat on that diet, but mostly because they eat too much of any given thing, not because one specific part of their diet causes them to blow up like a balloon. One of the strictures of the Paleo diet is to not eat anything you couldn't eat raw.

I dunno about you, but I've never liked raw pork rinds.

We get fat because we eat a lot of highly-processed, chemically preserved and genetically altered food products that I don't count as "food." Michael Pollan pointed out in his book, "In Defense of Food" that the stuff they call "non-fat sour cream" would have been called "artificial sour cream" back in the seventies. Even Dorothy Sayers pointed out the wonderful faculties within the worlds of advertising where "of, with and from" determined the quantity of apples used to make cider (one had to be made of nothing but apples, one had to made chiefly with apples, and one could be made from a peck of apples and a ton of turnips). So, in our modern times, we find ourselves eating food whose ingredients are not only unpronounceable but wholly unfathomable. We fight like hell to get GMO crops identified within our food supply, but the FDA keeps edging away from labeling things that come from animals fed on GMO crops.

The Paleo diet speaks of eating more fish, when our earliest ancestors didn't catch fish. They talk about our ancestors spending a lot of time lounging about, waiting for the next hunt or sending the women off to collect roots or berries or nuts (most of which are not allowed in the Paleo diet). The true paleolithic exercise program included (according to Christopher MacDougall in his excellent book "Born to Run") the pleasure of persistence hunting: running after your prey in a concerted effort to keep it running as well, keeping it away from the pack, until the animal's heart gave out - a process that could take hours. Then you have to butcher the damn thing and carry the parts miles back to the village or your encampment. Butchering an animal with stone tools is not the easiest thing to do, even by a skilled hunter.
Paleolithic humans worked hard to eat, worked hard to stay alive, and when food wasn't plentiful, they'd occasionally eat each other. They maybe didn't get ulcers, but life expectancies were very short compared to ours. They didn't have jobs that left them stranded in cubicle land all day, and they didn't have microwaves or blenders or juicers. We cannot possibly reproduce (perfectly) the circumstances of their existence in modern life, but what we can do is stop murdering the nutritional value of our food before it even shows up on market shelves. To quote Mr. Pollan again, "eat food, not too much, mostly plants."

That sounds primitive enough for me.