Saturday, February 23, 2008

Taboo Subject #2 - Hillary and Barack

It is said that friends should never talk about religion and politics - the reasons are not always clear until the conversation becomes heated when opinions conflict and nobody ever looks at each other the same again. I've already sufficiently offended the masses to the point where this won't make much of a difference anyhow.

I'll start with a few baseline comments: It's likely I'll vote Democratic for the presidency even though I don't entirely like what they stand for. It's the lesser of all the evils in this case, and the Republicans have their heads firmly up their asses. I'd vote Libertarian but these folks are starting to feel more like a cult again than a valid political ideology. I'll give them credit for campaigning well this time though. My biggest complaint about the Democrats is that they think people can act irresponsibly and the rest of us should bring them back to our standard of living. Okay, that out of the way...

Barack and Hillary both offend me with their promises for support for families. According to Hillary Clinton's web site, she intends to:
Lower taxes for middle class families by: extending the middle class tax cuts including child tax credit and marriage penalty relief, offering new tax cuts for healthcare, college and retirement, and expanding the EITC and the child care tax credit.
Wonderful (said dripping with sarcasm). Here's Democratic fiscal policy in a nutshell: Take the biggest consumers of common infrastructure and have them pay less. A free lunch is there for the taking. Folks, let's get serious - your so-called family costs money. Sorry to break the bad news to you, but life is not just a white picket fence, a friggin' barking dog in the backyard, and 2.5 kids. At a time when the environment is suffering, suburbia is growing out of control (no, the alleged housing bust is not affecting that much), and people in general are having problems making ends meet, this is not the time to be indiscriminately pumping out kids. Encouraging that behavior by targeting these consumers with tax cuts is poor fiscal policy. If you want to equitably cut taxes to specific income levels, I am a lot more on-board with that. I'm even more on-board with a flatter tax system. As not to sound like a Hillary-basher (I'm not), here's Barack Obama's equivalent web-bites:
Expand the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit: The Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit provides too little relief to families that struggle to afford child care expenses. Barack Obama will reform the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit by making it refundable and allowing low-income families to receive up to a 50 percent credit for their child care expenses.
And...
Expand the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): The FMLA covers only certain employees of employers with 50 or more employees. Barack Obama will expand the FMLA to cover businesses with 25 or more employees. Barack Obama will expand the FMLA to cover more purposes as well, including allowing workers to take leave for elder care needs; allowing parents up to 24 hours of leave each year to participate in their children's academic activities at school; allowing leave to be taken for purposes of caring for individuals who reside in their home for 6 months or more; and expanding FMLA to cover leave for employees to address domestic violence and sexual assault.
WTF? Barack - you'll start making me feel better about this if you include extending the FMLA to include the ability to cover leave for caring for my cat and house. Seriously folks, when you don't work the employer doesn't get stuff done. When the employer doesn't get stuff done, goods and services don't get made. It's hard to pay workers when the money is not coming in. It's hard on the people who are working to constantly make-up for those who are leaving for these purposes. I understand the need for two-worker households with kids to have some way to be able to participate in their kids' lives, but this just ain't the answer. FMLA is a band-aid at best. If we are going to regulate businesses in this way, perhaps it's time to consider re-evaluating the idea of exempt vs. non-exempt fair labor standard laws. Setting consistent fair labor standards for both professional and so-called "non-professional" employees alike, giving all workers (not just ones with kids) a way to participate in some kind of sabbatical, and for parents to have a way to use that sabbatical time to support their families, is getting closer to reality. Let's face it, you can only burn-out your single and childfree employees for so long before they've been sucked dry, and as one of those,I can tell you I'm almost sucked dry. I don't like when my elected officials decide that I (upper-middle class) should support everyone else's lifestyle choices as though what I have was just given to me.

I concentrate on these points because they mean something to me. I realize that no president can effect these policies alone, and they generally won't at all. I actually believe that about 60% (yes, I pulled that number out of my ass) of whatever these people say are (can't sugar-coat it any) lies. I look at what they say and consider this to be their value system. When political candidates start spouting what they think the public wants to hear, rather than what they need to hear, then I realize that they're either lying to us or they're constantly bouncing checks and still wear a chastity belt. Some may--I don't know. All I do know is that a good part of my life is spent at work, trying to make a difference, and working my ass off. I didn't get to where I am because someone willed me money, or I got a handout from someone. My parents raised me with the concept that if you work hard, be a good and responsible person, and don't take more than you can afford, then you'll prosper and have a good life. Everyone makes mistakes even with the best of intentions. If you are working toward those goals, though, the impact of those mistakes are lessened. I'm always more willing to help someone who is out there trying their best and falling on their face than I am at someone who indiscriminately makes decisions and whines about it.

I encourage everyone to look carefully at the policies and promises that your presidential candidates are supporting. Take a look at the way they want to solve the "mortgage crisis," their environmental policies, energy policies (an investment in corn is a waste of money), "faith" (this has no place in government), and so on. Turn on your bullshit detectors prior to reading. Understand that the president of the United States is not some kind of savior. They're living, breathing human beings with both a willingness to help the country and a personal/political agenda. Do understand that no matter who we elect, they will be faced with some difficult decisions and circumstances. They are the face of this nation to the world as a whole (and we all know what our current Bush-league administration has done for us lately). It's not what these people say on TV, how they bash the opposition ("as the stomach turns"), and whether they inhaled or not. It's whether they can logically and fairly deal with the tough decisions that the rest of us are only willing to deal with emotionally. Imagine if they ran their household (fiscally and socially) like they ran the country. Would they survive? Would the world (in general) be a better place?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Random Disc onn ecte d Thoughts

In one of my doctor's offices, there is a sign:

Please be seated
Someone will
be with you soon

While waiting, I decided that the sign really needed to be made into a haiku:

Please be seated now
Someone will be with you soon
Insight lies within

The doctor was amused, but not ready to change the sign.

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I've realized that I seem to like a lot of the music that was popular the year I was born. I wonder if my parents played the radio a lot during the 3 months prior to my birth (or maybe after I was born).

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Someone at the computer user group I attend was saying how bad dairy products can be for you (while we were eating pizza). I asked, "Did you know that if you drink water you'll eventually die?"

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The History Channel's documentary "History Of The Joke" wasn't very funny. It had a few laughs, but it wasn't as good as I thought it would be (especially for 2 hours).

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Because of a friend's recent blog posting I decided to resurrect my match.com account to see what changed in 2 years. During my exploration, I discovered a few things:
  1. Not much has changed in 2 years - including some of the people.
  2. I still am weird enough to match almost nobody (particularly if I'm honest about who I'm looking for).
  3. The ones I do match aren't really a match
Also during my "dishonest match" search I stumbled on the profile for someone I knew (and recently met). I now realize why we got along really well, but why nothing happened beyond nice conversation.

I do believe I will probably put my account into slumber again because, for me, it's false hope. Where did I put that half-full glass again???

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I've again succeeded in procrastinating sleep. I don't know why I do that.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

S T R E T C H I N G things a bit

Dear HDTV Broadcasters:

It isn't right to stretch standard definition TV (SDTV) or 4:3 pictures horizontally to fill the screen and call it HDTV. I would rather have black bars on the left and right side of the screen than to see people's heads stretched horizontally. Round circles become eggs. It looks dumb and gives me a headache.

It REALLY isn't right to take a letterboxed SDTV 16:9 broadcast and then only stretch it horizontally and leave the black bars on the top and bottom of the screen. Y'know, you can actually stretch THOSE pictures proportionally and make it fit a 16:9 display without distorting the picture.

Yes, this means you History Channel, TBS, and everyone else who screws with stretching pictures.

For those of you who feel slighted when you watch a HD channel and it has black bars on the left and right side of the screen: If you really feel like you have to have a stretched picture, then learn how to use your fscking TV set and press the button that does that (most, if not all, wide-screen TVs have it). If you have the HD DVR that most cable companies use, that function is the "Picture Size" option you see when you press the "settings" button. Stretch it yourself.

Very Truly Your's,

CPU

Garden State

Ever watch a movie because you forgot you've watched it already until you start watching it again then realize you have watched it before and that it was good? So it was with "Garden State."

So what was it about? The guide on the TV says the following: "An emotionally numb actor finds a soulmate in a quirky young woman after he returns to New Jersey for his mother's funeral." The guide has it as "3 stars." For those of you who feel Rotten Tomatoes is the one and only place for movie ratings, it got 87% on the tomatometer. For people who remember names far better than I do, it was written and directed by Zach Braff (who also played the lead character) and also starred Natalie Portman (who played the "quirky young woman").

This is yet another movie in a line of odd romantic comedies that I seem to like these days. I'm so tired of the "guy acts like an ass and eventually wins back the girl" formula that most screenwriters seem to have adopted lately (or reverse the genders, for that really unique (sarcastically) touch). Anyhow, "Garden State" is not one of those. So anyway, see it.

(updated 2/17/08 @ 11:26pm)
Okay, well that was weird. I was watching Family Guy tonight and they mentioned this movie in it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Angie's List Clarification

I feel compelled to say some more about Angie's List because I'm afraid that people will think I based my disappointment on one specific thing, and that's not it.

First of all, Angie's List is a great concept started by a woman who had been duped by contractors in the past. Her idea was to create a place on the web where people could candidly share their experiences so everyone could benefit from good and bad experiences with various service organizations. She decided to charge for the site and carefully moderate it to help prevent the site from being tainted by false reports. The site got a lot of publicity including a spot on ABC's 20/20 TV news magazine. Given that I have a lot of work that needs to be done by a variety of different specialties, I decided to sign-up last month right before I had the roof done.

Right off the bat, I detected some issues, particularly after reading the online discussion forum. There are coupons offered for services by certain companies to Angie's List subscribers. So right away there is at least the appearance that the service is being funded in some way by the contractors themselves. There is a magazine (which I called a "newsletter" in the last posting) that is distributed by mail that has ads by various contractors. In my opinion the service has expanded quite a bit beyond the original charter where it all began. While growth is good, in this case the emphasis needs to be on the original purpose which is to provide untainted, unbiased, candid opinions by people who have hired contractors.

Moreover, from a technical standpoint: I don't like getting HTML e-mail. I cannot get them to stop sending me e-mail that is HTML. Their online edition of the magazine requires Flash, which I have already established disliking from both a technical and ethical standpoint (see posting "It's time to trash 'Flash'" in September, 2007). Angie's List staff really does appreciate feedback on things like this, and I have intended to say something, but right now I'm having trouble getting the motivation to once again address these issues with someone given that it is usually poorly-received and results in no action.

The specific article that was the subject of my last posting is from an Angie's List magazine section titled "Confl!cts of Interest" ("technical difficulties" , February, 2008). These articles are stories from subscribers who have experienced problems. If the problem is not resolved or the contractor doesn't respond, the contractor goes to the "penalty box" and is no longer listed (good or bad) on the service. If the problem is resolved, then the company is reinstated. I will correct myself in that the service requested was a repair to a TV by a certain TV & Home Theater service company. The part that bothered me is that the service-person broke the "connector housing" on the DVD player when they unplugged the cables from the TV. Then they denied responsibility for the action. Angie's List pursued resolving the person's complaint with the company (the person wanted a refund for the repair cost to the DVD player). The article is marked as "Resolved" and indicated that the company has a "total overall grade of 'A' on the List."

In addition to being a highly technical person, my job involves dealing directly with people who I support in a network/system administration role. It is far better to admit a mistake and take steps to correct it than it is to deny it and resolve it out of "courtesy." If someone came to my home to service my TV and broke my DVD player in the process, I would not want that person back, particularly if they denied it. The whole reason I subscribed to Angie's List was to avoid circumstances like this. Even if the company eventually makes the person "whole" by "resolving" the complaint, there is the inconvenience of having to pursue these remedies (loss of time at work, loss of use of the item(s) broken). I understand others may have had outstanding service with the same company, resulting in the overall grade of "A," but to me just one experience like this makes me question what happened. Imagine if this were something more important like a car repair or a major appliance. An improper service of a washing machine, for example, could cause a flood in the house. Ten people could have had seemingly good service (maybe by accident), but if the company doesn't routinely take proper care and they foul-up just one time the results can be disastrous.

Also understand that I wrote the last posting right after watching an episode of "Holmes on Homes." Anyone who watches that show on a regular basis will become afraid of having anyone work on their house. If I hadn't seen the kind of wiring that was done in houses (mine in particular) by allegedly licensed electricians, and experienced the results of bad contractors my parents had do work in their house, the show wouldn't have had quite the impression that it does. I've been screwed-over before, and that was my motivation for subscribing to Angie's List. And, yes, for the record, I did submit the favorable report on my roofing contractor. I have not yet submitted the report on the bad wood rot repair/painting. I applaud the overall concept of Angie's List and the efforts that Angie put into making the service. However, what it is right now is not something I feel I can completely trust, and that is important for the kind of work I need done at my house.

I have learned something from the comment that was placed on that last blog entry, and that is that my readership here may expand to people who may not know me. While it's OK to rant and vent a little, it is important to make sure that the background for the rant is complete (at the expense of being a little long) so people have the opportunity to learn from it and form their own opinion. I also have learned that people really do listen to me sometimes (wow!). So I need to try to be kind to the world at large, even if I sometimes feel like being "beamed-up."

Beam me up!

Well, that last post went over like a flaming lead balloon full of thermite. Maybe just as well, because I think I just give up.

Ever get that feeling that somewhere along the line you ended up on the wrong planet, with amnesia or something? Yeah, like that.

Seriously, I don't get it.

Let's start with male/female relationships. I don't seem to connect with anyone on any level that goes beyond...beyond...beyond...what? I don't even know how to describe what kind of relationships I have, and I certainly don't see how they would ever go beyond talking about the weather (or even country music... as kind of an arbitrary example). Seriously, though, I just don't get it. I don't think I'll ever get it.

What is it with people not wanting to do their job? Time-Warner RoadRunner -- are you listening?? -- Would you PLEASE fix your fscking DNS problem? I've told tech support, I've told an e-mail address given to me by tech support, and I've contacted someone I know on the inside who said (and I quote), "I am not promising anything however, I will have someone look into it." Uh huh. We're not talking rocket science here. We're talking about something that I can do in my sleep. You guys keep saying that you think like I think. I'm thinking someone at RoadRunner is incompetent. So do something about it.

Angie's List: While an idiot repair company repairs a home theater system and in the process breaks off the terminals on someone's VCR (or was it a DVD player, I don't remember). Then the only way that they reimburse the customer is because you play "Better Business Bureau" and ask them to work something out with the slighted customer, and they finally give that customer some money... That doesn't warrant giving the organization a good rating because they finally resolved the complaint. Why in hell did they not care to begin with? At best, they deserve a "C." Angie's List is on my "I don't see any reason to continue paying for this crap" list.

Sorry, Tristin, for writing angry-sounding stuff. I'm frustrated. Life isn't supposed to be this complicated.

So what went well?

Well, I tried my hand at some home made (mostly) improvised Italian pasta sauce and it turned out well. I made tangerine chicken for dinner tonight and it turned out pretty good. I got a half gallon of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, and it was good. Sitting here with my cat listening to the oldies music channel on cable is good. I never knew that the The Cuff Links (who did "Tracy") was really just one person overdubbed, and that same guy was the lead singer on "Sugar Sugar" by The Archies. I also think "Taking The Long Way" by The Dixie Chicks is really good, on many levels.

I'm sitting here with my cat, a bucket of ice cream, my laptop, and a bunch of MP3s. Beam us up. I've had all I can take of this planet for a while.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

It's A Date!

This one is particularly for the ladies.

On the radio this morning was a discussion and call-in poll asking, "When do you know it's time to dump the guy you're dating?" I'll leave out the details as the answers were mostly cliché and the rest you can probably guess on your own. However, the question I'm pondering right now is, "What's a date?" The date question is rather interesting because I haven't really dated in many years. Being in my early forties and deciding to remain child-free, much of the "needing to prove he can provide for a family" thing is pretty well a moot point. Most of my single women friends are professionals and own their own homes and so on.

One of the answers from the poll this morning was, "Dump the guy if he makes you pay during the date." Well this comment had me particularly perplexed. So is a date where the guy pays for everything? How do I know when to pay for everything? Should I be paying for the food every time I meet one of my women friends for lunch (or dinner)? Assuming that I only pay for lunch if I'm romantically interested in the person, does that mean that paying for lunch implies some kind of favor in return? That seems rather insulting, at best. What if I meet someone from work for lunch and she's going right back to work afterward? What if this person has worked her ass off to move up the ladder to be able to give herself a great life financially? The problem is that women have changed the environment where dating occurs, but many expect that the rules for dating are the same.

I've been told that it's better to get to know someone before crossing into the realm of romance. Getting to know the person as a friend makes moving beyond that point quite difficult. Falling for someone based on how they look and knowing them for an hour or so gives the appearance of being shallow. It's darn near impossible to provide the proverbial "just make me feel special" when I can't even say, yet, what your version of "special" is.

I am not a misogynist or a "chauvinist pig" -- quite the contrary, in fact. When I say I'm looking for a soulmate, companion, or girlfriend, what I'm really saying is I'm looking for a partner. While being alone has its advantages (flexibility, quiet, etc.) it really does kind of suck going through life entirely on your own. I can think of more than one occasion where it would have been nice to be able to get a second opinion on a topic from someone who knew me intimately well, who I could trust on a deep level. It would be great to have someone to help with projects that are more easily done with two people. I'm looking for a mutual appreciation of our differences, and at the same time sharing a common set of morals/ethics/direction. Sure, let's not forget intimacy and sex and all that. Bottom line is that there is an apparent chasm between meeting someone, friends, dating, and moving toward something more meaningful. One time 20 years ago, I thought I knew how to bridge that gap. The older I get, the less I find I understand and the more frustrated I become trying to figure it out.

So back to the question, "What's a date?" I'll make this posting an audience participation project.