Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I Apologize To Me

I spent the last couple of days thinking very critically of myself for the comments I made in the entry entitled American Pie this past Sunday. No, not my comments about Madonna, those I am sure of. I'm talking about my obvious skepticism and criticism of religion and others' beliefs thereof. I seriously thought about editing the comments out because I felt bad/guilty about potentially offending some of my friends, minimally, and others who I don't know.

I am apologizing to myself for feeling this way.

It seems today anyone can say or do anything they want in the name of religion. Secular laws were established - at least in the United States - to allow people to coexist peacefully and believe as they wish as long as they didn't infringe on the rights of others. So when someone expressed themselves by leaving their propaganda at my house trying to convince me that what I think is wrong I should not feel guilty about expressing opposing opinions in my blog.

Further, after reading again what I wrote, I realized that my comments were really ones of peace and caring for the world and other people (except Madonna). I stand fast in my belief that while many religious groups purport to stand for these principles, in practice I see them more often judging other people and imposing their beliefs on others. It is far easier to address problems with faith than to look at the root cause of the problem. Putting the responsibility onto an omnipotent being absolves us of any responsibility, or incorrectly explains something that we may not be ready to understand. Faith in a higher power had its purpose a couple of thousand years ago when science had not matured to the level it is now.

Why do people die in natural disasters? Shit happens. Why should we be kind to our neighbor? Because it is the right thing to do. Because we should treat others in a manner that we would want to be treated. Where do we go when we die? To the ground from which we came, to fossilize and in many thousands of years become crude oil to power someone's car. Where does our soul go? The essence of our soul lives on in the ways that we touch others' lives during the short time we exist. We are good people because we wish to pass that message onto future generations of human beings. Why are bad people bad? Shit happens.

I believe there are more difficult questions we face as a society that are very difficult to answer. For instance, is it right to genetically engineer a person? An animal? Should an employer be allowed to do a DNA test on someone, and not hire that person if their DNA indicates a genetic predisposition for a specific behavior or disease? When does life begin? When should it end? What is life? If we engineer a machine that is aware of itself and exhibits behavior similar to human life, are we obligated to protect the existence of that machine as we would another person?

Organized religion tries to answer many modern ethical questions such as these by interpretations of a sacred text, such as The Bible. The problem is that these interpretations are arbitrary and are frequently made more with the idea of propagating the religious belief than to determine what is best for society as a whole. We live in complex times. Our technological advances have come with a Pandora's Box of ethical questions that neither religious dogma nor our laws are equipped to deal with...and that's only the beginning.

If you believe in God or a god and you feel strongly about this that's okay. It's not okay as soon as you start passing laws that are based in your religious beliefs and not in maintaining a peaceful society. It's not okay when you choose to disobey our society's laws because you feel your religious beliefs supersede secular law. It's not okay when you promote bigotry and hatred in the name of your religion or deity.

Finally, on the lighter side of this conversation, I invite you all to read Kissing Hank's Ass. I first saw this several years ago and it's funny as hell...or maybe even funny in hell. Who knows? Hank does, of course...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Lobo

While eating lunch today at the local Vietnamese restaurant, I heard in the background a few songs from the '70s that sounded familiar. I finally realized that they were all songs by Lobo.

I was surprised about the number of popular songs (ones I listened to and liked) that Lobo actually did:
  • Me and You and A Dog Named Boo
  • I'd Love You To Want Me
  • Where Were You When I Was Falling In Love?
  • Don't Expect Me To Be Your Friend
I have plans to purchase a couple of his greatest hits CDs in the near future.

For more information, visit the official Lobo web site at http://www.fansoflobo.com/

Sunday, June 22, 2008

American Pie

Someone needs to give the morons doing the background music at Randalls Supermarket a clue.

If it weren't that I already had a basket full of groceries I would have left immediately during what was the saddest excuse for a cover of American Pie that I ever heard: Apparently some turd let Madonna do a remake of Don McLean's American Pie. It was some of the worst crap I have heard lately (even worse than Pussycat Dolls). PLEASE, SOMEONE remove Madonna's vocal cords and send her synth and all her so-called "music" to the sun (NASA would be doing the world a favor). Note to Randalls: Your background music sucks. Either play some Muzak or play '60s music. Playing '80s dance music is not going to shake your snooty reputation. Gads. Should have gone shopping at HEB.

Speaking of bags of crap...

I didn't manage to acquire a Bag of Crap during the Woot-off on Friday. However, I did stumble upon a link in the forums that is a blast, and I must highly recommend it: sidecarsally.com. This site is the creation of Dustin Fox who candidly exposes stupidity and makes fun of it. If you're easily offended, too bad. If not, you're sure to at least get a laugh or two.

I also need to provide a link to a coworker's blog: http://blog.myspace.com/naimis . I should suggest that he use Blogger instead of myspace because the myspace interface sucks. I have this hatred for web sites that assume that I have a 1600 x 1200 display and the whole thing is going to be used for my web browser.

Let's segue from a bag of crap (aka Madonna) to a sheet of bullshit... I have been meaning to post this for a couple of months and simply forgot until I was cleaning out some old papers today... Anyway, someone left this flier on my door earlier this year, and the klaxxons went off on my bullshit detector immediately. Inside, it says, "How does Jesus' death affect you? Why was it the greatest demonstration of love? Will you be counted among Jesus' friends?" I believe I can answer these:
  1. Q: How does Jesus' death affect you?
    A: It doesn't directly. I am always sad hearing about someone dying, especially when they truly felt they were doing so in the process of helping mankind.
  2. Q: Why was it the greatest demonstration of love?
    A: Uhhh...perhaps it wasn't. In modern time, there have been several heroic acts (United Flight 93 on 9/11/2001, for example) that were truly selfless.
  3. Q: Will you be counted among Jesus' friends?
    A: Given that Jesus is not living, specifically not living among us now, I suspect that a friend of his I will not be. Perhaps if he turns up at a computer user group meeting and wants to share a pizza talking about VoIP or SSL VPNs, then maybe we'll hang-out and become friends. If he is planning on turning-up at my doorstep telling me that he's the living son of a deity and expects me to follow him to salvation, then I suspect we'll have trouble getting along.
The flier goes on to say, "You are invited to a special Bible talk entitled 'Who Is Qualified to Rule Mankind?' which will be given at the time and place shown below." Reading stuff like this frightens me. These people have been pretty clear about the direction they'd like to take mankind, and frankly it seems pretty counterproductive and even dangerous.

It is time that we stop wasting our time worshiping a deity we call "God" (that's like naming my cat, "Cat") and individuals who did some great things over 2,000 years ago and start looking at the present and future state of our civilization. Assuming that God created the Earth (and that's a pretty big assumption given the current scientific data), we're (including all you Christians out there) doing a pretty good job of fscking up the planet that s/he created. We're increasing the population to unprecedented levels, sucking up all of our natural resources (and fighting over them), polluting what resources we have left, and acting as though we're always a victim of something. Prayer and worship aren't going to solve these problems. We shouldn't be concerning ourselves with who possesses the qualifications to "rule mankind" and start concerning ourselves with how we can sustain mankind and all of the other life that lives here. If we don't start looking at more sustainable ways of living on this planet, reducing human population to reasonable levels, caring about the quality of what we do and how we do it, and truly being caring and considerate of those around us, then there won't be a "mankind" or anyone to "rule."

Now go out there and generate some good karma. If you must pray, then pray that Madonna stops singing.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

30 Days

The third season of Morgan Spurlock's program 30 Days on FX has been quite good so far.

What makes 30 Days so good is that it has no problem taking-on the most controversial subjects and giving everyone a look inside - both pro and con. My favorite episode to date has been in season 1 episode 5 "Off The Grid" where a man and woman spend 30 days at the Dancing Rabbit eco-village. Because of that show I have spent many hours considering what it would be like to live in a community that generates their own power, grows their own food, and handles their building and waste in a sustainable manner.

This week's episode ("Animal Rights") chronicled a man from North Carolina who is an avid hunting enthusiast who spent 30 days with the family of PETA's Los Angeles campaign coordinator. While I agree in principle to many of the issues PETA raises, I am not necessarily a PETA-supporter. PETA, like any other extremist group, can get out-of-hand and in people's face and justify their actions based on the point they're trying to make ("the ends justify the means"). This episode took-on the topic of animal cruelty -- and like each 30 Days episode it made you walk away thinking about the subject at hand.

Spurlock needs to really be given a hand because what he does best is make people think. Do I still eat at McDonald's after Super Size Me? Sure - once in a while I get a Big-Mac-attack, but since watching that program I do think more carefully about what I eat and what the fast food chains are serving. What 30 Days does is help people make incremental change through education and thought. It took a long time for things to get the way they are, and it will likely take a long time for them to improve. Rather than taking a strong position either way on many of the topics, like Penn & Teller's Bullshit or anything by Michael Moore, Spurlock presents the topic from both sides and lets you make up your own mind. It's a great idea.

Perhaps the most important concept of 30 Days is what happens when the 30 days are over. Everyone goes back to their normal lives with a better understanding of both sides of every issue. We've become such a polarized society that people see only in black and white but no middle ground. I absolutely hate a phrase I've been hearing more and more these days: "If you're not part of the solution, then you're part of the problem." (also, "If you're not with us, then you're against us.") Neither of these are true, logically speaking. If I'm not part of the solution, then it may be that I don't think your solution really solves the problem, or I'm unable to participate in the solution. When the people on 30 Days go back to their "normal lives," they do change a little and have a better understanding of how the other side feels. Sometimes middle ground is the right place to be.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Humperdinck?

Ever wonder if people have too much disposable cash? If you were ever in doubt, consider the question answered with the introduction of the USB Desktop Humping Dog. No, I have too much to do to make this up...this was a real advertisement that was on the side of a competing "blog" hosting site.

Imagine calling Dell tech support... "Hi, I'm having problems with my computer. Everything was working fine until I plugged the humping dog attachment into my USB port, and now none of my USB devices work anymore." Humping WHAT attachment? Even better: "I need service on my computer. I plugged a humping dog attachment into the USB port on my laptop, and it caught on the corner of the table and his hoo-hoo snapped off inside. Now I can't plug anything into that port anymore. Please have someone come and extract the humping dog's member from my USB port." "Sorry sir, we can't help you. You plugged a Desktop Humping Dog into a laptop, and this misuse of technology isn't covered under the warranty."

Now I'm all for humorous things, and I seriously see the humor in this (as if "seriously" and "humor" can co-exist in the same sentence). Really, if this were an April fools joke, I'd ROTFL (isn't that "roll on the floor laughing"? I don't know). On the other hand I have no problem with the empty USB ports on my computer. A humping dog would not give me the feeling that the otherwise unused USB port finally had a purpose, albeit a strange and ridiculous one.

What happens if you plug a USB 1.0 humping dog into a high-speed USB 2.0 port? Is it backwards-compatible (no pun intended), or will the poor dog hump itself to death?

Back to reality. I've had my fun for the day.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

In Memoriam - Ron Roberts

I found out yesterday that a fellow comrade in the UNIX/Open Source world, Ron Roberts, died suddenly at the Kerrville Folk Festival. There is still no word about exactly what happened, and it occurred to me how little I knew about Ron other than the fact that he was a computer enthusiast. So I took a gander around and finally found Ron's web site (where I acquired the photo you see here).

So aside from the fact that Ron is a native Texan, born in March of 1950 in Houston, and that he's always struck me as being a damn good system administrator, he apparently clowns-around (seriously, "Ronzo The Clown"), has dabbled in playing acoustic guitar, and enjoys sailboating. So this probably accounts for his wacky sense of humor and the fact he has always been an easy-going voice at the CACTUS (UNIX computer user group) meetings. He lives with his "lady" (as a close friend called her) Kat, who shares his love for acoustic music.

As you may have noticed, I have a bit of trouble writing about Ron in the past tense. While I haven't actually seen him in several months, when I did see him (typically at the monthly user group meetings) it was always a pleasure. I recall his surprise when I told him I was finally going to give-up FreeBSD. At the same time, he was one of the few people I knew that actually understood why I was going to Linux instead.

I'll say that I don't handle death well. I don't care much for going to funerals, so I usually don't. I like to honor the passing of the people I know in my own way, because I feel it's a very personal thing. Some people gather strength through congregating with people who knew the deceased, and others (like myself) like to take some time to remember the person in relative solitude. Since I don't really believe in an afterlife, I think that the parts of ourselves we leave behind with the people we have touched is important. In Ron's case, he shows that computer enthusiasts can have a creative and wacky side as well as a seriously technological side. Ron also showed that computer guys can and do like to put the computer aside and appreciate acoustic music and have a concern for what's happening in the world. Ron, you'll definitely be missed, but rest assured that you've left your mark on the world, and it was, indeed, a good one.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Is It Just Me?

Is it just me or are you all starting to notice more and more people who have their heads lodged firmly in their ass?

Today I got home early from work - I left early because it was a bad week, a bad day, and all I wanted to do is get a firm head-start on relaxing for the weekend. So I get to my driveway to go into my garage and someone was parked in it. It turns out it was my neighbor across the street who was having work done on his house. Do you think he'd ask first? Maybe park his car at the curb a little ways down the street? Nah. {begin sarcastic rant} I am obviously here for others' convenience - at last now my existence has a purpose. Surely there was no other alternative to using my driveway, making me get out of my car and start looking locating the person who parked there, in the rain, unable to go straight to my garage, and start my relaxing weekend. My home is your home. Literally.

You may be wondering what he said when I asked him to move his car. No, I'm sure you are. He said, "I didn't realize you were going to be home early." Oh...my...god. Seriously, I'm so sorry I inconvenienced my neighbor across the street by coming home early and expecting to be able to use my own driveway. My response, as calmly as I could make it, was, "I would have had no problem letting you use my driveway if you would have asked me first." Not sarcastically, if he did come and ask me, I probably would have gone out of my way to help. That's usually how I am.

This is but one of a lengthening line of rectal-cranial-inversion instances I have had to deal with lately.

Yesterday I got pulled-into a request at work to establish a fiber optic pathway for someone's project (that's one thing us network guys do). I was brought into this by the user after the two guys who work for me (and should have come get me before having even started this) couldn't find one end of one of the fiber runs. Two hours later, I found the fiber. I seriously wasn't losing my mind - the reason why the fiber termination was missing is because someone had cut the fiber close to the conduit where it came into the room (so you couldn't see it) and pulled off the piece that was cut and all the connectors and so forth. It's kind of like someone cut the power cord off your TV set, disconnected the cut cable from the wall socket, and then the TV repairman said he couldn't figure out why the TV wasn't getting power. I am fairly sure one of the two people (who work for me) and who were looking for the fiber termination was one of the ones who cut the fiber. Nobody is going to 'fess-up to that though. Better to waste two hours of my time trying to figure out where it was cut, or even if the cable was in the building yet. I started to think that right after I found the end to the cut fiber optic cable I would find Elvis as well.

Both of these things also bring-up another seemingly-becoming-more-common aspect of our society: Break whatever rule you want as long as you think you can get away with it. NO! That is NOT the way things are supposed to work. Those rules are put in place to keep some order to things, to prevent others from being irritated, bothered, injured, inconvenienced, or killed. Really, they are. What ever happened to common sense?

I'm really tired of being Mr. Nice Guy, but I'm also unwilling and unable to become Mr. Nasty Guy or Mr. Clueless Guy or Sir I-Don't-Give-A-Shit. They say ignorance is bliss. They're right. The opposite is true too: Intelligence is misery. It is because you're wise to the ignorant people blissfully going through life. People: Look, to experience life and all the good things it has to offer, you have to pull your head out of your ass. Once done, you'll clearly see that there are other people around besides you. You'll notice that the same crap that irritates you irritates the other people around you as well, so doing irritating things to people isn't a good idea. You'll also find that being nice, considerate, and overall helpful to others brings the same back in return (at least for the ones with their head out of their ass). What more can I say?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

High Anxiety

This was a manic weekend.

It was Shellie's birthday this weekend and I was invited to her annual get-together this year. Her tradition is to have dinner at a sushi restaurant, then go bowling afterward. The group consisted of Shellie, her husband, two of her friends who recently moved back from Dallas, and her veterinary friend from when she was in college. The sushi place (Midori Sushi) was excellent. A wonderful time was had by all. The bowling was okay ... I would say I enjoyed bowling again, and the company was good, but I really would rather not go again under the same circumstances. It seems that like everything else these days, somehow in the last couple of decades they've decided it wasn't enough to bowl and chat with everyone but now they need to blast you with music the whole time. I'll also add that my tastes in music are not the same as their's, and leave it at that. I was relieved that we were heading out when the blacklights came on and the alleged disco music blasted. I discovered that there is yet another hell and it is in a bowling alley of all places. On the positive side, though, I really enjoyed meeting Shellie's friends, and my bowling ball kind of still fits my hand. Oh, and did I say that the sushi was good? For the record, I bowled a 104 and a 102 (I think)...

Tonight I was invited by a few of the ANK folks to get together to eat dinner at Cheddar's and see a movie at Mike & Annette's place. The food at Cheddar's was okay, but our waiter was awful. I believe that we finally ended up leaving a 60 cent tip. The guy hardly stopped at the table, had a frown on his face the whole time, walked around in circles, and forgot to bring our soups, and those were just a few of the offenses. There really is no excuse for service like that.

The movie we saw was "The Kingdom" and the reason I bring it up is because it ties into my anticipated comments about terrorism. The movie was very well-done, but as I told the other folks, I wouldn't have called it "enjoyable." It was more thought-provoking than enjoyable, and I have had more than my share of provocation lately. In any case, this film kind of let the air out of some of the comments I planned to write about since it really did cover it pretty well. So I'll keep my terrorism comments kind of brief and refer you to this movie for some of the background. While the film was fiction, the overall circumstances were far from fiction.

Terrorism -- What is it? Webster's online dictionary defines it as, "The systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion." I believe this is a good definition, and for this discussion I'll stay with it. Since September 11, 2001 we have heard a lot about terrorism, and I believe that many people feel that terrorism started after the systematic death and destruction that took place on that day. Terrorism has been around throughout history: Several examples are the Spanish Inquisition, the bombings in Dublin and Monaghan in the 1970s, McVey's bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, several bombings/shootings of doctors and clinics that performed abortions, and the list goes on. Terrorism is not confined to extremists in the Middle Eastern countries. So when our government decided to take-on terrorism by declaring a "war on terror," these are the kind of actions we have sought to wipe-out.

I really don't think we can wage war against "terror." Terrorism is a means of coercion and not a specific ideological belief. We cannot wage war against the instrument used by specific groups to coerce other groups to their way of thinking. We can wage war against others with whom we disagree. This, I believe, is the dirty little secret that people don't want to admit to themselves. To admit what we're really fighting against makes what happened on September 11 much too clear. Why did September 11 really happen? It happened because an extremist group in the Middle East did not like Western presence in their culture. They felt that we went into their country in search for energy (oil) and in the process adversely affected their belief and value systems. The United States has been somewhat lucky throughout its relatively short history to avoid having retaliation of this kind happen on its soil, primarily due to distance and being surrounded by two large oceans. September 11 was a message from these extremists saying, "Get the heck out of our country or we'll do this again, we've figured out how to get to you." Were we right in our actions in the Middle East leading up to or following September 11? I'm in no position to say - I don't have enough information. What I can say is that cultural change is inevitable, and there are always people who are going to very much dislike it. I'm sure the United States hasn't been entirely careful about its impact on other countries' cultures, but that's sometimes unavoidable or an unintended consequence of interacting with people. In other words I feel that the September 11 terrorist events were no more justifiable than the bombing of abortion clinics, regardless of the message being sent.

Given this discussion, I cannot see a way we can win a war against terrorism, given that we can't really wage war against it. It's the same reason we can't wage war against drugs. Before we can win this war, we need to admit to ourselves what it is we're really fighting against. I believe we owe it to the people who died on September 11, 2001 and the military men and women who are defending our country to clearly define what it is we're really trying to do. Only once we make that clear can we then indicate when we've won the war, we can work toward that end, and life can start to return to normal, albeit changed in many ways by the events that have happened. To declare we're going to wipe out a means of coercing people to one's ideology is foolish, and a goal that we will never achieve. We haven't been able to eliminate terrorism within our own culture, so we are certainly not going to do so in someone else's.

What we have done to our own culture within the past seven years is also inexcusable though. After September 11, 2001 there was a lot of talk about not giving-into the terrorists and to show that liberty and freedom will prevail. Following that declaration our own people (through government) have systematically nibbled away at the freedoms and liberties that we all enjoy in the name of protecting people against terrorism. Benjamin Franklin's now cliched quote, "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety," never has rung true more than now. Admittedly there were areas where the U.S. had gotten pretty lax about some security, and in several cases there was a need to ramp-up security where practical. However, we've gone to the extremes of having people take off their shoes in the airport and can't carry a reasonably-sized bottle of shampoo in their luggage. We're treated like criminals in our own country. Will this thwart a potential attack? Sure. Will it raise the bar for people who are persistently trying to launch an attack? Absolutely...and raise the bar they will. If we had the magic bullet (no pun intended) that would prevent this kind of attack, surely that same means could be used to prevent all crime. Fact is that criminals, terrorists, or anyone who is persistently trying to harm another person isn't going to "play by the rules," and the only thing that we're doing by targeting the symptoms in the manner we are doing now is moving our society closer and closer to authoritarianism or totalitarianism. I am also not so naive to think that this is the result of some great conspiracy within our government (as some vocal individuals have) - it is actually because it is what we, the people, have asked of our government. Getting back what we've given up to gain some "temporary safety" would take more knowledge than I have and more typing than I can do here.

Finally, I'd like you to consider the origin of the ideologies involved in many of the actions I've spoken about here: The Middle Eastern extremists, the abortion bombings, our own responses to terrorism, and many of the conflicts throughout history. Many of these have very specific origins. Before you can understand why someone has chosen the path they have taken, especially when they're ones that are different from our own, we need to look inward and take a look at why we believe and act the way we do. It takes a lot of discipline and an open mind to do that, and until people have taken the time to do that, they will never understand why things are as they are. Until we really understand the "why" we will never be able to work on the "how."