Sunday, July 27, 2014

Life's Little Irritations

Life's Little Irritations...

Yes, they are many. In a country where there's more than enough to be thankful for, and plenty of things to complain about it's the littlest irritations that really get to you. I start with those necessary rooms called public restrooms - but first answer me this:

Which one of these devices would you call hands free or touchless?

That's right they both are! So why when we finish our business in the public restroom are we now being forced to wave our hands around at the paper towel dispenser like fools. Who's bright idea was this? What exactly was wrong with pulling out the towel all by yourself? Somehow this is progress... Besides being completely unnecessary the damn things either 1) don't work or 2) spit out such tiny little towels that you are forced to wave your hands at it two or three times just to get enough dry you hands. Don't even get me started on those lousy air dryer things. Haven't we all been forced to wipe our hands on our pants enough already.

The modern high-tech public restroom is a study in the art of "just because you can, should you?". I understand the very real need for those spring loaded or sensor controlled faucets. Most of them actually work and probably save countless gallons of water. OK, chalk those things up as winners. 

All you men will surely track with this one - ladies too for that matter. For us men standing at the urinal, one of those touchless, self-flushing urinals, we are supposed to be protected from actually having to touch that germ laden flusher when we finish up. The system is supposed to detect that you are not standing there anymore and flush automatically. Marvelous. Except when you're standing there daydreaming or just enjoying a good pee and the damn thing flushes prematurely spraying you with filthy bacteria from every Tom, Dick and Harry that peed before you. Besides getting all over your clothes and hands it sprays all over that private part too. How are you supposed to wash that in public and still keep your dignity. Ladies , I'm sure the very same thing happens with those good 'ol automatic toilets too. What a mess. If you are planning to wash your hands anyway can't you just push the flusher all by yourself? 

Automatic doors are another marvel of modernity. These can be extremely helpful in situations where your hands are full or you are pushing a cart. When they work it is a seamless transition from inside to outside. In the old days when the sensors were built into the mat and the door opened outward away from the direction you were going it was the aforementioned seamless transition. Today with the marvel of infrared or radio wave technology the door senses you coming and is supposed to open. In fact most of the time they do. Yet, they never seem to be calibrated to match your stride so you have to stop and wait, a little irritation yes. Except today both doors open the same direction and quite often they bash into you or your cart if you fail to break stride. Progress.

How about those pay-at-the-pump gas stations. In general this is a great idea and wonderful time saver. Since we all use debit or credit cards the automated at the pump payment system is a marvelous modern enhancement. Except... If you consider the whole point is to save you time then why are we forced to answer a half a dozen questions? No I don't want a car wash today. No I don't have a rewards card. No I don't want to give you my zip code. No I don't want a receipt. NO I DON'T WANT TO DONATE TO YOUR FAVORITE CHARITY!!! OK, I made that one up. As my older brother once said why can't they add a "Just Gas" button.

The king of modern automation that everyone of us has dealt with to the point of vein popping frustration is the merry-go-round of interactive voice response machines. Nothing has hurt customer relations and brand loyalty more than "Press 1 for this Press 2 for that and Press 3 for the other thing". Unless you require something very basic these things almost never satisfy. If you are lucky you can press "0" or "#" and get directed to an actual human. Nine times out of ten that person can actually help you. Sometimes this is not an option since the final option they give sends you back to the beginning. Arrrggghh!!!

Now, if you are calling a government entity a human on the other end of the line guarantees you nothing. Have you ever been put into the call center merry-go-round? This is where one department tells you you'll need to call the other department. They give you a number to call and that department tells you you need to call another department - or worse - the department that told you to call them. Maximum frustration ensues when department one gladly transfers the call for you... click... dial-tone... Start over. Eventually you know all the "options" by heart and immediately start yelling at the person who answers the call. Now corporate call center agents are trained to be exceeding polite and calm (which can further enrage you) but a government worker is indifferent and will do anything just to get rid of you. "You have to call Department Two, would you like me to transfer the call?"


PS have a nice day

Monday, July 21, 2014

Memory Lane: Was I right?

Do other occasional bloggers go back in time and read something they wrote years ago? I rarely do. It might be that I don't want to discover that events have made my past bloviating seem childish, uninformed or stupid.

As bloggers it's not fair to beat up on ourselves too much, we grow, we learn and we are often overtaken by events. As a man of considerable age, approaching my mid-fifties now, I do have some depth of experience and wisdom. Still, I should know better than to be too declarative, too certain and too righteous. If I was smart I'd stick to subjects I have expertize in like variable length subnet masking and Internet protocol filtering and control with IPSec tunnel as transport, or at least just electric guitars and power chords. But I don't, I try to dig into subjects that interest me whether I know what I'm talking about or not.

There I was perusing a favorite blog ( only to stumble on a link back to something I wrote in 2007. I read it with trepidation, what BS was I slinging that day? To my surprise I found that I was right about a lot of things. This time events had confirmed exactly what I believed.

See here

In it I said the 2nd Iraq war was about oil - it was. It was not only about oil, but only a fool would say oil had nothing to do with it. I do not believe the U.S. was there to steal Iraqi oil, we weren't. We were however engaged in that region with guns and ships in part to protect the marketplace for the movement of oil to the places it needed to be. That's just the way it was. It is a job that needed to be done and the U.S. did it. For one thing, no one else could and, for another who better than the U.S. considering the role the U.S. played in global stability for the markets and the economy of the world.

Even at the time, seven years ago, the U.S. itself was not getting that much of it's oil from the Middle East, but many of our allies were. Now with the advent of advanced extraction of fossil fuels in the homeland the U.S. get's even less oil from the Middle East. The U.S. is now, or is poised to be the world leader in oil production. What hasn't changed is that the oil business is global in nature and trouble in any part of the system affects everyone to some degree.

The spooky part is what has changed. For all the foibles and mistakes of the Bush Administration leading up to 2007 when I wrote the piece, in the eyes of nation and the world everyone knew the U.S. could be counted on. That alone was a stabilizing force, imperfect but stabilizing. Now a mere seven years later under the Obama Administration this is true no longer. The world is devolving into chaos in nearly every quarter. Islam, China and Russia are busy pushing out, testing the waters for American reaction, carefully considering how the West coalesces behind American leadership. But then again, there is no American leadership.

The whole Middle East and North African zone is in turmoil. Israel and Hamas are in a shooting war - again. Egypt, Libya and Syria are engaged in civil wars to name just the big ones. The Syrian conflict has spilled into Iraq threatening to destabilize the region even further. This is directly the result of the Obama Administration's failure to come to an agreement for status of forces in Iraq. A vacuum of power ensued, a welcome call for ISIS out of Syria. And... Iran's sponsorship of terrorism and nuclear ambition is a festering case.

Russia, the chess player, is using the weakness of U.S. leadership to harass Ukraine, threatening a civil war there. This leaves Europe between a rock and a hard place. They need Russian energy. What they see is Russian ambition in the absence of American leadership.

The troubling thing is that Europe and reasonable people in the U.S. see the energy revolution in America as a potential solution to Europe's dependency on Russia. Again the Obama Administration has done everything in it's power to stifle the burgeoning export potential of American energy. Killing the Keystone Pipeline sends a clear signal that the U.S. government is in the grips of radical environmentalists - and enough digging would find Russian money funding these "green" organizations with the very purpose of stifling American energy gains.

In the midst of all this foreign turmoil is a weak and stagnant economy in America. A weak economy makes the U.S. weak across the board. We see major homegrown companies pulling up stakes and moving to business friendly nations. Corporate tax reform is needed. Regardless of the push back from huge companies that benefit from the current system it takes political leadership to pull it off. There's no economic leadership in the political ranks, none. Instead all we've seen is the Central Bank and it's debt buying strategy. How many people are fooled by a rising stock market that is fueled by Federal Reserve bond buying? When this ends with nothing else having been done to shore up native economic growth the market will crash and interest rates and inflation will rise - further weakening the country and by extension the world.

The final point in my 2007 piece was that people grumble and complain about America sticking its nose into everything, complain about so-called American arrogance, complain about American aggression and nearly everything else about America - and as always there is some validity to these concerns. It's an imperfect world. Now we are getting a glimpse of what the absence of American leadership and reliability will bring to the world. What a mess.

For once I was right!!!


Monday, July 14, 2014

Distracted by Distraction

I don't know anyone who isn't addicted to distraction. In this modern age, in this advanced society it's next to impossible to live life without near continuous distraction in one form or another. From the moment we wake up in the morning until we lay our heads back down we spend most of our waking hours distracted or looking for ways to pull ourselves away from the reality of the world we live in.

As we eat our breakfast and sip our coffee we are watching the morning news on the TV or reading the paper. When behind the wheel driving in to work it isn't enough to just pay attention to the road, the traffic and weather conditions, we must also listen to the radio or CD or worse, talk or text on the mobile phone. We get to our desk and before long we find ourselves reacting to a funny e-mail or recanting stories of the past weekend or maybe surfing the Internet. Anything but do the job at hand - at least for a while.

When we get home it's distraction city - especially if there are small children in the home. Once dinner is finished the whole point is to distract oneself until bedtime so that we can get up the next morning and do it all over again. For some it's the TV. For the younger set it's straight to the computer or game console for endless hours of shoot 'em up. For many it's the newest addiction of the modern age - Facebooking.

I say all this not to admonish, hell, I'm addicted to distraction too, rather, I wonder if we are actually any the worse for it. I suspect we are, however, for many people it's the distractions that make life worth living. You know the saying - all work and no play...

Most of us have a lot of free time. In modern societies we are not spending the bulk of our time hunting and gathering. When our minds and bodies are free from the the very act of survival we have a need to fill our lives with something. The thing to ponder is who is making the decision with what to fill it with - us or someone else.

As with anything if we examine that which compels the action we can discern whether it is good, benign or dangerous. Chief among all reasons people give in to distraction is of course boredom. Nine times out of ten when I plop down in front of the TV it's because my life at that point in time is boring. I think this is entirely normal, right? There are probably a thousand reasons people succumb to distraction starting with the inability to face reality at all - and everything in between.

The question becomes then what isn't a distraction? Reading a book? Gardening? Working out? Playing guitar or piano? I guess it depends. Are we supposed to be doing something productive or meaningful 24/7?

The impetus for me to even to broach this subject is the release of Bruce Charlton's new book "Addicted to Distraction". In it Charlton specifically focuses on the mass media. There's no doubt that every one this side of Rip Van Winkel is deeply affected by the mass media. According the always insightful Charlton we ignore the power of the mass media at or own peril.

From Charlton's preview of the book...
How can I convince you that you are deluded?

Well, it won’t be easy because you are not alone; you a part of a folie a billion, a mass delusion, induced by the Mass Media.

You are, in fact, subject to the most pervasive and effective propaganda in the history of humanity; a propaganda which has people not noticing the evidence of their eyes and ignoring the evidence of their own experience.

We allow, we encourage, we demand for this to happen because we are inside the Mass Media and addicted to it; and although it destroys all that makes meaning, purpose, and relationship possible; the Mass Media then takes our alienated, adrift, self-loathing and lonely selves and offers distraction, consolation, absorption, fragments and glimmerings of pleasure and self-forgetfulness...

And yet the Mass Media has no person in-control, no group of persons, not even an interest group. The destructiveness of the Mass Media operates equally – or more – against the participants: the journalists, broadcasters, editors, hype-ers and spinners, public relation professionals and advertisers and propagandists... All are dragged-down just like everybody else by their own destructiveness.

Besides offering mere distractions so much of the entertainment media actually pollutes our minds with toxic pictures and themes about our culture and our belief systems to make us think black is white, good is evil and the demented are the righteous. They do this for no other reason than they can. In a world where everything is relative there is no guiding principle, no ultimate right or wrong. Is it any wonder things are so fouled up.

On occasion a program, a book or a movie is produced that actually enlightens, affirming the goodness of humanity far beyond any self serving agenda. If they are not panned or ridiculed in such a way they ultimately have no power, the underlying affirmation of human goodness, human decency is completely ignored. This is true of decent people too. One need only look at what the mass media did to Tim Tebow, a man, a role model who could have deserved it less. The media took extreme pleasure in building him up just to tear him down. Yet complete scumbags, sluts and thugs are repeatedly celebrated.

The mass media and it's guiding principle political correctness dictate everything in today's culture - this much we all must acknowledge. That said, what is the personal grip the power of distraction holds over us? I go back to the question - what isn't distraction? Are we talking about anything less than meaningful work and quiet self-contemplation? I'm sorry, I don't have the answer.

We need to ask ourselves why we are so afraid of solitude and self reflection? Why do so many of us choose to live vicariously through others instead of creating our own stories. Why we are terrified of being alone with ourselves?

Timothy Wilson, University of Virginia professor of psychology and lead author of a study to determine if people would be comfortable alone with just their thoughts, was surprised by what they found. Not only did most people not enjoy solitude and quiet contemplation many of the men in the study preferred self-administered electric shock to being alone with their thoughts. Previous surveys have shown that people generally prefer not to disengage from the world, and, when they do, they do not particularly enjoy it.

In some of Wilson's experiments, participants were asked to sit alone in an unadorned room at a laboratory with no cell phone, reading materials or writing implements, and to spend six to 15 minutes – depending on the study – entertaining themselves with their thoughts. They were then to answer questions about how much they enjoyed the experience and if they had difficulty concentrating. Nearly all found it difficult to concentrate and that their minds wandered, though nothing was competing for their attention. Most of the participants did not enjoy the experience.

This confirms in a sense that it is human nature to avoid boredom. It also seems to point at the profound shallowness of people. The study periods were a mere 15 minutes. One would think anybody could quietly self reflect and even relax for 15 minutes. To be honest I'm not entirely certain that I could do it.

I think it also goes to show that people don't really know themselves, that they don't even want to. When our minds are quiet is it possible that we are not alone at all? Is it possible that in those times we are in the presence of God? Are we so frightened by the prospect that we do something, anything to avoid that meeting?

Let me sit here quietly and think about that for fifteen moments.


Friday, July 04, 2014

Invasion: plain and simple

There is no other way to spin it. If we weren't being invaded from the south for the past 20 years we certainly are now. There are tens of thousands of illegal aliens pouring over the Texas border at unprecedented levels with no sign of abating. Many of them - if not most - are children unaccompanied but an adult. The worse part of it is, it now seems it was planned - planned by our government.

I've heard or read more than a few reports that the Obama Administration put out an RFP  in January 2014 for transportation resources to move people to immigrant processing centers across the country. By May the borders were being breached by thousands of children from Central America. Now, if you knew enough to foresee the need for this transportation then you knew enough to stand in the way and prevent it. That was not the plan however.

Last year Obama unilaterally enacted the Dream Act by fiat when it failed to pass the Congress. The Republican controlled House was ready to pass the bill if a few common sense measures were added to ensure this very invasion would not happen. The Democrats said it's my way or the highway, the bill failed. This executive order might as well been an invitation to the downtrodden in parts of Central America. I personally wouldn't put it past the Obama regime to have sent emissaries to those countries with actual invitations, but that's just me and my disdain for Obama showing through. Still...

This is a crisis in more ways than one. The Obama Administration's response so far has been limited and predictable. He has called for 2 billion dollars to help facilitate the processing of these children. Where ever these immigrants land it will eventually overwhelm the community or state and exceed $2 billion in a heartbeat. The financial crisis aside the health crisis these unvaccinated, unhealthy third world children could spawn is phenomenal. If it turns out that the Administration planned this with the goal of overwhelming the system and intentionally foster a crisis someone should be criminally charged.

Even in the early days of the government response to this - while the country is just learning about it - there is talk of secrecy and cover-ups. In one processing center employees were warned about telling anyone of the condition of the kids being readied assimilation into the general public. Some had TB, some had scabies, most had head lice and almost none had any vaccinations. Medical workers were force to swear an oath and threatened with their jobs. Some simply quit. These kids are going put into our communities, schools, day cares and foster care with communicable diseases. It's against the law for health care workers not to report these conditions, yet these people we're threatened by government agents who called themselves the Brown Shirts. WTF.

How can the Obama team justify this? How can those who support this guy just go along?

There is the very real human tragedy to consider too. Most of these people are scared out there minds. How can we turn our backs on them? Well we can't. But it is the height of false compassion (it always is) to encourage and foster certain behaviors that are detrimental to human dignity and success and then swoop in to save the day. On top of that make anyone who opposes the enabling behavior akin to the devil!

The ultra compassion of the borderless "Kingdom of Heaven" churches and the various civic organizations compel us to look past the reasons these things come about and focus on the moral response. We end up supporting the compassionate response and those who advocate it rather than opposing the immoral (and unconstitutional) policies that led to the crisis. In other words the cynical progressives who foster the endless immigration invasion for votes to stay in power are never called out for their very real sins. No, only the so-called nationalism of the conservatives is derided because it comes across as uncaring and compassionless.

It is the duty of the churches to call out sin and evil where ever it is, but they fail miserably to hold the progressives who create this human misery accountable for anything. This is for all intents and purposes aiding evil. Is this what the "Kingdom of Heaven" calls for?

The raucous protest in Murrieta CA over this latest invasion is a clear sign that ordinary citizens are reaching the end of the rope. Almost no one opposes legal immigration and that's all anyone is calling for - control of the borders. The Obama Administration is fooling no one. They are manufacturing a crisis for cynical political gains. The compassion police then pound down anyone who objects. It's a great one-two punch. Perhaps the counter punch is finally going to be delivered.