Monday, April 30, 2012
You may have noticed my self descriptions on the page. As a semi regular post I'm going to go into what those things mean to me and why I say they describe me. I'll start with the least understood.
I'll start by being clear. I'm not an agnostic. I don't think there might be a god or gods out there. I'm not just waiting for proof. I'm sure there's no deity. There's never been any evidence of it and there's no logical reason why there should be.
We're all born atheists. Infants know nothing of gods. It's only through constant inculcation that most of us are made to believe that there are beings out there with great powers, far beyond our own abilities. I had the good fortune of parents who were atheists, so I never had that put upon me.
But don't think I'm ignorant of religion. I've read the Bible, the Quran, the Book of Mormon, the Compassionate Budha, and a myriad of other writings on various lesser known faiths, with quite a bit of various Native American myths in particular being of great interest to me. See, I'm a fan of comic books, and these are the original super hero books. They could do with a good Jack Kirby or Darwyn Cooke to punch them up and provide some quality illustration, but they really are the same kind of entertainment.
But as much as I like comic books, I don't believe super heroes are real. Similarly, I don't believe in gods.
And why should I? What comes with believing in a god? Because as much as pantheist faiths contain direct similarities to super hero books, right down to Thor and Hercules (who's a demigod, but whatever) appearing in a lot of comics over the years, the omnipotent, omnicsient, and omnipresent gods of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are the more troubling, intellectually.
If you believe in a single all powerful god, then you're locked into a lot of contradictory beliefs. And I don't even mean the simple conundrum of the stone too heavy to lift.
Let's look at the doctrine of Free Will. This is a big element of Protestant theology in particular, and I really don't know that Judaism or Islam contain anything similar, but my primary experience is with Protestant theology, so here we go. Free Will is an attempt to get around the problem of predestination. In a world in which the god is all powerful, the individual beings should have no choices. The god knows all and controls all. There's no decision to be made. But that contradicts Adam and Eve disobeying the god, not to mention the idea that all of us are to be sent to Heaven or Hell depending on how we lead our lives. If the bad actors are doing so under the control of the god, why should they be punished with Hell?
So, along comes the idea that the god lets us decide how we're going to lead our lives. Damned if I recall why this being would do such a thing, but that's the idea. Not very comforting, if you ask me. Instead of being incapable of making decisions and suffering at the whim of a god, now we're tasked with figuring out how to please that god, with no instruction book. And don't think the Bible or the Quran are any final word on the instructions. What kind of super power deity puts out dozens of books that have different instructions? On top of that there are various interpretations of each of the books, as evinced by the schisms within the big three of monotheistic faiths. None of them have one, consistent belief. And that's because all these books were written by people, not a god. No god has ever come forth with any instructions for people. People just take a flyer at it.
Which means we're all lab rats in the god's maze that is Earth. Hell, we're worse than lab rats. At least the maze has a path that leads to the desired end. There's no guarantee of that in our god's maze. The only end we're guaranteed is death. No idea what happens after that, other than decay of the body. I think that's all there is, but I'll go into that in some future post.
No, I'll not be anything but an atheist. Deities just don't make sense. And wait 'til I get to the idea of personal responsibility. You'll wonder why all adherents to representative government aren't atheists.
Friday, April 27, 2012
Still, it's not so common that Karen and I don't notice it when we're out places. Sometimes we'll see numerous other couples, which inevitably leads to our in joke that we didn't get the invitation.
Disney certainly provided opportunity for that. Of course, people are coming to Disney from around the world and the US. Statistically, there are bound to be a lot of mixes of couples, ethnically, religiously, and culturally.
As the years have gone by, there have been more such couples. Not just in my notice but statistically, too. We're taking over the world!
Good thing, too. Genetic diversity is necessary for a species to survive. Insular breeding leads to defects becoming prominet, like a Hapsburg or a Golden Retriever. Man or dog, keeping the spread of your genes in close proximity to your family tree is going to warp the branches of your tree. Mutts are best.
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Anyway, that was something I hadn't expected. I've read over the years how our numbers are declining. Red heads are a recessive trait in the genes. Our widening of our breeding pool means its more likely to stay a recessive and not result in kids with red hair. There's more of me and my wife, with our disparate genetic histories, than Ron Howard and his wife, who are both red heads.
But there were a lot of us at Disney. Mostly un-sunburned, too. That's one of the primar reasons I'm glad my kids aren't red heads. They don't get the easy sun burning that comes with it. With Spring here and Summer hard on its heals, I'm in the time where I calculate my outdoor activities with a mind toward how much time I'll have to spend in direct sun. Well, not right now, as I write this. It's 40 degrees and raining, but a week ago it was 90 degrees and sunny.
Is it a short enough exposure that no hat is needed? Do I need a hat? Do I need sun block? Aside from liking the look, one of the reasons I shaved my head was that I could apply sun block to my noggin' more easily. Towards the front of my head the hair was thin enough that I could get a sun burn but have a hard time getting the sun block in there. No hair resolves that but leaves the whole of the top of my head exposed for sun burn easily if I don't have block or a hat on.
So, good job read heads at Disney. No one of us appeared to be working on a melanoma harvest.
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
When we went to Disney four years ago the place was swimming in Bostonians. You could tell because there must be some sort of law in Massachusetts that requires its denizens to wear Red Sox gear whenever they leave the commonwealth. Part of that was due to the timing of our trip. We went at spring break, which in Baltimore County is always the week prior to Easter. Massachusetts had Patriot Day fall around the same time that year so they were off for that week, too.
This year our trip to Disney was also during spring break but Boston was not so heavily represented. This time it was citizens of the UK. They were a bit harder to spot, what with not wearing Union Jack shirts everywhere they went, but the English and Scottish accents were easy to notice.
My pasty cousins were far from home but the cost was easily manageable with an exchange rate that required only 62 pence to a dollar. Surprisingly, I didn't see many sunburred cousins. Other times I've seen the folks of my ancestral home in sunny climes they've been red as a beet all too often for their health.
With this kind of exchange rate, I should ge my salary paid in pounds sterling.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Heading south into South Carolina from North Carolina the first thing you see is South of the Border. This, for those not from the east, is a notorious tacky stop on I95. It's huge. It has a faux Mexico theme with a caricature mascot named Pedro. It glows like it has a half life of a millenia.
In the other side, heading north into South Carolina from Georgia, it's a whole other world. There's a stately sign featuring the palmetto tree. It looks high class, like entering a gated community.
Maybe it's the influence of Savannah, just across the border, or that Charleston is just up the road and to the east, but the entry to South Carolina when headed north is making the state look like a place you want to be. Headed south, it looks like someplace you want to get through as soon as possible. Then again, that was reinforced by the sewage treatment plant on the south bound trip, too.
Monday, April 23, 2012
And we did it, too. We left at 8:00 p.m. I had put in a full day at work, and the kids full days at school, while Karen did the last minute packing and what needed to be done in getting supplies together because we brought food for breakfast during our stay in FL.
Karen took the first leg because she was more comfortable driving in the area she knows. Fortunate, too, because the GPS wanted to send us in strange side diversions like taking Rte 29 down to I495 rather than just taking I95. I don't know what the algorithm in that thing is thinking. Of course, it also wanted to take us around the west side of I495 instead staying with the east side I495/I95 stretch. We ignored those directions.
After about 5 hours of driving I took over. I had tried to get some sleep but didn't get as much as I would have liked. My start at 1:00 a.m. on March 30 only lasted 3 hours. I was just too sleepy. My body clock doesn't like activity when it's expecting sleep. So Karen took over again for a couple hours, which carried us through to 6:00 a.m. She wasn't on familiar ground but it was all just driving down I95.
And, man, is that some boring road. That was a good part of my problem with staying away. It's dull. The steady droning of lane markers, flashing dashed markers for passing, rare sightings of other vehicles in the wee hours, and radio station hunting made for some numbing of the mental faculties. Karen was far better than I with it, but she's more of a night person, which helped.
The last 5 yours into Orlando and the Pop Century Resort went fairly well. We had a minor hang up in Jacksonville when a part of I95 was closed for an accident, but there was another segment of local highway right there that made it a quick detour. There would have been hardly any slowing at all if people followed directions. Too many of the other vehicles were trying to go into the closed section instead of taking the easy detour. No idea why. It was closed and not moving at all.
Probably the worst stretch of the drive was in SC when we went past a sewage treatment plant that was operating to the max in the middle of the night. What a stench.
Driving back on April 2 was a lot better. We left at 1:00 p.m. I drove the first 10 hours without problem and Karen took the last 5 to home. Arriving at 3:00 a.m was a lot better than driving at 3:00 a.m. with 8 more hours to go. We unloaded the car but didn't unpack anything. Everyone just climbed into bed until some telemarketer called around 8:30.
Despite the marathon nature of the drive, there was a lot of fun. The kids are fun to be with at 10 and 13. Plenty to contribute to conversations and, especially with Hob, quick with a quip. That boy's crazy.
Friday, April 20, 2012
Those not from Maryland or living in its neighboring states might not be aware that Maryland has a 90 day legislative session. This year's session ended this month without the legislature passing a balanced budget, which is required by the state constitution. Previously a "doomsday" budget had been passed which would dramatically cut many state departments and programs. This was meant to be a hammer over the heads of the legislature to get them to pass an actual budget that would include tax increases, mostly, if not entirely, on those earning over $100,000 per year.
Both the House and Senate in Maryland are controlled by Democrats, who have a sizable majority and no issues of fillibuster like the US Senate. On first blush, that should make it easy to get a budget through to the Democratic governor to sign. But then you wouldn't be factoring in the personalities and egos of politicians.
While the governor and the leader of the House had agreed with the leader of the Senate on who should face the tax increases and by how much, the Senate leader, Thomas "Mike" Miller, who's also a plaintiff's attorney in the DC suburbs, decided to slip in to the legislation an expansion of gambling in Maryland from slots to table games. Naturally this tanks the agreement that had been reached and triggers the "doomsday" budget.
This bad enough, but at least it's correctible. The legislature will likely be called back for a special session to pass a budget that preserves spending that's important to Maryland voters and raises taxes on high end earners.
So what's the position of the marginalized Maryland GOP?
"Democrats, GOP lawmakers disagree on need for special session
Moody's warns of possible impact on local credit rating
'We can live with this budget for a year,' said Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the Republican leader of the House of Delegates. "
The Maryland GOP thinks the "doomsday" budget is just fine. Oh, it may destroy the credit rating of some of the counties, because the counties get their money via the state (other than property tax money), but as long as we're dismantling government, it's all good. Who cares if the state slides into disrepair and the counties have to spend more for any projects because of their damaged credit ratings? There's no tax increase on the higher earners and that's all that's important.
I'm definitely in the camp of Governor Martin O'Malley. "Gov. Martin O'Malley said legislators need to come back to pass a tax increase to "protect the priorities of our state," including its highly rated school systems, affordable college education and health and public safety programs."
All quotes from the Baltimore Sun.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
On Monday a 22 year old was killed when the car in which she was a passenger was slammed into by a guy who was fleeing the police. Police had tried to pull him over only 5 blocks before the site of the loss. The officer followed Baltimore City Police protocol and radioed in to his superiors for a decision on whether to continue the pursuit, but before an answer could be given the accident happened because the fleeing suspect ran a red light.
The dead woman's name was Jordasha Rollins. When reporters visited the scene of the loss the next day, family members were putting up the now trite memorial display of flowers and such. The report got the following statement from a family member.
“Thanks to Baltimore’s finest, my niece is gone,” said Rollins’ aunt, Lee Avery, 38. Of the suspect driver, who grew up in their neighborhood, she said: “We know it was an accident — we know he didn’t mean it.”
This is a fine bit of rational thought failure of epic proportions. An epic fail, as my kids like to say. To the aunt it's not the fault of the person who was driving erratically, fled the police when they legitimately tried to pull him over, and ran a red light. No. It's the fault of the police because they tried to do their job and enforce the law. Brilliant.
Of course, by implication, this aunt thinks that Baltimore City Police killed her neice on purpose, too. After all, the suspect didn't meant it. It was just an accident. Therefore, the actions of the police must have been intended to lead to the death, if not of her neice of someone else.
What, you might ask, does this have to do with this week's subject of taxes? Well, it's much like the rationale of the GOP. Taxes, like the police to this aunt, are evil. They are a deprivation of the common man, be it life or livelihood. There is no (well, other than for the military) justification for taxes.
The thing is, taxes are a uniting force. They're our contribution to the function of the society as a group. Some of us do more to contribute, via charities or working directly with those in need, but most of us pay taxes and that's about the extent of our contribution to the greater society. It's important that our contributions aren't onerous and are distributed among us fairly, and what's fair is obviously open to much debate, but they serve a very important function in keeping society alive and well.
When you view taxes as a third rail, evil sort of thing like police out to kill your relatives, you're withdrawing from society as a whole. That there's a major political party in the US and about 40% of the electorate who agree with it is a significant sign of decay and illness in the society.
Then again, maybe the aunt of the dead woman just thinks that the city has deeper pockets to pursue than the mook from her neighborhood. So, maybe the GOP doesn't really oppose taxes but just wants to hide its true motivation. Unfortunately, in the case of the GOP, its true motive seems to be the dismantling of government that isn't part of the military.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
More than a few might say less than flattering things about me, but I am happy to pay my taxes. The simple reason for it is that I perceive the benefits I get from paying taxes, and they're not overly onerous, either. I keep the vast majority of the money I'm paid. Sure, I'd like to have more, but I'm far more pissed about the loss of real earnings that I have from spiraling health insurance costs than I am taxes. It's health insurance that's eating up all my money.
Which is why I'm a proponent of a single payer health system. It would be akin to the taxes I already pay. Just pay it to one source to administer payments to providers. Easy. I still choose the providers, who in turn work with me for the appropriate care. I want the single administrator to be monitoring costs to make sure providers aren't abusing the system. Just like I like government oversight bodies reviewing government agencies, it's a fraud prevention and cost containment measure to save all of us money.
But back to the taxes I already pay. At the federal level I have a large discount because I have a mortgage. But the taxes I do pay go into a large pot that helps with my kids' schools, my local roads, and even fun stuff like the Smithsonian or various national parks. It also goes to defense, which is a necessary thing indeed. My state taxes go to schools and roads, as well as other services, especially in distribution to the county, which also does services such is garbage and recycling, road maintenance, and many more things.
Beyond direct benefits to me, though, there's the indirect benefit. My taxes going to help other people, most often in basic living or improvement of living circumstances, provides an indirect benefit to me by improving the living standards of the whole US community.
So, suck it up. Pay your taxes with a smile. They're to your benefit.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
A week or so ago a small blurb in the Baltimore Sun's nearly non-existent business page proclaimed "Gas Prices up 6%". Reading the blurb, it said gas prices are predicted to be up 6% for this summer. A reader who stopped there might think that the current prices hovering around $4/gallon are going up another 6% as we hit the summer.
But further reading shows that gas prices being up 6% is referring to comparison with last summer. In fact, the price at many stations in the Baltimore area is already more than 6% over last summer's prices, which means that gas prices are actually going to go down as the summer arrives, as 6% over last year is $3.94/gallon.
Even in an inconsequential blurb like this, newspaper headline writers can't help but make a headline as dire as possible, regardless of the actual content of the story contradicting the headline.
Ah, well. This is a fine example why one should read critically. Reading critically doesn't mean disagreeing with what's written. Reading critically means thinking about what's written and whether it comports with facts. A skill set that's hard to come by and the lack of which is a cornerstone of political and media success, regardless of stripe.
Monday, April 16, 2012
The folks at Mort Walker Enterprises decided to chime in on taxes yesterday. Usually this means some dull "joke" about Hi's drudgingly completing the family's taxes. This year the corporation and its 1% operator, or his stand-in, decided to take the opportunity to advocate for a flat tax.
Now, I'm not one to begrudge the wealthy like Steve Forbes, Herman Cain, or Mort Walker from advocating for this. They'd be the prime beneficiaries from such a tax. It would cut their taxes owed substantially while raising it for the middle class, who pay 8% of their income on average. But far be it from me to hold the wealthy accountable for being greedy. Plenty of us in the lower income classes are greedy, too.
What's irksome about this strip is that when Hi says a flat tax doesn't seem like such a bad idea, Lois asks about losing their deductions. Hi's response is that they don't amount to much, which leads into the lame joke about loopholes.
Hi should not be completing the family's taxes. Hi is an idiot. His wife is a realtor. The largest deduction for most middle class taxpayers is the mortgage on the house. Lois's livelihood relies on that deduction to entice people to buy houses. Without it, most people would be better off renting.
So, not only is Hi too stupid to recognize that his own taxes are significantly reduced by the mortgage deduction "loophole", he's too stupid to realize that without it his wife would be unemployed. Brilliant.
Friday, April 13, 2012
Anyway, somewhere in the south, where it's de rigur to try to convert anyone you run across to Christianity, there's a billboard that says "Angry, Confused, (something else I can't remember). Jesus is the Answer".
I'm sure the billboard poster is going for the idea that Jesus is the answer to any problem a person might have. Pray and Jesus will provide an answer. That sort of thing.
First off, I'm always amused by the idea that God or Jesus is going to provide answers. How do you know? If you claim that God or Jesus is actually aurally speaking to you, people think you're nuts. So you have to claim that some more indirect thing that happens is God or Jesus showing you the way, telling you what to do, providing opportunity. Whatever. Why is it that something that's omnipotent and omniscient has to be so indirect in operating with the people it supposedly loves so much? God has communication issues. God is seriously flawed. God needs counseling.
Second, and far more amusingly, if the billboard is read literally, it's saying that Jesus is the reason you're angry and confused. Seriously. It asks if you're angry and confused and tells you that Jesus is the answer. If I'm angry and confused, I want to know why I'm angry and confused. This billboard is telling me that Jesus is why I'm angry and confused. Ah, sweet irony.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
But on to the show.
A frequent canard of the Maryland GOP and its sympathizers is that Democrats, who've been running the state for decades, with the exception of a brief 4 year term for Bob Ehrlich as governor, are chasing away anyone with any large sums of money. People with money are fleeing to live in Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia or Virginia. Anywhere but Maryland because of its exhorbitant taxation. The Democrats are also chasing away businesses because of their regulatory and tax policies.
Now, I don't care where the wealthy want to live. As a middle class Maryland resident, I think I'm getting quite a lot back for my tax dollar. Then again, I'm either part of a large silent majority or a small silent minority who doesn't object to taxation in the first place. These nit wits of the Know Nothing ilk think all taxation is bad and have entirely missed the fact that the Boston Tea Party was a protest not of the tax itself but that the colonists had no say in the passage of the tax. The taxes the Know Nothings abhor were passed by a body elected by them and the rest of us. Oh, sure, their choice for the office didn't win, but they had a vote in it. They just couldn't convince enough of their fellow citizens that their choice was the right choice. What the Know Nothings want is a dictatorship of their minority view. Very patriotic. Very original intent.
But back to the point. Oh, sorry. I haven't gotten there yet.
Some weeks ago I read in the Baltimore Sun that Baltimore was noted by a business survey to have had the 6th lowest business operating costs in the entire US. In the entire United States of America. Sixth lowest. Have we all got that now? There are only 5 other cities in the country with lower operating costs for businesses.
Now, if you ask any Maryland GOP flack, Baltimore City is the nexus of the ills of the state of Maryland. It's full of additional taxes and social ills and whatever else you want to demonize. And demonnize they frequently do in letters to the Sun or comments on line.
So, I've been waiting weeks now to see what the Maryland GOP has to say about Baltimore being an evidently business friendly environment. So far, I've heard or seen nothing. Where's the hurrahs? Where's the congratulations? Where's the call for business to descend on Baltimore and take advantage of its welcoming environment? The silence is deafening.
I guess there's too much to do in trying to perpetuate the myth that Democrats are socialists.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Monday, April 9, 2012
Now, when I was a teen, if you wanted to see porn, you had to get a movie rental some way. Or someone may have bought one. In any case, it was a professionally produced work with paid actors, terrible scripts, and, as a rule, goofy plots. I gather from the occasional review by Chris Sims of the ISB that those sorts of porn videos are still made.
Most of what you'll find on line now is not that. Oh, the people are paid, I'm sure. The girls probably get a fee. The guys might get a fee or might be producing the things and getting a cut from any profit. Whatever the case, there's no attempt at any story or script. Why spend money on something like that where you might have to pay someone?
No, this stuff is just filmed in some residence with a guy behind the camera talking to the dull eyed girl, ostensibly saying something sexy. Mostly both are going through the motions.
This particular video involved something I'll not be doing. Much as I love my wife's ass, I'm not about to get in there with my tongue. There was quite a bit of that by the guy involved, and before that, the girl was licking his finger after it had been inserted. Not health conscious.
But the funny. Oh, the funny. The featured performers in the video are going through their motions but in the background is heard, at length, another girl in the throes of her sexual encounter. She's much more audible than the girl and guy we're looking at. And when she's done, she's having a conversation with whatever guy was putting it to her or filming it and can be heard much more clearly than the two we see.
Obviously, our big spenders have brought at least two girls to this space and couldn't bother to have them in separate rooms, or if they're in separate rooms, to close the door. It's one of those sort of videos that's meant to appear amateur, something posted by people just posting it for the enjoyment they had in making it. Of course, the fact that our stars appear to have never met prior to engaging in sex belies that to some extent. But with the screamer in the background we're well past amateur and well into amateurish.
Friday, April 6, 2012
Thursday, April 5, 2012
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Still, Ohio in Winter is nothing to anticipate with any sense of hope. A large portion of the trip was crossing northern Ohio, so you know. I had that to look forward to.
In truth, I don't recall a lot of the trip. I was 18, more or less. Dad drove the whole way. I had headphones, and I excelled at napping in moving cars. Probably the best way to traverse Ohio.
It was bound to be a trip with expletives and lost opportunities for quips. Like Calvin, Dad always had something clever to say about an affront, about 10 minutes later. At the time of an affront, of which there were bound to be plenty on the highways, "Fuck you and the horse you rode in on" was likely to be the most immediate response.
Dad had a way with words. He had some of his father's pugilistic inclinations but was far better at restraining them. At least he was more restrained after high school age. At some point in his education in the Pittsburgh environs he was upbraided by a teacher for going down an stairwell designated for up. Being late for class and not wanting to be harrassed by this small rule, he punched the teacher. Sure was obvious he'd become a teacher later.