Friday, December 29, 2006

Government closed on Monday AND Tuesday

For all my fellow government workers who are on vacation but don't bother to check your work email while you're away, we've got an extra day off:

On December 28, by Executive Order of President George W. Bush, all executive departments, independent organizations and other agencies of the Federal government shall be closed on Tuesday, January 2, 2007, as a mark of respect for Gerald R. Ford, the 38th President of the United States.

Employees who are scheduled to take leave on January 2 will not be charged leave for that day.
Just an FYI. More then once I've gone into work just to find out I have the day off because its Flag Appreciation Day or whatnot.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Rest in Peace Gerald Ford

1996 episode of SNL featuring Dana Carvey as Tom Brokaw, announcing the various ways Gerald Ford could die.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Demotivational Friday: PowerPoint

I'm taking time off to travel and see friends and family for the holidays. So send me your favorite cookie recipes. Blogging will be light until the New Year. Enjoy. Happy everything.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Tis the Season...

Sometimes, I am reassured that there is simple good and joy in the world, and it's usually when I'm at my lowest that I'm reminded of this. I'm a somewhat religious/spiritual person, and so I feel like these moments of beauty are God's message to me. I know that they are there for everyone to enjoy, so they are not personal messages per se, but I believe that these messages are God's way of talking to us. I'm not crazy (or, at least not because of this) and I don't think that God is a physical presence that physically talks to us, but rather sends messages to us, and through those events and images speaks to us.

About two weeks ago, I am walking to the train station from my office, and it is cold and wet and miserable. I'm feeling fairly low, and had a particularly trying day at work that day. I'm thinking that I'm cold and wet and tired and generally grumpy, and that I just stepped in a puddle and now my foot is wet and squishy, and I'm starting to get a blister because my wet foot is sliding in my loafer. And then, I'm walking by the loading zone of a hotel, where there's this big coach bus. And in the destination placard, instead of a city, is the message "Be Happy."

Then last week, I'm on the train traveling from home to work. I usually have a book with me, and I read for the twenty-minute train ride. I usually am not distracted, and I'm reading a particularly good book (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre) and I'm at a fairly exciting part, but this day, I just cannot concentrate. I usually sit on the outside, too, but this day, I'm by the window. And I figure if I can't concentrate, I'll just look out of the window at the city as it passes by. I look up at the sky, because it's fairly overcast, and the sun is making pretty rays as it peeks through the spaces in the clouds. I'm looking at this, and I think that the cloud looks positively green. I polish my glasses, and then look again - sure enough, there's a faint rainbow in the sky as the light from the sun's rays reflects off of the clouds. It's so beautiful, this rainbow, peeking through the break in the almost total cloud cover.

And I know these messages are God's voice, reminding me of Its presence. That It is there, always, even when it seems like It is not.

There is a lot of sadness in the world... Some Guy will tell you that if the cure for all disease was a simple glass of clean water, half of the people in the world wouldn't be able to be cured. That is sad, that so simple a thing is unattainable by so many. And when we think of the sadness and the hunger, the politics and the backbiting, it seems like God is not there...

But we need to remember always that God is there... that through our choices we create situations that are challenging, but God is there, and It speaks to us in very subtle ways, if we just look up from our daily grind.

Be Happy... and happy whatever you celebrate.

Bush Acknowledges Reality (Sorta)

In an interview with the Post, the President almost admits the obvious...

Bush, who has always said that the United States is headed for victory in Iraq, conceded yesterday what Gates, Powell and most Americans in polls have already concluded. "An interesting construct that General Pace uses is, 'We're not winning, we're not losing,'" Bush said, referring to Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the Joint Chiefs chairman, who was spotted near the Oval Office before the interview. "There's been some very positive developments. . . . [But] obviously the real problem we face is the sectarian violence that needs to be dealt with."

Asked yesterday about his "absolutely, we're winning" comment at an Oct. 25 news conference, the president recast it as a prediction rather than an assessment. "Yes, that was an indication of my belief we're going to win," he said.

OK, so let's say that the Giants have a score of 7, and the Dolphins have a score of 31. The fourth quarter has just started. Would you expect Tom Coughlin to say "We're not winning, we're not losing," and if he did say that, how do you think the fans watching at home would react?

Trite comparisons aside, I believe that all people sin. Not only do we make mistakes, we sometimes willfully do the wrong thing. Committing sins doesn't make you a bad person, it is part of the human condition that defines all of us. True evil is when you know that you've sinned, but you refuse to do penance. Or even worse, you realize what you're doing wrong, but you persist in doing it.

Sophocles put it better then I can in Antigone:
All men make mistakes—that’s not uncommon.
But when they do, they’re no longer foolish
or subject to bad luck if they try to fix
the evil into which they’ve fallen,
once they give up their intransigence.
Men who put their stubbornness on show
invite accusations of stupidity.
Make concessions to the dead—don’t ever stab
a man who’s just been killed. What’s the glory
in killing a dead person one more time?

Sadly, I believe that Bush is much like Creon. (Man, I'm just all about bad similes today). He knows something is wrong, but his entire character is built around his role as the undisputed ruler of the land. He's won every political battle of his life, and he sees that as vindication for every choice he makes. He doesn't see the error of his ways, no matter how many times people tell him.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Demotivational Friday: Awesome

Qui Gonn Jesse was cool enough to email this to me. Enjoy.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Cupcake Wars

Medley has the lowdown on the cupcake wars:

For the past few weeks in the Post, one of the advice columnists has been talking about the issue of snacks for kids in school and other extra-curricular events (see here and here for examples). Some parents are concerned that their kids are being given too many sweet and candies and just too much sugar generally. Especially in cases where they have multiple activities on a given day, or attend siblings activities (and everyone shares in the treats).

Other parents are going crazy because of their deep emotional connection to cupcakes.

"A lot of people are really angry," said Karen Epperson, a George Mason parent. "They think this is really stupid."

Mind you, Epperson said, it's not the kids who are upset. Kids are not the ones who are so devoted to cupcakes.

At the same time they're being booted from classrooms, cupcakes have become the latest hipster chic food. Entire blogs are dedicated to cupcake culture.

And some are going totally nuts.

"I don't have children. But I guarantee that if I did, I'd make them cupcakes for their birthdays," she said. "It's just ingrained in us as the proper thing to do."

So when that cultural norm is threatened by cupcake bans, she argued, people feel compelled to rally to its defense.

"Think about it. Banning cupcakes is almost like an assault on the national identity," Oths said. "It comes at a time when there are fears of terrorism and the immigration brouhaha that they're 'watering down' our traditional American culture -- meaning middle-class white America -- that's slipping out of our grasp."

Medley correctly observes that some parents are clearly overreacting.

"If we can't have cupcakes in gradeschool THEN THE TERRORISTS HAVE WON!"

But having said that, I would like to say that I am strongly pro-cupcake.

Baking with/for my friends or with my little cousins is one of the purest joys in life, especially when its for birthdays. I'm glad that schools have banned candy and soda in schools. But cupcakes? Come on, seriously. If your kid is so rotund that at any moment he might go into diabetic shock, then I'm thinking that his sprinkle consumption at school really isn't the problem.

Maybe you should get up off of your butt, which statistically speaking is probably quite large if your kid has this issue, and start being a parent. Stop buying fast food, learn to cook something that doesn't require the microwave, and go outside with your kid once in a while to play soccer.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Statistics: Now Paranoid White People Must Move to Canada

Qui Gonn emailed me this link a few days ago. New government numbers (ZZZZZzzzzzzzzz..... I know. Sorry. This is what I do) show that suburban poor now outnumber urban poor for the first time in history.

The poverty rate in large cities (18.8 percent) is still higher than it is in the suburbs (9.4 percent). But the overall number of people living in poverty is higher in the suburbs in part because of population growth.

Most major cities are essentially full, with level or declining population numbers. In the 90's we saw an urban rebirth, with large swaths of major cities extensively gentrified and redeveloped. That had the effect of reducing poverty and density, and raising the cost of living - pulling in single yuppies and working empty nesters, but further driving away families. This pattern is compounded by the decentralized nature of new job creation, which is mostly in the service sector, and driven by the internet and other new technologies. There are almost no factories left. We do not need large concentrations of workers in one place built around transportation hubs. You can be a lawyer, engineer, nurse, or waiter almost anywhere.

Ironically though, I think this is actually going to increase racial and socio-economic tension in this country. Just look at the pattern of suburban growth. Umbrella Corporation Developer buys 20 acres of land. They build two units of housing on each acre. These housing are sold to people who are generally rich, white, and well educated.

They sell these homes for as much as they can, generally $500,000 a piece or more. If the state/county/municipality has an affordable housing requirement of some kind (most do), they also buy one acre of land as far away as possible (so as not to lower real estate prices in the rich area where they're trying to sell luxury homes), and build 40 units of on each acre. These units are generally sold or rented to people who are poorer, minorities, maybe recent immigrants, and much less educated.

So, even though they're both in the burbs, they're seperated far more then they ever were in the city. The most segregated state in the union is heavily suburbanized New Jersey - which is what the rest of America will soon look like.

Cue high pitched "Psycho" string instruments.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Cheney is Preggers

From the Post:

Mary Cheney, the vice president's openly gay daughter, is pregnant. She and her partner of 15 years, Heather Poe, are "ecstatic" about the baby, due in late spring, said a source close to the couple.

It's a baby boom for grandparents Dick and Lynne Cheney: Their older daughter, Elizabeth, went on leave as deputy assistant secretary of state before having her fifth child in July. "The vice president and Mrs. Cheney are looking forward with eager anticipation to the arrival of their sixth grandchild," spokesman Lea Anne McBride said last night.

For some time now, most major religions have been preaching that the highest form of love can only be attained in marriage, that sex and child birth outside of marriage debases your soul and the social institutions of marriage and child rearing for everyone, and generate more abortions, higher poverty, and endless mind rotting celebrity gossip news.

So the anti-homosexual agenda of those religions have never made much sense to me. If marriage is good and sex and child birth outside of marriage is bad, then why would you purposefully bar some sizable minority of people from ever getting married? Wouldn't it make more sense to encourage everyone to try and form truly loving and lasting relationships with the end goal being a healthy marriage?

And Dick Cheney, a leader of the party that wants a constitutional ban on gay marriage and constantly belittles single moms and cuts funding for child care is "looking forward with eager anticipation to the arrival of their sixth grandchild."

Hypocrisy... overload... brain... exploding from internal contradictions...

It reminds me of an old saying that an activist friend once told me, "Most people in America are pro-life, unless the mother who needs an abortion is raped, her health is at risk, or if its someone they know."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Global Warming to Destroy the Economy?

There's an old church hymn that we used to sing when I was a kid:

Don't build your house on a sandy land,
Don't build it too near the shore!
Though it might look kinda nice,
You gotta build it twice,
You gotta build your house once more!

You gotta build your house on a rock!
A firm foundation on a solid spot,
Though the storms may come and go,
But the peace of God you will know!

I always assumed that the song was an allusion to Matthew 7:24-29. But I was wrong. It turns out that the Church was giving us excellent real estate advice, because global warming is reshaping the housing market.

"There are horror stories about the frequency and severity of hurricanes increasing," Reactions reported in September. That plus the skyrocketing number and value of properties on the U.S. coastline "has prompted many to question whether it is possible to write catastrophe business profitably."

At all.

"If you feel the price is not right, you pull out," matter-of-factly acknowledges Kurt Karl, head of economic research and consulting with Swiss Re in New York.

Since 1971, "Insured U.S. weather-related losses are growing 10 times faster than premiums and the overall economy," reports Ceres, a coalition whose observations get attention from the big boys in part because they've built a climate-risk network that includes 50 institutional investors managing more than $3 trillion.

In order to get a mortgage, you need to purchase the proper insurance. The bank won't lend you money unless they know that someone is going to pay them if your investment gets knocked over by a hurricane or destroyed by flooding. Without insurance you can't build or buy a home, run a businesses, or even operate government buildings.

50% of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of a coast. And the cost of insuring anything with a high risk of being destroyed by weather is in the process of skyrocketing, because the incidence of destructive weather is increasing, and ocean levels are rising. You can attribute these changes to whatever you want. But the insurance industry is phenomenally good at accurately measuring risk, and we will all be literally paying the cost of that increased risk quite soon.

The question is, how will we respond to this economic incentive?

My guess is that people will naturally migrate towards cheaper inland real estate, and local officials will improve building codes to help withstand disasters.

A large scale cutback of greenhouse gases would be great, but I doubt we'll be increasing CAFE standards any time soon. If Manhattan was projected to be underwater in less then ten years and you gave Americans a choice between building trillion dollar 100 foot flood walls around the city or giving up SUV's, our first response would be, "I know a guy in Jersey who can give us a great deal on concrete."

Friday, December 01, 2006 selling milk

Someone is selling Tuscan Whole Milk over and shipping it from NY (via standard mail?). The really bizarre thing is that it has over 800 comments:

I'm particularly fond of the customer images of the product:

And its catagorized under "gourmet food." I love the internet.