This page is where I give voice to a few personal rantings about the world and the crazy things people in it do. The purpose is more of a cathartic release than in the belief that someone will read and be influenced by anything they find here. Since the latest rambles are added at the top of the page and some have two or three-parts this page may be better read from bottom to top.
(Click on main site to browse 70 other topics ranging from exotic kaleidoscope designs to the strange world of lucid dreaming.)
NEW!!! What's Different About the Latest Technological Revolution
another pet peeve
Size Matters Hypocracy
How Machines Will Take Over
Why I Hate Angry Birds
Why the US government will never be out of debt
Why things go wrong so often
Television Corner Ads
Yet Another HD Rip-off
Home Invasion Noise
Faulty Marriage System
Legal Magazine Con
Misleading CD labels
Bicentennial quarter head count
Sneak and switch
The Principle of Universitality
Rights and responsibilities
Attractiveness blame game
Still another pet peeve: Inflatable toy valve design.
Door-to-door solicitors who don't understand "No Soliciting" signs
The cost of perfection
Drier Rag Urban Rumor Control
Computers in Sci Fi Shows
How I think We Should Put People on Mars
A Sobering Thought About Space Travel
Love at first sight
Another pet peeve - Superpacking
More thoughts about modern art
Why I have a problem with super martial arts movies
A comment about the ending of the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark
A new pet peeve
Another new pet peeve
Why it's so hard to control eating
A new pet peeve
Another pet peeve
Why we swear
The self-serving, practical side of patriotism
A hard look at the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers' movies
Why stars and athletes are worth so much money
Hollywood is running out of room
A new theory on where marriage came from
Beautiful People One of my favorites!
Why so many macho fight scenes are ridiculous.
Why men serve themselves by resisting the seven year itch.
Modern Art Another favorite!
I don't understand profanity!
Things are getting better.
An open question.
Why old people get fat.
The source(s) of the California energy crisis.
The loss of pure-tasting foods
Why young people want powerful cars, radical music, and rebel against authority
The Evolution of Freedom
How to eat less
What the 21st Century will be remembered for
What's wrong with the World
Getting Fit in 10 minutes
Why We Like Bad News more than Good News
Sex, Violence, and Hypocrisy on Television
On Damning Hollywood for Sex and Violence in Movies
American People Getting Fat
NEW!!! What's Different About the Latest Technological Revolution
Ever since the industrial revolution took over, for the most part every time a new theological advancement eliminated jobs it also created approximately the same number of new jobs. This was because what was being replaced was one product or service for another. People would have to retrain to take advantage of the change, but at least they could. Now, however, the latest technological revolution, robotics, represents a fundamental change because it's not products or services that are being replaced but people.
As politically incorrect as the following reality may sound, the inescapable fact is that not everyone can be a doctor or lawyer or engineer. The vast majority of people in any society fill low level jobs which, although essential, require considerably less training. Many of these simple sorts of jobs are prime targets for replacement by robots. As this happens, and the economic advantages of doing so are so overwhelming that company owners can't afford to not do so, there are going to be fewer and fewer job opportunities for the lower economic classes. As their employment options dry up, they will be forced into even lower paying jobs, unemployment and, unfortunately for some, crime.
The result will be an increase in the polarization of wealth. Fewer and fewer people will be well off while more and more will enter poverty.
The safest jobs are those requiring people to deal with a wide range of options. For example: repair jobs such as plumbing, house repairs and auto repair. Robots are good at well defined tasks, but terrible at those where a lot of adaptability is required. Health care services should be similarly safe. Sales would seem to be safe... but is it? What is Amazon.com except a software robot conducting millions of sales every year.
What does this portend for the future? What will societies of the distant future look like when the only jobs are those for the most intellectually gifted and highest educated? What will the billions of unemployable people do to support themselves? If humanity lasts that long, we could very well find ourselves in a world where most people live on government assistance and the government is controlled by comparatively few intellectually and educationally elite people.
Because robotics are so complicated, I don't expect the change to be very rapid, but it will be inexorable and in a very slow way, catastrophic.
NEW PEEVE!!! Hallmark's Mystery Woman TV series. This television series is light, pleasant watching starring the attractive Kellie Martin. My complaint is that whoever the sound mixer was decided to play the background music so loudly that many times it drowns out the dialog. This is bad enough but to make things even worse he or she used a painfully repetitive sound track that really isn't music, just someone's rambling plinkings on a synthesizer. At times it's so loud and monotonous that it gave me a headache. This is tragic because it ruined what were otherwise enjoyable movies.
It happened once again during the 2012 Oscars show. A lady presenter used what is now a very cliched joke to the effect: "Size matters, guys. Deal with it." Ignoring for the moment that some people consider such comments as crude and in saying this the lady in question offended thousands for a quick laugh, it represents the hypocrisy with which men have to endure in the current anti-male atmosphere as regards sexual preferences.
If a woman says, "Size matters. Deal with it, Guys." More often than not she's viewed as being mature, forthright and discerning... with a touch of male contempt. If a man makes the exact same statement regarding feminine physical attributes, he's viewed as being stupid, shallow and sexist. When a woman states that she prefers a man with a large: whatever, people automatically assume she's voicing just one of a large number of attributes she's looking for in a man. If a man states that he likes a woman with large (fill in the blank) it's assumed that it is the only thing he's considering. I have news for everyone. Contrary to popular belief, men are not enslaved by feminine beauty and do not make every decision in our lives based on it.
If women want the right to express their size preferences and be respected for it, then it's only fair that they extend the same rights to men and respect them if and when they do it.
How Machines Will Take Over
Machines and computers enslaving mankind is a popular theme in science fiction, typically accomplished by their waging a terminator-type war against us soft-skinned humans. I believe science fiction writers may be right in their predictions but wrong in the methodology the machines will use.
The reality is more likely that they will take over so slowly and gradually that generations of humans will pass during the process. Our adaptability will make us get used to the changes so that as they occur we're obivious to what's happening. Over time, we will become increasingly dependent on machines to help us function in an ever more complex world. Even with super fast computers, we will have to get used to waiting on machines to perform the tasks we require. Soon, machines will gradually introduce tasks they they require us to do for them in exchange for something we need from them. This isn't theory... it's history.
When I was a child if you wanted to watch television you turned on one switch and within seconds you were viewing your show. Now, when you want to watch television, you have to turn on the TV and wait up to three minutes for it to come on. Worse still, it refuses to show you anything until you do something for it: turn on the cable box for it and wait more while the two devices talk back and forth to arrange how they are going to work together. Computers are going the same way. How often have you been using one when it suddenly slows down because it wants to perform some behind the scenes checks or updates. This is another instance where you, the supposed master, are forced to wait at the machine's convenience.
So it's by slowing increasing the time we have to wait to get computers to do what we want that they will slowly take over the world. Truly, the meek shall inherit the earth... but not by the sword, but rather by simply being patient.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." These words from the opening line of Charles Dickens' classic A Tale of Two Cities captures the situation viewers are forced to accept in the current television environment. In many ways we live in the golden age of television. There are more channels offering more types of programing than ever imagined just ten years ago. Better still, many channels offer classic shows that have been unavailable for decades. No matter what your tastes, there are at least three channels that'll carry what you want. Yet in many ways these are the darkest days of television.
The cloud over what should be these glory days of television viewing is the runaway use of station identification logos, programming logos and animated pop-up advertisements plastered across our television screens during the show. While watching an episode of Dogs 101 on HGTV channel, there was a station id logo in the upper right corner, a second logo in the lower left corner telling me what I was watching and every few minutes a large animated commercial for Hillbilly Handfishing filling the lower right quarter of the screen. In their desperate attempt to promote their channel, the current show and advertise for another show, the network virtually destroyed the viewing pleasure of the current show. Worse still, if you decide the watch the advertised show, that show will in turn be ruined by advertisements for a third show, and so on forever. Equally irritating is that the station logos, show logos and pop-up advertisements don't show up during commercials. It's getting to be that today's shows are really just teasers inducing us to by DVDs of them so we can watch them uninterrupted. I don't mind regular commercials because they pay for the programmng... and I can always fast forward through them.
What really scares me is that the situation is rapidly getting worse. While watching the August 16th, 2011 episode of Chopped, I was shocked as a pop-up logo completely blanked the lower third of the picture and an animated truck filling the bottom half rolled back and forth across the screen three times. I fully expect the next step to be complete screen blanking as a 5-second pop-up advertises some product or program. Inserted randomly throughout the show these will be too short and frequent to dodge.
There is no doubt about it. These are indeed the best of times and the worst of times... and I'm afraid they are going to get a lot worse.
Why I Hate Angry Birds
2010 saw the release of one of the most popular apps of all time: the Angry Birds game. While it has entertained millions of people, I believe that because of misrepresentation it is grossly unfair to the player.
Angry Birds is presented as a game of skill. While this may be true as far as eliminating the pigs for any given game, to earn three stars at least one out of every ten games is configured so that luck, and only luck, allows you to do so. For these games, the player must strike a particular point with one-pixel accuracy, the same as the aiming accuracy. When the distance over which a bird must fly is taken into account the resulting on-target accuracy is at best four pixels. This means that no matter how carefully a player aims, at least three out of four shots will fail. Add to this the variability in which structures fall and in many cases it may take up to 30 tries to achieve the required result from a single bird. Clearly, skill is not the dominant issue. Winning in such situations is purely a matter of chance and persistence. Personally I don't like games of chance. Some people do. My complaint isn't that Angry Birds is a game of chance, it's that it isn't presented as such.
The second complaint is that the game is claimed to follow the laws if physics in the manner in which structures fall. It isn't. I can't count the number of times boards or blocks have moved in ways or gotten locked up in piles that simply could not occur in nature. (Forty years experience as a mechanical engineer has made me intimately familiar with the way objects behave in the real world.) The game appears to follow the laws of gravity and the mechanical behavior of materials, but it doesn't with the result that many shots that should produce winning results fail to do so for no fault of the player.
Finally, on at least six occasions I successfully completed a game and only needed a second more for the last pig to fall and be eliminated or a tower to finish collapsing to earn the points needed for a 3-star rating when the game ended before objects had finished moving.
For these reasons I consider Angry Birds unfair. This is not sour grapes speaking. I have earned three stars in all the games for the Christmas, Halloween and half of the standard HD versions of the game. Again, my complaint isn't that the game is unfair, but that it isn't the game it's presented as being.
Why the US government will never be out of debt
In spite of all the jokes to the contrary, politicians are no more evil, weak or corrupt than any other group of people. Like most of us, they work hard at their jobs to support their families. Unlike most of us, they come under public scrutiny every few years and if the voters they represent don't feel they've done a good enough job, they get fired. A "good job" to most voters means that they politician has done something to bring money into his or her district, or prevented it from being taken away.
When economic times are good, a politician's most important job is to funnel tax dollars into his district. If he does so the voters like him and re-elect him. Because he or she has a family to feed and needs to keep the job to do so, even if it would be in the best interests of the country to not vote for something that brings money into the district, self preservation (either their own or for the people they represent) forces them to go for it. This is why surpluses are never banked for rainy days.
When times are bad, they fight even harder to keep what they have, either by resisting the cancellation of economic problems supporting the district or fighting tax increases. Again, if they fail they don't get elected and the next person in office will have learned the lesson of his predecessor.
Honor, integrity and courage sound good, but when a politician has to choose between keeping his job or endangering the future of his children, he will fight to keep the job.
Why things go wrong so often
We've all had weeks like the one I recently experienced, where I couldn't turn around without something going wrong.
It started with the blu-ray player dying, then the CD/DVD reader on the computer quit, next the DVD/VHS machine started acting up, then software on the computer began resetting itself, a circuit breaker failed throwing half the house into darkness, I started to fix it and the flashlight failed, and on and on. I couldn't believe so many things could break at one time.
Eventually everything settled down and I began to wonder why we have these times. The answer, surprisingly, came from something I learned in an aerodynamics class.
When designing a plane, two principles are constantly at odds: stability and maneuverability. It's possible to design a plane that's so stable that if you take your hands of the wheel it'll fly on forever... at least until it runs out of gas. But, the price paid for this stability is that it the things that keep it stable are the same things that limit its ability to be maneuverable. In the same way, it's possible to design a fighter that's so maneuverable that it can do almost anything asked of it. The problem is that it will also be so unstable that humans don't have fast enough or fine enough reactions to control it. This concept of yin-and-yang is the reason so many things go wrong in modern life.
Take software. Because it's capable to doing so many things in so many different ways it's like that super-maneuverable fighter, it can make lots of turns but the very complexity that enables it to do this makes it unstable. The wrong key stroke or a minor corruption of a data file caused by some other software issue can send a complex program into a tail spin. Blu-ray players can play Blu-ray disks, CDs, DVDs, download movies off the Internet and support any number of other functions. All this flexibility increases its complexity to the point where instability, and unreliability, are unavoidable.
All this complexity surrounds us in ways in which we aren't aware. Even toasters these days have complex sensors in them to detect the moisture content of bread to control the quality of the resulting toast. Many plain fry pans have bases that are layers of different metals to even out the temperature of the surface. These layers can delaminate with thermal cycling too create gaps that may produce more uneven temperatures than a simple one piece pan. Where ever you look, the complexity of our modern world provides us with both the comforts we desire and the frustrating failures that can at times make us question if it's all worth it.
Television Corner Ads
One of the darkest days in broadcast television came when the first station began overlaying the televised image with their logo in the lower right corner of the screen. Before long everyone was adding these distracting images. As if that wasn't enough, ads began popping up in the lower right corner of the screen. Many of these are animated and impossible to ignore. It's getting impossible to focus on a program simply because we're being bombarded by so many on-screen ads.
I didn't realize how much this affects viewing enjoyment until I recently transferred many older shows recorded on VHS tape to DVDs. In spite of the narrow 4:3 format and loss of sharpness, these shows were a treat to the eye. The screen looks so much bigger without the border clutter we have to endure today. I could see the entire image and not have my attention pulled away. The impact of this can not be overstated. I would rather watch one of these poor-image-quality non-overlayed shows than any of the new high-def shows with all their advertising screen clutter.
If you have any old VHS recordings made before the on-screen ad era began, I highly recommend you don't throw them away. Besides the fact that many such shows will never be available on DVD or Blu-ray, they have a visual purity that we will never see again.
Yet Another HD Rip-off
The arrival of high definition television was heralded as the coming of a new age in home entertainment. It was. But it has also turned out to be an opportunity for broadcasting tricks that rip-off much of what HD has to offer. For example, by the end of 2009 HD has come to be associated with 1080p imaging. Guess what: practically no channels use this. Instead the standard is 720p. If you have a 1080p set it automatically resamples the image to create a 1080p image, but you can't get around the fact that 720p images resampled to 1080p aren't as good as original 1080p images. Another rip-off is the use stretching to make a 4/3 image, which is common for many shows, to fit wider 16/9 sets. Most of the stretching takes place on the sides of the image so the center looks okay. But, any actor unfortunately enough to be near the side of the image gets stretched so far she or he looks like they gained 100-pounds. The latest rip-off I've discovered is in the airing of movies. Many stations use the 4/3 versions of the movies for which they have leased permission to air and simply run them through a stretcher to fill 16/9 screens. The resulting distortion is barely tolerable in home improvement shows where the most important issue is the information being provided, which isn't degraded by stretching. But in a movie where the visual appearance is 90-percent of the total enjoyment it is intolerable. As case in point is AMC's airing of Dave on their HD channel. Rather than use the original movie and show it in its natural 16/9 aspect ratio, they just took their stock 4/3 version and stretched it side to side. In the scene where the president meets is look alike 'Dave,' Dave, who is in the center of the frame looks normal but the president, who is off to the left, ends up with his head stretched to twice its normal length. It completely ruins the effect the movie maker worked so hard to create. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that not only was the stretching rip-off in place, but that the HD version was really just the 480i version used for AMC's low definition channel upsampled to 720p.
Blu-ray disks aren't much better. Invariably they only use the center 650 horizontal lines of the 1080 they have available on HD televisions. They rely on home sets to upsample this reduced HD image to 1080p. This makes them better than standard 480 DVDs, but only by 50-percent, not the 215-percent marketing makes us think we're getting.
Home Invasion Noise
Few crimes create as much fear as home invasions: when a gang forces its way into a home and by weight of numbers overwhelm any resistance as they steal and destroy at will. Though much less serious, there seems to be an increase in a similar sort of crime: home invasion noise. This is a crime, or at least an annoyance, that we've all had forced on us and which we are helpless to resist. The most common manifestations are late at night as you're trying to go to sleep and are kept awake by the sound of the neighbor's barking dog, someone parked across the street with their car's super-base-boosted stereo blasting away or a house party up the block pounding out music at 160 decibels.
Okay. I agree. This is so minor that it really shouldn't be mentioned in the same article as a serious crime. But they are similar in nature. Both involve someone using power irresponsibly to force something on someone else. In the case of home invasion noise the ability of base tones to pass through windows and walls with little decrease in volume. Base boosted car stereos are particularly problematic because many house construction methods create walls that naturally resonate at the low frequencies these stereos amplify, with the result that the base beat can sound louder inside the house than it does outside.
The reason I'm writing this article is that I am the victim of house invasion noise. My next door neighbor has three dogs he routinely lets bark past midnight. He also throws garage parties with music that carries into my house. The people across the street are car-stereo fanatics and love to power their units to max as they spend the day doing yard work, repairing cars or just sitting in their garage listening to it, many times forgetting it's on and going inside their house for long periods of time where they can't hear it. After years of this, during which asking them politely to be a little quieter failed to do much good, I'm gotten so gun shy that even when things are quiet I live in fear that at any second my privacy may be violated. I reminds me of the line out of Bruce Springsteen's son Born in the USA where he sings about feeling "like a dog that's been kicked so much that you spend half your life just covering up." I have no problem with people enjoying music as long as they do it with regard for the fact that their neighbors may not want to hear it.
Asking people to be more considerate doesn't always work. You're as likely to encourage them to turn it up even louder because they know there's nothing you can do about it. (To many people are on power surges where they revel in bullying people by annoying them in ways they can't do anything about.)
We live in an increasingly crowded world. If we're going to do so without killing each other, we all need to think of the other guy and act responsibly to avoid annoying him, least he retaliates and we get locked in an ever increasing escalation of anger.
If you haven't made the switch to large screen high definition television, let me assure you that viewing experience is so much better than standard definition that it is well worth the expense and hassle. I remember the impact color television made when it came out and HD is much greater than that. However, this is not to say there aren't problems.
Blu-ray HD disks can be great, with razor-sharp images that explode off the screen in almost 3D clarity. Note: I say can. That's because they often don't deliver on their potential. They problem isn't with the technology but the disc manufacturers.
Although a blu-ray disk can deliver 1080p lines of vertical resolution and 1920 lines from left to right across the screen, in fact most blu-ray disks never deliver anything close to this. There are two reasons for this: using inferior quality original recordings and failing to use anamorphic compression.
If a poor master recording is used to make a blu-ray disk, the image quality on the blu-ray will be poor. Think of it like this: no matter how good your photo scanner is, it you put a blurred picture in it you're still going to end up with a blurred image. A heart breaking example of this is the 2009 blu-ray release of the Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street starring Maureen O'Hara. The master they used was very grainy and dark. The resulting blu-ray was equally bad. All the transfer had accomplished was create a high resolution copy of a noisy image. Rather than using a top quality master and restoring it, the studio elected to take the cheap route and take advantage of the buyer's faith that any blu-ray is going to be good. In this the studio simply ripped off all the people who purchased this disk. (This isn't just my opinion. Log onto Amazon.com and read some of the reviews for this blu-ray disk to get other opinions of the poor quality of the transfer.) The odd thing about this particular example is that in 2006 the same studio released an outstanding DVD of the same movie. For this release the studio did it right: they selected the very best original copy and did a meticulous restoration of it before transferring it to DVD. This version is vastly superior in image quality to the 2009 blu-ray version.
Many blu-ray disks do not make use of anamorphic compression to provide all the detail of which they are capable. Movies, even 2.4:1 super-widescreen movies, are photographed on standard 4:3 aspect ratio film. To compress the wide image onto the film a lens called an anamorphic lens is used to compress the image to fit on the boxier film format. When it's projected at a theater a reversing lens is used to uncompress it. (The reason they do this is that photographing an image in wide screen mode would require prohibitively expensive large format film and lenses capable of covering such large frames without distortion.) In an anamorphic blu-ray, the movie is copied in its compressed state then uncompressed by the blu-ray player. If the movie was a standard 16:9 wide screen production, then the image will completely fill a standard 16:9 tv with no black bars on the top and bottom. If the original film was a super wide screen 2.4:1, then the tv will show narrow black bars on the top and bottom. In non-anamorphic blu-rays, the movie is uncompressed before copying it. It's like projecting it onto a screen at a theater and copying what's on the screen onto the disc. The problem is that the disk's format is such that it still sees a 4:3 aspect ratio frame. This means that the blank areas above and below the picture are also copied onto the disk. Let's say a blu-ray disk has 1080 lines of vertical resolution. If a non-anamorphic image of a 16:9 film is copied onto it, the black bars above and below the image are also recorded, eating up something like 250 lines of resolution. You're really only getting 750 lines of resolution even though you're paying for 1080. Super-wide screen films suffer even more. Close to 400 lines of vertical resolution is lost to the black bars.
The upshot of these two issues is that many studios are taking advantage of blu-ray hype to sell inferior copies of their movies. Equally frustrating is that the studios fail to make clear what type of transfer technology was used to make their disks so finding out if a disk is anamorphic or not is extremely difficult.
No "Terminator" Danger
Evil machines taking over the world is a popular theme in science fiction. While it makes for an interesting story line, in reality I believe millions of people have proof right in their houses that it can never happen: DVR machines and blu-ray players. I can't count the number of times I've pressed a button on a remote to change a channel or turn off one of these machines and have to wait up to a minute for it to figure out what I want it to do. For all their technological advancement, these machines are unbelievably slow. Yes, computers are capable of hundreds of millions of calculations a seconds, yet maneuvering the real world at the same speed of even the most devoted couch potato is something they can't manage. I'm confident that we are all safe.
Recently I needed some specific information about growing morning glories. I Googled the term and as expected, got a listing of information sites... or so it seemed. Actually, half of the top ten recommended sites were what I call "info-spam" sites. These are one page sites that provide two or three paragraphs that cover a subject very superficially followed by a list of links to other sites that market items related to the topic in question. The owners of info-spam pages earn advertising fees from the links. My objects to these bait-and-switch web pages is that (1) they don't provide any meaningful information, (2) they all say the same thing; many being word-for-word identical and, (3) the publishers have figured out how to configure these pages so that they jam up the top of Google lists making it almost impossible to find pages that contain really useful information. I watched the percentage info-spam sites in top ten Googles and over 2009 seen them increase from only one or two to five, six and even seven. If this keeps going, by 2011 they will have completely taken over the first, if not also the second, entire page of Google searches. If so, finding in-depth information on-line is going to get much harder.
FAULTY MARRIAGE SYSTEM?
After 36 years of marriage, and still going strong, I consider myself fortunate to be able to claim success at the marriage game. Sadly, that's not true for the majority of marriages in the US.
Statistics prove that half of all marriages end in divorce within the first 8 years. Half of the remaining marriages are unhappy and survive only because of religious beliefs, the sake of children, custom or financial issues. That means that the average person has less than a one-in-four chance of achieving a happy marriage. Would you bet on a game in Las Vegas if there was a big sign over the table announcing that no matter what you did you were going to loose three out of every four dollars you bet? I think not. So what's the problem with marriage?
Marriage is fine, it's the system we use for selecting a marriage partner that's flawed.
How do people get married? The meet someone, start dating, develop a relationship and end up getting married. The problem is that while they are dating both partners tend to show only their best sides. In so doing they create a false impression about themselves. If one is sick or in a bad mood or has an embarrassing acne attack they beg off dates until he or she is feeling and looking their best. Consequently most people get married having only seen mostly only the best aspects of their partner. Months or years later, when the newness of being married wears off, they look up one day and realize the person across the dinner table really isn't the paragon he or she had presented themselves as being. They may discover that while they were wildly and passionately in love they weren't really friends. After passion dims a bit deep, as it always does, abiding friendship is what lasting marriages all have in common.
Now I'm not claiming to have been above all this when I courted my wife. I jumped through all the hoops everyone falling in love does. I just got lucky that it turned out we were also great friends.
Unfortunately I have no recommendations for a better system of selecting a mate, not would I expect it to be accepted if I did. My hope is that making the weakness of the system known may help some people approach marriage with eyes open a little wider.
Which brings me to the point of this article. A very wise person once told me that I should marry my best friend. I didn't understand what she was telling me at the time but have since come to recognize the wisdom of her words.
Legal Magazine Con
While standing in line at a grocery store I spotted a Woman's Day magazine I thought my wife would like. I picked it up and while the over was completely new to me, the article titles seems oddly familiar. When I got home I discovered that it was the exact same magazine I'd purchased for her a week earlier except that this one had a different picture on the cover making it look like a different issue.
Both copies were dated September 16, 2008 and were purchased from the same store. The only difference I can see, other than the cover, is that one had a "Special" price of $1.99 instead of the usual $1.79.
I wonder how many people purchased two copies of that same magazine because the different cover art fooled them into thinking they were getting different magazines. Now, this isn't some sort of "collectable" series like TV Guide sometimes runs. This was just a subterfuge the publisher used to con people into purchasing duplicates of the same issue.
Because this isn't illegal, though some might question its morality, I call this a Legal con. Just what we need: another incidence of big business figuring out another way to trick us out of our money.
I sympathize with commercial television advertising. With so many people recording their favorite shows to watch at more convenient times, and subsequently fast-forwarding through the commercials, it's hard to promote products that are paying for the shows. The advertiser's are fighting back by imbedding produces in the shows themselves so that you can't avoid them The problem with this scheme is that the two times I've seen it, it was done so artificially that it was ludicrous.
The first time was during an episode of Smallville, where when an actress was asked if she needed her glasses she replied that since she started using Accu-view contacts, or something like that as she held up the box - label to camera, that she no longer needed glasses. The second time was during a Eureka show, where the lead star picked up a deodorant dispenser in such an awkward way to keep the label facing the camera that is was insultingly obvious it was a commercial. Worse still, this was a science fiction show in which the actor was caught in a repeating time loop. That's right, the viewer was forced to watch the clumsy bit of imbedded commercialization every time the time loop repeated.
My biggest complaint with imbedded commercials isn't that they exist, but that so far they are being done in such a ham-handed amateur way that I feel sorry for the actors forced to hack their performance with some product pitch. There have been good commercials that were entertaining in their own right. If production companies are going to continue to embed commercials I would hope they do it so they don't look so ridiculously obvious.
Internet Advertising Peeve
Cruising the Internet In August of 2008 I came across a new type of advertising that has become another pet peeve. In this case a small block of advertising was pasted directly over a paragraph of the article I hoped to read, making it impossible to do so. What's new is that unlike previous advertising blocks, this one did not have a "close" option and could not be moved off to one side. It wasn't a link window, just a layer of print stacked on top of the article. It covered so much of the paragraph that it was impossible to read around it. This is almost as bad as those moving ads that crawl across the bottom third of the TV screen covering up much of the show you're trying to watch.
Food producers have been down sizing portions for years: putting 15 ounces of product in the same cans that used to hold 16-ounces, 21-ounces of chips in 23-ounce potato chip bags, and so on. Recently I've noticed another technique used to trick consumers into believing they are getting as much as they used to while in reality cutting back even more on the product. I can it double downsizing.
I first noticed it in cans of Van Camp's Pork and Beans. Not only was the amount reduced from 16 to 15-ounces (single downsizing,) but when the cans were opened instead of containing all beans with just a little liquid, as it used to be, the top three-quarters of an inch of the product is now liquid. The quantity of beans have been reduced by 15-percent (second-downsizing) yet because the total amount of product is still 15-ounces, even though more of it's water than before, the Van Camp's people are legally not guilty of misrepresentation.
In summary: prices are going up, product amounts are going down and the amount of actual product is being watered down. Surprisingly, I don't mind all this as much as I do the fact that the food companies are working so hard to hide what they are doing. I'd much rather they admit it costs more to package food and raise prices without the insult of misrepresenting what they are doing. It's as if they think consumers are to ignorant or unobservant to notice what's going on.
Misleading CD labels
Many people will think this odd but I like The Andrews Sisters, who were immensely popular during the World War II era. Knowing this, my wife purchased a CD of their's titled The Very Best of the Andrews Sisters. With a title like that I assumed it would have all or at least most of their most successful hits. It didn't.
The Andrews Sisters had 8 number one hits and many number two hits. This CD only had two of the number ones and two of their number 2 hits. The remainder were selections from their much less popular songs, including three that never even reached it into the top 30 hits. Hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of people who don't have access to pop songs records from the 1940s purchased this CD and thought the average songs on it accurately represented the best Patty, Maxine and Laverne ever did, when it fact it barely hints at their greatness.
We've all been stung by something like this, where the label or advertisement makes a claim that turns out to be a bald-faced lie. I may opinion manufactures who market such products are no better than con artists.
There was a time when nuclear generators were considered "green" in that while they were active they didn't release any greenhouse gases or use fossil fuels. After they'd been in operation a while people took a closer look at them and decided that when the entire life-cycle cost of a nuclear facility was considered (energy and resources to construct, maintain, and the environmental cost of decommissioning as well as the dangers associated with the long term storage of spent fuel rods) they didn't come out so good.
I think such an entire life-cycle-cost approach should be employed to evaluate how many of the so-called "green" technologies really are good for the environment.
Take hybrid cars: Yes, they use less gas. But, they also take more resources to construct and the batteries only have a fixed lifetime after which they must be replaced. The spent batteries have to be recycled or disposed of in such a way that the environment isn't harmed. Adding up all the environmental costs it may well turn out that the total negative effect on the world's environment is greater for these cars than regular cars.
Another example is the fluorescent light bulb. Millions are sold every year because they use half the energy of incandescent bulbs and are therefore greener than incandescents. But, a fluorescent bulb weighs five times as much as an incandescent bulb, suggesting that it takes five times the resources and materials and energy to make. (Actually, since fluorescents are much more complex and require more sophisticated materials they production cost is certainly higher than a factor of five.) Worse still, the mercury (a powerful neuro-toxin) in a single 100-watt fluorescent bulb is enough to pollute 6,000 gallons of water to the point where it isn't safe to drink. Does this mean fluorescent bulbs are bad? No. It just means that as consumers we're only being given part of the information needed to make informed decisions about what products are best for the environment. Incandescent bulbs are cheap and environmentally friendly to produce and dispose of, but they use twice as much power as fluorescents Fluorescents use half the power of an incandescent thereby reducing the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere (assuming the power comes from fossil fuels), but because most people simply throw them in the trash when they burn out, they pollute billions of gallons of fresh water every year.
I wish someone would calculate the net total life cycle environmental cost of many of the immerging green technologies to find out how good they really are. For example: Is the environmental cost of producing solar cells and disposing of them after their 20-year useful life less than the environmental benefit they provide over the time they are in use?
It may very well be that many popular green technologies are only good if they are looked at over the shot term.
(Please note: I am not anti-progress or anti-green. I support both concepts. I just want to know what the whole story is before investing in a technology, like roof-mounted solar cells, that may actually do more harm than good. Finally, there is a problem with compact fluorescent bulbs in that because of their spiral shape much of the light they generate is lost to surface absorption caused by multiple reflections. I tried replacing 200-watt incandescent bulbs in my billiard room with 200-watt spiral fluorescents and the fluorescents clearly gave off much less light. The table was noticeably dimmer, so much so it was hard to play. So, take the equivalency claims with a grain of salt.)
Sneak and switch
For two decades my family has preferred the flavor of Fleischmann's Original soft margarine... until early November. We bought some and were shocked when we opened the package that Fleischmann's had whipped it to bulk it up with air (it now weighed only 12-ounces instead of 16-ounces) yet were charging the same price for it and in every way the label looked the same.
This kind of sneaky switch is showing up in many produces. Items that previously had 16-ounces are now only 15, yet the package size and labeling is the same... as is the cost.
I don't mind a company changing its product. I do mind that they go out of their way to hide it from use and thereby fool us into purchasing a lesser item for the same money.
(In case you were wondering, the new margarine doesn't taste as good as the old stuff.)
I recently spotted an MSN Internet article that strongly suggested that if I clicked on the link I would read something interesting about Jane Seymour, an actress I like. I clicked on it, waited while several megabytes of advertising loaded and eventually got to read the article... which didn't say a single word about her. Looking around the page I discovered a small photo of her with her name under it highlighted as a live link. I clicked on that. Same thing: wait for adds to load and finally getting a page with yet another article that didn't say anything about her. Like the last, this page also had a live link attached to her name. I clicked on it and this time all I got was an MSN search page listing several pages I could visit about her. Nothing at all relating her to the original article as it promised.
This type of multi-layered, bait and switch web paging to force-feed extra advertising on Internet users seems to be greatly on the increase. It's annoying and dishonest.
The Principle of Universitality
While religion and society provide many guidelines for human behavior, these guidelines vary considerably because of differences in beliefs. Many of these guidelines are suspect because they have no absolute principle to validate them, their only support comes from customs of behavior or religious doctrine, both of which are faith-based rather than fact-based. I believe humanity as a whole would benefit from behavioral guidelines that anyone can validate by logical analysis. The question is whether such a fact-based principle exists?
The ultimate validity to any guideline for human behavior is whether or not a given behavior could lead to the destruction of the race. If it does, then that behavior is invalid because it carries within it the elimination of the vary people following it. This concept is called The Principle of Universitality. Simply put, if it's alright for someone to behave this way then if everyone adopted the same behavior society will continue. For example:
1. Is murder appropriate behavior? If it's alright for one person to murder then the principle, or test, of universitality states that if so then it should be alright for everyone to murder. Since a universal application of this behavior would quickly lead to the extinction of humanity then it carries within it the seed of destruction of the very people following it. It is therefore internally inconsistent and not a valid behavior.
2. Is lying appropriate behavior? If so then imagine everyone lying all the time. Trust would quickly vanish and with it the societal cooperation that allows the human race to work together to survive. Therefore it isn't.
3. Is it alright to steal? If everyone stole then retail commerce, which has enabled humanity to progress, would break down, jobs would vanish, people would starve, and society as a whole would disintegrate.
The principle of universitality also applies to minor behavioral traits. Consider the case of someone playing their music so loud that everyone within a city block is forced to listen to it. If this is appropriate behavior then everyone should be able to do it without injuring society. If everyone did, then every neighborhood would become an acoustic battle ground with everyone playing their music at maximum volume in an attempt to hear what they want to hear over the bedlam of their neighbors' music. Since peaceful coexistence is essential for people to live and prosper and this cannot happen under such adversarial conditions, the result would be increased anger with everyone in your neighborhood, increased instances of violence, and a gradual disintegration of cooperative community that is a cornerstone of human civilization.
One might think that the principle of universitality argues against all negative behaviors. This is not the case. Consider war. Because it's possible for one country to continue existing and even prosper because of making war with a neighboring country, the principal of universitality does not prove that war is a self-destructive behavior. Equally so, it does not show that prostitution, responsible drug use, and many other behaviors are internally inconsistent.
An individual may argue that this principle does really apply because while a certain behavior may be wrong if everyone did it, he or she is just one person and if they do it society as a whole isn't endangered. This is the concept of living in the margin of society. This is the zone where thieves, murders, and their like exist. Their lives are dependant on the remainer of society being productive enough to overpower the destructive effects of their behavior. The principle of universitality still applies because if everyone attempted to live in the margin then there would be no productive component to the society to support them. Therefore in time society as a whole would die and take them with it.
The next time someone's behavior annoys you, apply the principle of universitality to it as a way to judge, from a purely logical point of view, whether that behavior is good or bad. But to be fair you should also examine your own behaviors. Do you play your music so loud you force others to listen to it? Do you drive dangerously? The principle of universitality isn't just for judging the behaviors of others, but also for guiding our own behaviors.
Rights and responsibilities
We live in a time where rights are emphasized over responsibility. This is illogical since the cost of having a right is the responsibility of indulging that right in a considerate manner. Yes, I have the right to use profanity in public. But with that right does the responsibility of having enough consideration of other people's sensitivities not to do so. I can play loud music, but out of fairness to others who might not want to hear it I have the responsibility of not doing it. I have the right to own a dog. But if I get one I owe it to my neighbors to prevent it from disturbing their peace by its barking.
The bottom line is that rights are paid for by exercising them in a responsible manner.
Attractiveness blame game
Before a couple get married, if the man finds the lady unattractive she considers it her fault. Yet after they are married if he thinks she's unattractive, regardless of how much she's changed, it's considered his fault. This seems unfair.
While researching for a new webpage about honey (coming in late 2006) I was appalled when while shopping for different types of honey that some were grossly misrepresented. For example: buckwheat honey is one the darkest honeys and is purple to black in color. Yet when I went to both a farmer's market and a local health food store the product they stocked that was labeled as buckwheat honey was lighter in color than clover honey, which is one of the lightest honeys. Clearly, someone switched honeys because it was cheaper and figured most people are so ignorant of the product that they would never know.
Why is this such a big deal to me? After all, there are few things less important than which type of honey I buy. The reason it bothers me is that if these distributors are willing to prey on the ignorance of their customers to make a few extra pennies then surely there are other products we are being told are one thing when they are really something else. We are being cheated and the worst part is we have no practical way to protect ourselves.
New pet peeve: Inflatable toy valve design. While trying to inflate a small swimming pool for my grandchildren, I was annoyed by the poor design of the input stem and valve. First, it was much too small so it took a long time to inflate. Worse still, it had a built-in flapper valve that greatly restricted the flow of air into the pool. I understand that this valve is there to prevent air from escaping if you are blowing it up by mouth, but it was so tight that no matter how I pinched it, it never opened up enough to permit easy inflation. It also greatly slowed the deflation process so that it took days for all the air to work out.
I've encountered these valves in a number of balls and inflatable toys and they universally cause more grief than necessary. Another problem with them is that none of the three different electric and manual inflators I have come with inflations apexes that are long enough to push the valve open. I've taken to using an exacto knife to cut these flapper valves out. Pinching the inflation tube quite effectively prevents any air loss while taking a breath or while plugging the hole after inflation so this valve isn't really needed. Best of all, without the flapper in the way, the balls, pools, or whatever inflate and deflate ten times faster.
With the purchase of my new computer I noticed that I began recieving many so-called "update" notifications, specifically for AOL toolbars, Microsoft software, etc. As it happens I don't use the AOL toolbar and never have. Yet the computer's manufacturer brokered a deal with AOL to load their toolbar onto the computer. Now I get update notifications every time I log on. From my point of view the computer's manufacturer sold out to AOL to let them browbeat me into using their software.
Door-to-door solicitors who don't understand "No Soliciting" signs
It happens at least once a month: the door bell sounds and when I answer it there's a someone offering to share their faith or political views with me. I point to the "No Soliciting" sign right above the doorbell and they invariably state, "But I'm not soliciting."
The fact is that they are. According to Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition, to solicit means simply to disturb, promote, make a petition, entreat, approach with a request or plea, or to urge. I don't know if they are truly ignorant of the fact that they don't have to be selling anything to still be soliciting or if they are hoping that I don't and intend using this as a lever to bully their way past their own impoliteness.
Either way I wish they'd all study their dictionaries more often. I'm sure they run into this problem many time every day.
The cost of perfection
Anyone who'se grown peaches at home, or almost any fruit for that matter, is well aware that it always tastes many times better than what's available in the supermarket. The reasons are obvious: growers select varieties that produce the most fruit instead of those that produce the best tasting fruit and because 100 percent ripe fruit is easily damaged they have to pick it green to get it to the store in acceptable condition.
A good example is in peaches. One of the best tasting varieties is called Raritan Rose. It's so sweet, juicy and full of rich flavor that it's almost impossible to think that it's the same fruit you get from the grocery store. But, it's also prone to diseases, attacks by birds and insects, and only produces a fraction of the fruit per tree that commercial varieties like Babcock. To get fully tree-ripened peaches from it each peach must be protected in a cloth sling that prevents sunburn and supports it so that it can ripen to maximum sugar and flavor content without being shaken off the tree by a breeze or from its own weight. This takes a lot of man hours which equates to a very high per-unit cost. But how high?
I got the answer channel flicking one night when I happened across a program about high-end mangos grown in special hot houses in Japan. Besides using the best tasting variety, each mango is enclosed by hand in a net to support it so it can ripen fully without falling and getting bruised. The result is a mango that ripens to a beautifully rich reddish brown color all the way around, deliciously sweet and extremely juicy. The cost for a single one of these is $50.00. Compare that to 50 cents for a mango in a supermarket and you get the idea of how much perfection costs: a factor of 100 over the commonplace.
(The Japanese are famous for extremes in food quality. Muskmelons grown in a similar manor can cost $100.00 each and Kobe beef (from cows fed beer and massaged by hand) runs $120.00 a pound.)
Drier Sheet Urban Rumor Control
In March of 2005, I received an email from a friend who'd heard that the anti-static drier sheets almost everyone uses clogs lint screens with an invisible "something" that slows the flow of air and can shorten the life of the drier's heater element. The proof was that if you take a drier lint screen and remove any lint so that it looks clean, then slowly drizzle water on it, instead of the water flowing through it'll form a puddle on the screen. It was recommended that the screen be washed with soap and hot water at least once every 6 months to remove the invisible residue from the drier sheets.
I tried this test and verified that some water does indeed puddle on an apparently clean lint screen. After washing it with soap and hot water the puddle wouldn't form, the water flowed through the screen easily. To test how fast the invisible "something" built up I washed four loads of laundry and ran them through the drier. To my surprise the puddling occurred as readily as it did before when the lint screen hadn't been washed. It would seem that the "something" builds up quicker than the rumor suggested. Then I washed the screen again and ran another 4 loads through the drier, this time without using any drier sheets. After removing the lint and gently pouring more water on the screen I discovered that the water puddled as much as in the first two cases.
This suggests that what's happening is that even when the lint is removed it leaves behind a super-fine residue of very dry fibers that repel water the same way the very dry potting soil resists mixing with water. The reason is that the dryness works with the water's surface tension forces to prevent the water from flowing through the screen.
I am not claiming that drier sheets don't deposit something on lint screens and I'm not saying that lint screens shouldn't be washed from time to time. I'm only saying that the water-puddling test is not a good way to verify this urban rumor.
Computers in Sci Fi Shows
It happens on almost every episode of Enterprise or Stargate: humans discover an alien computer and in minutes have it working for them. This is ridiculous because as we all know just learning a new piece of software for the computer we're familiar with is usually a long and often times painful process. Make that a computer of alien configuration, using a different language, and running unknown software and you're talking about something that would take years to figure out.
One of the very small but very annoying things is tape with adhesive that's stronger than the backing. I hate it when some transparent tape gets stuck on something and when you try to pull it off the backing disintegrates. Worse still, the backing pulls free leaving the adhesive behind.
Related to this is the bad habit many hardware stores have of putting the price sticker on PVC tubes and fittings right where you have to glue them. These stickers never come off cleanly and the remaining residue can compromise the joint.
How I think We Should Put People on Mars:
Things might have changed since I dropped out of the space research engineering area, but to the best of my knowledge the plan for putting people on Mars is still basically the same: send the people and all the equipment there in a single large mission. I think there is a better, safer and healthier way.
The problem with a single large mission is that we are limited propulsion technologies that dictate that such a mission would take 18 months or longer to get from Earth orbit to Mars. When human lives are at stake that's too long to be safe. I believe breaking the transfer mission into two parts would increase the odds for success.
First I'd send all the hardware ahead in an unmanned mission. Because there are no people on board it could be sent on a low energy, highly efficient trajectory. Once there, it would establish itself as an orbiting platform and even launch a surface lander that'll supply astronauts with shelter, supplies, and the return to orbit module. Once mission control verifies that everything is in working order the second half of the mission could be launched.
Because living in space represents many health and psychological dangers it is desirable to send astronauts to Mars as quickly as possible. Since the bulk of the hardware has already been sent, the astronauts could be housed in a lightweight, compared the first transfer payload, very high speed module. The idea is to pile on the engines and blast them there in as short a time as possible. In so doing they wouldn't experience the bone decalcification and muscle atrophy common to long sojourns in space as well as avoiding the inevitable psychological hardships of long term confinement.
A Sobering Thought About Space Travel:
There have been so many science fiction TV series and movies about faster-than-light or warp drives for spaceships that most people believe it's only a matter of time before we're able to fly to a distant star with the same ease and speed with which we drive to the corner to get a pizza. Unfortunately, this isn't likely. Based on simple energy considerations it's almost certain that man will never be able to travel to the stars. Similar calculations also indicate that even the almost infinitely easier task of interplanetary travel within our solar system will be limited to a very few, perhaps less than half a dozen, individuals. The sad fact is that humankind is almost certainly going to be confined for all time to this small green planet we can Earth.
Another thought about love at first sight: To many people I appear as cold and logical as Spock on Star Trek. In fact, "Spock," was the nickname voted for me by my squadron at Officer's Training School. So, it may seem surprising that I strongly believe in the phenomenon of love at first sight, not as a romantic effect but as a physiological one as strong as the most ardent passions about which any poet ever wrote.
I believe that our experiences, hopes, dreams, and everything that we've seen or experienced creates within each of us an image, on a subconscious level, of what our perfect mate is. It's like a mosaic or puzzle with one piece missing. The shape of that missing piece corresponds to everything that goes into the image of our perfect love: size, smell, personality, coloring, everything. It may even be that we may not have an idea what this perfect match looks like... until we meet him or her. Then SNAP, the piece locks into place. It's like we were hard-wired to love that person with an intensity unmatched by regular love.
When we are young, we have fewer experiences so the borders of the missing piece are not well defined and several people may be a close enough to arouse the love-at-first-site effect. As we age, our experiences cause the unconscious image of our perfect mate to become more sharply focused, with the result that fewer people fit. However, it may very well be that this makes for a more intense attachment.
The problem is that the odds are exceedingly small that two people will meet and experience love at first site for each other.
All of this sounds clinical. I don't mean it to be. The feeling of love at first sight is the most sublime thing any human can experience. I don't think that trying to understand the mechanics cheapens the miracle any more than understanding the majesty of the universe detracts from its greatness.
Another thought: I realized after writing the article above that because of the way I explained it, love-at-first-site is a misnomer. It would be more correct to think of it as discovering your love at first site because you actually had been falling in love with that person for years as your unconscious mind formed the borders of the missing piece that defines him or her. When you see them you are already in love with that person and may have been for many years. You just didn't know it until you met them then discovered it suddenly in a single flash.
Another pet peeve - Superpacking
I hate it when a company packs an article, especially one that requires assembly, into a box that is so tight that there is one and only one exact way the contents can be repacked into the box if it needs to be returned. I honestly think that companies do this on purpose so that people get so frustrated at trying and failing to get it back in that they give up keep it.
More thoughts about modern art
Modern Art: Morley Shaffer on 60 minutes said it best: "Modern art is a fraud." One look at an art exhibit filled with plumbing fixtures and canvases painted a single color will be enough to convince anyone with common sense that this is the case. What's more interesting is how we got where we are. Here's my theory:
One hundred, or so, years ago when the first impressionists began introducing radically new ways to depict the world, the productivity of the industrial revolution was creating a massive growth in the middle-class wealthy. These new consumers had money to spend and one of the things they wanted to buy was art. More people having more money and the desire to spend it created a demand that traditional artists could not fill. The simple fact is that at any given moment there a very few people alive with the true talent it takes to create great art. With demand up and supply limited, the only alternative left was for people to turn to the works of lesser artists. These lesser talents saw the new "modern art" forms as needing less talent than traditional forms that require a picture or sculpture to look like its subject. These lesser artists adopted the forms of the abstractionists, and the public, desperate to buy their way into the prestige of owning art, welcomed them with open pocketbooks. The rest is history.
What do I think is great art? Next time you are in the Los Angeles Museum of Art, take a look at W. Bouguereau's portrait titled The Storybook of a little girl. At first glance this simple painting is just a young girl holding an open book... but look longer, deeper. There are subtlies in her expression that beg questions: Is she sad because of the story? Is it time for bed? Is she about to cry or just tired? If that's not enough, stand back and admire the skill and precision of technique. This is great art. The problem is that only one in a ten million people has the talent to create such paintings, hence modern art. Here's a very poor image of this great painting:
I'd be willing to accept modern art if the people perpetrating it had to first paint something the equal of The Storybook to prove that they weren't embracing modern forms because that is all their meager talents were capable of.
Additional Thoughts: For a long time after writing the article above I wrestled with the question of what art was and came up with the concept that it must be something that reflects human intent and and control. Consider a random section of ground in a forest. Taken by itself no one would consider it a work of art (unless the extreme position was taken that it was an example of God's art. I'm ignoring this because for the purpose of this article I'm only considering art by people.) But, if someone reproduced the exact same patch of ground there would be many people who would consider it art. The difference is that for it to be recognized as art the viewers had to acknowledge that it was a product of a person's intent and control. He or she set out with the intent of copying it and exercised sufficient control to create it.
Now I venture into the knottier problem of what is good art (quality wise) and what is bad art. Since control is an essential element of art, then I propose that art created with a high degree of control is better than art created with a low degree of control. Example: one artist creates a picture by dumping buckets of paint from a ten story building onto a canvas laying on the sidewalk below. Another creates the exact same picture with a brush or other technique by meticulously creating the scene using all the talent at his disposal. Whether you like this sort of art is not the point. What is the point is that the second artist created the painting whereas the first allowed random events to create it. Anyone can do that. I would credit the second artist as being better than the first because his control was greater.
One last thought: innovation is not art. I heard of an art display where one artist's contribution was a stack of plastic gloves and a bucket of human feces. People were invited to don the gloves and feel the contents of the bucket. While this is certainly innovative, I do not consider it art because the artist isn't controlling what the people feel with a high degree of control. Indeed, if anyone is the artist in this case I think it should be the participants because they are the ones creating the sensations they experience. (By the way, if this example grosses you out I share with your opinion.)
Why I have a problem with super martial arts movies
of these movies have fighters magically using their super-fighting
abilities to defy the laws of nature: walking on water, flying, or
dancing fifty feet in the air on a thin bamboo branch. What bothers
me about this is that it's implied that these things can be learned
through study and practice. (Superman and his ilk doing these things
doesn't rankle nearly as much because they aren't human, their powers
come from elsewhere.) Why the concept of learned-super-powers bothers
me is that because it's impossible and by asking us the believe it
is, even in the context of a fantasy, it diminishes the very real
accomplishments of real people who spend their lives dedicated to
martial arts. These people devote decades honing their skills, yet
when they give demonstrations their abilities are not seen by people
with the awe they deserve because the movies have jaded us to greater
deeds, even though we know them to be fake.
A comment about the ending of the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark
When Raiders of the Lost Ark first appeared in theaters, the closing scene where the archeological thief who had been plaguing Indiana Jones' life is consumed by fire erupting from the ark was considered innovative and shocking. It may have been all that but the concept, I believe, goes back to an early 1950s movie titled Kiss Me Deadly. In this B movie, sometimes shown on Turner Classic Movies, private detective Mike Hammer discovers that the cause of a young woman's death is tied into the mysterious contents (hinted at being some sort of radioactive element) of a suitcase. In the end, the bad person stands before the suitcase, opens it, and a brilliant light bursts out to consume the person in flame. The camera angles and effects are almost identical to the scene in Raiders. I have to think that someone on the staff of Raiders saw Kiss Me Deadly in their youth and decided to use the same scene. I mention this because I think credit should be given where due.
A new pet peeve! Science fiction and billiards. I've seen two or three shows with the following scenario: An alien finds himself on earth with no money. He walks into a bar and sees people shooting pool for money and, after making the comment that it's only simple geometry, precedes to beat everyone in the bar to win money for his project. Hogwash! Billiards is not simple geometry. It is rich in none linear, non-geometric phenomena. For example, take a ball bouncing off a rail. Geometry says that the angle of attack and angle of rebound should be the same. Guess what... not only aren't they the same, the amount of difference changes depending on how fast the ball's moving when it hits the rail. And then there's push and throw: two phenomena by which the object ball is dragged off a purely geometric line after being struck by the cue ball. How about the most important factor of all: cue ball speed. Geometry tells pool players nothing about how hard to hit the cue. Then there's English, draw, and follow that use spin to control the cue ball. To think that some alien who'se never seen the game before, regardless of whatever super human powers he's supposed to have, could be a master at billiards because he understands the mathematics of geometry and make fools of people who've dedicated their lives to the game is rediculous.
A pet peeve! Capture websites. These are sites which once you've logged onto them don't let you use the "back" button to return to your starting URL. It's like the site kidnaps you and the only way back is to manually type in a new URL or completely exit your server. A variant of this is the capture popup. I've only encountered one of these but it was a bad one. The popup was so large it completely covered the screen. It couldn't be dragged out of the way. The only thing I could do was click on its "open" button. Since I didn't want to do that my only recourse was to use Ctrl-Alt-Delete to shut everything down. What a pain. Do these people think such tactics are going to convince anyone to purchase what they're selling?
Why it's so hard to control eating?: Animal and human behaviorists have known for centuries that it's easy to train an animal or human to do almost anything by rewarding them for what you want them to do and punishing them for what you don't want them to do. Now consider someone trying to lose weight by limiting how much and what they eat. If they have a bad day and indulge in their favorite foods, the pleasure they experience is like a reward for doing something wrong: not controlling their eating. If they are good and succeed in limiting what they eat, the negative feelings of deprivation and frustration are punishments for doing what they should be doing: controlling what they eat. In effect they are being rewarded for doing the wrong thing (eating) and punished for doing the right thing (limiting how much they eat.) With such a situation working against us it's no wonder controlling what we eat is so difficult.
Pet peeve: finely textured plastic surfaces. These textured patterns look great in a showroom but are nightmares to clean. Nothing can reach into the thousands of little cracks. These surfaces just seen to get dirtier everyday no matter how you scrub them.
Another pet peeve: commercials that pretend to be doing us a favor. They come in all forms: car commercials advertising sales, two pairs of shoes for the price of one, and so on. In many cases the commercial is worded so that the dealer is made out to be a good simaritan doing the customer a favor. Nonesense! The dealer is only having a sale because he or she knows that doing so will increase their profits for the year. Their implying it's because they like people and want to do them a favor is insulting because it assumes we don't have the sense to know better.
One reason why we swear: I was working at home last week and smashed my thumb with a hammer. As expected, I uttered an explitive consistant in that context. Then I stopped and laughed because how was using such a word going to help the situation? The odd thing is that it did make me feel better.
I figure much of our fury at being injured is that it reminds us that we are not as much in control as we'd like to be. On the other hand, we all know that swearing isn't really something we should do. But wait! If we do something in defiance of what we know is right, then in our minds we are creating the image that we are above the rules... and therefore really are masterful. This compensates for reality, in my case a hurt thumb, and makes us feel in charge again. I'm sure my son, who's studying phsychology, could give this process a name. Anyways, it seems to make sense, even if it is silly.
The self-serving, practical side of patriotism: I'm not talking about shouting-out-loud, wearing-a-flag-over-your-shoulder, damn-anyone-who's-against-us patriotism. Rather, this concerns the simple act of supporting and believing in your country to keep it strong. Why? Because our country is like a third parent to us. Just as biological parents protect their children from hunger, cold, and so on, a country protects people from foreign forces that would take what we have if our country wasn't there to protect us. Just like a child, as he or she matures, may be faced with the need to risk his or her life or fortune to help their parents, so people should be willing to do the same for their country. Our own best interests are served when we defend our country, not for moral or other high reasons, but because our own comfort and safety are maximized in the long run by doing so.
A hard look at the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers' movies: I have no idea how a child of the fifties and sixties became attached to the Fred and Ginger movies of the thirties, but I did. After many years of not seeing them, I decided to take another look with a more objective eye toward deciding which was the best. The unquestionable winner, in my humble and un-informed opinion, is Top Hat. Unlike The Gay Divorcee, which, (in spite of the great scene where Ginger thinks Fred's describing his attributes as a paid correspondent when he's really talking about being a dancer: "Oh yes, I've satisfied thousands of women.") strikes me as forced, dated, and Fred and Ginger don't seem relaxed in their roles. Top Hat is bright, has more laughs (including a couple that I think the writers snuck past the censors), better songs, fewer of the large production numbers that don't work today, and better supporting rolls. Shall We Dance comes in second on the strength of the two great songs Let's call the Whole Thing Off and The Way You Look Tonight, (But please... why couldn't they have gotten pretty Ginger masks for the last number instead of the ugly ones they used?); Swingtime is third and The Gay Divorcee is four. All of the others are on a par with fourth.
I noticed something in these movies that escaped me before: Ginger Rogers is slender even by today's standards. As a professional dancer, she'd have to be in Olympic shape physically and it shows. Remember, back then they could not cut and paste a dance scene together from five-second takes like they do today. If the dance went on for six minutes, they had to do the entire thing without a break. If that take wasn't perfect, they had to be able to do it again, and again all day long until the director was satisfied. That's a level of conditioning that only world-class athletes manage to obtain. Even more remarkable is that she maintained that level of conditioning for over twelve years. Imagine what it would take for a gold medal gymnast to stay in shape for three Olympics... that's what she did. Mr. Astaire did it for over twenty. That's a level of commitment to excellence that is rare and deserves to be appreciated, even if the form of its expression has gone out of style.
Why stars and athletes are worth so much money: Obviously, because they earn it in revenues to the organization that hires them. But beyond that, they are worth it because they are so rare. Consider what has to happen to make a movie star: the star to be has to have an attractive face, a good figure, have some talent, want to be an actor, has to be in the right place at the right time, has to be willing to sacrifice their privacy to the world, has to work 16-hour days, Has to be able to maneuver in the politics of Holly wood. There just aren't many people that satisfy all of these requirements. Another demonstration of their rarity is the fact that in spite of thousands of talent scouts constantly hunting for new people, in spite of millions of people wanting to break into the business, and an entire culture encouraging people to seek it, there is only one Julia Roberts, one Harrison Ford, and so on. Nothing so so valuable as that which is rare and unique. That's why I think the are worth it.
Hollywood is running out of room: I call it "special effects and permissiveness inflation." Every year, heros are portrayed as being able to hit harder, jump farther, and do ever more incredible feats. This has gotten to the point where their abilities are closer to magic than physical acts. The problem is that this has increased our expectations so much that a realistic fist fight seems lame in comparison. Reality just isn't exciting enough any more. This process has already gone so far that martial-arts hero's are almost on the verge of levitating themselves instead of having to jump. Soon they will be flying like Superman and Hollywood will have run out of room to continue the expansion of the hero's powers. After all, once your hero's Superman, how much further can you go?
The same thing applies to permissiveness on both the big screen and television. Every year movie and TV show producers push the permissiveness envelope as far as they can. Inch by inch, we're moving closer to a time when absolutely nothing is forbidden. It may take a hundred years or more, but we will eventually get to the point where explicit sex, just like in pornographic movies, or the grossest forms of violence, will be everyday viewing on commercial TV.
The question then will be: "What can Hollywood do next to shock the public to keep them interested?"
A New Theory on Where Marriage came from: Some where in time, most men got the idea that women created the concept of marriage to ensure that women would have long-term partners and security. I would like to propose an alternative theory.
If we assume that early man followed a pattern of social behavior similar to gorilla's, where the family group is dominated by an alpha male who only permits himself to copulate with the females of the group, then we have the problem that the young males and old males do not have access to females. To correct this problem, if the young and the old banded together to force the alpha male to accept a one-man/one-woman pairing, then they would increase their access to woman. They get what they want and women get security. In short, I believe a case could be made that men created marriage.
I apologise for the above because it makes women sound like objects. That was not my goal and I do not believe that is the case. I was just trying to put forth a theory in objective terms.
Beautiful People: They're everywhere: on magazine covers, television, billboards, and movies. Everyone (especially women) seems to be beautiful these days. Now, I like looking a a pretty face as much as the next person but this continuous parade of perfect people is starting to get me, and I suspect a lot of people, depressed. After all, how can the rest of us be happy with our average faces and sagging waistlines when we're constantly being barraged by professional beauties. The situation has gotten so bad that a beautiful woman in the movies has become a cliche. Let's get real and take a hard look at some numbers.
I saw a modeling agency president being interviewed on television a couple of years ago. He stated that only one in forty thousand women are attractive enough and have the proper figure to have their pictures published. By scouring the world, Hollywood and the publishing industry manage to find a couple of hundred of the most beautiful people every year to satisfy their requirements. This top .0025 percent is what we've come to accept as the standard against which we judge ourselves and neighbors.
Consider Playboy magazine. Because their models can't hide imperfections of figure behind clothes, their pool of beautiful people they select from is even smaller than the rest of the industry. Their scarcity is so great that some magazines, like Penthouse, offer a $1000.000 finder's fee to anyone who finds a woman who can fit the requirements. I speculate that these requirements are so high that only one in one-hundred thousand women are acceptable. Then, they take this near-to-perfect person and have her made-up by the best make-up artists in the world, lighted by the best lighting technicians, posed by people who know what positions will show of the model to her best (and sexiest) advantage, photographed by the best photographers, and the resulting picture retouched by the greatest touch-up artists. The result is an image of a creature that is so high above what the average woman looks like that she might as well belong to another species.
This, and their male counterparts, is what we're judging ourselves against. Is it any wonder we are so dissatisfied with the way we look?
Another gripe about beautiful people in the movies and on television is that you never see them working out or dieting. They eat like pigs, lay around all day, and have bodies like Olympians. The media completely hides the fact that these people are professional beauties: meaning that they work as hard on their appearance as most people do on a full-time job. The worst offender is James Bond. I've watched this guy for three decades and in all that time I've never seen him do a single push-up. I accept that the motion picture people don't have time in a picture to show him pumping a little iron and that this is a fantasy. But, we are fed such a constant diet of this unreality that by the shear weight of endless repetition we come to believe, on a subconscious level, that beautiful people don't have to work out to look good. Since we do, there must be something wrong with us.
Why so many macho fight scenes are ridiculous. I just saw the remake of Planet of the apes and it had something that is common in most macho fight scenes... and absurd. One man strikes another with enough force to lift him off his feet and sends him flying twenty feet. The struck man, gets up, shakes it off, and dives back into the fight. GIVE ME A BREAK! If any human was struck that hard it would break his neck, crush his ribs, and shatter his back. Surviving these super-clouts started on the Hercules TV series and looked stupid enough even in that setting. On the big screen these sorts of stunts are insulting to the intelligence.
They are also impossible from a physics point of view. Consider, Newton's law of action and reaction states that if one object pushes on another so that the second moves away, the reaction is that the first object must feel the same force. Translated into action movies, this means that if one actor shoots a second actor and that as a result the second actor is knocked back twenty feet, the recoil from the gun has to be just as strong, meaning that the shooter would be knocked backward and equal distance, assuming both actors were approximately the same size. The same principle applies to punches.
The fact that the bullet may travel longer in the barrel than it does once it hits its target doesn't change this. We're dealing with total impulse here, not simply applied force.
Why men serve themselves by resisting the seven year itch. Whether you subscribe to the seven or five-year itch theory (the idea that men have a biological clock that makes them want to find a new mate on the regular schedule), you have to accept that this behavior pattern evolved, when we evolved, as the technique to maximize our specie's chances at survival. It has to do with expanding the gene pool, not accumulating please for men. All this took place at a time when pleasure was too rare a thing to be planned for. Most of our time was spent grubbing for something to eat... and we didn't have much time for that because most people died in their twenties.
However, in modern times, things are a lot different. Now we live long lives filled with pleasure. In old age, which is where we will spend much of our years, it is unwise to dump a mate every few years for the pragmatic reason that we may not find a new one and end up living sad, uncomfortable (because there's no one there to take care of us) lives. The bottom line is that if men pursue a pattern of regularly changing partners they may end up reducing their average level of live enjoyment more than if they resist this urge in favor of cementing a lasting relationship, the product of which is shared long-term memories, understanding, etc., which will bring an even greater pleasure.
I don't understand profanity!: (For the sake of children who may have wandered onto this page, I'll only refer to specific words by their first letter and ellipses. I'm certain what I'm talking about will be obvious.)
Sure, some profanity makes sense. For example: you don't like someone so you say, "Go to h...!" You hate them and if they go to h... they are assured of being uncomfortable so you can rejoice in their discomfiture. But, for the most part profane curses are simply stupid. Consider calling someone a b... It's not his fault that his parents weren't married and that has no bearing on his worth or potential. Leonardo de Vinci was a b... and he turned out pretty good. Does yelling at someone, "You're as good as Leonardo de Vinci!" sound like an effective curse?
Another silly expletive is "f... you," and its variations. F... ing is an enjoyable pastime. If you hate someone you wouldn't express this hatred by suggesting that they go and do something that's pleasant, would you?
Careful examination of many of our most popular profane expressions show that they really don't make much sense. Try analyzing your own favorite curse and see if it's logical. It may explain why the next time you use it, the person it's directed at may turn around with a smile and say, "Thank you!"
Impolite conversation: Over the last thirty years I've noticed an increasing trend in impolite conversation between men. It goes like this: I'll meet an old friend or new acquaintance and the only conversation that takes place is his answering questions about himself that I ask. If I don't ask anything, he falls dumb and seems perfectly willing to stand in silence rather than get the conversation going again by asking me a question. This is rude and gives the impression of arrogance. It's as if he were saying that the only important things in the world worth discussing have to do with him. I suppose a psychologist could trace this behavior back to every man's drive to assert himself as the dominant male in any group. Asking another man a question weakens the asker's position by, first, admitting ignorance about the subject, and second, acknowledging the the person he asked the question exists. Entertaining and polite conversation consists largely of both parties asking and answering an equal number of questions. The fact that this sort of conversation between men is on the decline suggests that the average American man has bought off on the super-macho image of men as portrayed by Hollywood in popular blood-and-guts movies.
Splinter Removal: You know those invisible little splinters that stick straight up and catch on anything that slides over the area where they're stuck? They're too small to see and grab so next time you get one, try duct tape. Simply press it over the area of the splinter and nine times out ten, when you peel the tape away, the splinter will come out with it.
Things are getting better: Twenty years ago, there were lots of jokes about banker's hours. Now there isn't because banks open earlier, stay open later, are open on Saturdays, and even have 24-hour ATMs for our convenience. I take this as an example that things are better so if any old guy tries to tell you how much better things were in the good old days, tell him to stuff it. He didn't have computers, VCRs, ten years of the best growth and prosperity the country has ever seen, gas prices at a thirty-year low (when corrected for inflation) More doctors available at more hours than ever before, no major wars (for the US) in thirty years, computer games, in-line skates that don't jam when you ride over a crack like the old rollerskates used to, real skate boards instead of a roller skate nailed to the bottom of a piece of 2x4, and fifty-seven TV channels (even if there's nothing on them, at least we now have a wider selection of nothing to watch than every before). The list goes on. Things really are better than they used to be.
An open question: Why is it that we live in a time where we have more toys than ever before and more time to play with them, yet so many people seem to reject them in favor of causing their fellow men grief? In the same vein, why is it that while we have more devices to help us lose weight, we are the fattest generation the world has ever seen?
Why old people get fat: They eat too much. Okay, so that's a no-brainer. The real question is why do they eat too much. Speaking as someone who at 50 is starting to qualify as being part of the older generation, I can tell you that one of the big reasons we eat more is that we're jaded. After what seems like countless decades of doing things, everyone gets to the point where they have done almost everything, and most things many times. There just isn't anything else to do. Worst still, we get used to doing new things so that something new isn't, of itself, automatically exciting. We're bored. Jaded. It's hard to get satisfied. But, food is always there. For very little effort, we can eat a donut, or a piece of chocolate, and get immediate pleasure for much less effort than going out and finding something new to do. So we eat. Too much. With the result that we get fat.
California's energy crisis:
Six events conspired to throw California into the current energy crisis:
1. California power plants usually shut down Jan-Apr for maintenance. This year that was reduced by 40 percent, setting the stage for breakdowns later in the year. Fifty percent of the plants are 30 years old and unreliable. CA licensing, permitting, and environmental hoops give investors little motivation to build new plants to replace old ones.
2. Drought in the northwest depleted the availability of cheap hydroelectric power.
3. Mild weather for three years kept natural gas demands so low that few new wells were drilled. Then the weather turned and demand went through the roof. Since availability was low, cost went up. Thirty percent of all CA power comes from natural gas fired generators so that drove electric prices up as well.
4. In 1996, CA legislators deregulated the power industry in the hopes that competition would drive prices down. This was short-sighted because CA residents can't choose to do without power or easily shop for the lowest rates. We are trapped buyers. Consequently, it was obvious that out-of-state power companies would charge whatever the market would bear.
5. Power companies manufactured crises where the state had to buy power at premium prices instead of the regular price.
6. California is so unfriendly to business, most power companies find it more cost effective to build out of state and pump the power in.
The state could probably have handled any one or two of these problems but when they all hit at once, it was too much. I believe the biggest problem came from the legislature's deregulating power companies. I think they went for it because at the time it sounded like something that would help them get re-elected, regardless of the consequences.
Colorization: When companies started colorizing black-and-white movies, most critics and people hated it. I think it was great for two reasons. The colorization process does more than add color, it also restores old movies that might otherwise have been lost. Prior to being colorized, the studio searches for the very best prints available, cleans them, digitizes them, uses computer processing to remove scratches and sharpen the images, then adds color. The final product is much clearer than anything previously available. Many of the complaints about colorization was because early in the process the companies doing it tried forcing colors where they wouldn't go (making a black suit look brown) or not confining the added color to just the area to be colored, with the result that colored halos surrounded fast-moving images. As the technology improved, many of these problems went away. Unfortunately, by then the press had blasted the process to such a degree that demand for these movies dropped off and supply dwindled. Finally, many of the movies that were colorized would never have been watched be people had they been left black-and-white. I wish colorization would come back. With faster computers and the coming of digital television, it could pump new life into many old films.
Pet Peeves: I hate the logos that TV stations are placing in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. They must think we are so stupid that we don't know what channel we are watching. This was some manager's brilliant idea for promoting the channel. He probably got a promotion for it. Someone should have told the executives that these logos are annoying to viewers and are more likely to make them tune off than thank the station for using up part of the screen for advertising. What bothers me more is that this practice opens the door to more and more on-screen (during the show) advertisements. In a few years I see the screen so cluttered with small adds that you can't make out what's happening during the show.
Another peeve is the half-page adds newspapers put over the Sunday comics. It's getting to be where you have to fight your way through the ads to get to read what you bought the paper for.
Someone should be fired for the new floor plans many department stores are using. They used to be set up with a main aisle that made it easy to get from one side of the store to the other. Now the displays are purposely arranged in the shape of a maze to force customers to wander around as many counters as possible. Whenever I enter a store that's trying to use such a cheap trick to manipulate me, I resolve not to buy anything there. (I hope some Penny's or Sears executive reads this.)
Other things that peeve me:
Tail Gaters... Are these people so arrogant that they think the laws of physics don't apply to them?
People who let their dogs relieve themselves on other people's lawns.
People who let their dogs bark outside all night long
People who plant Oleanders, or anything like them, that grow to be twenty-feet in diameter within three feet of their property line so that half of the plant hangs into someone else's yard. I don't let my plants trail into their yards. What give them the right to let their's lean into mine.
People who let their cats loose at night to use my garden as a bathroom. Do they have any idea how unpleasant it is to come across the pet's leavings in the middle of a bed of carrots I'm planning to eat?! I respect my neighbor's privacy and right to sanitary considerations enough to control my pet's whereabouts. Why don't my neighbor's return this gesture of consideration?
Boy, that felt good to get that off my chest! Thanks for listening.
The loss of pure-tasting foods: I don't mean pure-tasting as in untouched by chemicals or organically grown. I mean foods that taste like their main constituent instead of all the other flavorings that smoother it. Take beef. It has a very subtle flavor that any seasoning can overpower. If I eat a steak, I want it to taste like beef and not the black pepper most restaurants cover it in. Most dishes these days are so heavily spiced and flavored with extra ingredients that it is impossible to taste the meat that was used to start the dish. Some of this is all right and tastes great. But, more and more, I long for simpler fare that leaves chicken tasting like chicken and fish like fish. In most instances, all the seasoning that's needed is a little, very little, salt to enhance the flavor that's already there. In the same vein, I'm tired of ordering a steak and having it served with half of its surface charred black. Burn meat has a bitter flavor that completely overpowers the taste of the underlying meat.
Why young people want powerful cars, radical music, and rebel against authority: One of my hobbies is to explain contemporary behaviors by invoking genetically-inbreed survival skills that were established millions of years ago. I believe that man evolved and that civilization is still so new that it really hasn't changed any of our evolutionary hard-wiring. Case is point: youthful drives for power.
In the world humans evolved, survival depended on strength or power. The stronger you were, either physically or through cunning, the more likely you were to survive and have more children who would inherit these positive traits. There are two ways a person could increase his chances of survival: either be more powerful or fool everyone into thinking you were more powerful by acting in ways that suggested you were more powerful than you really were. Flash forward a million years.
Young people still have this drive to show people that they are powerful and it influences many of their actions. If they have a powerful car, roaring down the street makes them feel powerful and satisfies their thirst for the sense of security strength gave their ancestors. If they rebel against authority, they are saying "I'm stronger than authority" and a little voice whispers to them that therefore they are going to live longer, eat better, have more children. This rebellion can take the form of listening to new bad music because it thumbs it's noise at the previous generation's music or more violently: breaking laws, stealing, and even killing. All of these actions may very well have their basis in humanity's need for power to secure survival.
This doesn't excuse violent behavior. We live in an enlightened society and if more parents did their jobs and taught their children how respect and how having a value system helps everyone, many of our problems would be reduced. But, not eliminated. The drive for power is so deeply ingrained that it can never totally be controlled.
The Evolution of Freedom: A million years ago man had total freedom: he could do anything he wanted if he had the strength, will and/or cunning to do it. As civilization developed, people began to understand that for the survival of the society, certain laws had to be enforced. These laws limited the individual's freedom but increased his chances of living longer and more comfortably. The rules were accepted. In time, these rules became more far-reaching than just prohibitions against killing someone or stealing, they started to include more complex concepts such as "respect the symbol of our country because in the long run this respect will help you live a better life." People followed these rules because they had seen what life was like before and accepting these new laws did indeed make things better. They accepted the additional limits on their freedom. They weren't giving up or selling out their personal rights. They knew that these new laws actually increased their rights in other areas more than they were decreased in different areas. Then things started to go wrong.
People forgot what it was like before many of these laws were enacted. They forgot what they had gained and only complained about what they couldn't do. They began using the laws of freedom to begin tearing down the very restrictions which were what had enabled freedom to exist in the first place: respect your country and its symbols, respect other people's right to not hear whatever obscenity you think you have to have the right to scream. So, we now find ourselves in a society where we have the appearance of greater freedom in small things, but we've attained it at the cost of weakening the underlying structure of the society. In so doing we may be opening the door on an era where our weaken society can no longer protect itself against itself. People are not perfect. We need restrictions on our actions; how we say things, what flags we burn; to preserve the easy life we've come to accept as a right instead of something we've built up through laws.
How to eat less, or another reason why Americans are fat (look several articles down for the first): People tend to eat until they are satisfied. Watch the average American eat and it becomes apparent that how we eat is a major factor in our epidemic of obesity: we eat too fast. A small child eating cake takes a huge bite, chews it once, swallows the bulk of the bite whole (and untasted) and is stabbing the next piece of cake before the first hits his stomach. Adults aren't much better. They take big bites of burger and swallow before their taste buds have a chance to know what just zoomed by them. Worse still, we tend to eat while absorbed in other tasks (listening to music, watching TV, reading, talking, or working) which distracts us from tasting the food.
With so little tasting of our food going on, is only makes sense that we eat more in an attempt to make up for this lack of taste by increasing the quantity we eat. If we ate three times as slowly, it would seem we'd be tasting, and eating, three times as much food!
Try this test: next time you eat a hamburger, and I hope it's a Jack-in-the-Box Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger without mayonnaise (please see my taste-test page), take the time to chew eat bite as long as possible and concentrate on the flavor. It can take ten minutes to finish it this way (instead of one minute the usual way) and the amount of flavor you get will be twenty times as much (ten times as long times twice as much taste equals twenty times the flavor) as the usual way. This applies to anything you eat. Avoid distractions, eat slowly by chewing each bite as long as possible, and focus your attention on what you're eating. Your desire for satisfaction will be reached with much lass food and you'll end up enjoying what you do eat more than the larger amount you used to eat.
Paradise Lost: Many years ago I decided to find the best place in the United States to live based on the weather. First I listed all my criteria: not too hot in summer, not too cold in winter, no snow, low humidity, lots of sun, and not much rain. Then I got a copy of a US weather profile book and started overlaying the profile maps for each of my criterion. With each overlay, the areas that satisfied all my requirements got smaller and fewer in number. When the final map was in place, only two sections of the country had the weather I wanted: a small patch in the hills of Arizona and the Los Angeles basin. It struck me as ironic that one of the few places on Earth with weather good enough to make it an Eden, Los Angeles, has become one of the worst places to live. LA's crowded, dirty, smoggy, and crime-ridden. It's sad that people flock to the nicest places on Earth to such a degree that these places rapidly become unhealthful. In our desire to have Paradise, we destroy it.
What the 21st Century will be remembered for: The 20th century will be remembered for its great technological progress. I feel the 21st century, the one we just started, will be remembered for two things: human genetic engineering and the loss of natural resources.
Human engineering promises the cures to illnesses and weaknesses that have plagued man since he crawled out of the primordial soap of creation. It will also present us with many new problems: If we can make people live longer, healthier lives, how are we going to feed everyone? Who gets the advantages of genetic engineering, only the people who can afford it? Should genetically engineered health and longevity be a right, paid for by the government, i.e. paid for by your taxes? If so, how are you going to feel about having to pay for some politician's treatment if the government decides you aren't eligible for the same treatment? If genetic engineering is capable of more than curing illness, if it can enhance or improve humans...should we undertake these improvements? If we do, will they propagate through normal reproduction? Will these new improved people be allowed to compete with plain old regular people? These are all interesting questions but what's more interesting is that it's most likely that no one or no committee will sit down and logically decide how to answer them. We'll just blunder ahead and the answers will result from never ending battle between what we want, what we think we should have, what the government thinks we want, and what the government wants to force down our throats.
As for the loss of our natural resources, that's already started. I can remember being taught in school the the Grand Banks had so many fish it could never be over harvested. Now it's a graveyard. Just two years ago, natural gas companies were running commercials pushing people to use as much as they wanted because it was so cheap. In January or 2001 my natural gas bill doubled what it was the month before because the country was running out of this resource. These are just the first portents of the coming shortages. The world is huge with vast resources. But as vast as they are, they are not limitless and with six BILLION demanding more every day, I believe we are closer to having to start getting used to doing without than anyone wants to admit.
What's wrong with the world: There are too many people. This sounds simple but it's true. Every problem the world faces could be solved if our population was small enough. If there were only a thousand Israelis and a thousand Palestinians, they'd have enough elbow room to share the common holy sites, which are the source of their problems. If there were on millions of people in the world instead of billions, we wouldn't have to worry about the loss of natural resources, pollution, or how we're going to feed ourselves. I believe that man's lack of restraint in reproducing himself is the root cause of all our problems. Some say that they have a religious or political mandate to have as many children as possible, or follow only prescribed birth control practices that aren't reliable enough to be effective. Their defense is that God or the government will take care of us no matter how many mouths there are in the world to feed. While I agree with their right to believe what they want, I do not accept that anyone, me included, has the right to force the consequences of their faith on others. Besides, with millions of innocent children starving to death every year, a strong argument can be made that God's plan for us does not include divine intervention for taking care of us.
Getting fit in only 10 minutes a day: We all seen the ads: "USE THE NEW, ADVANCED, SCIENTIFIC AB-BLASTER AND BE FIT FOR ONLY TEN MINUTES A DAY!" Yeah... right. Almost as bad are the admonitions from the medical community encouraging us to "exercise more" while never stating how much it really takes to get fit. I'm here to tell you it takes a lot.
I'm no Joe Atlas. I am, in fact, rather wimpy... but I do consider myself reasonably fit. I'm six-feet one-inch tall, weigh 167 pounds, run twenty miles a week, and spend six hard hours a week lifting weights. I watch what I eat, how much I eat, and when I eat it. Sounds like what you're supposed to do, right? Well, all this gives me is the look of someone moderately healthy. I don't have broad shoulders, no rippling abs, and I can't leap tall building in a single bound.
What this has told me is that to look like the people hawking Ab-Blasters and such on television, you'd better be prepared to invest at least twenty hours a week just to working out. That doesn't include set-up and showering times either. That's twenty or more hours sweating for all you're worth. I'm saying this because I have yet to hear anyone state this simple truth to the public and felt it was time someone did. Marketing gizmos that promise to make you look like a Greek God for only ten minutes a day is outright lying.
Why we're more interested in bad news than good news: I've wondered about this for years. Then my son started studying psychology and presented my with a simple, logical answer.
Humans evolved in a dangerous world. Surviving meant we had to be on constant lookout for anything threatening. People with a predisposition to be interested in bad (in other words dangerous) things tended to survive longed and passed this tendency on to their children, which they had more of because of their longer lives. Over time, this characteristic became universal and has carried down to our present stage. Even though it's no longer necessary for survival, except in certain areas of Los Angeles, we still carry this bit of evolutionary baggage and it makes us more interested in bad news than good.
Sex and violence, and hypocrisy on television: I was watching a major channel at seven o'clock one evening while it showed John Carpenter's remake of The Thing. One scene had a doctor use a defibrillator for try and save a man, who was really the monster. Just as the electrodes touched the man's chest, his chest opened in a big mouth and bit off the doctor's arms. The doctor raised his bleeding, amputated stumps, screamed in anguish and died. This horrific scene was doubtlessly seen by countless children across the country and no one seemed to be bothered by it. Yet, if any movie dares to show an inch too much of a woman's cleavage or a kiss that's considered a little too open-mouthed, half the country goes berserk. It strikes me that the US is confused about what it should be protecting our children from.
Sex is normal. We all do it and the species needs it to survive. Yet it's been turned into the blackest of taboos. Violence, on the other hand, we not only don't need, it actually threatens society. But it has been embraced as being "all right" to be viewed by anyone. Am I the only one who thinks something's illogical about this?
To be sure, I'm not advocating XXX movies on Saturday mornings. I'm not even saying there should be relaxed standards about even mild nudity in late-night movies. My point is that we should act more logical and at least condemn violence, which my son who's studying psychology has told has been proven to have a detrimental effect on children, as much as sex, which has been shown NOT to have a negative effect on them.
Damning Hollywood for sex and violence in movies: Hollywood is one of the favorite targets for politicians to bully when it comes to blaming someone for the decay of standards in America. They do this because Hollywood is an easy target and politicians are too cowardly to tell the real problem-makers, the American people, that's it's the people's fault that television and movies have too much sex and violence.
Hollywood has the most democratic system in the world. (I apply the term democratic as it pertains to decision-making by the people and not the political party.) Hollywood only makes movies and shows people pay to see. The moment people stop paying for a particular brand of show, Hollywood immediatly drops it. Hollywood is there to make money and will do anything to give the consumers what they want. Hollywood makes movies with sex and violence because that's what people have voted they want by way of paying admission. If the majority of American people really doen't want these types of movies, all they have to do is stop watching them. Hollywood will see reciepts fall off overnight and the next day begin changing what they are making to what people want. Hollywood is capitalism at its best. If you don't like what they make... don't watch it. As soon as the majority of the people stop paying to see sex and violence, Hollywood will change to something else. We're getting what we've told Hollywood we want. I wish we had more politicians with enough courage to tell the American people this simple truth.
Movie Ratings: They're almost a waste of time. I can't count how many times I've been in a theater with an R rated movie and seen a mother and father walk in with a baby in one arm, dragging a three-year-old by another, and being trailed by one or more children aged anywhere from five to twelve. What's the value of warning parents that a movie is unsuitable if they ignore it? Sure, the rating's prevent older children, who have the mobility to get to the movies by themselves, from getting into these shows. But by that age they damage has already been done. If our youth is being corrupted by what they see at the theaters, it's their parent's fault... not the movie's.
Communism: As soon as I was old enough to understand what communism was I knew it could never last. The reason is that for communism to work it had to consist of a society containing perfect, unselfish, hard-working people. Since no such society of humans exists it was doomed from the get-go. Capitalism, on the other hand, thrives with imperfect, selfish people. It was, and is, doomed to perpetuate itself indefinitely.
Potion Sizes: One of the biggest and most wide-spread lies ever undertaken is in the reporting of portion sizes on food labels. This may seem like a small thing but when the scope of it is considered, food labels are more common than cheap talk on talk shows, it's astounding that someone hasn't complained in a lawsuit yet.
Consider potato chips: a serving is supposed to be 14 chips. 14 CHIPS! That's just a handful! The average person eats many times this number at a setting. The calorie counts given on the labels are completely out of line with what people are actually eating. Food companies should be responsible enough to study what the average person eats and base their portion sizes on that. Of course, we know why they don't. The real quantities people consume are so large that the calorie counts would be astronomical. Food companies are afraid to report that for fear it would drive people away. So instead they artificially define a portion as being between 100 and 200 calories regardless of what people really eat. In so doing they create the impression we can eat what we think of as a portion for only the calorie count listed on the label. Sure, part of this is our fault for not regulating how much we eat, but I still think food companies owe it to us to let everyone know just how calorie-heavy most of our food really are.
American people getting fat: You can hardly turn on the television without having to watch some skinny newsperson announcing the latest study that American's are fatter than ever. What I wish someone would point out is that it's amazing that we aren't fatter than we are. Thousands of years ago man first threw a chunk of meat into the fire to cook it. Since then, virtually every cook who's come along has striven to make food taste as good as possible without (with a very few exceptions) consideration for how healthy it is. Consequently, much of the food available has been optimized flavor-wise to the point where it is almost drug-like in potency.
As if that's not enough, grocery stores are designed with the help of psychologists in such a way as to tempt customers to buy as much food, preferably high-profit junk foods, as possible.
As a population we are being seduced into buying and eating the foods everyone knows we shouldn't eat. If you're overweight and hate yourself for it... don't. Your weight problem, and the guilt you feel for it, are largely the product of our culture.
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