Sunday, August 30, 2009

Apples and Pomegranates and the Wild Pagan North

By Ellipses

This is a continuation of the "Rich Tapestry" series.

Take a spin through Genesis and notice the absolute absence of the word "Apple." Everyone knows the story... Eve talks to a snake and then convinces Adam to eat the apple from the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden, thus precipitating the fall of man and condemning us to an eternity of strife and requiring the death of Jesus to bear the sins of man and yadda yadda yadda. But there's no apple. And nor should there be... you'd be hard-pressed to find a Macintosh or Granny Smith at the time or place the creation myth was being recorded. That would be like Native American's saying that the great spirit rode through the desert on a kangaroo.

Chances are, the "forbidden" fruit would have been a pomegranate. It makes loads of sense in light of both the geography and the tendency to cling to all things Greek when constructing the Christian Quilt.

Let's look at what the apple means... Consuming the fruit is a physical act, a tangible manifestation of the triumph of the serpent over the creator's creation (man). Upon consumption, man is fallen. The eating of the fruit causes a descent. The decent of man from divinity to mortality has far reaching implications, obviously. It instills in man an inherent badness, thus setting the stage for a redeemer (Christ).

Not to get too far ahead of myself, but that stage setting is referred to as a Felix Culpa, or "fortunate folly" and is beautifully encapsulated by this poem.

Anyway, back to the fruit salad... There is an almost identical analog to this whole scenario in Greek mythology... Persephone, daughter of Demeter, catches the eye of Hades who plots to abduct her and keep her in the underworld for himself. When Persephone is abducted, her mother, Demeter, goes into a crazy-deep depression and ceases her duties of providing favorable growing seasons and the earth falls into a cold, dark, barren wasteland.

Demeter finds out that it is Hades who has taken Persephone and sets out to bring her back. Hades gives in, and agrees to release Persephone, under the condition that she suffer as Demeter did (Demeter is Hades' sister) by forgoing food and drink. However, Persephone sneaks three pomegranate seeds, and Hades demands a compromise. Eventually, it is agreed that Persephone will descend into the underworld with Hades for part of the year and return to earth the other part. Demeter, apparently, gets all post-partum every time that Persephone has to go pay the piper, and thus we have seasons and transitions. Summer is the happy shiny time that Persephone is up here with her mom and Winter is the time she is being Hades' bitch.

It's really not difficult to see the parallel between the descent of man (caused by eating fruit) and the descent of Persephone (caused by eating fruit).

So why an apple? Well, if you are trying to sell your story to someone who has no idea what the hell a pomegranate is, you might want to substitute a familiar fruit in its place. Such is the case of specifying the fruit to be an apple as Christianity spread north into Pagan Europe... a land devoid of pomegranates, but full of people apt to latch onto a new magic tale. Hey, if those fur-wearers insist on knowing what kind of fruit tree it is, tell them it's that damn apple thing that they have growing all over the place up there so that it sounds relevant to them! Sphere: Related Content

The "Death Tax" is really the "Ooops, I died too soon" tax

By Ellipses

This post is a counterpoint to Cy's de facto support of the Estate Tax. I say "de facto" because his argument was less in favor of the Estate Tax as a matter of course than it was a push to use it as a bargaining chip in the health care debate.

I have no problem unambiguously coming out against the estate tax, at least as it stands within the context of today's United States Tax Code.

There is a robust and effective industry dedicated specifically to helping families legally avoid the impact of the estate tax. Almost every brokerage house will offer either free or fee-based estate planning services once the size of your account triggers this level of service.

Normally, the account holder will be audited to determine how much income they actually need to maintain their standard of living. Normally, the older the account holder is, the less actual income they require. Even though medical costs increase with age, other expenditures decrease. A freshly minted retiree will require a larger disbursement from his available funds on an annual basis than a similarly well-heeled 85 year old.

Once the required income level is determined, fund are allocated to ensure that income stream. A basket of fixed income vehicles is constructed to provide the necessary income.

The next step is to set up a vehicle that a) protects wealth and b) allows for some asset growth. Normally, an irrevocable trust is set up to house all the assets that are to be shielded from estate taxes. The trust is like "limbo" for investments. Neither the account holder nor the beneficiary can access funds in the trust, and those funds are allowed to grow tax free until the account holder dies and the trust is executed. The assets that go into the trust are normally transformed from the usual suspects (stocks, bonds, etc.) and put into life insurance policies. Because the account holder is probably older and in not the best of health, the insurance policies are bought at face value and in incremental purchases. You can buy a 100,000 dollar life insurance policy for 100,000 dollars and the value of that policy will grow over time and the insurer will probably take a portion of the returns. The reason for using insurance as the investment of choice in the trust is that insurance benefits are tax exempt. If I die and my wife gets a million dollars from my life insurance policy, that doesn't count as taxable income.

After the "money" part of the equation is guarded and a reasonable balance is struck between income needs and shielded assets, tangible property can be shared or transferred so that when the account holder dies, less property "changes hands."

The net result of all this planning is that when the account holder passes on, the "estate" that is settled is beneath the minimum threshold for estate taxes to kick in. Normal probate costs apply and perhaps some state taxes and other nickel and dime things occur, but on the whole, a reasonably high percentage of the official estate seamlessly changes hands. Then, the irrevocable trust is executed and a cascade of insurance benefits are disbursed.

The point is... one person, with a shit-ton of money and the right planning can have significantly less of their accumulated wealth eroded upon their death than another person with an equal or even lesser estate, but incorrect or insufficient planning. An old rich guy who gets diagnosed with inoperable cancer can ensure that his wealth is protected before he expires whereas another, equally rich guy who gets hit by a bus might lose half of his assets to taxation.

And that is just on the functional, logical side of the coin... there is also a philosophical point to be made that the estate tax essentially taxes someone's death. On Monday, they have X money. On Tuesday, they die. On Wednesday, they have X/2 money. The only intervening action that caused the reduction in the amount of money in the family was one person's death. Sphere: Related Content

An overdue introduction

by Cylinsier

I feel that enough time has passed and there has been enough interaction that some of our return readers deserve to be officially introduced to one of our illustrious and most dedicated commenters. So without further ado, I'd like to officially introduce commenter Wesley to the rest of our readers. You'll recognized his name next to many long-winded profanity laden comments connected to pretty much every post on here.

Wesley is my dad. I'm not sure if he realizes I know this but I suspect he had some idea prior to this post. Well, its official. His IP address matches the IP address attached to past emails he has sent to me. Not that it was hard for me to recognize his vocabulary, style or tone.

Wesley (that's not his real name) and I don't get along. We haven't seen eye to eye for several years now. All attempts to repair our relationship have fallen short and caused me a great deal of stress. Ultimately, the deceit and mistrust was too much for me and I cut off all communication.

I wasn't surprised to see us gain a heckler on our blog since we are very opinionated. However, I was a little disheartened to learn that this heckler was actually my father. I had harbored hope that he would one day come around in a renewed attempt to repair our relationship, this time willing to meet me halfway. Instead, he appears to have become much more vitriolic and spiteful as you can judge by the language and tone of his comments. Don't take my word for it, they are scattered all across the blog.

Anyway, I just felt like the rest of our readers would find it interesting to know that the commenter who seems to spend several hours a day stalking and insulting us (mostly me) is actually my dad. Sort of a fun new dynamic to the blog. Like a bit of Jerry Springer thrown in. Our record of IP addresses indicates that he spends more time refreshing the site, both from home and work, than any other visitors outside of ellipses and myself.

At any rate, life is too short to worry about some things. I've written this post because I feel a little wronged and this outlet is therapeutic. I also feel that if Wesley wants to play his games, he is going to have to do it without the guise of full anonymity. He sacrificed that right when he refused to respect the barriers I have tried to establish.

Wesley is fully welcome to continue to comment on our blog posts but it is unlikely that I will respond to him or interact with him in any way from this point forward and I would like the readers to know why. Now you do. As an exception to this rule, there will be no comments allowed from him on this particular post. This should serve to remind Wesley that he does not have control here. He's spent the last 8 years now trying to wrestle control of my own life from me and that's over. Otherwise, I look forward to his interaction with ellipses and our other commenters as it certainly adds a provocative flavor. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Let's make a deal

by Cylinsier

Poor little guy. Why's he crying? Well, its because he's spent his life riding on daddy's coattails and he just read today that after 2010, the death tax will go from almost nothing to close to 50%. That's about where it was back in 2001 before George W put in motion a plan to slowly reduce it to nothing. That plan would have to be renewed before the end of next year or the tax rubberbands back to where it was. Those death panels don't sound so bad anymore, do they?

Never mind that the tax only applies to very wealthy estates and won't affect nearly any of us; I agree with the principal that once income has been taxed once, it shouldn't be taxed again. Repealing the death tax isn't a bad thing...of course, we do need a lot of money right now. And its only going to affect really wealthy old people anyway. I guess its just not that big a deal to me or most other people, or probably about 59 to 60 Senators and about two thirds of the house. On top of that, we here at the Elliptical Press did our very own phone survey of dead people to see how they felt about having lost variable amounts of their estate to this tax. None of them even cared enough to respond to our phone calls, indicating that 100% of dead people don't think the tax is a big deal. The GOP must be thinking to themselves, "if there was only some way to encourage a compromise on this. A bargaining chip of sorts. But what could it be?"

Well, in case you weren't going to guess it, here's my suggestion: agree to put the death tax off for another four years or keep it pretty low in exchange for health care reform with a public option. Better yet, attach the repeal of the death tax to the public option bill as a rider. Then, when someone votes against it, their competition in the next election can run ads that say, "YOUR Senator voted against repealing the death tax in 2010. Is this who you want representing you in Washington?" Hey, if people believe the death panel crap, they'll buy it. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, August 28, 2009

A rich tapestry of second-hand cloth

By Ellipses

Remember "Stone Soup?" A stranger wanders into town and claims that he can make a wonderful culinary concoction using a stone as the base. He fills a kettle with water, drops in a stone, and let's it simmer. As it cooks, he interacts with a number of locals, and of each one, he requests another ingredient. "Stone soup is really good with carrots," he says to one. "I had a great stone soup one time that had onions in it," he says to another.

Eventually, everyone in town has contributed various items to the pot, and the resulting mix is... well, it's soup. Real, honest to goodness soup. Of course, the townspeople think that it's a miracle that one could make this great soup from a stone, since they are oblivious to the fact that they created the soup incrementally... they are like that frog in the bowl of water that is slowly heated to a boil. They don't notice the addition of this or the inclusion of that. They can't see the forest for the trees. I'll run out of cliches eventually, I'm sure.

Christianity is a lot like Stone Soup... There isn't a lot to it that is unique or original. It has, impressively, assembled some of the best stories and beliefs and components of countless belief systems that existed before it into a wonderfully complex narrative.

Most people are familiar with some of the bible stories that are retellings of earlier tales. I'd like to extend an invitation to contributing writers, commenters, and any of the hundreds of random observers who stumble across this blog to share examples of this tradition of assimilation... whether it's the parallel of the apple in genesis with the pomegranate in Persephone and Demeter, or the coincidence of Christmas with Saturnalia, or the relationship between Mary/Jesus and Isis/Horace...

This isn't an attempt to disprove, but rather an invitation to understand through dissection and deconstruction. It should be an honest set of vignettes that illuminate the ideas presented in Christianity. Add your contribution either in the comments or write a featured post. Take it wherever it wants to go. Sphere: Related Content

Kennedy's Death and the Health Care Debate: Part 2 of 2

By Ellipses

It's my responsibility, in part two of this two-part piece on health care reform post-Kennedy, to provide a positive spin on what Ted Kennedy's death means to health care reform legislation. There is speculation that Kennedy's death would serve as a wake-up call to those engaging in petty bickering over non-issues and erase, or at least smudge, partisan lines drawn in the sand over wildly inaccurate arguments against reform.

While I can't get behind the idea that the death of the lion will induce some sort of broad mea culpa from the death panel party, I am not of the opinion that health care reform dies with Kennedy. Taking up the cause of a New England liberal is not politically beneficial to the likes of Chuck Grassley or John Boehner, but then again, it's not from the midwest that hope springs eternal.

Prior to Kennedy's death, we had a situation where the senatorial vote appeared split absolutely along party lines, with a few blue dog democrats sitting opposite the majority. If one is to argue that Ted Kennedy dying is going to cauterize that partisan cleft, I think they should be specific as to which senators are apt to jump ship and vote in favor of a reform bill. I haven't seen definitive predictions on that front.

However, I was not convinced, prior to Tuesday, that the senate vote would be an even 60-40 split, assuming sufficient pressure were applied to blue dogs by the democratic leadership. Let me rephrase that... I wasn't convinced that the vote would be 59 democrats (plus Bernie Sanders) to 40 republicans.

The wild cards are, as they were earlier this year on the stimulus vote, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine.

Olympia Snowe is on the senate finance committee; one of the "gang of 6." Susan Collins is in the unique position of having sponsored an "end of life" initiative this spring, a bit before it became a plot to euthanize grandparents. Both are from New England, where the effect of Kennedy's death would be most pronounced. Both are seen as being moderate Republicans. Both are from Maine, where, according to an August 8th CNN poll, 56% favor congress passing a health care reform bill this year.

There is hope amongst liberals that Kennedy's death will cause a sea-change of opinion among our elected leaders on the issue of health care reform. I don't believe that his death will have the effect of catalyzing broad concensus on the issue, but his one vote could be replaced by two votes from Maine; a net gain that could be just enough. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Kennedy's death and the health care debate: Part 1 of 2

by Cylinsier

This piece is part 1 of a 2 part collaborative reaction to Senator Edward Kennedy's recent passing and the possible effect it will have on the health care debate. This piece takes a critical and pessimistic view. For a more optimistic view, check out Ellipses' companion piece, immediately following this one (to be posted later today or tomorrow).

In the weeks preceding his death, Teddy Kennedy pressed hard for a change to the Massachusetts state law which requires that a special election be held to fill a vacant Senate seat between 145 and 160 days after the vacancy, but does not allow one sooner. Kennedy clearly knew his time was up and he must have also realized that health care legislation might very well depend on the vote his seat carried. Now that he has passed, there is strong support for the law to be passed, but considering the speed at which the legislature operates, it probably won't be passed until pretty close to the above deadline anyway. There's no telling what happens to the health care bill in that time, but it probably won't be good.

The sad thing is this law shouldn't be on the books to begin with. As NPR reminds us in this story, the law in place now is quite young; it was enacted in 2004 when John Kerry was running for President. At that time, the governor could appoint a new Senator to a vacant seat as soon as it was vacant, but the governor then was Mitt Romney, a Republican. The democratic state congress quickly pushed for the new law so that the voters would fill the seat, not the GOP. And so in an ultimately futile act of partisan politics, the Democrats did something that has come back to bite them and all of us in the ass.

In all honesty, I don't like the law that they had at the time either; Romney would have been able to appoint someone for the remainder of Kerry's term if I understand it correctly and Senators should never be appointed. Kennedy's suggestion was simply that the governor would appoint a temporary replacement that would be ousted by the above mentioned special election as they would not be able to run in it. That law is better than both the current one and the preceding one and should be in place. But instead partisanship drove the Mass congress to replace one bad rule with another. This new law should be in place now and in the foreseeable future, but its probably going to be too late to help us now. I'll cross my fingers that the gravity of the situation inspires some quick legislation; regardless of party affiliation, now is not the time to have a vacant seat in the Senate.

But the immediate concern is the health care situation. This debate seems to be setting new records for potency of contentiousness on a daily basis. When congress gets back in the capitol and gets to work on it again, that missing vote is going to potentially make the difference between improvement in health care and stagnation in an embarrassing state of pseudorespectable coverage. The arguments made in favor of the reform and the level of humiliation we suffer as lesser nations laugh at our health care ineptitude has had no effect on the neoconservative politically motivated stonewalling of the most important piece of social legislation of the decade at least, if not since the New Deal. There was perhaps one good trump card left in the Democratic deck, and I'm not just talking about the seat now but the man who occupied it. Teddy Kennedy, known in political circles for his ability to befriend his enemies and gain support across the aisle, was easily the most important voice in favor of reform. Now that he's died, the hope for a positive outcome to this debacle may have died with him. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Maglev trains are awesome

by Cylinsier

Remember that massive stimulus bill that a lot of people are saying isn't working? Unlike malcontents (Republicans) in this country who like to cry in their caviar about everything since last November, I've been trying to keep up with why the stimulus hasn't saved us yet. The main reason is not because it "blows ass," as Mitch McConnell no doubt claims behind closed doors, nor is it because the legislation is "commie horseshit," another imagined but probably accurate quote, this time from John Boehner. Its because a lot of it hasn't been spent. So, I've become curious about what this money sitting around is going to be used for in the future, and one of the most exciting projects is maglev rails!

The one pictured above is in Shanghai. They've had them in Japan for ages too, kind of like how they've had cell phones and computers and giant fucking robots for years. I haven't been to Japan recently (or ever), but if history is any indication, the whole country probably floats a few miles above the surface of the earth and runs on cold fusion at this point. Hopefully they'll share flying cars and teleportation with us soon, but in the mean time, maglev is where its at.

So what is maglev? Its a train. On magnets. So it floats. Basic physics should already be telling you the potential benefits. The trains are far more efficient and faster due to the lack of surface to surface friction since the trains don't touch anything (but do still compete with air drag). Whereas a normal train maxes out at about 100 mph, maglevs hit around 300 mph. The ones in Japan can go over 500 mph. They are pretty quiet and there is potential for environmental improvements over traditional rail and other modes of transport (depending on what is used to generate the electricity needed to generate the magnetic field as well as to propel the train).

Train travel in general is pretty nice in my opinion. Better than air travel and that's not just because I hate flying. There compartment typically has more space. Security and baggage handling is easier, at least for the time being. Wait times are shorter. But the big drawback has always been time; traditional rail is just too slow. But maglevs can compete with airline travel for time efficiency. A direct rail line from New York to Chicago, for example, with maglev technology might be faster than a flight if wait times for airport delays, security and possible layovers are taken into account.

The budget for maglevs is $8 billion from the stimulus package. That's a lot of jobs for construction. And the technology is proven in other countries already; there are countless people who hate the hassle of air travel but can't take the time to go by rail that would be instant customers when this mode of transport becomes available. Its really a situation where everybody wins. I for one am looking forward to having this travel alternative available to me for trips in the future.

For those interested, current areas under consideration for maglev construction are LA, Seattle, Vegas, DC, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Atlanta. For the most part, these are localized projects and not part of any plan to link these cities to each other (with the exception of Baltimore and DC, where travel between the two cities would be part of the plan). Also, the stimulus money is being potentially allocated to Pittsburgh for their maglev project, but I do not know if any of the other projects will receive stimulus funding. Actual cross country maglev travel is still quite a ways off. But I'm still looking forward to the day I can sit on a fast quiet train that'll get me from Pittsburgh to DC in two hours or less! Sphere: Related Content

A preponderance of evidence...

By Ellipses

When we are children, our parents go to great lengths to perpetuate a fantasy that is seen as an inalienable right of childhood. We are told, from our first Christmas onward, that a man lives at the North Pole, employs elves, rides a deer-driven sled, and traverses the earth once a year to reward good children with gifts while punishing bad children with coal. On average, children buy into this fantasy, much to the delight of their parents, for between 5-8 years. The shedding of their adherence to this myth is as much a right of childhood as the belief itself is; their emergence from this Platonic cave of make-believe is a chrysalis moment that is shared by millions of people regardless of education, socio-economic status, race, or even language-- to a degree.

Parallel to this fantasy is the often similar indoctrination of a similar myth… That there is a heavenly father-figure who sent his son to earth via the womb of young, Jewish virgin and that son eventually died on a cross to absolve humanity of its sins. The story has many parallels to the Santa Clause tale, and it is just as fanciful and metaphorical as the former. But for some reason, children often retain their belief in this artifice while gleefully and glibly relinquishing the other.

Why? Aside from the heft and import that is carried by the tradition of religion. Aside from the tendency of the story to grow richer as one’s capacity to understand the nuance grows. Aside from the inferred implications of disbelief, or non-belief. Aside from reasons endemic to the story itself, why do people cling to that belief longer than the other belief? From a purely logical standpoint, it would stand to reason that a child would be more likely, from a cognitive standpoint, to believe in the Santa Clause myth for a longer period of time than they would the Jesus myth. After all, there is real, tangible (though still false) physical evidence in favor of the Santa myth. Parents take their kids to the mall to SEE Santa. Gifts appear beneath the tree FROM Santa. Cookies are left half-eaten on the coffee table, and occasionally, a lump of coal is tucked into the toe of your stocking to remind you not pick on your sister.

Sure, it’s all bullshit… and one could argue that the zest on the part of the parents to engage in this theater may wane over time, allowing doubt, followed by certainty, to creep in. But even that argument is flimsy, seeing as how a child tends to stop believing long before a parent is willing to give up on trying to create the illusion year after year.

The existence of “a God” aside… what compelling reason is there to continue the belief in the Jesus myth, in a complete absence of evidence, while ceasing to believe the Santa myth in the face of mountains of contrived evidence? Each is equally fantastical, but the “evidence” certainly favors one “guy in the sky” over the other… and yet, he gets the shit end of the stick… and stale cookies. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, August 24, 2009

No faith in Christianity

by Cylinsier

At some point it happens to every secularist. The discussion of faith arises and you are feeling particularly comfortable or maybe a bit confrontational or defensive. You decide to hell with it, I'm going to share my opinion. So you let it go that you don't believe in god. And then the fighting begins. It is in my experience at least that an atheist or, as I think of myself, an apatheist draws scorn and criticism from religious folk (specifically Christians for me because I simply haven't had the opportunity to interact with members of other faiths on a regular basis) to the point that a debate becomes inevitable. And the debate is always a stalemate. That's because the two sides of the debate play by different rules. The secularists formulate an argument on logic and deductive reasoning. The believers form an argument on faith and emotion. Its like playing football with a kid from Peru; you just aren't talking about the same game.

I personally decided to stop actively believing in a higher power, or at least stop believing in any of the ones specifically laid out by mankind, when I reached a point where logic and faith could no longer work together. I found that I had to choose one over the other. To me, it was a natural choice. Faith was all about ignoring the gifts we were given as human beings (physics, math, biology) despite the overwhelming level of support for their accuracy to believe in something we would never have proof of and which, more importantly, didn't really matter when considered from outside of the boundaries of said faith. Science was about accepting what my senses were telling me was true. The choice came down to whether or not I could trust myself, and if I can't trust myself how can I trust a being I could not possibly meet until after my life was spent? I came to realize that I didn't need an imaginary friend of endless power to inspire me to lead a good life.

Religious people don't seem to understand this idea. The closest thing to a logical argument against not believing is the insistence that there is no incentive to act in a morally upright way without the influence of faith. I would counter that faith is one of the easiest devices for justifying morally inept behavior. Wars, murders, the slaughter of children and animals; all have been committed and justified in the eyes of a silent lord. From a strictly logical view point, there may be no incentive to behave in a good way but there is none to behave in a bad way either. Atheism is a clean slate, inspired strictly by the internal emotions of the non-believer and with absolutely no interference from outside and often archaic moral codes. As a non-believer, I am free to adapt my moral code to the time I live in and to the things that society has learned in the past so that it is as relevant as it can be. Religious morals too often apply strict and inadequate ethical standards; organized religion is the status quo and the status quo is a road block on the way to growth and evolution as a race.

As an apatheist, I do not wish to deny people the right to believe in something that may bring them comfort that they cannot find in the material world. What right do I have to tell someone else what they should believe? I do feel sorrow for the level of influence faith tends to have on decisions that should be free from its influence. Gay marriage is the easiest one to cite. But I would not actively seek to eliminate faith because I personally believe it will fade away to a minimal level on its own. It will never truly cease to exist altogether—there would always be pockets of believers here and there—but the current trend suggests that as peoples' education in general increases, so too does their tendency to fall back on dogma to explain what they do not understand. In other words, as science fills in the gaps, religion loses its luster.

But the big problem for me now is also the impetus for this blog post. Believers tend to draw atheists into debates over faith and then, when it becomes clear that a conclusion to the debate cannot be reached because a consensus was never reached on the rules of the debate (reason vs. faith), the believers tend to fall back on claims of victimization. "Why are atheists trying to destroy Christianity?" I've heard it a lot of times. Most Christians are actually pretty good at keeping to themselves anymore, but the ones that start the debates are also the ones that play the victim card in the end. But they are the ones seeking out atheists and trying to convert them! If you don't want a fight, don't get in the ring.

I'm not saying there isn't a god, I'm just saying that god isn't anything like what people think who believe in him. If there is a creator, chances are he's a being that physically exists or physically existed somewhere in the material universe. His biology is probably scientifically explainable and his relationship with us is clearly one of apathy at best. There is absolutely no reason to assume a deity that cared about us would not interact with us in some way. And there is no reason to assume that the existence of a god and an afterlife go hand in hand.

Faith is nice if you need answers that bear emotional happiness; if this brings you comfort then enjoy it. Sometimes I wish I could believe in such things to bring myself peace of mind. But atheism is not really a choice and this is what most believers don't understand. Certainly there are some who claim to be atheists out of anger or sorrow or fear, and then coincidences in life cause them to gain faith, but a true atheist has seen something he or she cannot unsee. Once an atheist knows god does not exist, there is no pretending. One too many times I have been told that I better shape up or my immortal soul will be cursed forever. If god exists, I don't think pretending real hard that I believe that is going to cut it. If he does exist, he's clearly intended for me to not believe in him because he's created me in his own image and that includes endowing me with the ability to see that the sciences explain everything I need to know. Thus, if god exists, I was destined for hell the moment he created me. This does not jive with the benevolent god theory. Since god is infallible, this logical fallacy disproves god to me. This is not something I can change no matter how badly I would want to. This is what believers do not and seemingly cannot understand. I cannot believe in god. I am incapable.

The Bible, the Quran, the Torah...these are all books, penned by the hands of men which use the possibility of an omnipotent power as a means to an end. Arguments can be made that these faiths were built to set forth rules for the good of mankind that could not be enforced without instilling a certain amount of fear in them (sin and you will burn in hell). It could be argued that they are systems of control (the opiate of the masses) designed to bring disparate people together into a coherent and manageable group. Or they could simply be philosophical attempts at explaining the existence and function of the natural world in a time when science was in its infancy and when people began to question their reason for living and to fear what came after death. But again, from the playing field of secularism where we can only operate on the rules of logic and reason, the very gifts that were so graciously imparted upon us by a god if she or he or it exists, the most unbelievable possibility is that these words are an unfiltered manual from a supreme being sent down to define our existence for all of eternity without so much as an undergraduate class to help us absorb the material. The books impart many important life lessons and should be studied in history and philosophy classes for all of eternity. But at least in my personal library, they are filed in the fiction section. Sphere: Related Content

Sam Harris, author of "The End of Faith" on Real Time with Bill Maher

By Ellipses

Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, August 23, 2009

By T.R. Reid -- Five Myths About Health Care in the Rest of the World -

By T.R. Reid -- Five Myths About Health Care in the Rest of the World -

Shared via AddThis
Sphere: Related Content

The rise of emo

by Cylinsier

We've all seen them. Unisex haircuts over their eyes. Studded belts. Thick rimmed glasses and tight jeans. Some of the boys paint their nails. They write shitty poetry about cutting themselves. And they listen to bands like Fallout Boy and Paramore. And they claim bands like Jimmy Eat World as the forefathers of the genre. A perhaps inevitable evolution of punk, they are emo. But like punk, there is a big difference between mainstream emo and the roots of the genre.

When I say mainstream contemporary punk, you say Green Day or The Offspring. But real punk began in the 70's with bands like the Ramones, the Sex Pistols and the Clash. Bands that came to popularity as "punk" in the 90's cited these groups as influences, but the underground music scene took different influences from punk and that is where emo came from. But its a long story. For all intents and purposes, this original underground emo is called post-hardcore and it started in the 80's. Post-hardcore didn't sound too different from punk, but lyrics were geared more towards internal emotional issues than the class warfare roots of punk (hence the name, "Emo"tional Harcore). Early post-hardcore bands include Fugazi, Rites of Spring, Jawbox, Helmet, Glassjaw, Drive Like Jehu, Cap'n Jazz and At the Drive-In (pictured above).

These post-hardcore musicians don't really have a lot in common with the current day emo stereotype. The style of dress was simpler for one; just the tight jeans and tee-shirts. Chuck Taylors, a hold over from punk, became the popular footwear. If you ever went to school in the last 15 years with someone who was punk, chances are they listened to many of the above bands.

The sound is a far cry from the radio friendly emo most people associate with the movement as well. The gentle melodies of Fallout Boy or Jimmy Eat World are nothing like the dissonant odd-tempo guitars of Jehu or the screeching high pitched vocals of Drive-In. Post-hardcore can be an acquired taste for many. And whereas the mainstream emo bands continue to pump out radio friendly hits, the post-hardcore artists continue to experiment with new sounds in underground and local music scenes. Almost all of the above post-hardcore bands are long since dead, but pretty much everyone in this bands has been in at least one or two other new bands since, all equally unheard of in the mainstream.

Interested in the real evolution of punk? A couple other bands to check out are Engine Down, Jets to Brazil, Jawbreaker, Sunny Day Real Estate, Texas is the Reason, Q and not U, The Mars Volta, Pretty Girls Make Graves, and The Blood Brothers. All of these bands have at least some roots in the post-hardcore movement, either through being major influences in the scene or through consisting of many of the members of past influential bands. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The art of winning a debate via misdirection

by Cylinsier

Also known as the ad hominem attack strategy. Typically employed by those without the ability to win an argument based on the basis of their dialog and supporting evidence alone. It is sometimes used reflexively by morons or Republicans when they are cornered on an issue and feel the need to lash out to pamper their bruised ego. This should not be taken as a partisan attack; there are many democrats who fit into the "moron" category.

So let's examine the absurdity of the ad hominem attack, shall we? A recent op-ed by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey revealed that he was vehemently against any type of government health plan. Since Whole Foods attracts a lot of liberal shoppers, the result of his sharing this opinion is a massive boycott of the store. Okay, maybe not massive. But noticeable. Many a former shopper also went to the Whole Foods website and posted on their displeasure on the forums. But Whole Foods has also garnered some support; one little gem reads as follows: "[I will] support this man who understands the real needs of this country and it isn't paying for doctors for a bunch of lazy smelly hippies who need a bath."

Not to be outdone, bloated windbag and creature of the night Rush Limbaugh has referred to Obama's plan as a "Nazi plan," apparently not able to distinguish the difference between socialism and fascism. I know, its hard because socialism was in the name of Hitler's party, but Fair and Balanced is also the slogan of Fox News so I would have thought since he probably watches it exclusively that he would know the difference between actions and words. Limbaugh parroters have appeared in short order to further this message of hate. One in the previously-mentioned-on-this-blog Barney Frank confrontation, and another somewhat more offensive instance in this video (thanks for the source, ellipses).

So we have smelly hippies pushing Nazi plans down our throats? Sounds logical and not at all the result of an uncontrolled emotional response. But wait! Surely the other side has its wackos too? Of course. We have liberals claiming that the conservative backlash is nothing more than a carefully manufactured lobbying effort by private insurers and pharmaceutical companies out to lose a buck. There is nothing to suggest that this is any more of a logical reaction than the above nonsense. I mean, the only thing that could be trusted at this point is an admission of guilt from someone within the system itself. Oh,look what I found. Wendell Potter spent twenty years as a PR guy for CIGNA. Follow that link and see what he has to say for yourself.

I'm not here to try and make an argument for health care reform or a public option; I feel like that argument makes itself for one thing and for another...if you take a second to look around here you'll see we've made it about ten times. What I'm asking in this blog post is why can't the conservative opposition come up with a valid argument against it? We have many false claims made about the plans that have been proven as such. We have an inherent distrust of politicians which is understandable based on the previous administration's track record, and a much less understandable inherent trust of private insurers who all but laugh in your face as they steal your wallet and sleep with your wife. We have politicians in congress who are giddy about doing whatever it takes to piss off the liberal majority without caring about the future of their own party or the good of the nation. We have said democratic majority who can't seem to sell water to a Bedouin, or even give it away.

And we have the point of this post: a complete lack of logical counterargument against fixing a system that is clearly broken and an unending campaign of attacking the debater instead of the debate. So I ask the conservative opposition one thing. A question which fellow blogger ellipses has been asking repeatedly in our comments section here. A question to which I have yet to hear a real answer. And that question is, "What does a private insurer bring to the table? What value do they provide that cannot be found via other means without them?" I'll appreciate any response to this question that is logical, supported by objective evidence and free of any needless and distracting attacks which serve only to expose the blatant lack of a viable defense against this argument. Sphere: Related Content

Backdooring the gays (I know, sorry)

By Ellipses

So, Barney Frank unloads 47 lbs of awesome onto some twit at a town hall meeting on Tuesday. This display of brilliance is then met yesterday (Wednesday) by an entirely predictable rebuttal by Rush "I take my oxycontins with a side of Dominican trannies" Limbaugh... In fact, I predicted a lame response from Mr. Limburger a full 9 minutes BEFORE his show even started (on Facebook... you know, where Sarah Palin runs Real Amurka from). My prediction was that Rush would refute Frank's smackdown on the basis that a) he's gay and b) he's gay, dontcha know?

That, my friends, has absolutely NOTHING to do with what I'm writing about today, though. I figured I'd mention it for two reasons. First, today's topic IS gay-oriented. And second, we had kick-ass traffic yesterday, so I want to make sure I say "Rush Limbaugh" and "Barney Frank" and "Anus" a few times so that Google is really nice to me again.

As a married atheist, I often find myself in a super-neato position to argue in favor of gay marriage from a purely legal and logical standpoint. The reason for that is that one will rarely find an opponent to gay marriage who DOESN'T oppose it on biblical grounds. This allows me to ask the GAME CHAIN-JUH question "As an atheist married to a Hindu (ok not really), is my marriage valid?" Because, you know... Jesus doesn't really figure into it all that much.

The point that we inevitably get to is that marriage is a PRIMARILY legal construct. Once you are married, the rules change a little bit. You get taxed differently, your stuff gets treated differently when you die, insurance companies view you differently, and your rights, in regards to your access and control over things that happen to your spouse, medically, changes. You essentially get to be more than one person, but not quite two full people.

That makes for a very logical and sound argument in favor of gay marriage and it doesn't even touch on a system of beliefs in the supernatural developed in the bronze age.

Which is why I fear that any meaningful health care reform could, potentially, make the issue of treating homosexuals like "real live people" less of a priority.

First, there is the issue of medical insurance. As it is now, I can get insurance from my employer and then pay a little bit more to add my woman wife. However, if I were gay, I could get insurance from my employer, but then my partner would have to have a separate insurance policy, either through his employer, or privately. This, in effect, causes our gay, committed, monogamous, tax-paying, God-fearing, good, decent, but still gay household to pay TWICE as much for health insurance as the most dysfunctional, seedy, hedonistic straight-married household. A strong public option, while being a net-benefit for society as a whole and even for our hypothetical gay household, DOES remove, in part, one of the strongest arguments in favor of gay marriage.

Furthermore, despite the explosion of retardation around the whole "Living Will" provision in one of the house bills, there is a possibility that a health care reform bill will contain some language about end of life issues. If that is the case, then the bill itself, or later amendments to the bill, could potentially extend visitation rights, decision making rights, and other spousal-medical rights to someone other than your Jesus-sanctified hetero-life-mate. Again, a net gain for people in general, but another compelling argument for balls to the wall equality off the table.

Don't get me wrong. I do think that this administration will make positive and deliberate strides toward full equality for homosexuals. However, I also think that it is probably a second term issue. Honestly, the issue of freakin' health insurance inspires the kind of hateful, melodramatic, hyperbolic bullshit that we have seen in the past month or so... I would fully expect the resistance to gay marriage legislation to be "unfit for broadcast television."

My main fear is that necessary and fundamentally "good" health care legislation will be used as a pork barrel (in it's original sense) against eventual gay marriage legislation. Here's the explanation of the pork barrel that I have heard:

Back in the slave days, the master would "reward" slaves with a barrel of salt pork. This would be done not when something was done that deserved to be rewarded, but when there were grumblings amongst the "owned men" that needed to be put down in a way that didn't encourage resistance. This "reward" was intended to get the slaves to think that master wasn't all that bad, after all, he gave us this pork!

So, rather than allow faux-equality to be developed piecemeal through de facto rights conferred through the health care bill, I'd like to see the gay marriage issue raised before the health care bill is passed. Overlap the first stage of the gay marriage fight with the last stage of the health care fight. That will effectively divide opposition to both measures (and hopefully make opposition look that much more foolish) while shoring up the support for health care amongst the gay segment of the electorate. As it is now, there is essentially one issue in the national conversation, which means that opponents need only to focus on that ONE thing. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Controversial stool pigeon program axed

by Cylinsier

Well, that didn't last long. A controversial program involving an email account and a request to citizens to forward any and all fishy information about health care reform to white house staffers has been killed. The program was meant to counter many of the false rumors floating around on the internet about health care reform (death panels, going blind before an eye doctor will see you, biweekly rectal inspections by the Obama gestapo) and the justification was that there's just too much bad information moving around out there too quickly for this administration to keep up with it on their own.

While I applaud the Obama administration's unprecedented effort to take advantage of current technologies in communicating and interacting with the public, we need to be honest here: this program was a pretty bad idea from the start. First of all, health care reform isn't a competition. This is supposed to be about improving care for everyone, not just those on the winning side. The GOPers in congress who are trying to kill this are doing a fine job of dividing the public and making this an "us against them" fight. The last thing you want to do is play into their hand, but that's exactly what this program did. It created a clear distinction between good guys and bad guys. But there aren't really any bad guys save for the select few starting these rumors. Most of the ones in opposition to the program are just not understanding it. They don't need to be vilified, they need to be educated.

Secondly, its obvious that something needed to be done to counteract the bad information out there. But in spite of all the protesting and disruptions, the town hall meetings were really the most effective and least confrontational way of doing this. The administration should have gone down that road from the start. Most of the people falling for these rumors are going to be represented in some way at these meetings and will voice their misguided opinions there. To simplify what I'm saying, there was no reason to go out hunting this information because it was going to find the administration on its own.

The health care opposition, either artfully or accidentally, laid a devious trap for Obama and he unfortunately fell into it. The cancellation of this program comes at a good time; before Congress returns to session. Hopefully by the time they actually get settled in and get back to talking, we can avoid any distracting after effects from this plan's short misguided lifespan. Sphere: Related Content

It's about time...

By Ellipses

If only the rest of our representatives had discovered their balls sooner...

Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

And now for something completely different

By Ellipses

I found this on Reddit today... honestly, I haven't read the entire thing yet... but the chunk that I did read contains, by far, the MOST truth of anything I have read on the internet... ever.

Random thoughts:

"I wish Google Maps had an "Avoid Ghetto" routing option. More often than not, when someone is telling me a story all I can think about is that I can't wait for them to finish so that I can tell my own story that's not only better, but also more directly involves me. Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you're wrong. I don't understand the purpose of the line, "I don't need to drink to have fun." Great, no one does. But why start a fire with flint and sticks when they've invented the lighter? Have you ever been walking down the street and realized that you're going in the complete opposite direction of where you are supposed to be going? But instead of just turning a 180 and walking back in the direction from which you came, you have to first do something like check your watch or phone or make a grand arm gesture and mutter to yourself to ensure that no one in the surrounding area thinks you're crazy by randomly switching directions on the sidewalk. That's enough, Nickelback. I totally take back all those times I didn't want to nap when I was younger. The letters T and G are very close to each other on a keyboard. This recently became all too apparent to me and consequently I will never be ending a work email with the phrase "Regards" again. Do you remember when you were a kid, playing Nintendo and it wouldn't work? You take the cartridge out, blow in it and that would magically fix the problem. Every kid in America did that, but how did we all know how to fix the problem? There was no internet or message boards or FAQ's. We just figured it out. Today's kids are soft. There is a great need for sarcasm font. Sometimes, I'll watch a movie that I watched when I was younger and suddenly realize I had no idea what the f*ck was going on when I first saw it. I think everyone has a movie that they love so much, it actually becomes stressful to watch it with other people. I'll end up wasting 90 minutes shiftily glancing around to confirm that everyone's laughing at the right parts, then making sure I laugh just a little bit harder (and a millisecond earlier) to prove that I'm still the only one who really, really gets it. The other night I hit a new low at an open bar. I had already hopped on highway blackout when, inevitably I had to find a bathroom. Eventually I decided it was probably on the other side of the bar so I tried to walk over there, but ran into a guy coming the other way. We played that, Both go left, Both go right game to no avail, so I finally put out my hand to guide myself past and that's is when I realized, yup, that's a mirror I just tried to walk through. And the guy on the other side is me. Even cats can recognize their own image. How the hell are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet? I would rather try to carry 10 plastic grocery bags in each hand than take 2 trips to bring my groceries in. I think part of a best friend's job should be to immediately clear your computer history if you die. The only time I look forward to a red light is when I'm trying to finish a text. A recent study has shown that playing beer pong contributes to the spread of mono and the flu. Yeah, if you suck at it. Was learning cursive really necessary? Lol has gone from meaning, "laugh out loud" to "I have nothing else to say". I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger. Answering the same letter three times or more in a row on a Scantron test is absolutely petrifying. My brother's Municipal League baseball team is named the Stepdads. Seeing as none of the guys on the team are actual stepdads, I inquired about the name. He explained, "Cuz we beat you, and you hate us." Classy, bro. Whenever someone says "I'm not book smart, but I'm street smart", all I hear is "I'm not real smart, but I'm imaginary smart". How many times is it appropriate to say "What?" before you just nod and smile because you still didn't hear what they said? I love the sense of camaraderie when a n entire line of cars teams up to prevent a dick from cutting in at the front. Stay strong, brothers! Every time I have to spell a word over the phone using 'as in' examples, I will undoubtedly draw a blank and sound like a complete idiot. Today I had to spell my boss's last name to an attorney and said "Yes that's G as in...(10 second lapse)..ummm...Goonies" What would happen if I hired two private investigators to follow each other? While driving yesterday I saw a banana peel in the road and instinctively swerved to avoid it...thanks Mario Kart. MapQuest really needs to start their directions on #5. Pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood. Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died. I find it hard to believe there are actually people who get in the shower first and THEN turn on the water. Shirts get dirty. Underwear gets dirty. Pants? Pants never get dirty, and you can wear them forever. I would like to officially coin the phrase 'catching the swine flu' to be used as a way to make fun of a friend for hooking up with an overweight woman. Example: "Dave caught the swine flu last night." I can't remember the last time I wasn't at least kind of tired. Bad decisions make good stories Whenever I'm Facebook stalking someone and I find out that their profile is public I feel like a kid on Christmas morning who just got the Red Ryder BB gun that I always wanted. 546 pictures? Don't mind if I do! Is it just me or do high school girls get sluttier & sluttier every year? If Carmen San Diego and Waldo ever got together, their offspring would probably just be completely invisible. Why is it that during an ice-breaker, when the whole room has to go around and say their name and where they are from, I get so incredibly nervous? Like I know my name, I know where I'm from, this shouldn't be a problem..... You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you've made up your mind that you just aren't doing anything productive for the rest of the day. Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after DVDs? I don't want to have to restart my collection. There's no worse feeling than that millisecond you're sure you are going to die after leaning your chair back a little too far. I'm always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten page research paper that I swear I did not make any changes to. "Do not machine wash or tumble dry" means I will never wash this ever. I hate being the one with the remote in a room full of people watching TV. There's so much pressure. 'I love this show, but will they judge me if I keep it on? I bet everyone is wishing we weren't watching this. It's only a matter of time before they all get up and leave the room. Will we still be friends after this?' While watching the Olympics, I find myself cheering equally for China and USA. No, I am not of Chinese descent, but I am fairly certain that when Chinese athletes don't win, they are executed. I hate when I just miss a call by the last ring (Hello? Hello? Damnit!), but when I immediately call back, it rings nine times and goes to voicemail. What'd you do after I didn't answer? Drop the phone and run away? I hate leaving my house confident and looking good and then not seeing anyone of importance the entire day. What a waste. When I meet a new girl, I'm terrified of mentioning something she hasn't already told me but that I have learned from some light internet stalking. I like all of the music in my iTunes, except when it's on shuffle, then I like about one in every fifteen songs in my iTunes. Why is a school zone 20 mph? That seems like the optimal cruising speed for pedophiles... As a driver I hate pedestrians, and as a pedestrian I hate drivers, but no matter what the mode of transportation, I always hate cyclists. Sometimes I'll look down at my watch 3 consecutive times and still not know what time it is. It should probably be called Unplanned Parenthood. I keep some people's phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when they call. I think that if, years down the road when I'm trying to have a kid, I find out that I'm sterile, most of my disappointment will stem from the fact that I was not aware of my condition in college. Even if I knew your social security number, I wouldn't know what do to with it. Even under ideal conditions people have trouble locating their car keys in a pocket, hitting the G-spot, and Pinning the Tail on the Donkey - but I'd bet my ass everyone can find and push the Snooze button from 3 feet away, in about 1.7 seconds, eyes closed, first time every time... My 4-year old son asked me in the car the other day "Dad what would happen if you ran over a ninja?" How the hell do I respond to that? It really pisses me off when I want to read a story on and the link takes me to a video instead of text. I wonder if cops ever get pissed off at the fact that everyone they drive behind obeys the speed limit. I think the freezer deserves a light as well. I disagree with Kay Jewelers. I would bet on any given Friday or Saturday night more kisses begin with Miller Lites than Kay. The other night I ordered takeout, and when I looked in the bag, saw they had included four sets of plastic silverware. In other words, someone at the restaurant packed my order, took a second to think about it, and then estimate d that there must be at least four people eating to require such a large amount of food. Too bad I was eating by myself. There's nothing like being made to feel like a fat bastard before dinner." Sphere: Related Content

Public Option: "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated."

By Ellipses

Ok, so I stole the title from a Huffington Post blog (read it here)...

I am also LOADED up with pharmaceuticals right now due to a head cold that may be caused by the bastard child resulting from an orgy between swine flu, SARS, bubonic plague, hanta virus, and the Motaba disease that the monkey had in "Outbreak." Therefore, all I am really capable of doing today is ask questions and do mindless work updating spreadsheet information. I will spare you the spreadsheets and just ask you the questions:

So here's the deal... Kent Conrad keeps blathering on about not having enough votes to pass a bill with a public option in the senate. Kent Conrad has said that he, himself won't vote for a bill with a public option. Besides being part of the problem, Mr. Conrad does have a basic and fundamental point nailed down: if you don't have the votes, it ain't gonna pass. My question is, though, "How many people are telling Conrad they won't vote for it just to hold it up so they don't HAVE to vote against it? How many spineless eel fuckers will puss out and say "Yay" when it comes time to put up or shut up?"

Over in the house, though, there are a shit-tonne of congresspeople (64, I believe) who have said that they won't pass a bill that DOESN'T have a public option. I would wager that those 64 could beat the bejeezus out of 10 or so senators to get them to change their mind. But besides that, how do you reconcile diametric opposition on an issue?

Has Conrad said how many votes he has FOR a public-option bill?

Last question... Let's say the dems don't come up with the 60 votes necessary to prevent a filibuster... Is a filibuster absolutely, unarguably "good" for the GOP on THIS issue? Sphere: Related Content

Monday, August 17, 2009

Fuel of the future coming to Pittsburgh?

by Cylinsier

This coming week, Charleston WV will open its first hydrogen fueling station. The station will be located at Yeager Airport as part of a testing phase; the airport will also be receiving several hydrogen powered vehicles from the Department of Energy to use on the grounds. The station will be built in a fashion so that new parts and components can hopefully be easily interchanged to improve efficiency and cost as time goes one without having toe rebuild the entire thing from scratch.

This is big news for energy advocates looking for ways to get us off of oil. Hydrogen fuel is more readily available than fossil fuels and runs cleaner; the exhaust is water vapor. The idea behind the technology is that fuel cells and car engines that use them will eventually be able to efficiently run off of water, of which to the two main ingredients are hydrogen and oxygen. The car of the future could be attached to your garden hose! Then, the engine would separate the two elements and use the hydrogen to power the cell. The exhaust is water because there is some left over hydrogen which them recombines with oxygen; in this system the exhaust could potentially be redistributed back into the tank, adding a bit more efficiency.

Of course, this is a few decades off. For now, the efficiency of hydrogen vehicles is offset by the fossil fuel energy used to create the hydrogen. And hydrogen isn't cost efficient yet either, but its getting there. In fact, estimates are that a kilogram of hydrogen fuel would cost about five dollars. That's considered roughly the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline. Consider that hydrogen cars actually run more efficiently than fossil fuel cars; they compare as high as 70 mpg. Suddenly, that makes $5 look more like $2. And if hydrogen fuel were government subsidized like gasoline is now...

The exciting part about this new station is its actually the first stage of a planned corridor of hydrogen ready highway that would lead from Charleston through Morgantown to Pittsburgh. That's I-79 if you're wondering. There is potential to take that corridor even further to either DC or New York, both already home to their own hydrogen stations. Again, that's a ways off, but it does sound promising for people in both the energy and environmental fields. It was disappointing to hear the Obama administration declare their intention to cut hydrogen fuel cell funding back in May, but at least the momentum for it didn't last long. And now we are seeing the Department of Energy taking a roll in furthering this promising technology. Its not a matter of if hydrogen becomes viable, its a matter of when.

My source on this story is here. It basically says the same as what I said here but with a little less conjecture and opinion. There was also a snippet about it on NPR over the weekend. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A matter of fault

By Ellipses

This is what this is all about.


A woman is raped at gun point in her minivan in front of her 3 and 5 year old kids in the parking lot of a Marriott hotel in Connecticut. The rapist is apprehended 3 days later and is convicted and sentenced to 30 years in jail.

The victim then sues the hotel for insufficiently monitoring and patrolling the parking lot as well as a degree of negligence since the perpetrator had been seen loitering around the area the previous day.

Ok... I would say that there are a number of perfectly reasonable issues to sort through here.

First, the victim is understandably angry and frustrated... and the lawsuit appears to be reasonable enough.

Second, it would be reasonable to ask if the hotel is responsible for a crime committed on its property, and if it is, to what extent?

But what is wholly unreasonable is the supposition by the hotel that the victim is at fault for the rape for failing "to exercise due care for her own safety and the safety of her children and proper use of her senses and facilities."
...which is exactly what the hotel asserted in papers it filed with the court.

I really can't fathom a scenario where it WOULD be the victim's fault that she was raped at gunpoint in her car in front of her kids. In fact, I'd have to overdose on fucking stupid pills to even think of making that the official argument in a civil court. If this was the hotel's idea, they should be ashamed and mocked and shunned and castigated for such a callous suggestion. If it was the idea of the attorney, he should die in a fire. Sphere: Related Content

Pick a side, Mr. Beck

By Ellipses

Glenn Beck's Operation
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorSpinal Tap Performance
Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Nothing but net!

By Ellipses

The Washington Post pretty much writes the book on "crazy" this week... Check it out:

Read the Washington Post article on America's history of nuttiness. Sphere: Related Content

Cato says "Si!"

By Ellipses

The Cato Institute delivered it's report on immigration this afternoon. Their study shows that the legalization of 8 million current illegals would be a net-gain for the US economy whereas increased border protection and more stringent execution of anti-immigration laws would have an opposite effect.

As of this entry, the Cato report is live on C-SPAN, but is not yet available at Sphere: Related Content

Friday, August 14, 2009

News of the weeeeeird....

by Cylinsier

Japanese people are cool. They came with all sorts of great stuff: Nintendo, Playstation, sushi, sake, kitanas, seppuku, sailor school uniforms, Speed Racer, parking garages that work like gumball machines, smart cell phones, countless bizarre sexual fetishes, and robots. Sure, they don't open their society to us gaijin very much and they drive on the wrong side of the road, but you have to hand it to them: Nihon is like the rest of the world twenty years from now.

But they're also weird. Case in point: to celebrate the 30th anniversary of epic media franchise Mobile Suit Gundam, the Nihonjin have erected a 59 foot basically to-scale model of the original Gundam, the RX-78. Its a fiberglass model on a steel frame with 50 points that emit light and 14 points that emit jets of mist. The statue is located in Shiokaze park in Odaiba and will be there for a couple months. It would be totally badass if it moved, but alas, that's still probably another 50 years off, or 30 in the land of the rising sun.

Sphere: Related Content

The real problem with health care reform

by Cylinsier

Time Magazine polled 1000 Americans on health care reform recently. I want to run down the numbers really quick and then tell you what I think they mean.

55% This is the percentage of Americans who believe our current health care system needs major reform.

69% This is the percentage of Americans who believe it is important to get a major reform bill passed in the coming months.

86% The percentage of Americans currently happy with their coverage, offset by...

33% The percentage of Americans who fear they will lose their insurance in the next 12 months.

33% The percentage of Americans who rate our current system as "only fair." That's followed by 31% who rate it as "good," 22% who rate it as "poor," and 11% who rate it as "excellent."

47% The percentage of Americans who trust Obama more than Congress to develop health care legislation. The percentage that trust congress more than Obama is 32.

56% Obama's overall approval rating. 58% is his foreign affairs rating, 51 his economy rating, and 46 his health care rating.

51% The percentage of Americans who believe the country is headed in the right direction.

And three more numbers: 62, 56, 65. These are the percentages of Americans who believe, respective to the numbers, that health care reform will raise costs, give them less freedom, and make everything more complicated.

So what do these numbers tell us? Well, for one, they tell us that Americans still generally like Obama. They also tell us they like Congress a lot less. But what they really tell us is this: Americans for the most part believe our health care system needs to be changed. They just don't trust the government to do it.

Therefore, the debate on health case shouldn't be about whether or not we need it, it should be about why we don't trust the same elected officials that we ourselves vote for. Its as though Americans would rather put more trust in a group that exists solely to find ways to take your money and that you have no control over than to give even a little benefit of the doubt to a group of people who you hire and fire as often as every two years. Perhaps Americans realize that they are too stupid to elect proper officials and thus they don't trust themselves to make the right decisions. Or perhaps we are just lazy and when the group entrusted with our health inevitably screws it up, we don't want to face the fact that we are to blame for electing that group in the first place; we'd rather be able to blame powers beyond our control. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sarah Palin wins the I-quit-arod and promptly tries her hand at writing fiction (Updated)

By Ellipses

So I took a day and a half off from blogging and in that period, the rest of the world caught up to Sarah Palin's "death panel" statement that she made August 7th on Facebook.

"The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil."

Now, I guess I could say that Palin's interpretation of the end-of-life provision is misguided and then go on to explain that what the proposed bill ACTUALLY covers is the expense of creating a living will and that the particular provision for that coverage was ACTUALLY put in there by Georgia REPUBLICAN Johnny Isaakson... But I'd rather call her a lying piece of moose shit.

Of course, I wouldn't be the first to suggest that Palin heed the words that she, herself uttered in her resignation speech, but I'll do it anyway because sometimes the irony is just too good.

"So, how about, in honor of the American soldier, quit making things up?"

What a fucking idiot. You owe John McCain a HUGE apology.

UPDATED: 10:52am Thursday Aug 13.
Palin clarifies her "death panel" remarks by basically saying "Yeah, that's what I meant."

“The provision that President Obama refers to is Section 1233 of HR 3200, entitled ‘Advance Care Planning Consultation.’ With all due respect, it’s misleading for the president to describe this section as an entirely voluntary provision that simply increases the information offered to Medicare recipients,” she continued.

“Section 1233 authorizes advanced care planning consultations for senior citizens on Medicare every five years, and more often ‘if there is a significant change in the health condition of the individual ... or upon admission to a skilled nursing facility, a long-term care facility... or a hospice program.’"


What it means is that end of life planning is COVERED once every 5 years UNLESS SOMETHING MAJOR happens. If something major happens, you get the ADDED flexibility of utilizing this coverage. So if you amended your living will 4 years ago, and you end up in a nursing home today, you don't have to wait another year to update your end of life plans. Jesus fucking Christ.

Sphere: Related Content

Fun with math

By Ellipses

A couple weeks ago, I wrote up a spectacularly brilliant blog about the hypocrisy of those against health care reform when it comes to folks who weren't born here. You can read it here.

Well, they are back... sorta.

I was watching Fox News last night, as I usually do when I can't sleep... and it was the Greta Van Susteren hour. She said something to the effect of this:

Technically, we may be out of the recession, but to the 9.5% of people who have lost their jobs and can't find a new one, I'm sure it doesn't feel that way.

I fully expect this line of reasoning to dominate economic discussion from the right. Certainly, a poor economy benefits the GOP, considering Obama was elected, in part, to "fix" the economy. Therefore, it is in their interest to play up the negative aspects of the economic picture. But here's where it is amusing...

The same people that will proclaim Obama a failure if unemployment is above, say, 0% in 2012, are the SAME people who will (and currently ARE) making the point that 80-85% of the population is currently insured and the majority of those people are happy with their coverage. Therefore, well, you know, there's no need to do ANYTHING in the realm of health care reform because the current system "works" just fine for "most" people.

The same people that will play up the fact that 1 in 10 people are unemployed as proof that Obama is like a rabid dog raping your kids are the same people that will ignore the fact that 15-20% of people can't afford to pay for medical care, if and when their kids ACTUALLY get raped by a rabid dog.

9.5% unemployment is not a pretty number. I would DEFINITELY like to see that figure in the 4's. But at the same time, it will take a little while to get there, and that certainly does not discount the 15-20% of people who are forgoing routine, basic care because they are not insured. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The world is lucky...

by Cylinsier

I feel in my inebriated state that its high time we take a break from all the polarizing mumbo jumbo and observe a law of physics that occurs naturally apparently across the world that we are ALL lucky is true. CNN reports that an asshat dumbfuck in Spain was caught trying to trade porn of his 11 year old sister for a car. That's right. Naked pictures of a little girl for wheels. Which officially earns him membership in the asshole of the month club. At least in my opinion. In fact, he might have just reserved his spot in the asshole hall of fame.

Which brings me to my point. The world is lucky. Lucky in a way that lottery addicts and Vegas toursits can only dream about. We are lucky that pedophiles and pedophilia peddlers are complete and utter morons. Seriously.

Let's pretend that you are fond of committing a felony. Any felony. It doesn't matter. Let's totally exclude the whole part about demolishing the innocence of a mere child for now and stick to the felony part. So you know, YOU KNOW FOR A FACT, that the feds are in every chatroom that has anything at all to do with your sick fetish. But you go there. That's cool. You go there and you find a kid who's like 12 and she's all "talk to me about your junk."

Time out. How fucking stupid do you have to be to buy this? Answer: pretty fucking stupid. So this "12 year old" talks to you for a while about how she's all curious about her body and wants a big strong man to teach her things, or whatever these peverts need to hear to get them all aroused and dumb. And then they ask, "hey, let's meet at Chucky Cheese's and get together." And these idiots FUCKING BUY IT.

So the pedo shows up and Janie is actually Jackson Slade the 250 pound state trooper with 1% body fat. Owned.

Yes, the world is lucky. We are lucky that the sick child molesters of the world also happen to be probably the dumbest land-based creatures on the surface of the planet. Lizards are saying to themselves, "can you believe this dipshit?" It's pretty bad. So when you go to bed tonight, don't forget to thank your lucky stars that pedophiles are dumbasses.
Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Who will be on the red team?

by Cylinsier

According to, Republican leaders in the Senate having been passing around a list of names for possible Presidential candidates in 2012. The names alleged to appear on this list are Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Utah. Gov. Jon Huntsman, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. John McCain, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney. Not that I'm exactly an unbiased source here, but this list blows. On the bright side, I don't see Limbaugh's name on there, so the world is safe from an L. Ron Hubbard like rule where our President sits around and gets hand fed pills by young girls in hot pants.

Barbour's term limit of Guv'na is up in 2011 so he'll definitely be looking for work. He's been criticized for profiting from Hurricane Katrina. He also has no federal experience, a problem with a lot of people on this list and one that will come back to bite the GOP after all their claims against Obama's experience. Jeb Bush is, well, a Bush. There's no way someone with that name makes a ballot in 2012 if the Republicans have half a brain between all of them. Mitch Daniels used to work on George W's Office of Management and Budget. Regardless of what that actually means, seeing W and Budget together under one of his previous job titles is going to cripple him. But its moot because he's denied running anyway.

Newt Gingrich has experience and properly portrays the idiocy of the far right. If Gingrich runs, you're going to see another situation where the GOP splinters and the Powell-ites will vote Obama, third party, or not at all. Gingrich has made himself too polarizing with his criticisms of Sotomayor and has dug himself into a hole committing so strongly to declaring Obama a failure. If Obama succeeds at all, Gingrich will be dead in the water.

Huntsman is a pretty decent human being who also happens to be Obama's Ambassador to China. He's progressive about certain things like the environment and favoring civil unions and just conservative enough about other things like abortion that he could probably cut the mustard for a lot of hardliners. But he's a Mormon. I could care less if he's a Mormon, but how will the religious right, who are mostly WASP, react to that specific denomination? Hard to say, but my gut tells me it'll hurt him.

Huckabee is the classic southern Christian gentleman...and that made him too easy a target in the last election's primaries. Huckabee appeals to the religious conservatives, but he lacked the charisma and buzz words to rise above the rest. But that's a double edged sword. If Huckabee toughens up to try to stand up to his competition, he might alienate his original base. However, in the long run, his Christian roots would lock up a lot of votes.

Bobby Jindal is the hot rookie of the GOP right now. He has the "it" factor, which to the GOP means he's exotic cause his skin color isn't white. Many in the GOP view him as the antidote to Obama. It would sure make an interesting election to see him running against Obama. Unfortunately he claims he's not going to run, so he may be out. I also have the uneasy feeling that there are too many racists in the GOP right now to give him a fighting chance at winning his own primary, much less an election.

John McCain will be old as dirt by the next election and it sounds like he probably won't run, but we can't rule it out. However, his odds of winning a primary are nil; he had his shot at Obama and got soundly beaten. The GOP won't take a chance at running that horse again. McCain's Frankenstein monster, Sarah Palin, then comes to mind. Palin would have been interesting if nothing else. She was already too polarizing to win an election as the head of a ticket in my opinion, but her resignation is going to be a huge blemish on her record. Its going to be hard to take her seriously, but on the other hand there are still a lot of people in love with her...for some reason.

Ron Paul is probably the smartest person on the list. He's also too much of a libertarian. The GOP won't let him win, but he'd make a hell of a splash in the Libertarian party. Tim Pawlenty doesn't have nearly as much support as many of the others on this list. He also doesn't have a lot of stuff on his resume, which should be a deal breaker for all Republicans who are not hypocrites. He's a long shot. Mitt Romney fell just short of McCain in the last primary, so there's a lot of reason to assume he could do well in the next one. Romney's politics fall somewhere between McCain's and Huckabee's and he's got enough charisma to inspire some support.

I don't think the GOP is ready to put anyone but a white male at the top of their ticket, especially because there will be continued backlash to Obama among the base. I think Romney is going to take the nomination and I think his pick for running mate will be Jindal or maybe Hunstman. Palin will still be political poison. Look for Paul to run independent or as a Libertarian. Palin may run independent too. McCain will ultimately not run. Huckabee will be the runner up in the primary. The rest will either not run or not garner enough votes to be worth noting. Whether or not Romney takes the White House will depend on how well Obama does between now and then. The Republicans remain the least favorite party in the nation and they cannot win an election on their own merits. They need ammunition so its up to Obama to not give it to them. Sphere: Related Content

Olbermann Beats Palin with a Rusty Rod

Sphere: Related Content