Retire? In our moment of insolvency?

So … apparently some 60% of Americans have less than $25,000 in savings and investments according to a Bloomberg article. Approximately 14% are confident that they will be capable of retiring when the time comes at age 65. For most, the plan is to continue working beyond 65 in order to be able to retire at all.

Ok, first of all, some of this is not the fault of those individuals. When one is living literally cheque to cheque and bills gobble up all available cash on a constant basis, it is hardly their fault that they have very little savings. Of course, that greatly depends on the nature of the bills. Need money for food = fine. Need money for another $300 trip to the salon like you have 2 weeks ago = not so much. As sure as there are individuals that struggle to make ends meet, there are just as many (if not more) that choose to live like that. That choose to take on as much debt as they are possibly capable of and live all their “tomorrow” days in the here and now.

But there is another problem here, a little more obscure. Those that choose to live like this more so than the others that do not have a choice are necessarily ruining the job market for the young trying to come up themselves. Easy enough to just casually say “you’ll just work  little longer”. Each day an individual does not vacate their job when they’ve reached the age of retirement is another day that a new individual will not hold that job. I understand that the economics are bad now, but for a good portion, this is a fault of trying to live beyond ones means as opposed to living within them. People see “the good life” and want it, but they cannot afford it. But they can rent it out for a short period at the expense of their future comfort and that of the next generation.

Don’t get me wrong here. I am not saying that older workers are not valuable. They will toot their own horns on that – telling us all about their “experience” with a position or in working in general. I need not point out the insipidity of pointing out you have experience while denying anyone else the ability to gather that same experience. But beyond even this, we need to realize that experience is not everything. Younger bodies, faster minds, new ideas count as well. Those that dig deep and remain in a position can doom it to stagnation while they are there. Yes, they are experienced . Yes, they have been good workers. But isn’t there a time when they need to be laid aside, thanked for their work, and left behind by the business? As I stated, this helps them but hurts the new comers that need jobs to get on their feet. Might just be me, but it seems wrong to force a young person to wait until they are 30 or 35 to get a job most boomers had when they were 20.

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Windows 8: Cursed?

We all know of the Star Trek movies – that long running cinema franchise that grew from the television series from the late 60’s. Even if you are not a fan of the show or the movies, it’s hard to ignore the existence of the show and its multitude of spinoffs. If you are a fan of the movie franchise (even a casual one) you are aware of the dreaded “Trek movie curse”. The curse is relatively simple – every odd-numbered Starr Trek movie before the reboot has been a critical and box office flop while the even-numbered movies have been critically acclaimed.

The Motion Picture, the Search for Spock, Star Trek V, Generations, and Insurrection. They have all been plagued with poorly written story lines, illogical and baffling art direction, and bad acting / direction. The curse is something of a vision of hindsight – easy to see now that we can look back and compare the movies. That curse is somewhat unique to the franchise and, depending on who you ask, has been broken (or not) in the reboot of the series in 2009. Mind you, I don’t mean “curse” in the “woo woo” way. It is an observation as opposed to a belief in anything supernatural going on.

But the curse itself is not altogether unique. The Microsoft Windows operating system appears to share the same fate as these films, with versions of the venerable OS doing a hit and miss dance with consumers. This all depends on where you start counting and what members of the product line you choose to include. For our purposes here, we are talking about the consumer releases and leaving out the “network” versions of the software – WinNT, Win2K, Win2003, Win2008, and so forth. These are meant more as server software or at least for use in IT business environments instead as consumer system designed to surf the Internet and play games.

Of course, where do we start our count on the consumer side? Windows 1.0? 2.0? 3.x? Well, Windows 1.0 was not exactly a consumer product like we expect today. After all, it was produced when the personal computer market was still in diapers. The software was quite limited, but this was as much to do with the youth of the market as anything within the program itself. The same thing could be said of Windows 2.0 – released in 1988, it was still very early in the development of the consumer computer system. Not to say that there wasn’t a market at that time, but compare the sales figures in ’88 to ’98 and it looks quite sickly. Besides, these versions were not quite capable of operating the system alone. If you recall, the OS of the day at that time was DOS (Disk Operating System), a text based OS that provided users the ability to interact with computers without needing to sequentially load disks or type out long strings of commands. Windows was not an OS at this time, it was a shell layer laid atop of DOS that was meant to give you a different means of interacting with the system. It relied on DOS for a fair component of its operation. Even up to Windows 3.x, DOS was needed for the system to operate even if it was just in the background.

So we come to Win95, the first version of Windows designed to operate the system alone (though it still used the DOS kernel deep down) and it is here that the curse takes hold. Win95 was a good first attempt, but was plagued with memory leaks, crash bugs, and all sorts of other mischief. It was a failure. Replacing it in 1998 was Win98 which featured better memory management (it still leaked), better functionality, speed, and so forth. It was a success. How can we tell? We need only look to when the support for an OS was discontinued. Win95 was released on 24 August 1995 and support was halted on 30 November 2001 (just over 6 years). Win98 was released 25 June 1998 and support was halted 11 July 2006 (just over 8 years. It was scheduled to be dropped two years prior but popular demand forced Microsoft to delay cutting off support. Win95, on the other hand, disappeared with little more than a whimper.

The next great release of the OS was WinME or Windows Millennium Edition. Hard to say something kind about this one as it was one of the biggest pieces of OS garbage ever built. This was partially due to the last minute inclusion of the DOS kernel in the system due to demand from some users (read: hardcore nerds) that wanted the DOS kernel for “functionality”. What it did was destabilize the entire OS, rendering it a bugged out monster with enormous memory leaks, BSOD’s, and vulnerabilities. Sadly, the original Windows Kernel within the OS was pretty good and would serve as the basis for future versions, but this zombie OS was just plain awful. Released on 14 September 2000 and discontinued on the same day as Win98. Ouch!

Now we get to the star of the Windows line, Windows XP or Windows Experience (yeah, XP actually stood for something). What can one say about XP other than that it has been the most popular OS on the planet? Gone was the DOS kernel and in was the new Windows-only kernel. XP learned from ME and from 2K – it’s memory management was tighter (it knew to free memory once programs were close), its desktop slicker, and its capabilities were wider. It had a bit of a rocky start, but a couple service packs rapidly brought it up to snuff. Released on 25 October 2001 and service is expected to be discontinued on 08 April 2014 – that’s almost 13 years.

Windows Vista was next. An OS that build on XP and included numerous functionality upgrades, including better indexing and search functions, better memory management, and a new method of storing .DLL files that allowed multiple versions to be archived and used as needed by programs, eliminating a lot of conflicts and BSODs of old. But the program was big, heavy, and slow. Things just took longer to get done on it. Business and consumers were not about to give up the slick and smooth interface for a new clunky one, no matter how many new bobbles they put into it. It also came with a ridiculous number of versions, confusing consumers that were used to Windows XP. Period. Released 30 January 2007 with no end date for support as yet.

Now we come to the current golden kid – Windows 7. It is not that much different from Vista, except it sports better speeds and scalability. Wouldn’t you know it, it’s caught on as a result and has recently pushed XP out as top OS. To note, it was released on 22 October 2009.

Which brings us to Windows 8. Looking over the details above, it should be painfully obvious which way a prediction for this OS would lean. Despite the number, in the realm of actual operating systems, it has landed on the supposedly cursed number. Does this mean that it’s actually doomed?

That depends on a number of factors, some in the OS and some in the broader market. Success is a never a single, solid number. It shifts as the market changes and in terms of computer technology, the market is always changing. My opinion? I think it’s not going to “win”, as it were, at least not in the business / desktop market. Why? It’s actually pretty simple – just look at the release dates above.

Oh sure, there’s the issues with the new Metro system in Windows 8, the lack of Start Menu, the poor showing on the integrated Apps store, the closed ecosystem for the store similar to Apple, the idiocy for shutting down, and difficulties in switching between programs some have noted. All of that is true, but it still pales before the simple fact. It’s too soon. I’m dead serious. Don’t look at the dates involved – look at the market. Windows 7 was released only about 2.5 years ago. It is just now seeing deployment in business settings – my office has just begun rolling it out to our laptops. Programs are being updated to specifically work with the OS. In other words, Windows 7 is just now beginning to replace XP as THE OS. Windows 8 might be like sweet “mana” from heaven in computing terms, but it’s just too soon.

Let me put it this way. In 2000, I was using Win98 as my primary OS. By 2003, I was using Win2k. It took until 2006 for me to get into XP. I got on with Windows 7 in 2009 when it came out. Right now, I don’t see me needing a new OS until this one starts to show its age. That’s likely going to be at least another 2 or more years into its life cycle if not more. I don’t need a new OS – there is nothing that I can think of that I need to do with my computer that the Windows 7 OS does not already facilitate. For businesses, it is even worse. If they are just now moving to Windows 7 after ten years on XP, what is the likelihood they are going to chuck that for 8 anytime soon? Almost zero.  Like Vista, it will be automatically included on new systems and like Vista, it’ll be Windows 9 before I bother with it. The same goes for business users. They don’t need it yet. Oh, it will sell, but I do not expect it to replace Windows 7.

Let’s see if the Star Trek curse holds.

.

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Just ….. just don’t “do it” … ok?

Huh.

You know, the Internet is a big, crazy place. A place where you will see all manners of things on all kinds of subjects. Some are awesome, some are cute, some are soul crushing, and some are just plain stupid. This is one of those last ones.

The great state of Utah is primed to pass legislation that makes it against the law to teach (in public schools) anything other than abstinance as sex education. Hah! Bet you thought I was going to say “creationism”, didn’t you? Honestly, this is just as – if not more – retarded though. It will be illegal for teachers to inform the students about birth control methods – like the pill, condoms, sponges, and the like. They can only mention one method and one method alone – abstinence.

Now, we’ve all heard of abstinence, right? For those that have not, let me put it bluntly with a little situation. Robby and Julie are both in high school. Both of them are 16 (the legal age for sex in that area) and they are dating. They go to parties, movie, sit together, eat together and study together. Both are normal kids – healthy with no dysfunctions in their hormonal pools. They are frequently alone and when they are, they begin heavy petting. You know the drill, rubbing each other, kissing, feeling each other up, the usual. And I mean usual. Every young human couple since humanity has existed has done this. That much should be obvious – there are 7 billion of us now. We must be good at something.

Robby and Julie are completely normal. Their hormones are raging and they are feeling that urge to engage in sex. They pet, they rub, they feel. In school, they have been taught that when sexual feelings come over them, their best option is …. stop. Just that. Nothing more or less. Feeling the urge to have sex? All alone? Perfect timing? Meh, just stop! That will stop any risk of pregnancy.

Are they actually serious? The answer to sex is to …. not have any? Wha …? Have these people – Republicans if you need to know – ever been 16 and horny? Because they are forgetting something vital. When you’re16 and horny and she / he is horny and you are alone and all that … well, you are going to screw. Simple as that. Let me state it clearly – ABSTINENCE DOES NOT WORK!

That cannot be over-emphasized. It does not and cannot work. You can’t tell someone that they “shouldn’t” do that. It might work on one or two prudes, but 99.8% of them are going to have sex as soon as they are humanly able. Abstinence does not work. Every place that has a similar sex ed program has an enormous teenage pregnancy rate. Every single one. Places that teach condom use and about the pill do not have such pregnancy rates. I wonder why ….

This is a piece of religiously motivated stupidity. And a dangerous piece. Sure, the pregnancies are one thing, but you must remember that we have dozens of STD’s that roam around. If abstinence actually worked, then there would be no problem. But it doesn’t – kids still fuck and as a result of failing to learn about protection, they are going at it bareback. Meaning they are trading all those lovely viruses and such between them. How grant – anyone for Utah brand gonorrhea?

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Legislating reality

Ok …. 0_o

So the Republicans in Congress down in the states were defeated in a bill yesterday. No biggie – happens all the time to both parties down there, right? Someone tries to get a bill passed and it meets with defeat. This can be good and bad depending on the bill. SOPA was murdered? That’s good. Socialized healthcare was neutered? That’s bad. Some of them might be a matter of opinion as to the good and the bad, but the fact remains that some will be defeated and some will pass.

But this little one from yesterday is right up there among the most moronic bills they have tried to pass in recent years. I mean this from a straight-up “failure of reality” standpoint. One similar to the “Pizza is a Vegetable” stupidity. Now, I know that one was related to the tomato sauce on the pizza, but it was still knuckle-dragging stupid and even the people that defended it should be honest about that. But this one tops that by miles. Had it passed, it would have been one more notch toward proving that the Republicans are insane.

They had a bill put forward that was trying to declare that the Bush Tax Cuts had nothing to do with the deficit. Not one thing. Think about that for a moment. They wanted to state for the legal record that the trillion dollar cuts to the Federal Government’s income had nothing at all to do with the inability of Government to pay its expenses. Are you seeing what I’m getting at here – Government slashes its revenues, revenues it needs to pay for its many programs, Departments, employees, and so forth. It still needs to pay for these things after the cuts because it never cuts these programs at the same time to keep cash in the same as cash out. So it …. come on, say it with me here … borrows long term debt to pay for short term expenses. But that has nothing to do with the deficit and you’d be a fool and a communist to state otherwise. Takes one’s breathe away, doesn’t it?

How utterly and completely stupid. No, that’s putting down the stupid. How absolutely and utterly shit-brained. These people are literally shitheads. Can you imagine trying to legislate that into reality; basically, they are trying to legislate reality. It would be the same as legislating the sky as being Yellow, lava as cold, gravity as intelligent falling, or so on. This is asinine in its stupidity and ridiculous in the level of bald-faced lie that it represents. People – facts are not democratic. They cannot be voted on – they are or they are not. Tax cuts increase debt and deficit if there is no corresponding cut to service – that is a fact. As much a fact as electrons being attracted to positive charges. As much a fact as that the earth revolves around the sun. As much a fact as humans needing oxygen to breathe and live. These are facts. That bullshit that they tried to pull is fantasy – no, not just fantasy, but purposefully misleading bullshit designed to give themselves and their republican supporter assholes a supposed means of winning arguments about the tax cuts and the deficit. They are dead set on the deficit being anything but their fault and they are willing to lie to make it so.

How the hell do you people put up with them?

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Car Crash Fever

Found out about this little site from an article discussion on Fark that complies videos of car crashes. Nothing gory or explicit, just normal car crashes. People losing control of their vehicles, fender benders and that sort of thing. Link: http://carcrashes.altervista.org

Watching some of those videos, I can’t help but cringe. Again, not because there’s blood flying around or any excessive injuries displayed. The videos are mainly just two vehicles colliding with nothing of the aftermath being displayed, so it’s not “squick” that is making me cringe (not that it would). Instead, it’s the near universal aggressive or careless manner of the driving that causes me to flinch when watching. Which prompts this little post.

Not that everyone needs to hear this, but I’m going to throw it out there anyway. Here are a couple of things one should be able to bring away from these videos:

1. Motorcyclists of every type (scooters, Harleys, etc) – you are not above the law, beside it or otherwise around it. You have to obey the rules of the road just as any other vehicle has to. This means that you are not allowed to circle around a car that is legally stopped in the lane to continue along. As many of the riders in the videos discover, a stopped car is frequently stopped for a reason. Be it to let another car go by, a red light, a pedestrian or whatever, they are stopped for good reason. Going around them is not just illegal, it’s retarded. Red lights apply to you. Stop signs apply to you. Signal lights on other vehicles indicating intent apply to you.

2. Another for the cyclists – you vehicle is not a steamroller and it is certainly far from the biggest thing on the road. You need to be vigilant when driving more so than those in other vehicles, if for no other reason than that yours is so much smaller than the others. A slip in a car at 60 km results in minor injuries. A slip on a scooter at 40 km can result in major injuries or death. Pay heed to the vehicles and what they are up to – remember that, because you are on a motorcycle, you are basically invisible to other traffic.

When we drive, we watch for other vehicles by loading icons of sorts. Most people automatically load the car icon, the truck, the van, the transport truck, and so forth. But pedestrians and motorcycles are not loaded, mostly because they are not considered a threat. In some accidents with either, you will hear the driver say that they didn’t see the person – they are partially telling the truth. They didn’t notice them as they were not a threat. This is made worst when the biker does the things noted above – it’s a formula for injury.

3. Pedestrians are another one. You really should cross the road at designated crosswalks. you are not guaranteed safety from jackass drivers and other morons, but it sure helps. “But it’s all the way over there in the wrong direction.” Yeah, I understand what you mean. Easier for a vehicle to make up time than you. But if you must jaywalk, do keep the following tips in mine. Make sure the way is clear. I mean, that thing we tell children about looking both ways? It’s good sense – make sure to do that. Don’t dash out from between parked cars and large ones especially. Don’t try to “just make it before that car” – you are not a Olympic sprinter and even if you are, you cannot run at full speed immediately from a dead stop. That car is covering distance faster than you. Better a little later to your destination than injured or dead. And for the love of all that is sweet and delicious on this planet, wear something reflective! It really, really helps. If someone can see you, they are a lot less likely to hit you. Too many of those vids have pedestrians that are hit because they were wear black in the dark and crossing a busy road.

4. Don’t be aggressive jackasses on the road, drivers. Speeding, weaving between traffic, cutting others off – it all counts as aggressive driving. And it gets you nowhere. Even you destination. Do you realize that over the course of an entire trip to work, speeding and pushing may save you, at most, 5 minutes on the drive. And that’s a pretty optimistic estimate. Aggression makes you less apt to observe conditions as well as leave you will less time to react according to danger ahead. Many of the accidents there are due to simple speed – the individual is travelling too fast to react to a sudden problem on the road. You have to realize that a vehicle travelling at 60 km/h requires about 20 meters of hard braking to stop – that’s about 66 feet. The average vehicle is about 15 feet long which means you need more than 4 car lengths of space to stop. Add to that the time to see the problem, understand it is a problem, and react and you likely need at least triple that. If you’re speeding, that ain’t going to be available.

5. Snow means slow. Rain means slow. The road is not a “one speed fits all conditions” surface. If there’s rain on the road, you cannot hydroplane at 60 km or lower per hour – it is physically impossible. If there’s snow on the road, you are a lot less likely to lose control at 30 or 40 km than you are at 80. It’s common sense – when the conditions deteriorate, slow down.

6. Inattentive driving. When you are trying to merge into traffic, look for other traffic. They are in the thoroughfare and they have the right of way. They also have no reason to bow before you and let you out. They are going to drive on – don’t bet on their curtiousness or their own attention. When switching lanes, keep your eye on other vehicles – again, they have no obligation to let you in. The signal is a sign of intent to them so that they can get on guard for whatever bonehead idiocy you are about to pull, but it does not guarantee compliance.

The great tip to all driving is the oldest one – be defensive. Most people seem to have lost sight of what that means, so I will re-write it for the modern age. Drive you car, your motorcycle, your truck or even walk like everyone else is out to hit you. Seriously. If you drive like you believe everyone is trying to strike your vehicle at every chance, then you will be more defensive. That guy signaling to get in there? He’s coming whether you’re there or not. That guy hanging in the left hand turning lane? He’s turning when the light goes red for him and green for you. That guy riding your bumper? He’s going to be aboard of it if you so much as sneeze. Drive like everyone else is a maniacal idiot and give them the respectful distance that such lunatics deserve. You’ll have a whole lot less dings in your car.

 

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Retirement idiocy

Do you want to retire someday?

Most people will answer yes to that question. Hell, who wouldn’t? Unless you have one of the most amazing jobs in the world (booby inspector, chocolate taster, etc), you will get to the point where you will no longer want to work anymore. This is inevitable – as we age, we slow down and work generally becomes more difficult. Few wish to work until the day they die … though, as I state this, I realize that this is one of those “first world problem” things. True, in third world nations, the general tendency is to work until death, so this is a bit of an elitist mentality, but bear with me here.

Anyway, retirement. We all want to do it with few exceptions. Now, the problem of late with that idea has been with the composition of the population. There are more old people than there are young and that is causing a heavy drain on retirement resources. In Canada, this means a drain on the OAS and GIS. The OAS is the Old Age Security payment provided by the government to all individuals in the country over the age of 65. The GIS is the Guaranteed Income Supplement that provides an extra boost to income for those individuals on OAS that do not get enough money to make ends meet. Canada also has the CPP – the Canadian Pension Plan, but that is a contributions plan, requiring you to work and have paid in to get money out.

Anyway, recently, the Conservative Party (whom currently makes up the Government) has let it be known that there will need to be some changes to the OAS and GIS so that these payment programs can remain viable. One such plan is to increase the age that one gets these payments to 67 from 65. That one, I don’t have a big problem with as such. People are living longer and so forth so it does make some sense to do that. However, their other plan is to create a new type of retirement savings plan that people can contribute to, similar to the RSP that many large employers operate. Only with two key differences. The first is that these will be established by employers through third party organizations, as opposed to being employer run. The second is that there are no employer contributions to these plans. These are for the employee to fund and them alone. Funds will be placed into the hands of financial institutions that will invest the money in the market. All risks will be borne by the employee. If the market tanks and the fund manager had it in a retarded location, too bad. You’re retirement is gone.

What’s my problem with this plan? Let me see. The reliance on the market to accrue the value into the fund for the individual to retire. One shift of the market and you have nothing. Oh, what’s that? The markets are always going up? You’re … you’re right! How naive of me? How could I forget that it has increased over these years?! I have to go take a look at this bastion of gain right now …. Wait a minute. Why is this company trading for $100 a share that month and $5 the next? Why … if I didn’t know better, I’d say that the increase in the market is the average performance of all stocks over the indices over time. That average hides dizzying highs (that you cannot get a piece of) and terrible lows (that you somehow get caught holding the bag for). Strange that – the market is completely unstable. You’re better off betting it all on black at Vegas. At least they’re upfront about being there to rip you off.

So my first concern is that the market does not a retirement guarantee. What of bonds or financial instruments? Funny, we already have that in the RRSP, the Registered Retirement Savings Program. A program that allows you to invest money tax free when you are younger and paying higher tax and take it out when you are old and paying lower tax. That does the job well enough, though it must be taken back into income over time or you risk getting it dumped in and paying out the ass for it.

But my second concern is for that guy over there, the individual that makes a fairly low wage. You know, the one living cheque to cheque. The one without savings of any kind. The one that cannot afford to invest in any sort of retirement. The individual that relied on the Government program existing to, you know, survive when they retire. This program is not going to help them – quite the opposite. When the time comes, they will be the people either homeless or sitting at the mall all day to stay warm because they can’t afford to heat their place. You can make all the savings plans and investment plans and such that you like. If the money is not there to put into them, then when retirement comes, they’re shit out of luck.

The only humor to all that is that the old are the largest of all voting blocks. How long do you think putting them out to pasture with nothing will actually work, hmmm?

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The media bias!

What media?

The Liberal Media! One of those terms that you hear that you just get used to, even parrot yourself on occasion. “Liberal media”. Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Didn’t used to, but that was before a concerted effort was made to make the term become firmly associated with the news media. It’s an indictment of the media – an attempt to accuse it of having a particular bias. A bias toward left leaning thought, of handling those on the left with kid gloves and ruthlessly attacking the right, and showing contempt for all things conservative.

Old Newt is the most recent politician to spout this canard to the public. His assertion recently has been that the liberal media hates him and is actively trying to destroy his campaign. He also implied that Obama would not have gotten in were it not for the media. The article where this stuff can be seen is located here: http://townhall.com/columnists/larryelder/2012/01/26/creators_oped/page/full/

To be blunt, this is bullshit. Let’s break down the reasons why:

The first (in this case) is that Obama’s opponent was not exactly a contender in that election. One cannot blame the media for a lame candidate and an even more ridiculous vice president pick. To be fair, Biden is not exactly a five star candidate either, but he wisely kept his mouth shut for most of the campaign.

The media does have a bias, but it tends more toward common sense. Claiming that it is “liberal” seems to basically make the claim that common sense is “liberal”. That is not the case – liberals no more have a locked grip on common sense than conservatives. Some conservatives treat any criticism of them as an attack by the media due to bias, but it is this common sense that is the root of the attack. Stating that Santorum is a homophobic bigot is not liberal bias – it’s merely repeating what he said and drawing the obvious conclusion from it. A man cannot say that homosexuals should be kept from the military or marriage to ensure our moral purity without being called a homophobe. Not because of liberal bias – but because he is a homophobe. Simple as that.

The other reason is that the effect of this supposed bias is that they cannot engage in hate speech, anti-islamic rhetoric, or other forms of bile without someone, somewhere pointing out that it is what it is – bigotry and hate and so forth. If your financial grasp is akin to that of an ignorant and petulant child – constantly spouting poorly thought out and mindless crap like “we need lower taxes to stimulate more jobs” even if all the other drops in taxes did not such thing and the media calls you on it? Tough shit, asshole. Your ideas do not conform to reality. That is not bias – it’s reality.

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Out of the SOPA …

… and into the ACTA.

We’ve all heard of SOPA and its retarded relative that were passing through the US House of Representatives. We all heard how it was going to destroy the Internet as we knew it, render it into a barren wasteland of controlled acts run by mega-conglomerates. And we all know how the Internet rallied and put it on indefinite hold or even killed the damn thing. Go Internet!

Well, wouldn’t you know it, but the old saying is true: the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Much as TED Talks has indicated in a rather popular piece about SOPA that a speaker at TED did recently. Here is a link to this talk – let me note that it came out just a week or two ago (Early January 2012) which was pretty good timing as it turned out. http://www.ted.com/talks/defend_our_freedom_to_share_or_why_sopa_is_a_bad_idea.html

The price of this victory over those that seek to force the Internet to conform and obey is simple – we will have to be vigilant against similar acts against us in the future. And in the present. For while SOPA was finally able to draw some mainstream media attention and get the backs of the collective Internet up, another agreement has been silently slipping by us all, undetected. This one, however, is much more insidious. For this is not an act of the US House or the Canadian Parliament, or any of the countries involved. Rather, this is a new trade agreement that has been on the go for some time. A trade agreement called ACTA, which is meant to outline and empower governments internationally to be capable of using SOPA-like powers and more. This is an agreement that has been arranged in secret – though we know that they have been doing it due to leaks and such, we did not get an idea of its full contents until recently. And those contents are terrifying. Closure of websites, removal from DNS, tracking and suing individuals that violate copyright … hell, even stopping you from buying generic brand drugs instead of the expensive brand name ones. This one has it all. And not a word has been breathed about it. Not one word in the Media. Yet this is an act that plans on destroying the Internet as surely as SOPA would have wished to have done.

We need to do what we did to SOPA to ACTA. Contact your representative; get involved in boycotts of service, the works. This agreement covers the EU, Canada, the US, Mexico, and Japan. We all need to get on board to killing this bastard too.

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War on common sense

Recently, the Liberal Party of Canada announced that it was making a platform change on its stance toward illegal drugs. They announced that it was now the position of the Party that Marijuana would be legalized if they are voted into power in the next election cycle. They have reasons – trying to attract the stoner vote is one – but in any case that is their position.

It’s a position that I happen to agree fully with. Let me preface this with a declaration: I don’t do drugs of any kind or type. The closest I come these days is alcohol and I have a single ounce of that a night mixed into soda. The alcohol content of the types I drink is such that it can be considered negligible. I don’t smoke tobacco or imbibe caffeine, nor do I take any controlled substance. Marijuana, meth, heroin, cocaine, crack, E, pain killers, and so forth – I don’t touch them. I don’t need them and I do not prefer the idea of altering my perceptions as it tends to allow individuals people to fool my senses. That lack of control over my body is not desirable to me.

That said, I have nothing against anyone taking any of these substances, even to their own personal detriment, as long as it does not affect others negatively. That even goes for alcohol – be a drunk if you must, just don’t kill or hurt anyone in the process. Crack? Sure, if you think you don’t mind the negative effects of imbibing the substance, go right on ahead. Especially Marijuana though – it is as harmless a drug as nicotine or even more so. I have yet to find any solid evidence that it causes lung cancer like tobacco. Take anything you want, just keep it to yourself.

Part of the reason for this stance is that I am a political, economic and social pragmatist. I am fairly centered in my views. From that position, the issue of drug use is one that edges on the Liberal – Libertarian side of my thought process. Legalize and regulate within reason. People should be free to do what they wish to their bodies. The Government should be there to regulate the industry in regards to standards for the production and sale of the products.

The reason I bring this up is an article from the UK. Apparently, the Government there is re-opening the decisions on the legality of drugs there after a 10 year gap. An article on the matter provides the opinion that these substances should be legal as it would decrease crime and increase revenue. See the article here: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/2012/01/24/drugs-laws-is-legalisation-an-acceptable-alternative-115875-23714663/

As I stated, I agree with this stance. The revenues would be a welcome addition to Government coffers, there would be less need for prisons and the components that go with that, the number of violent crimes would decrease, the amount of police to handle more serious crimes would increase, and criminal organizations that depend on the trafficking would find themselves without steady income.

Yes, that includes all manners of drugs. The current prohibitions have done nothing to curb use. Use has actually increased along with population so the “war” has been meaningless. Some argue that legalization would open the door for children to start taking them in mass amounts. That does not really make any sense – regular restrictions would govern the sale to minors and the regulation would have a chilling effect on the “cool” factor of use. You aren’t sticking it to the man when you do them – you are actually paying him for the privilege. The negatives of a few children using are more than negated by the benefits of eliminating the criminal organizations that use it as their funding model. Besides, kids can get them now about as easily. There are always going to be individuals who will do these things – legal or illegal will not matter. It is on their parent to indicate the difference of taking the drug or not.

The upshot is that something different needs to be done. The war on drugs has been waged for decades and it hasn’t made a single inch in progress. Billions are wasted on it and individuals are criminalized for puffing on the dried leaves of a plant. This would be fine if it worked, but it doesn’t work. It has never worked. It is a money pit, nothing more. Only lunatics keep trying the same thing over and over expecting a different result. Cut it off and try something new.

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Gotta gulp this one down.

So the city of New York Department of Health has recently changed its ad campaign regarding the dangers of obesity. Specifically, this new campaign is on the prowl against fast food joints that offer larger or “super sized” portions on their menu.

Link to the article: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/10/in-new-ads-health-department-offers-super-sized-warnings/

The Department is using scare tactics to make individuals think twice about purchasing these portion sizes, noting that (in the ad in the article) the instances of Type 2 Diabetes has increased over the years which can lead to limb amputation. Scary stuff! As an aside, you might ask “is it true?” Yes, it is true. The picture goes a little far in its depiction, but diabetes can lead to amputations. From my research, it is frequently foot amputation that results, caused by a reduction in the Diabetes sufferer to feel pain in their extremities. This causes them to ignore injuries to the foot, leading to ulceration and gangrene and eventual removal of the limb. It’s an extreme take on the matter – the actual incidences of ulceration in diabetic patients is 2 – 3%, but the number of them that require amputation is 85%. So while it might be extreme, it is true.

But I did not come here to talk about amputation or even diabetes. No, I am here to discuss a little something in the article, a quote from a representative of the Beverage Association. From the Article:

“Portion control is indeed an important piece of the solution to obesity,” said Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for the association. “But instead of utilizing scare tactics, the beverage industry is offering real solutions like smaller portioned containers and calorie labels that show the number of calories in the full container, right up front, to help people choose products and sizes that are right for them and their families.”

Let’s break this down a little. First off, right away he has a point – portion control is a very important component of controlling obesity. I know – I lost a lot of weight myself using just that. What about the second part of the quote? The point about the smaller containers and the calorie labels? Well, that’s …. not so good a point. I mean, the idea behind it is sound and it appears to be intended to help. But the reality is that it won’t really help the situation, either for obesity or diabetes. Let me explain what I mean. To do that, you need to understand a little something about calories.

Calories are in just about everything we eat. Save water which is needed as a transfer / mixing / suspension / etc fluid in the body, everything we eat or drink otherwise is caloric. This is a fact – the reasoning to support it is simple – there is no reason to eat something (biologically speaking) unless it is providing sustenance. Sustenance comes in the form of proteins, nutrients, minerals, fats, and sugars. The first two are used for cell production; the material is used to produce copies of DNA when cells split. Minerals are used to transfer oxygen, regulate processes and other large scale operations as well as provide very large scale structural building material (think calcium for bones). Fat provides slow energy to the system as well as building materials for things like cell walls. Sugar primarily provides energy to the system. Each cell is a motor and each motor needs fuel to burn. Sugar is that fuel – interestingly, your homeostatic system partially depends on this fuel use to provide heat to the body. One of the reasons we are “warm blooded” mammals.

A beverage producer means any company that makes fluids that we consume. Bottled water, soda, coffees, and so forth. Water is not part of the problem here (no calories) and it is (thankfully) one of the better selling drinks products to at least a portion of the populace. The problem is in the drinks that carry calories in them – the non-diet sodas, milk, and cream infused coffees and so forth. These beverages can provide a great number of calories to an individual very quickly, calories that you will absorb as readily as you will from food (you can thank evolution for that trick).

So, enough with the biology stuff, what’s the problem with his second point? The problem is two-fold. The first problem is that, as he states, the industry is offering “options” to individuals regarding beverage sizes. Oh really? Options, you say? Yeah! Give people the chance to buy a small amount of the product. What’s the problem with that? Well, it sort of completely misses the point of the ads. The ad in that article is pointing out that beverage sizes have been increasing over the years. Implied in that statement is the fact that people have been purchasing and drinking these larger sizes. They already have the “choice” to buy the smallest member of the line-up. They aren’t doing that – they are buying the largest product they can. Human nature, really.

Granted, the smallest member is not the smallest any more. One of the members over at Fark pointed out that Wendy’s announced that they were eliminating their super size portions some years ago. They did it, but not how you might think. They actually eliminated the smallest sizes and renamed the medium, large, and super into the small, medium, and large. In one motion, they increased their serving sizes permanently and fairly sneakily when you think about it. You don’t have the choice to go for a lower caloric amount because they simply do not provide it. In fact, they are playing pretty loose with the names of their meals, so much so that one might get fooled into believing they are having a modest amount of calories when they are having anything but.

This leads to the second problem. People are people and most do not give much thought to the calories that they see listed on the sides of products. I sure as hell didn’t when I was a fatass. Those calorie things were for the health nuts was my thought. You didn’t need to be that worried about them. Besides, they can’t add up that fast. What I was operating from, and what most people out there operate from, was blind, optimistic ignorance. I didn’t really know that much about calories or how weight really worked. The diet fad and junk food industries had a hand in that lack of knowledge. But the blame was mine too. Sure, the signal to noise ratio was and is atrocious, but I wasn’t exactly eager to learn either. During that time of my life, telling me that there were 80 calories in one thing and 220 in another was irrelevant. I didn’t know how much I needed and I didn’t figure that they added up that fast anyway. Hopefully some of you reading this know exactly where I’m coming from on this.

Not only did I not know the ins and outs of calories and weight, I didn’t care to know. A sort of intentional ignorance mixed with the other. I didn’t want to hear that my eating was my problem. That would have made me to blame for this, even if just partly and I didn’t want to hear that. Printing how many calories were in a soda to the side was irrelevant to me. It was not going to stop me from drinking it. Hell, I’d almost drink it to spite “them”. You know, those people that didn’t want me to enjoy eating. Screw them, they don’t know how this works either.

That is the attitude of the average man – they don’t care what it says on the side of the container. Those are just words and numbers. They don’t apply to them. Hell, they’re exaggerating it anyway. If I don’t need that much soda, then why do they sell it in that size? And that’s the other shoe, ladies and gentlemen. That is why that man, well intentions or not, is wrong. Giving people the numbers on the side? Meaningless; they don’t know how much they need, how much they had, and most simply won’t do the math. Smaller sizes? Useless; why are the bigger ones there if you don’t need them? The Associations response is to basically do as they have done before. Big surprise – that’s their profit margins they’re dealing with there.

Not that I am defending the ad itself. Amputee and big gulp cups? Might impact some, most for a few shamed minutes until the ad is gone and they go back to gobbling down food as they usually do.

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