Monday, September 28, 2009

The more things change ...

I have an old friend who joined Facebook recently, apparently after months of urging by several people, me included. She admitted to me after signing up that two things had kept her from doing it before. The first was her daughter's absolute mortification that her mother would be joining FB, and presumably seeing the thousands of drunken photographs (WHOOOOO!!!!) that all college aged kids seem to feel need to be on the Internet.

The other reason was an old and deep insecurity that people would not like her. I was touched that she would admit this very personal and sensitive information to me, so I am posting it on the Internet. She's just lucky I don't have any drunken pictures of her from college.

Now, this person was not unpopular in high school. Besides being a cheerleader and some big muckity-muck on the yearbook staff, she was in about a thousand extra-curriculars and a bunch of honors classes. And in spite of all of that, everyone loved her. I mean, everyone. Boys, girls, jocks, townies, Sharks, Jets ... you name it. And still she is insecure, all these years later.

Between social networking, reunions, being around college kids, and (sadly) funerals, I have had many occasions over the last few years to reflect on the insecurity that seems to drive so many of us, and how no matter how rich or accomplished or otherwise secure we become, it only takes one ill-conceived comment or ignored friend request from the wrong person to plunge us back into that icy bath of teenage anxiety, wondering if our friends will still like us despite the fact that our mother wouldn't spend $12 for three-stripe Adidas.

It does get easier, though, and I think this may be part of the reason that social networking is gaining so much traction with the AARP crowd. We get a chance to confront the old anxieties with our grownup brains and experience, and hopefully vanquish them. There are several people that I have happily de-friended lately when I realized that I really didn't give a shit what they thought of me, and that if I met them at a social function today I would probably spend a good part of the ride home talking about what a tool they were.

Of course, now we get to start all over with our Internet friends. So you bitches had better leave comments and follow me and make sure my stats are up or I might have to go to my room and turn on the blacklight and listen to the Moody Blues on 8-track as loud as it will go.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Michael Moore is a douchebag

In the interest of full disclosure, I have not watched any of Michael Moore's movies, and I consider Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh to be bigger Dickensians than Michael Moore could ever hope to be. For me, it's not primarily Michael Moore's politics that make him a sack. He does seem to be trying to watch out for the little guy. I am descended from construction people and farmers, and many of my relatives still work with their hands in conditions that are much worse than what I enjoy, so I can respect the belief that working people need more government protection than, say, billionaires. And to some degree, I think Michael Moore came by his outrage honestly, where Limbaugh and Beck seem to have cobbled together their attitudes primarily from racism, willful ignorance, leftover teenage resentment and an overactive sense of accomplishment. Also, maybe ratings and pain medication play in there somewhere. Every time I hear someone complain about how hard it is to be a rich white guy in America, I want to stick a fork in my eye.

My main problem with Michael Moore -- as well as the Fox News crowd -- is that he is a propagandist. I will call them as goebbelers, since I haven't made up a word yet this week. My aim in politics -- to the extent that I have one -- is to view our society as a system, and to identify and address core issues that are making the system act in a way that we find undesirable. The goebbelers are intent on doing something completely different. They want to find some single aspect of a particular issue that they can cast in a popular light, and then try to make that aspect the central issue of the debate. In this way, their side wins, the other side loses, and we can all celebrate good times.

The problem is that this behavior takes us farther from a real solution to the original issue, and degrades our ability to think rationally. For example, I saw Michael Moore on a morning show this week arguing that capitalism is the opposite of democracy. I saw a sign from a Tea Party protest last week that said something about not cutting Medicare to create socialized medicine. While arguments -- however weak -- could be made for the validity of both sentiments, this kind of discourse is just making things worse. The worst thing about the Big Lie is not that it will be believed; it is that it makes future lies easier to swallow.

Take health care as an example. First, we're talking about medical care, not health care. And the question we need to answer as a society is whether we consider access to medical care to be a civil right, like due process, or whether medicine is a commodity like food, available to those who can afford it? Or is it somewhere in between, a part of the social contract, like voting? Answering this question honestly would clear up a lot of the implementation details, as well as telling us what to do about medical malpractice.

But questions like these are difficult, and require people to honestly pick a position on issues that matter. I mean, no politician wants to come out and say that poor people shouldn't get medicine, so they tell us that Americans deserve the best care, which can only be delivered by private industry working for profit. I'm not sure what makes us think we deserve the best just because we're American, but there you have it. On the other side, giving everyone access to medical care means that there will be limits to what can be provided, and we are already providing more than we can afford. Medicare does a good job containing costs and providing full service, but it's going broke at a frightening pace. If you dissect any single point that anyone is making in the current debate, you will almost certainly find it to be inaccurate, irrelevant or something that is already true.

If we continue to treat politics as a competitive sport, with sound bites used to score points, I'm afraid personal responsibility will continue to erode and our government will continue in the direction that virtually everyone agrees is not where we want it to go. On the other hand, people seem to enjoy it. Who am I to spoil their fun?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Say hello to my little friend

I am possibly the world's worst astrophotographer. In almost a decade of trying, I have managed one fuzzy picture of Venus. Total. In my defense, I live in one of the worst locations for astronomy this side of Venus, there are only about half a dozen nights a year that the conditions are right, my yard is full of trees (less now), and my equipment is ancient. Also, my telescope is old. And I usually have to be drunk for it to seem like a good idea.

But I have resolved to forge ahead, and like virtually all men, I know that if I suck at something it can only be because I have not spent enough money on toys good equipment. So I am adopting a strategy of starting with something simple that I can probably do, like taking a picture of the sky at night, and then progressing to more advanced scenarios. Of course, this new strategy requires me to totally retool*. I think of it as answering our nation's call to stimulate the economy (hey, I'm a patriot).

This is Ed, my new telescope, doing something we probably shouldn't be watching with my new camera, which has yet to earn a name. Ed probably has a name for it, but I'm not going to ask.

I will probably be subjecting you in the coming weeks to terrible photographs of interesting subjects like a branch of my neighbor's crepe myrtle, or some smudge that I will claim to be some heavenly body or other, so don't say I didn't warn you. Eventually I will mount Ed atop Lex, the older, larger and wiser scope, which is when the really crappy pictures will start.

Oh, and in appreciation of Johnny and Daisy Fae pointing out that I could take a picture of the new camera using a mirror, here you go.

I took this in the side mirror of my car from about forty yards away. As I said, you've been warned.
* I said "tool."

Monday, September 14, 2009

One hand clapping

You know what's effed up? When you buy a cool new camera and you want to take a picture of it to show off to all your friends (sadly, that's you people) but the only thing you can't take a picture of with your new camera is your new camera.

More later.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Nerd Alert!

Okay, let's establish up front that I'm as much of a nerd as the next person. I like science toys. I have a telescope. I take off work when a new Star Trek movie comes out. (Everyone does that, right?) I saw Alien in the theater the day it opened because I had read about it in Omni magazine. I was distraught when Battlestar ended, and I'm heartbroken that Disney is buying Marvel. I bought a copy of X-Men #1 the week it came out.

But I had to prostrate myself in unworthiness -- Wayne and Garth style -- when I saw the e-mail announcing the ping pong tournament at the big Physics Block Party this afternoon at my university. I mean, it's not so much the ping pong, though given the fact that probably half the physics students are Chinese, I expect the competition to be fierce. No, it was the paragraph describing all of the other "much good food and fun competitions" that will be taking place that showed me how real nerds pass a good time.

"The food will include free pizza (at 3:30), sodas, homemade brownies, and LN2* ice cream with various mixins for flavors. The competitions will include the Ping Pong Tournament (sign in by 3:30), Guitar Hero (throughout), the notorious Physics IQ test (due by the end), and the Maniacal Laugh Contest (starting at 4:00)."

The message ends, "This should all be fun." Perhaps the saddest part, especially for my wife who has to take me out in public, is that it all does sound like fun. If I weren't thirty years older than everyone who is going to be there, I would probably show up. I mean, hey, what's more fun at a party than liquid nitrogen? Plus, I think I could hold my own in the maniacal laugh department.
Liquid nitrogen ice cream. A better example of nerd food preparation is hard to find.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Caribou Barbie -- now with "enhanced fairness" technology

Several of my friends have been taking a "Sarah Palin 2012" poll on Facebook recently, where one is asked to respond to the question, "Would you vote for Sarah Palin if she ran for President in 2012?"

Apparently, if you answer "Never" the vote registers as "Yes." I think I'm starting to get a better understanding of poll numbers.