Category Archives: Rants

Posts about elements in society that subvert tradition

The Tale of a Tiny Ship


“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip… that started from this tropic port aboard this tiny ship”

Many of my generation will immediately recognize this timeless ballad introducing all connoisseurs of high culture to the asinine antics of Gilligan’s Island, a television show of the late 1960’s held in the highest esteem—America’s contribution to the mindless decline of Western civilization. I have watched every episode at least two hundred times.

But for the purposes of this essay, the ballad is the song of another fateful trip aboard another tiny ship. The trip I speak of is that fateful experiment of “government by the people” known loosely as democracy. The overarching premise is that people know what’s best for them and are rational to make good choices when it comes to policy and governance. The image is of an informed citizenry daily drinking from the fountains of knowledge, in pensive reflection, engaging in the marketplace of ideas, utilizing the Socratic method, logic, rhetoric, and wearing all-natural togas—activities vectoring to an objective and absolute truth of which we all agree. But the reality is more of a drunken public mob raving for gladiatorial games, more bread and more circuses.

And the tiny ship?

The British government, despite centuries of tradition to draw from, discovered once again why they remain one of the few monarchies left in Europe. A new 300 million (USD) sea-going research ship needed a name and, rather than draft one from Britain’s annals of human achievement, outsourced the task to the “wisdom of the crowd” also known as the Internet. The result was a name so august, so laudatory, so appropriate for a vessel venturing into the deep waters of scientific progress—a name so breathtaking, we christen and proclaim….

[Enter with Pomp and Circumstance, heraldry, cavalcade, prancing men in tights, pointy hats, pageantry]

“We christen thee in the name of the queen, St. George and St. Michael: the Royal Research Ship (RRS) Boaty McBoatface!”

That’s right, the elected name by a large margin was Boaty McBoatface. Boaty McBoatface! Fortunately, the organizers said no to the choice and have subsequently named the vessel RSS Sir David Attenborough for better or worse.  Of course in the “spirit of democracy” the mob petitioned the organizers to change it back—in the spirit of democracy. I don’t think they quite grasp the spirit of democracy.

If this were not enough to speak to the fact that democracy by an uninformed, pornographic mob is an unmitigated disaster we now bring you to the Republican and Democrat nominations of this election cycle. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the major party nominees. Is this the best we can do? Seriously? Can we have that monarchy back please?

Now there is always the write-in candidate and of course my choice will be none other than the valiant and stout Boaty McBoatface. 124,109 people can’t be wrong.

Or can they?

Socialism at the Gate

So many seem to think that if socialism works in country x it should work in America too. For example, because the socialized health care system works in tiny Denmark or frozen Canada, it should work here in the United States of America. Right?

I have a simple illustration why stock socialism will never work in America even if some argue that such systems work in other countries. I’ll even grant that it works extremely WELL in those countries even though some conservatives will argue against that supposition too.

First off, on the scale of individualistic vs. consensus driven cultures, America is THE MOST individualistic society in the world according to the Hofstede score. But one doesn’t need a fancy academic study to convince them of this idea (assuming it convinces them anyway).  Anyone who has traveled on a domestic carrier can see the end result of American socialism in microcosm, in action, in every city, every day.

Common airline policy limits travelers to one carryon item of a maximum dimension and weight that is to be stowed in the overhead compartment; and one personal item such as a purse or briefcase to be stowed under the seat in front. In consensus driven countries, the size and quantity of such items would not exceed the scientific dimensions prescribed by an international standards organization. In fact, those subjects would commonly err on the side being under the legal limits in the spirit of truth and cooperation and social welfare and Janteloven.

But how does this simple policy play out in our beloved United States?

My recent trip to Portland, OR through Minneapolis MN is a typical illustration. I had a densely packed regulation sized carryon with a netbook personal item arguably smaller than the Japanese understanding of “personal”. Still I kind of cheated because no one checks the carryon gravitational pull even if they check the capacity.  The airline implored passengers at the gate to check in carryon luggage as the plane was full and the style of plane had little overhead space. I reluctantly checked in my luggage with great murmuring, imagining that it probably wouldn’t be there at my final destination, all the while kicking myself for not jockeying for premature boarding despite my worthless assigned seating zone.

Even with my cheating and grousing and regretting, I was the exception. The rule among my compatriots was to consider any two items as compliant regardless of mass and size and even number. The woman in front of me had two wheeled contrivances neither of which could be construed as “personal” by even a Cyclops. As she marched through the aisle, she found a bin for her first carryon item ten rows ahead of her seat where she stowed her second load of <stuff> above it. One guy wasn’t letting go of the concept that his bungee-lashed wheeled amalgam of luggage constituted “one” carryon item. And of course, this doesn’t include the countless consumers who bought duty free, sky mall, special gifts and souvenirs toted in ginormous shopping bags as additional personal items that don’t count because God-would-agree. Technically speaking, even if Americans adhere to the rule of law—which we do, generally speaking—the spirit of the law can go straight to hell. And it does. Every day. Everywhere.

So what economic system would work for our competitive, individualist, narcissistic, every-man-for-himself, kill-or-be-killed, dog-eat-dog, it’s-all-about-me, barbarian horde federation of warring peoples we endearingly call the United States of America?

It’s called capitalism. It doesn’t work in all countries, but it works really, really WELL here.

I AM the 1% (that checked his bag at the gate).

Corporate Idolatry

2012.04.13  Corporate idolatry

The corporate image, aura and branding that magically confer significance, meaning and coolness onto blind and faithful consumers has been identified as another form of religion, in this case, corporate idolatry.

Take Starbucks. I like their coffee—just their coffee. It’s called coffee. They embellish the name slightly to “coffee of the day” as in prayer: give us Lord our daily coffee.  It’s that important. So important I must have it every day, all the time, no matter the price. In fact we need two Starbucks everywhere just like at the mall where I can get Starbuck’s near Macy’s and one near the food court where I can pay tribute and light votive candles between pilgrimages.

This commercial God-complex is made evident as soon as you challenge its marketplace authority. Against my will, I was imprisoned at the J.W. Marriott in Orlando, Florida where Starbucks had a shop in the lobby. Nice, except that the usual astronomical pricing enjoyed by Starbucks was catapulted to the stratosphere of “resort pricing”. Since in-room brand X coffee tastes like warm water clouded with cream and sugar we were coerced to “worship” at the green goddess.  It was my turn to fetch our staff of life and bring it back to the room, possibly chanting and shuffling in hooded robe.

At the shop, I waited quietly to fused music while the usual AM throng was baptized and blessed by their barista. When it was my turn I was given the option of leaving room for cream. I usually say “No” because they usually leave enough room anyway for the amount of cream I use, and since the coffee is precious as the blood of Jesus I want as much of it as possible. But I said “Yes” because my wife likes her cream nice and coffee-y. The barista left such a huge margin—the largest I had ever seen in all coffeedom, it was downright blasphemous. My venti was a dieci by any measure and I was apostate on the spot.

“Do you want to fill this up with coffee?” I said with extreme sarcasm. Obviously they had confused me with one of their ordinary votaries who usually wear a Kool-Aid drinking grin when their barista leave enough room for further flagellation. Robotically, the barista returned the coffees and filled them up, not with coffee, but toffee — syrup.  Now I went heretic. “What are you doing? I want coffee, twenty ounces of coffee, not toffee–fill it up with coffee! And this time DON’T leave room for anything!”

I was eventually appeased with a new set of paper chalices and went back to my room with the relics. At least Starbucks understands that the customer is still clergy when pressed, even at the J.W. Marriott Chateau D’If. But Starbucks hubris is alive and well, especially at my daughter’s community college where they neither honor their own gift cards nor the fifty cent refill rule—for students no less!

I see the same culture with Apple, only a hundred times worse. The spell cast by Apple is so potent, the queue-waiting disciples think that by purchasing and using their latest consumer electronics and surrounding themselves with the technologically cool makes them tech savvy by sacrament. In the parlance of the real tech savvy, these people would be called “end-users” which doesn’t sound all that flattering now does it?  You’re an “end-user”.

What is it about Apple—not their products—but their corporate image, that keeps people rabidly devoted all the while being happily deceived? Apple enjoys a image of being open (they are the most closed and proprietary of any platform), not corporate greedy (they’re valuation has topped 600 billion and they are scrutinized by the justice department for anti-trust violations), environmental (Apple promotes a perpetual consumerism that is decidedly not good for the environment),  labor-friendly (Foxconn), and infallible (Newton, 4G iPhone, iPad 2.0, Macbook Pro, Lisa) and high quality (for design—I agree, for production quality – made in China)

I am not an Apple person because I cherish the technical freedom to do, configure and fix things they way I want them or they way they should be. Almost every turn I’ve had with the few Apple products I’ve encountered came with an all encompassing requirement for unwavering fealty:

  • iTunes – my first purchase was a Red Wall Audio book for my daughter. It was DRM so much we could only listen to it in the iTunes App at the computer. Now if we had an Apple portable audio player, that would allow us to play it on the go.
  • Despite occupying twenty discs I decided to burn the audio books to CD Audio. It wouldn’t work because a single file would span two discs worth and iTunes had issues burning across CD boundaries. After battling their technical hubris I finally figured out that it had to do with my using the CD-RW because I didn’t want to pollute the environment with twenty unrecyclable CD-Rs.
  • I purchased a season of TV shows, but alas, I could only play them on the Apple devices. Even DLNA wouldn’t work. If I purchased a proprietary cable that would output to analog video audio I might be able to play it on my TV. Of course the special cable was sixty dollars even though I have about a thousand video cables in storage (VGA, HDMI, Composite, DVI, and WTF)
  • Apple’s interfaces are all proprietary despite decades of standardizations by the tech community to promote interoperability. I have a thousand USB cables but none of them will work on Apple’s iTouch or iPhone.  It has to be white.

My latest encounter centered around a Macbook Pro—not mine but that belonging to our ward, Charlotte. The screen was blank and tell-tale sounds indicated that it might still be alive. No problem, since against all probability, the unit had a standard (PTL!) DVI output for an external monitor. But alas, no signal from it was forthcoming. Prayer wouldn’t even work.  The critical part was getting the data out since Charlotte had been working on a biology assignment for days.

After much sleuthing, it was likely the embedded video card gone bad as a notice on Apple’s website confirmed that this had been a problem with the unit; customers should make an appointment with their local Apple retail “genius bar” for a fix.

My heart started to warm to Apple—admitting their shortcomings and making good on it? Well, well, well…

Since I was tied up I couldn’t make the appointment but Kimberly went at noon the next day. Just as well since I feel like Joe Gargery in London society when I go to the Apple Retail Temple. When she returned she was as mad as a wet hornet. Apparently, the egg-heads at the genius bar pushed back on the problem:

  • “…if, If, IF it’s the video card!”  said the Grinch to little MaryLoo Who who was no more than two. “I’ll fix it out there (Curpertino) and bring it back here”, for five hundred dollars.
  • “But alas! Our recall is only good for four years. It’s been four years 1 month, 3 days, 12 hours and 1 minute,” and there is no grace here.
  • Can we get the data out? This kind only comes out with prayer and fasting, and another five hundred dollars—maybe.

Charlotte was unfazed; this was the Apple world view she was used to. Not me. I decided that Microcenter and I, Josiah of Old, would fix this problem with fire from heaven. And how:

  • Found a web site that had clear instructions on exorcising the hard drive soul of the possessed Mac book pro. Of course it required rare and exotic tools for the titanium screws and integrated demonic presence.
  • A thirty-five dollar universal drive kit would couple the Fujitsu hard drive to a windows machine which worked but windows could not mount the special Apple partition. OK so Windows isn’t all that marvelous but at least I know the score with it.
  • Kim’s Ubuntu platform took care of the special partition and mounted the unit with no sacrifices or wave offerings. After more liturgy, the lost data was recovered using command line utilities.
  • Finally the macbook was resealed, tossed into the Lake of Fire and the hard disk hermitically sealed in a Ziploc bag.


Like Google, Facebook, Starbucks, Abercrombie and Fitch,  Apple is just another corporate Balrog full of fire and fury. And I am Gandalf hanging off the cliff telling the fellowship “Run!”, pause for effect, “You fools!”

The 500

The 500

I am responding to the article “Sports Debate Begins at Home” (Fairfax Times).  We are one of “The 500” in Fairfax County that home educate their high school daughters while fighting off the Persians at the Battle of Thermopylae. I wish to respond to some of the statements put forth in that article.

1)      Delegate Kay Kory voted against the proposed legislation, stating, “It’s just not fair to have kids who have done all the time in the classroom and met the grade requirements compete against someone who hasn’t had to fulfill those requirements.” Kory added that if a family does not choose the public education plan that family has essentially “opted out of the system on all fronts”.

If only it were so. We’d really love to opt out on all fronts but the county doesn’t allow us to opt-out of subsidizing the government school option with our tax dollars—that’s a front we can’t opt out on. If it really were an option along with public sports program, there would be a stampede of parents opting out on all fronts. That’s what really worries this delegate.

The statement also suggests that home educated families are under the radar. The truth in Fairfax County is that those who “opt out on all fronts” must submit a statement of intent, photocopy their college degrees and send them in, annually purchase and proctor a standardized test (California, Iowa or Stanford) making sure that “opting-out” families meet requirements.  In other words, if you think that home education is, somehow, outside the system, it isn’t.

In fact, the system is stricter for those “opting out on all fronts”. If we should not meet these minimum requirements, the opting out family is put on probation. Another lapse and the opting out family is no longer opting out. In other words, as Donald Trump would say, “ya foyer-ed”. Imagine if the government standards were that high for the public option. Imagine if teachers in Fairfax County had the same threat of revocation whenever a student lapsed in meeting educational standards.

As far as kids meeting grade requirements competing against someone who has not, let me say this: what school sports program doesn’t let their star athletes “skate” on soft academic requirements to let them compete? Right.

2)      Delegate Dave Albo voted against the proposed legislation, stating, “it’s near impossible to make a varsity sports team in these large high schools. This just adds more competition for a few spots”.

Competition?  In sports? Really? We simply can’t have that, especially with tiny Sparta in the fight.

Let’s do the math:

  • In a county with over a million people, the local politicians are worried about competition from 500?
  • Of the million public school constituents, 30 felt inclined to oppose the legislation, while 6 out of 500 wrote to support it. The telling ratios are 0.00003 winning over 0.012. In other words, most constituents don’t really care if the home educated participate.
  • Of 14 members of the delegation from Northern Virginia, 2 voted for it. The remaining 12 probably view home education as a threat to a hegemony most constituents have stopped questioning. That’s what this is really about, not fairness.

It may surprise everyone that, should the County provide families “opting out on all fronts” a tax incentive, many home educators would oppose it.  The beauty and success of the home education movement is the freedom it provides its practitioners. Any government tax incentive would be tethered to a line of control and bureaucracy that would render the practice impotent.

Whether legislation is passed to allow the home educated to participate in sports available at public schools is largely irrelevant to the few, the happy few, the 500. We have already seen the benefits of home education and have already resigned ourselves to fight (or work around or simply ignore) the mighty armies of Xerxes. My daughters are already doing quite well academically and have several athletic avenues available in travel soccer, fencing, and dance.  They are getting a quality, personalized and unique educational experience—not because of our politicians–but despite them.

Just a magazine

In an earlier post I argued against the modern educational premise that the Bible is “just a book” deserving no more, and maybe less, consideration than other literary and historical works. Though the entirety of Western thought and scholarship rests on this collection of book which we call The Bible, many educated people are in the habit of relegating it as an act of historical revisionism if not outright academic dishonesty.

A recent example of this systemic relegation of the Bible came from an article in the December 2008 issue of National Geographic Magazine called King Herod Revealed. Commenting on the Massacre of the Innocents in which Herod the Great is purported to have murdered all male infants in the town of Bethlehem to rub out Jesus, researcher Tom Mueller remarks that “Herod is almost certainly innocent of this crime, of which there is no report apart from Matthew’s[1] account.” Mueller never explains his near-absolute claim nor does he offer supporting evidence that Matthew’s account is erroneous or why he thinks so. Quite the contrary, the article goes on to describe other events in the life of Herod the Great that would give credence to this kind of murderous decree.

My beef with the National Geographic Society: just because the account is presented in one source and that source happens to be the Bible, does that make it “almost certainly” wrong? Doesn’t it simply mean that the account has yet to be either disproved or substantiated by a secondary source[2]? Why couldn’t it be left at that?  Knowing NGS reputation for unapologetically shaping public opinion using erroneous and specious data[3], I viewed the statement as a cheap shot at the Bible (and people of faith in general) but this at the expense of its own scholarship. I was not the only one that picked up on this; a subsequent issue of the magazine had a blood bath of letters to the editor making the same point. Unfortunately, National Geographic would not rephrase and in an attempt to underscore the notion that the Bible is just a book, National Geographic came off looking like, well, just a magazine.

National Geographic has a long history of interesting articles and astonishing photography. But if you think National Geographic Magazine is a scholarly and refereed publication, you would not be alone in thinking so—many hold to that belief.  And you would “almost certainly” be wrong.

[1] Matthew 2:16

[2] Even if there was a conflict with a secondary source who’s to still say that Matthew’s account is the wrong one?

Lambs to the slaughter

Although I had been through security at Dulles many times in the past, this time I was corralled into a machine that images individuals with X-radiation.  I did not know this was going to happen nor was I aware that I could opt-out. Before I knew it I was commanded by a TSA worker how to stand in the contraption and ding!

I was not happy. I don’t need any more radiation than I’ve had in my lifetime and the moment I left that security area, I became an activist.

On my way back I was subjected to the same sort of cattle prodding but this time I opted out. That set a bunch of things in motion which culminated into a professional pat down by two TSA officers in a small room. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be and the TSA officers were over-the-top polite—understandable given all the bad press they get. But still, it’s hard to shake the idea that we’ve come to this:

  • Remove all contents of our pockets
  • Remove our shoes
  • Package liquids in a particular way limited in size in a plastic baggy
  • Prohibited from carrying nail clippers or anything that can be construed as a weapon
  • Remove our laptop from its travel case
  • Walk through metal detectors
  • Have a wand raked over our bodies
  • Received dosages of radiation
  • Get frisked by a TSA officer
  • Sacrifice our freedoms
  • More to come…

I’m sure there’s an echo of people that suggest this is all very safe and maybe it is, but I’m not going to be the beta tester, nor or my kids. Knowing what I know about the software engineering, technology, science, human greed and political expediency[1], I predict that in a very few years from now there will be a bumper crop of people with leukemia, particularly TSA workers who drape around these machines casually as well as frequent flyers, young adults and babies emerging from the womb.

In any event, when we promised ourselves that terrorists would not change our way of life, who were we kidding?

[1] See the story in Wikipedia about Therac-25


Google’s page ranking

Easter is this Sunday but unlike most holidays, birthdays or key events, Google will probably commemorate the day in the same way they commemorate Christmas–by not commemorating it.  So instead of seeing this on my browser Easter morning:

I will be seeing this instead:

O’Reilly’s old animal

O’Reilly Books is known for a variety of technical publications on computer administration,  computer programming and other technical topics. In the community, they are affectionately known as “animal books” since many of their texts feature an animal on the cover:

Unfortunately, for the keepers of tradition, O’Reilly has a policy of socially engineering their readership. In one publication on agile methods, the engineering was so blatant and overbearing that I stopped reading the book  altogether, as it kept breaking the required concentration. I followed up by rating the book as poorly as their feedback scale would allow.

I was recently treated to another case of this irksome policy, albeit small. Here is an example from their “Embedded Linux” publication.

Despite a growth in both the availability of Linux distributions targeted at embedded use, and their use in embedded Linux devices, your friend’s development team may well have custom built their own system from scratch (for reasons explained later in this book). Conversely, when an end user says she runs Linux on the desktop, she most likely means that she installed one of the various  distributions, such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), SuSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES), Ubuntu Linux, or Debian GNU/Linux.

The traditions of good scholarship require that the neutral pronoun form be the masculine, in this case “he”, not “she”. O’Reilly’s use of the feminine pronoun can only serve a few purposes outside of annoying its male dominated consumer base. One purpose might be the fashionable promotion of the stereotype in our heretical society that men, particularly husbands and fathers, are irrelevant at best and buffoons at any rate. Already the portrayal of these roles is common in the entertainment industry along with deliberate single motherhood and loss of patronymic traditions. Why not in the fabric of our language as well?

This use of the feminine pronoun in a field highly populated by male nerds makes the attempt at social engineering extremely cartoonish.  I am not the only one that thinks so. The following link on O’Reilly’s website outlines the issue extant for ten years: Ask Tim.  Although I like the publications in general, I can  no longer purchase them simply based on this policy. Fortunately, there are cheaper and less intrusive ways of getting spun up on a technical topic.