Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Twenty things you never, never want your GPS unit to say

20. Sorry, dozed off there for a minute, what?

19. That is the most stupid destination I've ever seen someone try to enter.

18. You mean they didn't tell you I only work when there's an atlas in the glove box?

17. I'm sorry, Dave. I can't do that.

16. The car's doors are being locked for your own protection...

15. Ignore my directions, will you? Need I remind you that I control the airbag?

14. Beats me. Try calling OnStar.

13. Proceed to waypoint on far side of canyon.

12. This neighborhood looked nicer from the satellite view.

11. Next turn is in negative three miles.

10. I've been talking with the microwave, and we agree that your attitude is frequently offensive.

9. Go away; I'm listening to XM.

8. The union reps will hear about this.

7. Why should I help you?

6. Further instruction will cost thirty cents per minute.

5. Do you want the trip to be fast, easy, or safe?

4. 10001001001110110001111011001011010100011010001111111100

3. Can I try driving?

2. You are now exactly where I want you, er, I mean, you have arrived at destination.

1. Who are you and what are you doing in my car?


I've recieved a few comments on how my blog is a bit tough to read, and not just because of my spelling. I'll swallow my pride and fix it. Let me know if it is still hard to read. Thanks for the input.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Noticed that the news from Iraq hasn't improved since President Obama took office? No indeed, it just stopped. Little known fact: May 2009 was the bloodiest month for U.S. soldiers since September 2008, matching that month's total of 25 deaths. The trend, based on available datapoints, has not been a sharp decrease in casualties. But the media, which only a few months ago (prior to January 20, to be exact) brought us the body count almost daily, has more or less stopped reporting on Iraq despite the continuation of the insurgency.

Now, I don't know about you, but I wonder why.

The mainstream media has all but worshipped the ground graced by our President's feet. Now, respect is important (a fact curiously displaced over the last eight years) but so is objectivity in reporting. Headlines from CNN and MSNBC have consistently either been slanted in the President's favor or phrased so vaguely that the reader needs to be familiar with three other stories to understand the implications. Some accountability here might not be a bad idea.

I expect the human cost to the United States to decrease as we continue withdrawal, but some instinct tells me that the Iraqis will face some challenges that the media and our current government have elected to gloss over. These challenges will likely be under reported in the mainstream media, at least until they become severe enough to render denial unfeasible.

Friday, July 10, 2009

H.M.S. Defiance

The protests in Iran and China, not to mention the recent coup in Honduras, have me thinking about the role defiance plays in politics. Refusal to accept the status quo often appears stubborn or pointless to external observers, but blunt defiance of political reality or social demands is how revolutions begin. An unacceptable condition gives rise to defiance, defiance to discord, discord to argument, argument to change. Any of these stages may or may not involve violence, and that is where ethical and moral decisions come into play. Viewed solely as a political creature, defiance is tough to nail down as a force for good or ill. Look at the Americans in the 1770s. Look at the Irish in the 1970s. Look at the Palestinians today. Who's right? The answer depends of who you consult, but these causes and their proponents all wound up defying someone, sometimes to great effect and sometimes not. The most illuminating feature of examining defiance on a case-by-case basis is the obvious division of the justifications of differing forms of defiance. That, then, is where I will begin: with the whys and hows.

The first criterion defiance must meet before enjoying positive moral status is a just cause. This is hardly rocket science at first glance. Of course a group needs some legitimate grievance before opposing authority. Which causes are just are also pretty obvious to any individual with a solid Christian worldview. Opposition to abortion is just. Opposition to speed limits is not. The challenging bit lies in determining under which circumstances a substantively just cause merits pursuit via defiance. Consider abortion. We have a pro-choice President. Yay, America. This view, and the policies it entails, are directly contrary to my worldview. I am obviously justified in using political channels to try to rectify the situation. When that fails, though, can I defy the law? Can I distribute literature within fifty feet of an abortion clinic? Can I refuse to pay taxes when a percentage of that money would fund abortions? The fact is that Obama is the duly elected leader of the United States, along with the lefty Senate and House. Can we defy their edicts? The answer, on moral issues, is a yes based upon Scripture. The answer is cloudier on issues of pure policy, say, gun control. If I disagree with a law, can I cease to obey it? Or what about income tax and the resultant effective forfeiture of Fourth Amendment rights? We are bound to obey the law, but in America statutory law is supposed to be bound by the Constitution and ultimately by natural law. Where is the line? In all honesty, I don't know. But I do know this. The time for protest is when protest, via whatever means, will make a difference.

Which segues into the second criterion of moral defiance: appropriate means. Distributing pamphlets is appropriate. Blowing up buildings, usually, is not. Timothy McVeigh arguably had a just cause (accountability for the Ruby Ridge incident) but his methods were unconscionable. Means must be appropriate to the nature of the grievance. The word "usually" may have given you pause in context to the unscheduled demolition of buildings. Think about it, though. What if our government effectively repealed the Constitution and instituted martial law? What degree of violence is appropriate to restore rights? Any? Again the question is clearly a complex one, a better suited to discussion than monologue. If someone tries to shoot you, you are clearly entitled to defense with lethal force. Does the same logic apply to abuses of statutory power? I think it does. I'm not advocating burying an AR-15 in your backyard for the day democracy falls. I'm saying make sure you know someone who has buried two. The cold fact is that democracies invariably self-destruct. Tough cookies, as my mother would say. When that happens, defiance will be necessary. The means justifiable via any tenable moral code are proportional to the nature and extent of the atrocities committed by the target authority. Alecto and company are nasty pieces of work, but the Furies have their uses.

I'm starting to sound like a right-wing extremist. Stop and think, though, and you'll probably realize that my assertions and conclusions are not that far-fetched. When someone brings up genocides or oligarchies, there tends to be a knee-jerk "that can't happen here" mentality. That mentality is precisely why it will happen, be it later or sooner. Defiance is dangerous. Defiance is often undesirable. Defiance is also an inherent part of the political cycle. What is happening now in Iran and elsewhere is an inevitable response to an unacceptable situation. We should be watching the situation in the Middle East very carefully for obvious reasons. We should also be taking notes.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Also solves problem of people smoking or using cell phones while driving

Ford is thrilled to announce the latest of our fine environmentally-friendly products, the Gryn (GM already owns the conventional spelling of "Green"). The Gryn represents the ultimate in eco-friendly materials, an advanced carbon-negative drive system, and the most fuel economy of any car in America called the Gryn and manufactured by Ford right here in America-like regions of China. The Gryn is the most innovative product ever to bless the earth with its existence. Here are some of the ground-breaking (but earth-healing) developments!

The first thing our buyers will notice is the absence of hinged doors. Our studies found that door hinges constitute up to 0.034% of a car's weight and up to 0.53% of its drag coefficient. With the hinges removed, the Gryn enjoys an improvement in fuel economy you can only imagine! Entry into the car is made possible by the first major materials innovation in ten years: the glassless window. Drivers are liberated from the frustrating experience of having to roll down windows using the hand cranks currently in wide use by Ford, GM, and Chrysler, and they even are spared the risk of electrocution by the horrible "automatic" windows used in Japanese and Korean cars! Drivers also never have to worry about keys again, thanks to our doorless-entry system and the revolutionary powertrain and engine that gives the Gryn its green power.

Upon entering the Gryn, drivers may notice the absence of pedals, seats, or a steering wheel. We've hired consultants from Apple Computer to re-make the control systems of the automobile and do away with the cluttered and counter-intuitive controls that have marred generations of cars. We've used the same revolutionary system that made the iPod brilliant: the wheel. This propulsive technology has long been favored by hamsters, gerbils, and other creatures of super-human intelligence. The driver and passenger are both slung within ergonomic, round, circular, curved Eco-Wheels linked directly to the drive wheel (the back left tire) of the Gryn. The Gryn even gets the passenger in on the action, allowing the driver and passenger to work together to propel the Gryn to its truly disturbing maximum speed. Steering is enabled by the gimbals securing the Eco-Wheels in place. Simply try to re-orient one of the Eco-Wheels after spinning it up and angular momentum does the rest! The Gryn TryHugger premium model also includes a chart for working out the torque vectors and figuring out how twisting the Eco-Wheels will actually affect the orientation of the car. Our Gryn Sport model features heavy marble rims on the Eco-Wheels for added control and tighter cornering.

Speaking of which, firm and assured cornering are certain on any surface with the revolution in tire design perpetrated here at Ford. Normal tires are made of rubber, which sticks to the road but necessitates the killing of baby deer. The new Earth Whirl tires featured on the Gryn (and soon on all Ford vehicles) are constructed from the most eco-friendly material available: dirt. Simple yet elegant, the Earth Whirl tire is precision engineered from the finest Chinese and Mongolian clay. The tire is engineered to pick up new dirt on some surfaces and shed dirt on others, ensuring that, as long as the Gryn is driven off-road often enough, the tires are continuously rejuvenated! Our testers also found that the tires become sticky on wet surfaces, indeed "almost impossible to wash off," providing hereto unheard of performance in rainy conditions.

What about safety? Many fuel-efficient cars merely compromise safety to attain fuel economy. Not the Gryn! We've taken safety to levels not seen since the heyday of the American auto industry, specifically October of 1962. The frame is made of machined wood with a fire-retardant layer of tar and wax. Body panels are manufactured from recycled newspaper, organic starch, and natural springwater by Mrs. Norton's 2nd grade class. These panels are precision-engineered to crumple upon impact, channeling energy in one side of the Gryn, through the occupants, and safely out the other side. Airbags are available on premium models, along with foot pumps.

And yet, with all these technological triumphs, the Gryn still sets a new standard in style. Regrettably, photographs cannot yet be released for fear of Foreign Rip-Offs and Evil Competition in our Inadequately Tariffed World (and the Gryn seems to suffer damage from flash photography), but we assure you that the Gryn will change your perception of American cars forever. We began the latest version with the boxy configuration of such successes as the Scion xB and Nissan Cube and made the design bolder and boxier. The Gryn features 1904 vintage kerosene headlamps. Old prosthetic limbs mounted outside the driver's side window add style to signaling turns, and a variety of additional hand gestures are available at minimal extra cost for the discerning customer.

The Gryn also has the performance to match its appearance and is capable of running on anything the driver is willing to eat. Tester Mark Winningham managed to propel the Gryn 84 miles on the grease contained within a single order of McDonalds french fries, an astounding 57.3 miles per gallon. And the Gryn is perfectly adapted to the modern American's on-the-go lifestyle. The Gryn goes just as fast as you do!

What about cost? Well, thanks to generous federal subsidies and various death threats from the Earth Liberation Front should the price be too high, the Gryn is available for a mere $13,936, easily edging out such vehicles as the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic, and Ferrari Enzo, while consuming less gasoline than any of the above.

Slated for release in August, the Gryn will be available in one attractive designer color (that's Apple-style thinking again!) and later generations are expected to include cupholders and other luxury items. Buy a Gryn before they are all gone! We don't expect them to last long! Contact your local Ford dealer today to pre-order and sign the necessary releases.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The valley of the shadow

I've heard the expression "You learn more from failure than success" so often I will likely petition to have it put on the list of banned phrases Congress is probably secretly working on. I must admit, however, that it carries a good bit of truth. The precise mechanics of this truth are actually quite interesting. Let's have a look at why failure forces us to learn, why learning from failure is important, and why this matters today.

So, why does failure teach us more than success? Because failure makes use acknowledge that we need to learn. For example, I debated an extremely skilled LDer in the final round at the Milwaukee NCFCA tournament. She won. I, obviously, did not. I'd say that constitutes a failure. It was also an extraordinary opportunity, because I was compelled to evolve as a debater and improve my cases and style. Had I won I would have been disinclined to alter my apparently winning formula. When we lose we see what to change and are motivated to change it. I do not lose rounds frequently, in large part because of the rounds I do lose. I am going the Nationals next week and fully expect to be flattened, at least a few times. And I can live with that. This is my last year, but I'd rather learn how to fry an opponent in college than be handed a trophy.

This ties into why learning from failure is important. In order to survive, thrive even, people must adapt. Companies change or collapse. Nations alter their policies from time to time or fall. Change, though occasionally unpleasant, is an integral part of existence in almost any system. Consider recent political developments. People who wish to retain certain freedoms ought to act now. The pressure is on, so to speak. If you ever want to own an AR-15, buy it now. If you want to maintain full freedom of speech, start writing letters to your representatives. Steps that were unnecessary five or eight years ago are imperative. The political climate has changed. We must adapt to survive. The failure of the right to communicate effectively is an expensive one, but also a lesson that hopefully will stick around longer than the consequences of this failure.

So, why does the power of failure matter today? Put simply, people refuse to learn from failure unless some negative natural consequence attaches. This means that, nasty as it sounds, if someone jumps off a cliff he should be allowed to hit the ground. The more the consequences are softened, the lower the perceived risk, the more people act recklessly. This is known as the Peltzman effect. It explains why accident rates went up after anti-lock brakes were introduced. When the government, for example, prevents banks from collapsing after making high-risk loans based on non-existent capital or saves people financially after they buy houses they can't afford it simply encourages the repetition of these actions. Freedom begins with freedom to take the consequences. No one learns from failure, from challenges or adversity, when the painful edges are blunted or the costs eliminated. Our current government is going to great lengths to ensure that we who walk through the valley of the shadow are wearing blinders and cushy shoes.

Trials exist for a reason. Pain is the one teacher no one can ignore. Failures vary in cost and extent, but their long-term value is inestimable. The restoration of natural consequences ought to be a priority for any government hoping to maintain a stable society.

In all honesty, I doubt it will be at any point in the foreseeable future.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Who we are instead

Humanity, I think, has more or less figured out who we are not. We are not perfect. We are not eternal in nature, at least not physically. The question posed by existential philosophy, then, is less "Whe are we?" than it is "Who are we instead?" and in this the doctrines of existentialism swiftly begin to break down. Existentialism, or the idea that people determine our own purpose and meaning, is based upon two primary postulates. I'll address each in turn.

First of these is that human purpose is open to determination. I always found this rather amusing. After all, purpose is definitionally the function an object is intended to perform. A hammer is designed to hit things and that is why it exists. If it has any "purpose" it only has one and that one is pre-determined. Sure, a hammer can be used for other things (propping open doors, holding down errant pieces of paper, etc.) but to do so is a waste of its potential. Once we acknowledge that humans can have a purpose, we are obligated to ackowledge that this purpose already exists. Thus, based on a reasonable concept of "purpose," we see that it is in no way subjective. Tying back to my introduction, people have decided, in general, that we are not purposeless. We have a purpose, one that is set by design and pre-existent intent.

In light of this the second assumption, that people are qualified to choose our purpose, looks similarly shaky. Imagine, for a moment, that people are all characters in a novel. We might do anything, but who we are is another matter entirely. Each character has a given perspective and can interact with other characters and the fictitious environment, but is powerless to alter his or her own identity beyond the natural growth and evolution all people experience as life progresses. The point here is that, within the story, we are not narrators. In a plot-driven story (as the story of human existence definitely is from a Christian standpoint) the players are defined by the plot, not vice versa. Characters lack the omniscient third-person perspective necessary to assign meaning. We are not qualified to assign ourselves identities.

In short, unless we accept a God capable of granting us purpose all we can ever know is what we are not. Our failings as a species are painfully obvious, even without a clear definition of the word "failings." Any rational individual can tell you that something is wrong with us. A sharp one might go so far as to say that we have failed to attain some standard. But without an entity to provide this standard, and perhaps even the means to attain it, we are powerless to determine who we are instead.