Sunday, June 3, 2012

Howard Stern and The Death of Big Oil

Last weekend, half of the nation of Germany ran on solar powerHalf of the country. And they’re not even that sunny.

Suck it, Spain!


How did they do it? Read the article, but not now. You’re reading me now, and I’m jealous like that. But since it’s pertinent to my rant, I’ll sum it up: it had to do with subsidies and public support and stuff. Basically, they had their shit together, and they broke a world record for it.

I read the article to my wife. Her response was, “Wow. We’re… not… going… to be the most powerful country in the world for much longer.”

I think that’s a pretty valid argument. Just going off that article it does seem like the United States is being outpaced by Germany pretty quickly, at least in the unlimited energy department. Does it matter if the US is the most powerful country? Not really. Lots of countries thrive outside of the international spotlight.

Just ask these guys.


But the United States has taken great pains to establish itself as the leader of the free world in just about every way possible, except for blonde models.

Above: Sweden's #2 export, after meat balls.


We were at the forefront of modern democracy, the Industrial Revolution, and the Information Age. The Wright Brothers invented manned flight in the US. Benjamin Franklin harnessed electricity in the US. Al Gore invented the Internet here.

Pleasepleaseplease believe me this time...


Americans thrive on being the best, winning the most and coming in first every time. But the United States is ranked 20th on the Education Index. Our children aren’t keeping pace educationally with the rest of the world, but we can’t seem to get a good system in place because our partisan politicians can’t agree on one.

Our Current Account Balance is the lowest in the world. Or the highest negative number, if you want to look at it that way. It’s this number: $ -599,900,000,000.00. That number means the United States’ credit is in the shitter. Right now, Sri Lanka could buy a better car than us. But nothing’s changing because our Congress can’t seem to find a way to stop spending money, or agree on how to cut costs. The wealthiest of Americans can spend a billion dollars for an election, but not on the country itself.

How about energy? We consume more oil than any other country.

FIRST!!


It’s no secret that there’s a finite amount of oil on the planet, and the United States uses more oil than the next four countries after it combined, and has to import over half of its oil from elsewhere.

While a marginally sunny country like Germany can power half its populace on solar power for a weekend our country, which is 3900% more sunny than Germany, offers $71 billion more in subsidies to oil than solar power. There are initiatives across the country to harness wind and sun energy, but our lawmakers seem content not to press for more subsidies to encourage these endeavors.

Now, before my goofy over-patriotic readers chime in with your “If yew don’t like awr country yew cayn get owt!”, let me qualify all of this by saying that I love being an American. For all our flaws, I would still rather have been born and raised here than anywhere else. I fought proudly in the US Armed Forces for 8 years.

But we have got to get our shit together. We have become embroiled in partisan-line bickering, even on the local level. We spend more time goofing around with our technological distractions than involving ourselves in the fate of our nation, and when we do involve ourselves it’s usually on a detached headline-only level. Because we aren’t involved, our representatives get elected by only 40% of the population, a good portion of that 40% wrapped up in closed-minded partisanship. So our elected officials are closed-minded partisans because that’s who elected them. So nothing gets done because our lawmakers are arguing along party lines.

But we can't only blame the politicians. We, as the American people, are not interested enough in being the best anymore. We are content with our gadgets and our mostly-low-cost food supply. Sure the bills are higher than they used to be, but we're still getting by. We have become content with "good enough". So while America treads water, whistling at the clouds, every other first-world country is passing us by in one area or another.

Is it only a matter of time before somebody takes us over and makes kuchen the national dessert? Likely not, because one of the few other areas in which the United States is #1 is military power. Any sucka fools tryin to jack our country in for a world ‘o hurt, son!

But if we are outpaced in every other area consistently for a long period of time, military might won’t matter.The US will likely go broke and we’ll just be bought by another country and turned into a theme park.

I, for one, will welcome our new overlords.


We don’t need to be the best, kids. But my friend nailed it when he said we need to be better.

This isn’t going to change anyone’s mind. I’m not nearly put-together enough to do something like that. But maybe you’ll click a link and read something and maybe it will get you thinking.

At least, until America’s Got Talent comes on.

I LOVE that show! So much TALENT!


Thanks for reading, kids.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Kicking Ass & Chewing Bubblegum

Today is Memorial Day. While I have not posted a blog in over a year, my observations leading up to this day have compelled me to dust off this bad boy and spout about things I am only marginally qualified to spout about. Let's rock.


Does anyone remember Brian Wood?



Probably not.  He was a video game designer from British Columbia. To my knowledge, he’d never spent a day in a wasteland (unless you count the local Costco). The closest he ever came to being a soldier was working on Company of Heroes, a PC strategy game.  Nobody would have called him a hero, until September 3, 2010. That was the day he swerved his vehicle to the side to take the brunt of an oncoming vehicle that had suddenly veered into his lane.

He did this to save the lives of his wife and unborn child. His sacrifice allowed two people to live where no one should have.

Totally worth it.


What about Liviu Librescu, the Romanian-born PhD who taught both in Israel and the United States? He grew up in Nazi-controlled Ploiesti. Remarkably intelligent in the field of experimental aircraft,

Actually it IS rocket science.


Liviu never set foot on a battlefield. Still, surely somebody has spared a thought for him today.

This guy. This is the guy.


I know who has: The Virginia Tech students whose lives he saved on April 16, 2007. That was the day he took four bullets from a mentally-unstable student while holding a classroom door closed. He did this so said students could escape out a window.

"Your death-bullets bore me."


You guys remember Clara Almazo? That old battle axe from Staten Island?

No?

Correction: Middle-aged battle axe.


Now? No? Well, I suppose that unless you’re from New York, you probably didn’t hear about Clara way back in April. That was when she made local headlines by throwing her grandson out of the way of an out-of-control vehicle, piloted by a drunk driver with an out-of-control goatee.

Told you.


She took the brunt of the hit, finally coming to rest 150 feet from where she was hit. She died hours later. Her grandson walked away with scrapes and bruises.

Above: The rare resting battle axe.



I could go on, but I’m tired and jet-lagged. Still, there are more. Many more. These are just a few remarkable, heart-wrenching, inspiring stories I found in just under an hour. Brian, Liviu and Clara are heroes.I am not dishonoring those service members who have died in service by saying this. As a veteran I think I speak for all veterans when I say we appreciate the thoughts today. I think I can reasonably vouch for the Schild, Cuka, Kokesh and Wagner families when I say the thoughts are treasured, and will be forever. Theirs was heroism, well and true. I am not saying you should not honor them or be grateful for what they gave. I know I do.

But I think Memorial Day is about more than soldiers or sailors or airmen or Marines. Memorial Day is about sacrifice. Today is the day we honor all those who have passed, especially those who sacrificed for others without thought of their own livelihood. To sacrifice is human. To sacrifice everything is heroic. And not all heroes wear combat boots. Some wear gaming headsets, or Kippahs, or orthopedic shoes. Let’s not forget their sacrifice. Let's not forget that more people are willing to make that sacrifice than we think. 

Happy Memorial Day, kids.



Sunday, September 11, 2011

Freedom and Vigilance

I wrote the following almost 10 years ago to the hour, after the events of September 11, 2001 had (for the most part) unfolded. The blog didn't exist then, so I simply emailed everyone I knew with it (which I am sure my friends were thrilled about). It was quickly (and effortlessly) eclipsed by other writers with much better thesauruses on their Pentium II desktops.

Looking back at what was ostensibly my first ever blog, I have to admit that some of the things I said still ring true. The venom of terrorism does still run in the blood of Americans. You can see it in anti-Muslim protests and strict pat-downs at airports. The attacks ten years ago cut us deep.

But we did also recover. We have healed (as much as we ever could), and we have grown. The pride that swelled in Americans on September 12 has not dissipated. Every Welcome Home parade, every American flag, every yellow ribbon stands as testament to what was fostered that day.

Still, I think about the non-partisan gathering of our Congress and Senate that day and have to express my disappointment that such displays are relegated to pomp and circumstance rather than ones of true national progress.

Read it for what it was- the emotional, confused ramblings of a 23-year-old assistant manager of a grocery store (soon to be fired). But take it for what it was meant to be- a declaration that freedom is not, nor will it ever be, free.

---------------------------------------------------------------------


Thomas Jefferson once said that "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." Never has a statement rung true in such a deep way. I'm writing this because this tragic event that has befallen us for some reason touches me deeper than any other I've seen or read about. I feel the need to speak on it. I apologize to those who didn't want this.

It frightens me to the core to think that our way of life is so easily shattered, even here in the Midwest. What frightens me more is the honest feeling that whoever did this isn't done. I spent the entire day replaying in my head the videos I saw this morning. It seemed unreal, unbelievable. I found myself wishing that it hadn't happened. I had no family or friends in either New York or Washington, but I feel deeply for those who did.

As I drove home from work tonight, I listened to a man on Larry King Live describe watching people jump from the highest levels of the World Trade Center and I couldn't stop shivering. Over and over, I see the footage of that second plane cutting through the WTC like a hot knife through so much butter and say to myself, "This has to be from some action movie." But it isn't. And that is what frightens me most: that this is indeed real.

I am forced to question just what it means to live in this country. I've never done that before. To be honest, I have taken it for granted. I have taken for granted every single liberty my ancestors fought and died for. I didn't even vote in the last election. I took something precious and rare and put it on a shelf to collect dust because thinking about it took more than I wanted to give. I regret that almost as much as I regret not being able to help beyond giving a pint of O-negative. The price of freedom IS eternal vigilance and we as a nation have lapsed. Not a lot, but enough to be bitten by a snake whose venom won't be extracted from this nation' veins easily or willingly. We have lapsed simply by forgetting what this nation means to us, to our allies, to our enemies. By us I don't just mean you or me. I mean us as the American people. I remember now. I know I'm not the only one.

That aside, I know we'll bounce back from this. The United States has a distinct reputation of persevering simply out of spite at times, and this, I believe is one of them. Along with visions of 767's flying through skyscrapers, I have two more pictures in my head from September 11, 2001. One is of the entire Senate and House of Representatives gathering on the steps of the Capitol to sing "God Bless America"; for an instant partisan politics were forgotten and all that existed was a group of men and women dedicated to something larger than them.

The other vision came when I was driving home tonight. As I listened to the man describe seeing people jump to their deaths to escape the fire, I looked out my car window and saw on top of the half-finished USD DakotaDome roof an American flag waving in the fading light, almost a middle finger raised to whoever high jacked those planes.

We will definitely recover from this. We as a nation are too outraged to do otherwise. I look forward to justice. What happened today was horrifying and vile. But I think it also showed all of us what it means to be an American. You can go to any number of countries today and find democracy. But there's only one America. Like Bill Murray said in Stripes, we are here because we were kicked out of every other damn country in the world. But this... this is our home. We have made it ours. We will clear away the debris, rebuild our towers and Pentagons, and even put up some monuments. 

But we will also become stronger for our ordeal. This thing touches me deeply for some reason, but I take comfort knowing that whoever did this failed in their objective. I take comfort in knowing that we will survive.

I'm going to bed, now. I am going to sleep and think about anything but today. Then, tomorrow I am going to go about my business as usual. But in the back of my mind will from this day forth always be the imaginary voice of Thomas Jefferson, reminding me about freedom and vigilance.

I don't think I could forget if I wanted to.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I vs. you vs. us: The Epic Battle

I went to see a comic recently. Not this kind of comic:


This kind of comic:


The headliner was funny, but the warm-up guy sucked for the most part. He had moments of humor where you could tell he was a funny guy. But he was fidgety and unrehearsed, clearly not at-ease with his set. But he did pull out something that wasn’t so much funny as it was thought-provoking.

He said that humans were, as a rule, self-centered beings. As an argument he used basic English language. “I” is capitalized always, but not “you” or “us” or “them”. While his logic may or may not have been sound, he had a point. Websites like Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook (and their freakish popularity) prove that we are a very self-centered people. But this comedian was saying that the culture of self-centeredness has been present since the beginning of the English language and is still evident through its use.

He posited an interesting premise, so I did some research. It gave me a nosebleed. But I persevered for you, my loyal readership. However, all of the words I mentioned above are difficult to discuss because they’re so pervasive in our world. They are THE nouns. They are the words of existence and the words of self-awareness. To examine these words is literally to examine yourself and those around you.

Mmm… existentialism…

Let’s dig in.

“I” is the word of the individual, as seen from the first-person perspective. When referring to oneself, one always uses the word I.

Unless you're this guy.

I originated (and only now am I realizing that the grammar engine in Word ’07 is going to blow a fuse on this blog) in 12th Century England as an abbreviation to an earlier word that may or may not have been “Pie".

The Rock likes this blog.

“I” didn’t start being capitalized till the mid-13th Century, mostly to avoid confusion when reading manuscripts. Also it had something to do with the letter/word’s similarity to the number 1. You can decipher some of the more heady stuff at Etymology Online. I hope you like abbreviations.

So the emphasis on the word “I” is mostly a practical one. I’m a fan of that (my girlfriend is rolling her eyes right now). But does that mean the lack of emphasis on other words is simply because emphasis isn’t needed? The answer is yes.

“You” is the word of the individual, as seen from the second-person perspective. When addressing an individual other than oneself, one uses the word you.

Or, one points.

You originated around the same time as “I”, an amalgam of both “ye” and the French version, “vous”. Check out the link for more abbreviations. You’ll notice the lack of capitalization in both the English and the French versions of the word. The case is the same in Japanese, where they have a number of words for “you”, based on status and respect, mostly. None of those words are capitalized there either.

Just in case you forgot how strange they are.

And then there’s us. “Us” is the word of the group, as seen from the first-person perspective. When referring to a group in a collective sense, one always uses the word us.

Seriously, why does anyone read this trash?

Us has nothing but abbreviations at Etymology Online. So that was a bust.

There are other words of similar utility out there. “Them”, “him”, “her”, “we”. But unless it is “I” or the words start a sentence, none of the words are capitalized. Is this a result of a world-wide culture of selfishness?

The answer is… about five paragraphs north of here. I already said it was a practical thing. No other language seems to capitalize their version of “I”, so it’s not a culture of selfishness or subjectivity. It’s just practicality. I just kept writing because I already had all the pictures gathered. And if you’re reading this, that means you wanted to see the pictures.


You're welcome.

So now we know that the comedian wasn’t just a bad comedian, he was kind of dumb, too.

Too bad he didn’t have pictures to fill in the empty spaces.






Haha. Hipster Dog is funny.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Hooray For Death.

Everybody remembers 9/11.

It’s almost like a game. You sit down with friends or family on a quiet evening, have a couple of drinks (or not) and sooner or later you start playing “Where Were You On 9/11?” And everyone remembers where they were, what they were doing and who they were with when planes struck the World Trade Center.

Now (thankfully) we can play a new game: “Where Were You When bin Laden Died?”

I was sitting in my living room with my girlfriend. She was playing on her iPad2 ™ and I was digging around on the internet (not porn). We had Celebrity Apprentice on, mostly for background noise since neither of us enjoys the show. When the announcement came on I was ecstatic. I was restless. I kept standing and walking to the kitchen, then coming back to sit down again. I posted on Facebook. I kissed my girlfriend. Then I got back up and went back to the kitchen. I fixed myself a drink (rum and coke). Later I told my girlfriend that I had been tempted to run out into the street and shout the news at the top of my lungs.

This morning I prayed to God. Big Guns and I don’t discuss much the old-fashioned way, but I felt the need to make an exception. I asked him to forgive me for celebrating the death of another human being. I felt like it was worth doing, but to be honest the guilt I feel is pretty minimal. I felt more guilty about not feeling guilty than anything.

Today as the day progressed I was inundated with all sorts of reactions to the death of the World’s Most Wanted Man. Pictures and videos of people celebrating…




people remembering the fallen…





and so-forth.

You can Google the confusion. You can feel the confusion. So many people are happy about what happened. So many are sad. So many don’t know what to feel. So here’s what I can tell you kids:

Osama bin Laden was evil.



Look at him. Ugly hateful little bastard, wasn’t he? You can see it in his eyes, that creepy calm resolve that says, “I will kill you and anyone else who stands in my way.” Gives me the willies.

“Never underestimate the power of a man with a cause.” This man was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. Not just Americans or Christians. He killed plenty of Muslims too. People can debate what he believed, but one thing we all know to a certainty is that he had no compunctions about killing people. He wasn’t misguided. He wasn’t ill-informed. He knew what he was doing, and he reveled in it. If al Qaeda (his terrorist organization) did an operation that resulted in death, bin Laden wasn’t far behind in releasing a video glorifying what he’d done. The man was evil and we all knew it.

But that’s not why Ground Zero was flooded with joyous crowds. People weren’t celebrating the death of a man (even an evil one).



Okay, most people weren’t celebrating the death of a man.

People were celebrating the closure. People were celebrating the end of a reign of terror. Because Osama bin laden left a scar, not just on America but on the world. American, European, Afghani, Christian, Muslim, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters... not a soul felt true peace. The families of the 9/11 victims, the families of fallen soldiers couldn’t really find peace. For military and intelligence, it’s a fulfillment of a promise made and redemption for a day when we couldn’t protect the ones we loved most. People were celebrating the lifting of a weight from the shoulders of billions of free people.

I’m not a counselor. But I can tell you that it’s okay to celebrate May 1, 2011.




Too gratuitous? Ah, what the hell. Go big or go home, right?











Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hoggle Reborn


Any of you remember Labyrinth? Labyrinth was the 1986 film chronicling the journey of a young woman (played by Jennifer Connelly)...



on a quest to retrieve her infant brother from the Goblin King (played by David Bowie)...


and his... pants... goblin (played by David Bowie's pants goblin).


OH GOD, IT BURNS!! MY EYES!! MY EYES!!

I digress.

In the film, Sarah meets up with a number of odd characters. There was the fox named Sir Didimus who rode a dog named Ambrosius (that sounds like the plot for a gay porno), the giant beast Ludo… but the best character was the ugly dwarf of a troll named Hoggle. 


Hoggle's hobbies included carpet-bombing fairy nests with the viciousness of a dictator (Khadafy) and collecting plastic bracelet charms with the creepy dedication of a dictator (Kim Jung Il). He was cantankerous and stubborn, he was ugly, he was a loner, and he was in the end the hero of the story (at least to me). Torn between fear of his king (Bowie) and love of the girl (Connelly), Hoggle ended up siding in favor of the girl and helping her get her brother back. He was a classic story of redemption and heroism.

The film's puppetry was handled by Jim Henson & Co., and as you can see from above they really did an amazing job. Even from a still shot you can see details in design that CGI still has trouble capturing. Hoggle (and indeed all of the puppets in the film) truly came to life on-screen. He was destined for an honored place in the pantheon of Henson's Greatest Muppets.


Then someone lost the luggage.

Nobody knows for sure how it happened, but at some point Hoggle was lost, trapped inside a wooden crate prison in an unclaimed luggage warehouse for nearly two decades. When Unclaimed Baggage, Inc. opened the suitcase in 2005 to find this:




The first reaction was probably panic, along with an exorcism or two. After everyone calmed down, it took a while for someone to figure out just what they were looking at. It also took a couple of mid-1980s fantasy film buffs, a few DVD rentals and (probably) a fair amount of alcohol. If it were me, it would be to drown the sorrow. Hoggle was a piece of my childhood and to see it as a rotted horror is kind of a shock.



Once Hoggle was identified, John Marshall, CEO of Unclaimed Baggage, called Gary Sowatzka, a well-known restoration artist, and asked him to work his magic. It took only a few weeks, but Gary got Hoggle back to (mostly) working order. You can read about the details here.

The finished product:



Not… bad. Not at all what he had been, but at least Hoggle has been given a fitting send-off. He also has a place in one of Unclaimed Baggage's small museums.



I would rather see him with the rest of the Henson Muppets, and possibly given a better restoration, but we all take what we can get when it comes to preserving our childhood memories, right?

Now let's hope the rest of the cast fared better.



Yes. Definitely yes.



HOLY SHIT! WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?!?!? ARE HIS EYES DIFFERENT COLORS?? IT'S LIKE HE'S EATING MY SOUL WITH HIS LAZY EYE!!


Just be glad I didn't post an updated picture of his pants goblin. I don't think I'm going to sleep for a month.