August 2009 Archives

Ahead, Warp 0.000003. Make It So.

My buddy Brad and I are preparing for another triathlon, and this time we decided to buy our bikes rather than rent.  He opted for the top shelf, while I went entry level.  He reasons that if he is going to race, he should ride something fast.  I reason that if I am going to wreck something, it should be something cheap.  I hadn't ridden a racing bike since my last tri, and the last moments on that bike consisted of me being tossed and tumbled at 25 mph onto the pavement, so I was a little skittish when I took my brand new road rocket out for a spin.  After saddling up, I strapped on my Garmin and clocked my speed as I raced down my street.  As I hit 27 mph, I thought to myself "I could actually get a speeding ticket, since this is a 25 mph zone."  Then I thought "I wonder how fast 27 mph is in Star Trek terms."  Try as I might, I cannot ever fully quash my inner nerd.

As often happens when Star Trek is on the mind, the mind wanders.  I then took the bike out to the canal and did some more long distance riding.  As the miles passed, my brain kept going back to Star Trek.  For example, I had to slam on the breaks to avoid Senor Chupacabra (as I call the wild jack rabbit that I see every morning on my ride) and was nearly tossed head over heels.  I was only going about 20 miles an hour.  What if I had been going warp 12, like  they do on Star Trek?  That's 12 times the speed of light.  They drop from warp 12 to impulse power all the time, yet nobody spills his coffee, and everybody's dishes stay on the table.  How is that possible?  And when they jump from a dead stop to warp speed, you'd think everyone would get end up on their butts (Mr. Scott does, but that's because he's always drunk).  But, no.  You can't even tell that the ship has started to move.  What's up with that?

Speaking of warp speed, you'd think that there's be huge, monstrous collisions in space.  In almost every chase episode, the pursued ship runs from another and then drops out of warp at the end of the chase.  If the two ships are both going many times light speed and then the lead ship stops, the second ship would crash into the lead as they'd have no time to react.  Yet that never happens.  Come on, now!

Having some training in biology and medicine, the conversations in the sick bay trouble me the most.  The worst offense was when one of the doctors made the statement "Everyone one knows we only use 10 percent of our brains."  Maybe Hollywood actors use 10 percent of their brains (Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton using even less) but the rest of humanity uses roughly 100 percent of theirs.  The whole ten percent myth is a common, old, and false claim dating back to a time before antibiotics and hand washing.  Have you ever heard this news report: "A Phoenix man is recovering in the hospital after he was shot in the head.  Fortunately, the bullet passed through the 90 percent that he doesn't use, so he's expected to make a full recovery"?  Of course not.  There are many other examples of bad medicine, but I won't bore you with them.

If you really think about it (and really, who doesn't have all sorts of time to sit around and think about it?) the show tips you off in the intro that it's full of bogusness.  In the beginning of every  episode of Star Trek, they say that they are boldly going where nobody has gone before.  Yet, where ever they go, someone is already there.  I suppose it makes for better TV than the alternative.  "Captain's Log, Star Date 8675309.  The Enterprise has arrived at the Ice Planet Hoth.  There's nobody here.  We're moving on to Planet P to see if there's anybody there."

It All Makes Sense Now. Sorta.

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I like a great many things about this world.  Yummy snack foods, the beauty of nature, the serenity of the cosmos.  There is so much to love that I wonder how anybody finds time to hate anything in this great green planet of ours.  Yet, by my own admission, I detest something very, very much, to the point that when the topic comes up for discussion, my lovely wife hides the children lest they be witness to heated words and newly-minted profanities.

I hate the Dallas Cowboys.

This is not some "Oh, I really hate brussell sprouts" dislike.  This is a deep, visceral, emotional, primal hatred, akin to "I hate getting kneed in the groin."

It wasn't always such.  When I was a kid, I actually loved America's Team, with Roger Staubach, Danny White, Tony Dorsett, and Tom Landry.  Even though the Buffalo Bills were my favorite team (my first pair of pajamas was a "#32 The Juice Is Loose" set of OJ Simpsons, complete with footies), I still loved to watch the Cowboys.  The glitz, the glam, the success, it all appealed to a young lad freezing away his youth in Western New York.

Then Jerry Jones happened.

Jones bought the Cowboys, fired Landry, and hired Jimmy Johnson, who apparently knew every crack-smoking thug of a football player in the country and invited them all to Dallas.  (What do you call a drug ring in Dallas?  A huddle.) I started to sour on the Boys, which was accelerated by back-to-back thumpings of the Bills in the Super Bowl (What do the Buffalo Bills and marijuana have in common?  They both get smoked in bowls by the Cowboys) until finally, I arrived where I sit today, hating the Cowboys.

The one source of joy that I have been granted the past decade has been Dallas's utter futility late in the season and in the playoffs.  Even though the Boys are picked every season to win the Super Bowl, and even though every Dallas fan I know acts as if they actually did win the Super Bowl every year, the Cowboys choke year in and year out.  They haven't won a playoff game since 1997.  In fact, the Arizona Cardinals have won more playoff games in Dallas (one) than Dallas has in that long span, and is 4-2 in the playoffs over that time.  I like to remind my Dallas fan friends that a college student entering his sophomore year would have been in kindergarten the last time Dallas won in the post season.

There have been many, many goats and very few heroes in Dallas's playoff runs as of late.  Perhaps no bigger goat would be Tony Romo.  After the 2006 season, the Cowboys travelled to Qwest Field in Seattle to play the Seahawks.  With less than two minutes left and the Cowboys trailing by one point, Romo took the field to hold for a gam-winning 19-yard field goal attempt.  He botched the hold and Seattle won the game..  Romo's response has become a Cowboy-hater's favorite:

When his team made the playoffs after the 2007 season, Romo began preparing for the playoffs the way that any professional would - he flew to Mexico with his girlfriend, Jessica Simpson.  While his teammates were studying film and developing game plans, their leader was canoodling on the beach with the woman who wanted to know if Chicken of the Sea was poultry or seafood.  Undeterred by all the criticism he received from fans and media, Romo led his team to a home loss to the Giants, which was iced by a Romo interception in the end zone with less than 30 seconds to go.

The 2008 season started out well enough, with Dallas winning their first three games.  But as the season wore on, the Boys struggled and were faced with having to win their last game at home against division-rival Philadelphia to secure a playoff spot.  When the last day of the season rolled around, the Cowboys didn't even bother showing up and lost 44-6 (If you call Tony Romo, why won't he answer?  He can't find a receiver).

The Germans invented the word schadenfreude to describe what I feel about Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys (It means "taking delight in the misfortune of others").

But, it turns out, that the Cowboys repeated failure in the playoffs has a very simple explanation:


See, after Tony dumped Jessica, she sought out a witch, who put a hex on Romo.  I don't know what the exact incantation was, but it was probably "Double Bubble red and pinko, make the Dallas Cowboys stinko."

I should know because that's the one I've been saying each week during football season and it has been working so far.

Our Glorious Leader Has Passed

I saw a news story the other day about Michael Jackson's burial being delayed a four or five days.  My first thought was "Huh?  He's not in the ground yet?"  Actually, that was my first, second, third, and fourth thoughts.  Who doesn't get buried in three days, let alone nearly three months?

Communist dictators, that's who.  Those guys stay on display for decades.

For goodness sake, let's put Michael Jackson to rest already.


The ancient monks of Cambodia used to celebrate Ku-Mat Lei.  Each year around this time, they would gather at the temple and "confess" their shortcomings to each other - not just their sins, but their faults and the aspects of their lives that they thought needed improving.  By verbalizing their mistakes and failures and sharing them with each other, they believed that they could gain power over these things and improve themselves.  So, in that spirit, here's my list of confessions for this year's Ku-Mat Lei:

1) I don't get jazz, especially free form jazz.  The irregular melodies and beats throw me off.  It just sounds like a bunch of noise to me.

2) I secretly hope that Brett Favre stinks so badly this next season that the Vikings don't make the playoffs.

3) Despite having nine years of higher education, I just don't understand poetry.  I can't tell really good poetry from really bad poetry, and can't distinguish poetry from prose broken up into separate lines mid-sentence.  People say that poetry has rhythm while prose doesn't, but whenever I hear poets reading their stuff, I never notice any rhythm.  Sometimes I feel like a big, giant joke is being played on me.

4) I wish I could verbally abuse people without guilt or repercussion the way Gordon Ramsay does.

5) I used to think Bon Jovi was a cool band.  I even bought their CD's the day  they were released.  In my defense, it was a long, long time ago and they still made music that guys could rock out to.  I know it is not a fault that I currently struggle with, but it still needs to be confessed so I can move on.

6) I root for the smoke monster on "Lost" and hope Benjamin Linus regains control of The Others.

7) I encouraged my friend Brad to steal a Steeler fan's (free) seat cushion at the Super Bowl as we left.  In my defense, Steeler Fan was drunk, obnoxious, and kept standing up in front of me at inappropriate times.  I really didn't feel guilty about it, but Brad was angst-ridden about it all the way back to the hotel after the game.

8) I know nothing about ancient Cambodia, and made up the whole Ku-Mat Lei by truncating and mashing together the names of the quarterbacks for my beloved Arizona Cardinals.

200 Years Or Life In Prison. Whichever Comes First.

Bernard Madoff, the noted swindler and con-man, was recently sentenced to 150 years in federal prison.  The BTK killer in Kansas netted ten consecutive life sentences - one for each of his ten murders.  And Arizona high school teacher Morton Berger was sent to the pokey for 200 years for possessing twenty pornographic pictures of children.

150 years?  Ten consecutive life terms?  200 years?  What the heck is going on?  Are judges on crack?  "Bailiff, prop up the dead defendant so that we can beat him some more."  Are these judges insane?

Actually, everybody else is crazy and the judges handing out these sentences are perfectly sane.

Suppose you get into a fight with a hobo over a Twinkie.  "Get your filthy paws off my Twinkie, you damn dirty hobo!" you shout as you pummel him (and, really, who wouldn't fight to the death over a delicious dessert cake?)  Unfortunately, he dies and you get sent to jail for life.  You are bummed that you're incarcerated, but you don't despair.  You quietly bide your time in the Big House, knowing that it will only be 20 years or so before your life sentence is over and you are released.  In most jurisdictions, "life" does not equal "the rest of your life" but "some long time until we either get too crowded or the parole board forgets what you did and lets you go."

There are many Americans who like to point out that the United States is one of the few remaining Western countries to still employ the death penalty.  They like to try to make us think that it makes us uncivilized and barbaric that we still end the lives of the worst of the worst.  Yet despite all their attempts to shame us, support for capital punishment is very high.  Why is that?

The answer is simple and clear: Blame the bleeding heart liberals that we still have the death penalty.

Say what?  Liberals are to blame for capital punishment?

Absolutely.  Americans are many things, not the least of which is forgiving.  We tear our heroes down and then celebrate their comebacks.  We root for David to bring down Goliath, but then cheer when Goliath does the talk show circuit to discuss his failures and how much he has grown from them.

Yet we support putting murderers to death, despite our proclivity to forgive.  Why?  Because the criminal justice system cannot assure us that the big bad people who killed our friends and neighbors won't be separated from us for the rest of their lives.  Far too often, a heinous murderer is released before he is dead, even though he was sent to prison to live out the rest of his natural life.  

Too many bad guys have gotten out of jail while still young enough to commit more crimes and cause more trouble, despite the prior life sentence given to them.  Early release because of "good behavior", parole, clemency, pardon, or court-mandated overcrowding solutions has allowed more than one murderer to re-enter society and kill again.

And that is something that the forgiving American People can never forgive.

By and large, we don't enjoy seeing anybody die, even hardened criminals.  But when given the choice of putting a murderer to death or taking the (pretty good) chance that he'll be released from prison some day, we are opting for the former.  If we could be assured that a life sentence means "until you die in prison" support for the death penalty would dry up instantly.  Until then, judges will keep trying to find all sorts of ways to make sure that bad guys stay in jail, like sentencing them to 200 years.

Are We Alone? It Sure Does Look That Way

A few weeks ago, the family and I piled into the Suburban and ventured down to Southern Arizona for a long weekend vacation.  One of the stops we made was Kitt Peak, home to an array of telescopes.  The plan was to participate in the night viewing session, but, alas, the impending monsoon rains put an end to that idea.  So we amused ourselves by checking out all the various scopes on the mountain, even it was during daylight.  They were very impressive, indeed.

The telescope that got my brain churning was the solar scope.  It was an awesome piece of technology, but the visual aid in the lobby of the adjoining building was what captured my imagination.  It showed a side by side comparison of the various bodies that make up our solar system, with Earth being dwarfed by Jupiter, and Jupiter, in turn, being tiny in comparison to our sun.  It was like placing a bowling ball next to a group of marbles.  (Here's a close approximation.)  The next panel showed our sun as being tiny compared to Sirius and Arcturus.  Finally, the last panel showed how puny Arcturus was when placed next to Antares and Betelgeuse.  

It was quite breathtaking to see just how our own little blue orb fit into  the grand scheme of the objects speeding through the expanse of space.  Seeing God's creation not just on our own world but out in the rest of the universe is awe-inspiring and humbling.

It got me to thinking about whether or not some other planet like our own was out there, with some chubby kid pondering his own world's place in the order of things.  So, I did what any self-respecting geek would do.  I got out my calculator.

As an aside: Those who know me know that I am a Bible-believing, hard core Christian.  God is powerful and great and created all that I was looking at and thinking about at Kitt Peak.  But, unlike some Christians (and much like many others) I also believe that God can create things the was that he sees fit, even if he didn't explain it all to us in the Bible.  For example, He very well could have created the entire universe, earth, sun, moon, sky, plants, animals, and human race in six literal, 24-hour days.  But the evidence that he left behind for us to find is that he took much longer.  Like 15 billion years longer.  That doesn't mean that the Bible is wrong or that God didn't create the universe.  It just means that the six days in Genesis does not mean six 24-hour days.

Back to the calculator.  Current scientific thinking is that the Earth is roughly 5 billion years old and that the universe was around for 10 billion years prior to that.  If we assume (based on what?  Just the fact that I like to keep numbers round and easy to work with) the universe needed 5 billion years before any stars and planets suitable for intelligent life could develop, that means that there could have been intelligent life for 5 billion years prior to our own planet even forming.  Take that 5 billion and add it to the age of Earth, and you can figure that intelligent beings have had 10 billion years to explore.

Now, humans have gone from banging rocks together and living in caves to exploring space in roughly 10,000 years.  Let's assume it takes another 15,000 years for us to unlock the key to deep space exploration.  And let's also assume that it takes 50,000 years more to find another habitable planet.  That would (according to the calculator) mean that in the span of 100,000 years, an intelligent creature could go from banging rocks to "Take me to your leader."

Compared to 10 billion years, 100,000 is a very short period of time.  It means that there has been the potential to see 100,000 new civilizations rise up, explore deep space, and disappear and have no two ever exist at the same time.  It also means that just in the time that our own planet has been around, 50,000 such civilizations could have risen, explored, and died.

These numbers raised three possibilities to me: The first is that our universe is so old and our time in it so short, it is quite possible that other intelligent beings have existed somewhere out there but may have died 2 billion years ago and we'd never be able to communicate with them.  Just because there are other places to live in space doesn't mean that intelligent creatures live there right now.  

The second, more compelling thought I took away from the calculator is that if there had been all these other intelligent beings out there, living, working, and exploring in space (even if they all died eons ago), you'd think that by now we see some of their junk or other signs of them - radio waves, electromagnetic signals, anything that would denote an intelligence.  We haven't seen anything.

The third possibility is that the universe is teeming with intelligent life, much like an ocean or jungle.  But the distance between our own solar system and theirs is so vast and the rules of physics so inflexible that it is simply impossible to cross the distance between us.

So, for all intents and purposes, we are most likely alone in the universe - at least our little corner of it.  And that's OK with me.  It would be just my luck that some intergalactic vessel would get stranded on this planet and that their ship was fueled by Ho Hos, and they would need the world's supply of my favorite snack to return home.  If that were the case, I would tell ET to phone his world's equivalent of AAA for a tow truck because he's not getting any dessert from the Fat Kid!

I Fought the Law and the Law Won. Duh. It Always Does.

I don't like to blog about the same topic over and over (unless, of course, the topic is football or food) because, well, it's boring and stupid.  But after posting about ObamaCare a few days ago, we have seen a lot of push back from the public against the proposal.  Without getting into the specifics of the plan, here is about as solid an argument as I can make against it:

It is against the law.

Not the law of the United States.  Against the law of supply and demand.

When something is deemed to be too expensive, there are really only two ways to make it cheaper without significantly altering the product (cheaper materials, etc.)  The first is to increase the supply.  The other is to decrease demand.  It's as simple as it gets.

This government plan neither increases supply nor diminishes demand.  In fact, it does just the opposite on both counts, which anybody can figure out is a recipe for higher costs.  A government-run health care plan will pay doctors less than what they can get in the free market.  That's a universal truth, based upon how the current government-run health care programs (Medicaid and Medicare) now operate.  There's no reason to believe that any new program will be any different.  This underpayment scheme will lead many doctors to decline participation or (when participation becomes mandatory) to leave the practice of medicine altogether.  That will cut supply.

By inviting all of the uninsured and underinsured to join the government program, demand will be driven up.  Increased demand plus level (or declining) supply will equal rising costs.  With rising costs will come pressure on the federal government to contain costs.  As there will be no way to increase supply (since increased payments to doctors would lead to higher costs) and no way to limit demand (since the plan will become universal) there will be only one way to limit costs: rationing.

Rationing means the denial of care to some.  Which is the very problem we are trying to solve by "reforming" health care in the first place.

I have automobile insurance.  It covers me if I have an accident.  It does not cover my gas or repairs.  I have it in case I get into a situation that is financially unbearable to me.  I also have life insurance.  I can get a million dollars of coverage for less than $200 a month.  Why?  Because the insurance company figures I am probably not going to die this year.  I have life insurance in case something catastrophic happens to me.  But health "insurance" is different.  It doesn't just cover worst-case scenarios.  It pays for everything from an eye exam up to brain transplants and everything in between.  And the insurance company figures that in some shape or form, I am probably going to use my coverage this year.  I am probably not going to be hospitalized this year (since the last time I was is such a state, I was a newborn), yet I pay more per month in health insurance than I do for a year of auto insurance.

It makes no sense.

If health insurance went from a Everything-Covered style to a Catastrophe-Covered model, rates would drop like a rock.  I have said it before, when people start paying for their doctor visits themselves rather than with insurance, those visits will become a lot cheaper as well.

We aren't splitting the atom here.  The law of supply and demand is one of the most fundamental and universal of all laws.  We should obey it rather than ignore it.

Random Thoughts

You can bet that whenever someone prefaces something with "No offense, but...." you will be offended.

Two NFL quarterbacks currently garnering much excitement over their return to the game are Michael Vick and Tom Brady.  Vick is just out of jail and has been reinstated by the league, but is still searching for a team.  Brady missed all of last season with a knee injury and is expected to lead the New England Patriots to the playoffs.  Vick is the object of universal scorn while Brady is loved.  But what Tom Brady did in dumping his pregnant girlfriend is worse than what Michael Vick did with running his dogfighting ring.

I recently discovered that Phoenix has a large system of canals and washes, and many of them have bike paths and parks alongside of them.  I was able to ride more than 30 miles without having to cross a major street.  I have always thought of the desert as pretty ugly, but most of the time I ride along this bike path system, the scenery is very nice.

The federal government recently gave us the Cash for Clunkers program, stating that the money would last for several months.  It ran out in three days.  The CFC deal was a whole lot simpler than most, yet they miscalculated the cost by a factor of a jillion.  This does not give me a warm, fuzzy feeling about their ability to address much more complex programs like ObamaCare.  Speaking of which, what do you want to bet that the ObamaCare plan will have mandatory benefits for same-sex couples, creating conflict with states that want to ban same-sex marriage?

If the Sham Wow guy tells me that my second set is "Absolutely Free!!!" but then tells me that I have to pay for shipping and processing, how can it be "absolutely" (as in: in all ways) free?!?!

I don't get it when people say that they are going to give 110% effort.  It is physically impossible to give more than 100%.  I suspect that what they are really saying is "I have been claiming to give 100% up to now, but I have really been dogging it.  So now I'll give more like 95% or 98% and call it 110%."  They remind me of Mr. Scott from Star Trek.  He was the ultimate slacker.  Whenever the Enterprise was in a jam, Kirk would call down to Engineering and tell Scotty "I need more power!"  Mr. Scott's first response was always and without fail "I can't do it Captain!" (actually it was more "Ah cahn't dew eet Cap'in" either because he's Scottish or intoxicated.  It's hard for me to tell the accents apart.)  Then Kirk (who never believed what Scotty had to say) would demand "Do it!!!"  Scotty (who was trying to tell us that he was already giving 110%) would try to thwart Kirk by going nuclear: "If I do it, the ship will BLOW UP!!!"  Kirk would always call Scotty's bluff and demand that he follow orders and do whatever it was that he should have been doing in the first place.  And guess what?  The Enterprise never, ever blew up even though Scotty said it would.  If the Fat Kid were captain of the Enterprise, Mr. Scoot would be marooned on some Klingon prison planet.

The people on Gilligan's Island sure did pack a lot of changes of clothes for a three hour tour, didn't they?  And for a desert isle, they got an awful lot of visitors.  And the professor could build a radio out of coconuts but could find a way to patch a hole in the boat?  Are you kidding me?!?  Maybe he was like Sawyer from "Lost" and didn't want to be found.  Come to think of it, Ginger and Mrs. Howell packed the most clothes.  Maybe they were in on it with the Professor.

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