Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Defending people in news articles

I just posted my fourth article about journalistic integrity. All four of them have been in defense of conservatives. I don't particularly care to defend them, but I seem to get defensive about attacks on them in the press. I wonder why that is. I'll gladly attack them myself. I may have to chew on that one for a while.

Journalistic crap - yet again

I get riled up by articles that are presented as news, but are really just political attacks.

The current one in question is about a Southern Republican governor from Mississippi. I don't know Haley Barbour's reputation. Most likely, he claims to be an Evangelical Christian and a fiscal conservative. You can't seem to get elected as a Republican in the South without these credentials. I'm going to make that assumption and roll with it because it fits the agenda of this rant.

Those credentials don't mean that you're a racist, but there's no doubt that the power structure that historically ran the segregated South before the Civil Rights Movement will find its descendants in the Republican Party. That doesn't mean that if you're a Republican, you're a racist. It probably means that it's more likely, but the assumption is patently unfair.

Based on my experience in the South, I don't know anybody that believes segregation or racism is right. I do know a good number of prejudiced people. I also know a number of people that live in a bubble that have no idea what goes on outside their nice little community. There are people who pine for the 1950's, but not because of race issues. While I have met many racists in my life, I cannot recall having ever met a person who longs for segregation.

The article is entitled: Barbour doesn’t recall civil rights era being ‘that bad’.

The implication from the title alone implies that he's a racist segregationist. I don't know the guy or his reputation. Maybe he is a racist segregationist. From the title, we'll find out the proof, right?

If you actually read the article, he makes comments to the effect that he doesn't remember race relations being bad during that era. He's referring to violence and tension that history describes in many areas of Mississippi at that time. He doesn't remember his hometown having those kinds of problems. That's it. That's his recollection. He doesn't remember it being that bad. Of course, he's white, but that was his answer to a question. Maybe he could've qualified it to be clearer. Maybe he did and the author had an agenda?

The article is trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill because this guy apparently has aspirations of running for president in 2012. Just smear him as a racist and it's a job well done. It's done by a news blogger, but it was on Yahoo's front page and is part of Yahoo News. Blog or not, if it's presented as news, there should be some journalistic ethics behind it. This is pure political drivel meant to smear and I don't like it.

This is not support for Barbour because I don't know his politics. This is merely a rant about partisan journalism.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

300 Sextillion Stars, But We're Special!

I'm blown away. I can't even comprehend the number.

Number of Stars in the Universe

However, it does help put some perspective around human arrogance:

God put his special people on a puny planet that is third from a medium-sized star (of which there are approximately 300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) in a medium-sized galaxy (of which there are anywhere from 100,000,000,000 to 1,000,000,000,000) ?

... and we're the only life in it?

Tea Party, Earmarks, and Journalism

What is this article saying?

Tea Party Caucus and Earmarks

It sounds like a cheap shot at the Tea Party. I've noted before about my feelings with regard to the Tea Party. However, this article is trying to make them look bad by showing all of the newly-formed caucus members extravagant earmarks to the tune of $1 billion. The Tea Party is patently against earmarks. It calls out many of the caucus members for their apparent hypocrisy.

However, at the end of the article, it seems to point out as an afterthought that when members joined the caucus, they stopped introducing earmarks and removed themselves from those attached to pending legislation. That seems consistent with the philosophy to me.

I certainly have no problem with watchdog groups looking for hypocrisy, but maybe there shouldn't be quite the attempt at the proverbial witch hunt?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Where jobs come from

There is a major anti-business, anti-wealth sentiment in this country. Supply-side economics is a dirty phrase. Limited government is laughable.

However, the question I have for all of these naysayers is, "Where does your job come from?" Is it created by the union? Does everybody have the right to one? How does a job come to be?"

Friday, September 3, 2010

Cutting cable update

Well, it is now September and we haven't had cable in at least 7 months (can't remember exactly when we cut it). College football season just started and, low and behold, ESPN3.com is broadcasting tons of live games. With PlayOn or just my PC/TV, I can watch non-broadcast college football games.

Netflix streaming and the Wii are really the key to our living room experience. Digital HD broadcast and it make everything worthwhile.

PlayOn allows Hulu and other Internet content to my TV, but is a little problematic with controls on my XBMC.

I'm not sure of the future of ESPN3.com's broadcast breadth and depth. It looks like it might be limited, but it's still pretty cool.

Roethlisberger finds Jesus?

Ben Roethlisberger has seen the error of his ways and found a path of redemption through the Lord.

Oh gimme a break.

One of the good traits of Christianity is forgiveness. Our country has generally had an impeccable history with regard to forgiving people, countries, etc. The only problem is that asses like Roethlisberger take advantage of it.

Is it possible that he got into a narcissistic tailspin and the "interception" knocked him out of it? It is possible that the Bible helped him find his way and that he's a changed person?

Sure, it's possible.

I think it's more likely that he saw his career in trouble and got some advice. The people of this country are quick to forgive. Therefore, if you can sell it (even halfway decently), the people will buy it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Why is gay marriage a threat?

I was pointed to a blog posting about the importance of protecting marriage during a discussion on gay marriage.

Let me be clear. I, in no way, disagree with the positive nature of the traditional nuclear family. Let's be honest though, the straight people have been screwing this up royally for at least 50-60 years all on their own (don't blame me, I've been happily married for 17 years). If it is so imperative to protect traditional marriage, why aren't people all riled up about divorce? I know that many people are against it, but politicians haven't exactly based their campaign strategy on it. I would have to say that a divorce rate of 50% against 90-97% of the population (depending on which numbers you use) is much more critical to the institution of marriage than the simple recognition of marriage on a percentage of people that only make up 3-10% of the population.

I think the real problem for opponents is that they've been taught that homosexuality is a horrible, evil, awful sin. The gay rights movement was already on their radar over the last decade or two as yet another encroachment into their country by deviant, sinful people. Now, they want to partake in their sacred institution of marriage? Are you kidding me?

Maybe I'm exaggerating, but I'm doing that for effect. What goes on at an emotional level can often be suppressed or rationalized by our logic. I've read many arguments against gay marriage based on, at a minimum, an attempt to confront this topic in a logical way.

I just don't see how legalizing gay marriages has any effect on the importance of traditional marriages. Is the word so sacred that it must mean a man and a woman? For me, two gay men being married would have zero impact on my life or the lives of my children ... unless one of them happens to be gay. In which case, I hope they live a long, loving life with a partner that makes them happy and that this union is recognized by society as a legitimate one.

Why not just let them have civil unions?

Would you want your life committed relationship called a civil union or a partnership while other couples are called married? I wouldn't. I would feel it undermined my relationship or gave preference to others.

Gay couples generally want to be part of mainstream society. They don't want to tear it down. If they didn't want to be part of mainstream society, they would thumb their noses at traditional institutions like marriage.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

America's tech industry and 9/11?

Interesting article about the U.S. high-tech industry:
Intel CEO - U.S. faces looming tech decline

The comments from various high-tech CEOs do not surprise me at all. You could see this coming, but how did it happen? It's certainly a factor of the general globalization that has been going on over the last couple of decades, but I assert that the September 11th attacks spawned a chain reaction that has led us to this state.

Soon after the attacks, the U.S. put a stop order on technology immigration ... well not completely, but definitely a major turn of the faucet. Prior to this, if you were a motivated high-tech worker/student, you either wanted to come to the United States to find your way to success or you at least thought about it. As a result of the local supply, business got the government to allow a significant high-tech immigration to the United States, which mainly came from India and China.

When the faucet was moved to the 'drip' position after 9/11, high-tech companies were in a bind. There was a recession (again, possibly another indirect 9/11 contribution) and now a lower supply of engineers. This led some companies to start outsourcing high-tech jobs to other countries, namely the ones that had previously had high-tech emigration to the U.S. This actually turned out to be even cheaper for them and resulted in some short-term success. Other companies quickly followed suit.

Ah, but here we find yet another example of myopic business decisions based on quarterly and annual performance. The tactic that led to short-term profits has now created a longer-term problem. Other countries are now keeping their high-tech talent at home. As these economies are maturing at starting and running high-tech businesses, they aren't needing American businesses or even American capital anymore. We have gone from a time of American tech dominance to a nation in trouble of losing this battle. Next step - emigration from the United States to follow these quality jobs?

I'm not against global competition, but it's frustrating that we've basically done this to ourselves. We didn't have to take this path, but it does make me wonder how calculated the 9/11 attacks were in terms of these kind of long-term effects. If there is a correlation, as I assert, was this an intentional or accidental consequence?

Regardless, America continues to lag behind in getting its citizens to go into high-tech degree programs in college. Countries like India and China seem to be maturing at capitalism at a rapid pace and they are able to keep their people at home more than ever.

We're in trouble in high-tech.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Gerrymandering of political views

As a libertarian, I'm often confused by the utter contradictions in being either a Democrat or a Republican.

Speaking in generalities of course, a Democrat is against the government in their bedroom, but for it in their wallet. A Republican is the opposite. It doesn't make sense.

Why is it ok to co-opt the government in one case but not the other?

It seems like we would have a two-party system where people are either for an authoritarian democracy, where an elite government decides which behaviors and wealth distribution are appropriate, or a libertarian one, where the government provides minimal services to ensure individual rights.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Politics, the Economy, and Distractions

We get all riled up in our politics about gay marriage, abortion, religion, etc. Why? These things rarely actually matter in the realm of government or our daily lives as a result of the actions of government.

There are a few things that pop to mind as to why these issues become front and center:
  • Politicians wield them as tools to control easily swayed voters, touching on a sensitivity in a 'for' or 'against' manner.

  • The people affected by the politicization of these types of issues are forced to counterattack.

  • They are much more interesting and/or easy to debate than something like macroeconomic, global trends.
What really, truly matters for government is to protect the rights of its citizens through laws and enforcement. It's a reasonable debate to discuss the degree to which the government gets involved in protecting rights and probably a proper one, but that's really where that discussion should stop.

The Clinton Administration had the mantra of "It's the economy, stupid!" and they were right in that sense. However, I disagree with the tact that is normally taken (by both parties). The U.S. President is not the head of the American economy. There really isn't (shouldn't be) one. In its role of protecting the rights of its citizens, the government should be a watchdog to the workings of our economy.

The problem is who watches the watchdog?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Taking our country back!

What does this phrase mean in our current political climate?

Here's a video that's pretty overdone (I could do without the patriotic music), but done fairly well. It's a nice touch to roll out JFK in an attempt to show balance.

I can't find anything in it I disagree with. I can only guess that this is done by a Tea Party enthusiast. I blogged about the Tea Party in May and have still struggled with my stance on them. After watching the video from my last blog entry where Bill O'Reilly and Sarah Palin talk about the U.S. being a Christian nation, it hit me what the thought process is and where my problem is:

This is their country. They created a great nation based on freedom and liberty. They have allowed others to partake in it and have done it with pride. They have been so proud of the success that they've attempted to export it as much as possible. In recent times, their position of power and way of doing things have come under question. "How dare they! This is our country. How can our way be disallowed by our own courts and government. This is a call to arms!"

This reminds me somewhat of the end of A Few Good Men.

"We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone to a
life spent defending something. You use 'em as a punchline. I have neither the
time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under
the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I
provide it. I'd prefer you just said thank you and went on your way." - Col. Jessep

Many liberals cry racism and theocracy. I don't think that's what it is for most people. I think they are pissed off that their way of life has not only been questioned, but is systematically being disassembled. It's being done by the government institutions that they have held so dearly. The government is by, of, and for the people. They are the people. How did this happen?

So, in the last couple of decades, fundamentalists have taken this call to arms to the government. They are attempting to fight off the apparent attack on their way of life. Generally speaking, this is not intended as a way to force people like me to be a Christian. It's to allow them to be Christians like they've always been.

Praying at a city council meeting a generation or more ago was not a fundamentalist tactic of control. It's the way many people opened any kind of meeting. Prayer in school wasn't an indoctrination tactic. It's what you did.

The question is whether or not we can come to terms with each other. For example, why would someone like me think that it's so bad to pray at a city council meeting? It's not "bad" in the "I stole something" kind of bad. It's bad because it is the government infringing on the inalienable rights of citizens that are not of your religion. The majority can't decide who gets which rights. They are for everyone and must be protected, especially against the majority.

The message of "taking our country back" gets muddled as a result of all of this. Part of it is politics and part of it is culture. There is, no doubt, a major fiscal component to the Tea Party movement. I am with them on that. In the culture war side of things, I just can't support them. In fact, I'd rather religion just go away. However, I fully support a person's freedom of religion. As a result, you get to do your thing and I get to do mine.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Religious neutrality is not hostility

I wrote a very short piece about the people's misuse of government power a few months ago, but did not specifically call out any groups. In this article, I'm looking at you, Mr. or Mrs. Religious Righty. The religious right seems unbearably intent on including the government as a part of their Biblical megaphone.

As with most things regarding their religion, they just don't see the problem with prayer in school ... or the Ten Commandments in courtrooms ... or a National Day of Prayer. They can't understand how anybody would complain about something so moral and fundamental to America.

I can't even begin to deal with the mess of this clip. Sarah Palin at least puts it on the table.

So if there's no conceivable objection to prayer, why not include the daily Islamic prayers? It's praying to the God of Abraham. What could be wrong with that?

What about a simple Hebrew prayer? That's Judeo-Christian, right?

We all know what they mean by prayer and other religious overtures. They mean Christianity. But whose Christianity is it? Catholics? Methodists? Baptists? Mormons? Which is it? Surely we can make it common enough to cover them all? What about Jews and Muslims? Why not have one of the above prayers? What about Buddhists and Hindus? They don't even claim a similar monotheistic God. What about atheists and agnostics?

To quote myself, "Government can be secular, impartial, and unemotional, allowing the individual to be the opposite of all of those in any way they desire. In fact, I think this inherently allows an individual to be however they want and co-exist with others that are different."

This necessity of religious neutrality in government is NOT the hostility that so many Christians feel.

"When a Religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it
does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its
Professors are obliged to call for help of the Civil Power, it is a sign, I
apprehend, of its being a bad one." - Benjamin Franklin

Christians, go to your churches. Pray in your homes. Pray in public. Pray at school (personally and quietly please). Do not use this government to further your agenda. If you are so righteous, your path will be self-evident. You do not need to compel others through force.

Atheists are not (should not be) opposed to your rights, but we would like ours. The only way to do that is to keep government and religion separate.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The objectification of women

I recently read an interesting blog post about women and objectification. The article weighs the question of feminism, sexuality, and objectification by men.

I definitely consider myself a male feminist. I sought out a partner/equal for a spouse and nothing less. I found one and have been happily married for 17 years. I've had countless female coworkers and managers. I treat them all as I would any man - with the respect or disdain they individually deserve.

At the same time, I am bombarded 24/7 with my sexual thoughts as a male. It's really quite ridiculous. I doubt women truly have any idea the thoughts that seem to relentlessly flow through our minds.

I remember a conversation with my wife after watching the movie What Women Want. She said, "I wonder what the sequel 'What Men Want' would look like." I jokingly replied, "It's already been made a million times - it's called porn."

The bottom line is that men do see women as a sex object. At first, it's an overwhelmingly dominant portion of how we see you. As most men get to know you, it becomes a minor part nearly immediately. It's still there though.

What can we do? If we fully respect women otherwise, is that good enough?

Christopher Hitchens is dying - prayers?

I've only heard about this in the last couple of days, but the renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens is dying from esophageal cancer.  This is getting a lot of attention because of his prominence as an atheist and his nearly certain demise.

Some interviews:

Anderson Cooper:

Jeffrey Goldberg:

There is a mixed reaction of prayer among the believers.  Many are praying that he find Jesus.  Many are praying that he survives.  Very few are praying for his demise.

I've read a couple of things where atheists are finding this prayer to be condescending.  I disagree completely.  Who has been a bigger foe to Christians in the public discourse?  Hitchens seems to be the most terse and smug of the New Atheists that I've been following recently.

I celebrate Christians that pray for Hitchens because that's what they do when they care and certainly what their religion teaches them.

Turning the table on Mormons

While trolling another blog, I ran across this bit and had to share:

Monday, August 9, 2010

Fight Club and modern man

I recently watched Fight Club for the first time.  I'd have to say that I liked it, but it's very strange.  The reason I'm blogging about it is because it hit a nerve - the place and plight of men in the 21st century.

The landscape for men has changed very drastically over the last century.  Rolling into the turn of the 20th century, a man was a man.  He was generally some sort of laborer, relying on his superior physical strength to define his station in life.  Over the past 100 years, the need for physical strength has continued to diminish to the point of near obsolescence.  Mental ability is supplanting physical strength in a way that has removed man's corner on the job market.

Women are continually changing what it is they expect from themselves, their relationships, and their work.  This is definitely a good thing for them.  They're a little confused about this new world and their gender role, but it's trending the right direction.  Men, however, are finding themselves behind the times.  They're more than a little confused about this world and their role.  They're playing in it, but aren't comfortable and don't quite know why.

Fight Club tackles this dilemma with its main character (Ed Norton) and his alter ego (Brad Pitt).  What does a man do with millions of years of evolution bottled up inside him?  Everything about his life is not the way it should be.  Sitting at a desk, doing some paper-pushing sort of job, and living in a condo with furniture from IKEA is an evolutionary contradiction.

I think most men can really identify with what is going on for this character, as crazy and exaggerated as it may be.  Who doesn't occasionally identify with the song Synchronicity II by The Police?

Recently, The Atlantic did an article entitled The End of Men.  My wife and I both read it and have discussed it regularly.  I think that it's a little much to say that men are going to become obsolete, but men do need to get with the times because the times they are a changin'.

The interesting thing to me is that this world that we struggle against is one that we created.  Most of the advances in technology, productivity, work conditions, etc. were brought about by men and for men.  The unintended side effects were that our prior advantages in the gender realm have been neutralized and it has taken us away from the activities that took evolution thousands to millions of years to perfect.

There's a little to a lot of Fight Club in all of us.  We just need to figure out how to sufficiently balance that in the modern world.

Motivations for conflict

So I've been on a kick recently - listening to some of the "New Atheists" on podcasts during my commutes.  One of the things that they all seem to "preach" is about the effect of religion with regard to violence and war.  While I believe that religion can undeniably have an impact, it seems to me that nationalism, racism, etc. play equal or often greater roles.

I assert that the tribal nature of humans breeds violent conflicts.  Religion is often used as a tool of manipulation, but I think it's more of a tribal attribute than a spiritual one.

Many of the theists that I've heard will raise this point and I think it's very fair to do so.  This is another example of humans abusing religion and not necessarily a problem with religion itself.  The fact that religion can be made so pliable seems to be the real source of the problem in this context.

The sting of death

I was listening to a Sam Harris lecture podcast this morning. He mentioned the notion of "the sting of death" as a contrasting point on how people spend their time here on Earth.  Religion puts an interesting twist with the introduction of the afterlife.  If you truly believe in the afterlife then where is the pain in dying? What importance does that put to your life here on Earth?

It brought to mind stories told by American soldiers in the WWII Pacific Theater.  Several American accounts discussed the attitude about life and death for the soldiers on both sides.  The claims were that the Americans were mainly pushing forward with dominating thoughts of survival.  They contrasted this with the often suicidal tendencies of the Japanese soldiers. For the Japanese, there was ultimate honor in death. There was ultimate dishonor in surrender. There were eternal rewards to them and their family for faithfully serving their emperor.  The American soldiers considered these different attitudes as a key element to victory. Personally, I would say that our geographic isolation and massive industrial might (not to mention the two atomic bombs) were probably the biggest keys to success. However, it's hard to discount the attitude of the soldiers fighting the war on the ground.

These American soldiers, as mostly Christians, no doubt believed in an afterlife as well.  Apparently, either the common dogma of Christianity or the American political importance of the individual didn't promote fanaticism to the point of intentionally suicidal acts.  However, even the Christian view of an afterlife must have some sort of diminishing importance to life on Earth.  Our time here seems relatively inconsequential to the the eternity of the afterlife.

For an atheist, there is no solace in an afterlife.  Life on earth is EVERYTHING. It is the beginning and ending of your personal existence. I'm reminded of a scene from Dead Poets' Society:

Christians often tell me that without God, there's no reason to adhere to morals (that, in fact, there are none without Him).  I'll make a similarly sweeping statement in return.  If Heaven is eternal and tantamount, what's the point of life here on Earth?  Are we here to simply feed God's ego by worshiping Him and giving thanks to Him for our entire existence here?  If there is the promise of a wondrous afterlife, how easily could you be manipulated into being a kamikaze pilot ... or a suicide bomber ... or any sort of martyr for your God?  I assert that the lack of an afterlife makes our time here infinitely more precious.

Joined The Atheist Blogroll!

Tangent Talk has been added to The Atheist Blogroll. You can see the blogroll in my sidebar. The Atheist Blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Evolution is not "just a theory"

Evolution is considered as much a fact as the theory of gravity. Do not confuse the common language definition of theory with the scientific one. In common language, the use of the word “theory” is synonymous with “hypothesis”.  When science declares something to be a theory, it is considered an independently confirmed fact.  Despite this, all science is open for critique with evidence.  If contrary evidence arises, then the theory must be revised or dropped.  The fact that life evolved on this planet is not in question in the scientific community.

"But this can't just be some cosmic accident - it's too complex and perfect"

I will concede that the complexity of the universe is a somewhat compelling reason to believe in some sort of intelligence. I believe that we are slowly discovering our universe. I don’t think that our current lack of understanding is any sort of proof of our ancient myticisms.  However, the question of things being too improbable to happen by chance is a fair point.

If you listen to/read some of Richard Dawkins with regard to evolution, you will find that evolution isn’t random chance. The only parts that are random are the genetic mutations themselves. These mutations are mostly failures, but occasionally they are for the better. These successful mutations survive to the next generation. This process has repeated for millions and millions of years, leading us to where we are now.

In his latest book (which I have not read, but have heard podcasts about it), Dawkins paints a compelling picture with a discussion of leopards and gazelles. If you look at leopards, they look like the perfect gazelle killing machine in every way. If you look at gazelles, they look like the perfect leopard avoidance machine in every way.  It appears that leopards and gazelles are magnificently designed.

This perfection is not by mistake or chance though. Thousands of years of natural selection has bred them to be exactly where they are now. If you can’t hunt properly, you die and provide no offspring. If you can’t avoid being hunted, you die and provide no offspring.  The fact that evolution within a species occurs this way is undeniable and not random.

"Ok, but how does a new species form?"

Once some sort of geographic separation occurs, species may evolve to the extent that they can no longer interbreed with their long lost relatives.  This is the scientific distinction of a species.  This evolution, over a large amount of time, can create massive differences in species with a common ancestor.

"But this still has no explanation of how it started and who started it"

Many atheists fall back to the Big Bang as the how and who.  I'm not so sure.  I accept the Big Bang, but I'm very much in the "I don't know" camp with regard to the beginning of life and whether some intelligence was involved.  My gut tells me no, but this is really just a guess.  What I'm more confident about is that it isn't supernatural in a deity sort of way, based on my life's observations and "faith" in what scientists know to this point.  I am not 100% sure, but that's because it's impossible to know at this point.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Political parties and Rep. Paul Ryan's Roadmap

I have not been as plugged into politics as I used to be.  I used to read a lot on the Internet, listen to talk radio, and listen to the talking heads on TV.  Over time, I've become sickened by the divisiveness to the point where it makes it hard to stomach.  As a result, I rarely listen to talk radio or watch TV talk shows anymore.  I do try to stay up-to-date on current events, so I'm hardly unplugged.  Most of this information is via Google News however.

I was reading today about Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis) and his Roadmap.  I am very much a capitalist and a fiscal conservative.  I'm not sure if his direction is one that I would support, but appreciate the effort and am intrigued.  His point is spot on - we cannot sustain our current government.  Something must be done.  A plan must be in place.  I have not heard a plan to deal directly with this problem other than people saying we need to have one.  So, from this standpoint, I applaud Rep. Ryan for having one.

The current direction is more government programs, more spending, and more taxation,  I've heard this quote attributed to old Maggie Thatcher, but I believe it's really a paraphrase:

"The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money."

I empathize with the left and their agenda.  I really do.  Government can, and often is, an institution that can do really good things.  An economics professor of mine once posed this question to a student however:

Professor: "Are you for cleaner air?"
Student: "Ummm ... yes, I suppose so." (knowing they were being set up somehow, but...)
Professor: "So you are are FOR less education for children?"
Student: "What? I ... err ... what do you mean?"
Professor: "Well, there is a limited amount of money.  So, if you're going to clean the air more, that means there will be less funds for other things - like educating children."

It's not that I'm against various social safety nets, etc.  The problem is reality.  We must work within the constraints of reality and resources.  When the government creates programs and spends money, they are doing this with the resources of the free market.  That doesn't make it inherently evil or inappropriate, but there are consequences.  The left doesn't seem to acknowledge this or even understand it.  As a result, I've often voted for Republicans in the past.  Starting in 2004, I've voted for Libertarian candidates when possible.  As a fallback, I vote for Republicans.  I rarely vote for a Democrat.  I voted for Bill Clinton for President twice.  That's the only time I can recall voting for a Democrat.

The main problem with Republican politics for me is religion.  If it weren't for its seemingly complete deference to the religious right, I would probably be one.  When I hear a Republican talk about fiscal and governmental issues, I often find myself nodding my head.  Then, they turn to the other side and start ranting about abortion, gay marriage, and other such issues.  I'm immediately turned off.

In contrast to the head nodding, another large problem I have with Republicans is rampant fiscal hypocrisy.  So many are massive tax and spend socialists in practice, but just over different programs (or in a different way).  They may talk the talk, but its about liberal programs and not their own.

Regardless of this ramble, good luck to you, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis).  If you can at least get the ball in the right court, you will have been successful.

We're all individuals!

Python just says it best.  No additional writing from me is required... :)

Why label myself an atheist?

I was reading a blog post about the term "atheist" and thought my comment to it warranted its own here.

One of the comments noted that calling oneself an atheist is "like if someone asked me my hobby, and I said 'Well, I don’t collect stamps'."  This is a good point.  I am an atheist within the realm of religion, but really the only reason I care to label myself is because of the theists. If it weren’t for religion, I probably wouldn’t care.

My political philopsophy is libertarian, but that doesn’t label my beliefs either. It just states that you can live your life as you wish provided it doesn’t stop someone else from living their life as they wish.

In my own personal life, I am much more of a traditionalist with regard to family and behavior. Most people assume that I am a Christian and a conservative, because that’s what they mostly are here in the Bible Belt. I look and act the part, so therefore I must be one.

Just because I live that way, does not mean I judge how you live though. I have friends that march to all sorts of different drums. My only judgement is that they are rational and generally intelligent.

I may have to ponder a bit on my own personal label.  For now, I'll stick with atheist libertarian.  This is because within the discussion of politics and religion, this sums it up.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Coming out?

I was listening to a Richard Dawkins interview podcast today.  He mentioned, as I've heard him say several times, that being at atheist is similar to being in the closet for homosexuals.  I don't claim to know what it's like for a homosexual to be in or out of the closet, but this analogy hits home.

I am not ashamed of being an atheist, but I am not willing to have that be "out there" for all of the world to see (although I have in isolated discussions).  I don't want to deal with the ramifications of it.  Christians, particularly the more Evangelical ones, are so closed-minded about it, don't understand it, and subsequently have a target for the witnessing they always hear about in church.

My wife "outted" me once at a neighbor's barbeque - it just happened to come up in a conversation about churches.  She didn't know that I was uncomfortable with it because I've been open about it with closer friends.  I wasn't upset with her for doing it, but I did have to deal with the super-churchy wife next door for about a year.  I finally had to bluntly tell her to stop trying to save me - I wasn't interested.

I'm not even out to my children.  My wife is a mostly non-practicing Catholic.  I'd probably define her actual views as agnostic or even a deist, but she is a cultural Catholic and will probably hold to that.  As a result of my general indifference and her background, we've raised our children as culturally Catholic.  We pray before every meal and the kids have gone through all of the rights of passage.  They know we're not really all that into religion as a family and have heard us be critical of the more fundamentalist denominations here and there.

My oldest is in 8th grade now and I wonder if and when this discussion will come with her.  I also wonder how I will handle it.  I don't think I can lie or would want to.  I'll need to discuss this with my wife at some point.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Leaving Christianity for the wrong reason

Anne Rice announcement

I've never read an Anne Rice novel and don't know really much about her outside of the context of her vampire books.  This news article is very short and goes into extremely little detail.  My blog entry here is not exactly in response to Anne Rice's rejection of Christianity, but was loosely inspired by it.

If you've read any of my previous blog articles, you will know that I am certainly not a Christian or any flavor of a theist.  However, the reason to leave a faith like Christianity should not be for the reasons listed in the above article.  Human bastardization of your faith is no reason to abandon it.  There are many valid trains of thought that can lead to the abandonment of faith, but human error should not be one of them.

Ms. Rice's reasons stated were because Chrisitianity is "anti-gay ... anti-feminist, and anti-artificial birth control."  This may very well be true under Catholicism and other denominations, but is not inherently true to the faith itself.


It's debatable whether the Bible is anti-gay.  Let's presume that the few places that it appears that way does mean that homosexuality is a sin (which I do not).  So are a billion other things that "normal" heterosexual Christians do all the time.  PEOPLE have made being gay some sort of mortal sin.  There's no evidence that the "sin of homosexuality" is any worse than any normal sort of sin.  Hypothetically, I would certainly put adultery above homosexuality in the severity of a sin, yet where is the outrage against adulterers?

If your problem with Christianity is with the homophobic insanity of many Christians, there are denominations that are much more gay friendly.  There are several that actually embrace it.

Anti-feminist and birth control issues

I believe these are both Catholic problems.  Many other denominations, while not particularly pro-woman, are not anti-woman either.  I think the more Evangelical denominations do preach the "proper gender roles" based on antequated ideas, but these are also human interpretations and manipulations.  I would imagine that Catholics and Evangelicals are also the culprits with regards to the hows and whens of having babies.

Odd bedfellows?

So this seems like an odd place in which I'm standing as an atheist.  However, I don't think it's that odd.  I think that religion and spirituality (or lack thereof) is a journey for most thinking people.

I would not recommend basing your world viewpoint on how some ignorant assholes (as many millions as they may be) twist it.  As Eddie Izzard so eloquently spoke, "Stalin was a mass-murdering fuckhead."  Stalin was also an atheist and gets thrown in our face by Christians all the time.  He does not define atheism any more than homophobic celibates in drag should be able to define Christianity.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Evangelical atheism

I just read an interesting article about "New Atheism" and its "prophets" - among them Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.  I have been listening to many of their lectures and TV appearances in the last week or so on YouTube and have been riveted.  I have not ready any books on atheism, but have been interested many times to read Dawkins' The God Delusion.

In contrast to my interest, the article linked below decries that this New Atheism has "... parallels with religious fundamentalism [that] are obvious and startling" and is an interesting read:
Evangelical atheism

I have used this term myself for years to describe a particularly "aggressive" atheist friend of mine.  The thought process is that it's not enough to simply demand equality and recognition.  The stupidity of theists must be remedied.  They must be converted and society must be freed from their stupidity.

I believe this to an extent, but this is way more extreme than I'm interested.  I ultimately don't care what another person does, but am frustrated by their interest in what I and others do.

With regard to the article, the term "evangelical atheist" is synonymous with how I've used it to describe my friend and how the author describes the New Atheists.  While I agree in premise with the article, there's a fine line here.  For example, I feel like I understand Dawkins' position much more than I do Hitchens.  Hitchens seems much like my friend in that they seem to want more of an atheist jihad - you're either with us or against us.  Dawkins' position seems to be more of a frustration and an attempt to enlighten.  I can almost hear him thinking:

"I'm a world renowned evolutionary biologist!  I've seen all of the evidence that supports not only evolution, but Darwinian evolution.  What is wrong with you people? Ok, Richard, calm down.  They've been indoctrinated.  They can't help it.  Try to explain it as calmly as you can."

Regardless of how calmly he tries to address critics, he, like Hitchens, often comes across as condescending.  However, I don't think Dawkins means to do so.  I think he is trying to be as blunt about his position as possible because it doesn't work any other way.

I think the article brings up a good point with regard to their fundamentalist nature though.  I just don't know how you can't get this riled up to start any sort of movement and not have that sort of zealotry.  It seems like it comes with the territory.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

And, hey, what's up with this Sarah Palin?

I don't get it.  What is the deal with this woman?  More importantly, what is the deal with her supporters?  I really don't get it.

I am not anti-Republican.  I suppose I'm anti-fundamental Christian, but I've been ok with other politicians that are fundamental Christians (only in spite of that fact, but ok nonetheless).

Do I have a problem with women as politicians?  I don't think so, but I suppose it's possible.  Do I have a problem taking beautiful women seriously in politics?  That may be a little more likely (and, yes, I do think Sarah Palin is very attractive), but I still don't think that's it either.

I think it may be the fact that I see her as a complete Sue Average.  There's nothing spectacular about her.  I don't think she's an idiot, like many on the left think.  I also don't think she's all that smart either.

I think the problem is that she's no more than a female version of George W. Bush.  Enough with the 100 IQ politicians that get their intellectual inspiration from Jesus and the Republican base!

... and the Republican base/Tea Party folks ... enough already!  If you would've been pissed about George W. Bush's socialism and out-of-control spending, you might've had me.  Instead you watched for eight years as he was probably as fiscally bad as the worst liberal presidents.  You justified it because he had (R) next to his name and he talked to Jesus a lot.  If you want to put your money where your mouth is, throw both parties out!

Did I mention that I don't get the obsession with Sarah Palin?  You betcha!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Intelligent Design

The Intelligent Design folks are trying so hard to make it into science.

First of all, let's not kids ourselves. Most supporters of Intelligent Design are Christian Creationists wrapped in a cloak of better logic than the talking snake story (Bill Maher's favorite short summary of the Garden of Eden). If they can get their foot in with Intelligent Design, they're one step closer to prayer in school, Adam on the cover of the science textbook, and Stork Theory to explain where babies come from.

Let's review the definition of science. Science "... uses observation and experimentation to describe and explain natural phenomena."

Spirituality is a supernatural phenomenon. Spirituality is inherently separate from science. That doesn't necessarily mean it's untrue, but how can the supernatural be run through the scientific method? If it could, it would no longer be supernatural.

In complete irony and contrast to all of the above, I'm not opposed to the idea that an intelligence created or guided our evolution. I think it's very possible that an intelligent alien race might have seeded the universe with some sort of generic material/code with the ability to take hold and evolve on planets.

I don't think this is what the Intelligent Design advocates mean though.

... and I don't claim this to be anything scientific other than an improbable hypothesis among an infinite number of possibilities.

Some interesting links:
The Short Proof of Evolution

Responses to Some Common Objections to "The Short Proof of Evolution"

Creationism in the Science Curriculum?

Are we just a drop in time?

If atheism is right, do we cease to exist upon death? What sort of comfort is there in that?

First of all, I don't know that's what happens. I can't deny that life is different from inanimate objects. Maybe there is some "soul" thing that continues on after we die and made us alive in the first place. However, it seems the very likely that we will simply cease to exist ... as unappealing as that may be.

There are a lot of things in life that aren't particularly appealing though. That doesn't mean that it makes them any less true.

Our mortality makes life precious. Our procreation makes us live on. Is that enough? Who knows? I'm happy with my life. I don't feel any "voids in my heart" or the such that most Christians assume an atheist feels. I have a great wife and four fantastic kids.

I certainly don't hold that my "religion" will give any comfort or provide support. It also doesn't answer any of the big questions. I'd love to know the whos, whys, whats, hows, and wheres of existence. I guess I'd like it to be neatly wrapped with a nice bow, but don't think that it is. I hold out hope that as we advance as a civilization, we continue to come closer to this knowledge ... if we don't kill ourselves or the planet before we get there.

Stealing from the Christian worldview?

I've blogged about morality, but someone recently stated that atheists only have morals because they borrowed them from the Christian worldview. I don't agree that morals are divinely inspired, but I don't deny that my specific morals are heavily influced by the Christian worldview.

Most of my Christian friends initially think that my disbelief in God (any deity) means that I reject the teachings or the morals of Christianity. This is simply not true. I don't agree with all Christians teachings (regarding behavior/morals), but I agree for the most part. I run things through my own mind and when a behavior makes moral sense, it makes moral sense.

Most of these behaviors are within a mainly Christian culture. I was taught by my parents, who were taught by their Christian parents. I grew up in Christian communities.

Where I disagree is that a supernatural guy in the sky gives logic to the morals, not the inherent pros/cons of the behavior itself.

Proof of God

I often am told by Christians that they have all the proof they need through the Bible. They know it to be true, so therefore it is up to the atheist to prove it untrue.

This is a complete and utter fallacy. Because a premise cannot be proven false, that premise can't be assumed true.

Christians don't need to prove there is a God though ... unless you're trying to convince me it's true. If you're trying to put prayer in our public schools, you need to prove it. If you want to be taken seriously by those not brought up through the indoctrination, you need to prove it (or at least admit that your belief is based on faith, not proof).

I know most Christians believe there is ample evidence for proof of their religion. However, there's a reason you have to have faith to believe. Chrisianity and religion have a foundation in the supernatural. I need to see some verifiable and repeatable miracles - a suspension of our known science - to believe in the supernatural.

There's little proof of anything related to Christianity other than the existence of historical figures and a book. As much as I believe Julius Caesar existed, I believe Jesus existed (meaning I believe he existed). I just don't believe that he was divine. I know that's sacrilegious to Christians, but it's what I believe.

Imagine what it might take to cause you to disbelieve in Christianity. What would it take to make you a Muslim or a Buddhist? You would have to lose your faith.

I'm flexible, but you'd better show me some proof.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Prohibition, Income Tax, and Women's Suffrage

George Will and 1920

So I stumbled across this article today. I have always enjoyed history (minored in it in college), but I don't consider myself an expert. I do consider myself "literate" however. That being said, I had never considered how close together the Amendments for Income Tax (16th - 1913), Prohibition (18th - 1919), and Women's Suffrage (19th - 1920) were together. I had always considered them separate from each other.

George Will implies that they are somehow tied together in the linked article.

I guess I see what he's saying about Prohibition and Women's Suffrage. He asserts that women, devoutly Christian women, were the main ones strongly behind Prohibition, particularly through the Anti-Saloon League. The fact that women were gaining significant influence in politics via the ballot box brought this issue to the forefront in a way it may never have with a male-only constituency. Women were already getting the right to vote in many states well before the passing of Women's Suffrage. So, I can see how one may have caused the other. Women were able to influence the election of both Houses, putting in a friendly Congress to get both of these Amendments through. The states were similarly affected, allowing the ratification.

Where I disagree with Will is the Income Tax Amendment's correlation. I don't think it was tied to the others, but created an economic situation for Prohibition to work because it was in place already (a mechanism to replace the loss of significant liquor tax revenues).

What I'm now curious about is how this ties together with the Roaring 20's and subsequently into the Depression. I'm also curious about its indirect impact going into the New Deal and our continual rise of socialist tendencies in this country.

It's ironic that, given our current economic situation, we are somewhat considering lifting the criminalization of drugs, but I digress...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Why am I not in the Tea Party?

I've found myself over the last 18 months of its rise, apathetic toward the Tea Party movement. With the primary victory of Rand Paul, I've actually thought about the party for the first time.

Here's what I found for the mission statement on the Tea Party Patriots website:

Tea Party Mission Statement

It sounds like what I believe. So, why can't I jump on board immediately?

I think it's because of the reason I've been apathetic toward them all along. It seems like it's the same drones that have been following right wing talk radio for years. I'm not convinced that they really believe or understand what the movement is saying. I also think it may be because the left has been successful in their propaganda and smear campaign. This is to the extent that I don't really want to be associated with "those kind of people" like those teabaggers.

I'll have to stew on this one a little.

Tea Party, Libertarianism, and Christianity

A friend of mine posted this article on Facebook yesterday:

How Christian is Tea Party Libertarianism?

I do not have anything to do with the Tea Party, but do consider myself to be a libertarian. I wasn't aware that libertarians ever proclaimed any interest in being Christ-like with regard to government.

That being said, there is an interesting point to debate about people who claim to be Christians being in the Tea Party - that they are being hypocritical by having a political conviction that is opposed to their religious one.

I reject this argument. Government can be secular, impartial, and unemotional, allowing the individual to be the opposite of all of those in any way they desire. In fact, I think this inherently allows an individual to be however they want and co-exist with others that are different.

I also reject the constant accusation of racism as a core element. I am not so naive to think that there aren't people negatively motivated by a black president, but I truly don't believe this is a motivation of significance at large. I see the political philosophy as having more of a haves vs. have-nots element - a matter of socio-economics and not race. Although the demographics are changing somewhat, the haves are still overwhelmingly white. To me, that's why the movement is overwhelmingly white. Labeling someone or a movement as racist makes it easy to dismiss them. Also, correlation does not necessarily imply causation.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cutting cable is gaining momentum

Cutting the Cord

I'm a solid two months plus in and have no regrets to this point. I can't quite get all of the over-the-air channels over my indoor antennas at the same time, but I'm close.

I'm beginning to wonder whether I'm going to have to switch ISPs at some point though. I still have Comcast Internet and I would have to think they're not going to put up with this for too long. Also, there's a 250GB maximum per month that I'm beginning to worry about.

Live sports is the real kicker. ESPN is going to have some massive leverage over the next handful of years. I wonder which direction they should go: embrace Internet streaming or blackmail the cable/satellite providers.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Use of Government

I'll borrow one of Bill Maher's signature bits because it seems appropriate:

New Rule: Americans should stop trying to use the government to further their own agenda.

This is a fundamental problem. The government is all powerful. They make and enforce the laws. They print and control the money (or at least delegate it). They can tax at will. People know it and try to make it a tool for their own agenda. They think their use is just and right, whereas other uses are abuses of power.

The more powerful you are, the more influence you have in government.

Why not have a government that is there to prevent/punish criminal activity (including fraud) and settle civil disputes? Most everything else is a co-opt of the government's power for personal gain.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Journalist, journalist, wherefore art thou?

Obama clears way for oil drilling off US coasts

I don't necessarily have a problem with President Obama approving more drilling. What gets me is that if this had been George Bush, he would have been crucified by the media. Then again, sometimes it takes a "Nixon to China" move to get things done. I haven't looked closely at it (so I might very easily be wrong), but Obama seems to be taking a reasonable stand on energy: Let's try to get the long-term right, but understand the realities of the present as well. We need to get off of foreign oil for security purposes. We need to get off of oil for environmental purposes.

... but back to the journalism complaint...

Journalism seems to be a dead art form now. It's like the Jerry Springer Show and the National Enquirer have merged to form our national media. The ability to report in-depth and honestly has lost its importance. I'm a capitalist, so I understand that they're feeding the wolves what they want. However, what happened to non-partisan journalism? It's ironic to me that BBC News seems to be one of the most reliable, unbiased news source, yet they are a government-sponsored organization. Where's our wonderful, investigative, private, free press?

This may be a stretch to connect poor journalism with this article and Obama's energy policy, but it's the obvious bias that set off the rant.

Opposing Obama doesn't make you a racist

One thing that has been irritating me recently is the tactic of declaring that opposition to the President is because of racism. This is done through either outright accusations or implied statement. How is this any different/better than when the Republicans questioned people's patriotism (or worse) when people opposed Bush? I think that the "righties" would be acting this way to Hillary, Edwards, or any other Democratic president had they won. Bill Clinton was opposed vehemently by the (far) right. There was so much anti-Clinton rhetoric on talk radio that there was a common belief that conservative talk radio would cease to exist after Bush won because they wouldn't have anything to talk about.    

Monday, March 1, 2010

Ditching cable (part 5)

I haven't done anything new on the existing issues, but thought I'd write about the costs to this point:

Hauppauge HVR-1250$50
NVidia GeForce 9400 GT$50
Windows 7 Home Premium$0 (thanks to a friend)
1GB RAM$40
Digital antenna$30
Power Phone Shipping$15
Second digital antenna$70
Digital->Analog converter box$40

I did purchase a 32" LCD digital TV for $350, but could have easily just gotten a converter box for $40. So, there's $310 of unnecessary expense there. Additionally, I can get my second antenna for about half of the $70 I paid somewhere else. I need to do a return/purchase of that.

I need to take back my $70 antenna and $40 analog converter box, get two antennae and a different converter box. My basement TV has no tuner in it, but is digital ready. The box I got is actually an analog converter. I also need to get a Roku box for down there.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ditching cable (part 4)

Cable is gone. I still have some work to do with my antenna signal and WiFi, but cable is gone. Internet service cost a little more than I realized because there is a discounted rate if you have cable TV. So, the updated costs are:

$58 - Internet
$15 - Phone
$9 - Netflix

Total = $82 + some taxes. I'll follow up with how much money I spent to get to this point, but I am at a savings of $70 per month. I'm now inspired to tackle other recurring expenses. I'm thinking that insurance (house, car, life) is probably the next thing to look at.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ditching cable (part 3)

Well, I'm having some struggles. First of all, I went to a Terk HDTVa indoor antenna because the other, cheaper ones (passive from Philips and amplified from RCA) just weren't cutting it. I can't seem to find a good position to get all of the "over the air" channels. I really don't want to put one outside. That opens up a whole host of things that I don't want to do - aesthetics and wiring issues. I'll play with this a little more and report back. Ultimately, I get most channels, but can't get my PBS and NBC stations without compromising the rest of the channels. These both provide 3 stations that are all watched in our house.

The other, larger problem is that I'm using WiFi to stream content from PlayOn for Netflix, Hulu, and other sources. I get very frequent pauses in playback to the point where I consider it unwatchable. I'm pretty sure that the problem is with WiFi because I have some movies ripped to ISO on a NAS box that have a similar problem. I'm going to investigate ways that I can optimize my WiFi capabilities. I'm also looking into dropping Ethernet into my living room and basement.

The Windows Media Center I have upstairs is hard-wired. Its streaming is perfect. I still have antenna issues with over-the-air TV, but I haven't put the Terk antenna on it yet.

I really want this to work, but don't know how much leash I'll have with the family. For the moment, I'm not even worrying about the basement TV (which is the best one of them all). Also, I'm not sure what I'll do with the TVs behind the bar (and their wall mounts) down there.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ditching cable update

Well, I'm cranking along. I actually called to cancel cable yesterday. I missed some fine print on the bundle I was looking to go do (Internet + Phone) even after I looked for the fine print. I am not eligible for that bundle, so the unbundled price was not as attractive.

Existing pricing:
$130 for TV/Internet/phone
$15 for HD-DVR
$5 for cable modem rental
($150 total + tax)

The unbundled pricing:
$43 for Internet
$40 for phone
$5 for cable modem rental
$9 for Netflix (part of the cable replacement)
($97 total + tax)

Not to be deterred, I told them I would look to cancel all of my Comcast services if need be. They offered me $20/month for 6 months off of my current pricing. Whoop-dee-doo!

I found a cheap, but well reviewed, VoIP provider Phone Power. I signed up for their month-to-month plan for $20. If I'm satisfied, I will go to their $15 plan or even one of their "prepaid for a year" deals.

Comcast Internet is good. I'll keep it, but I already have my own Linksys cable modem. I had to rent one because of the phone service. Without their service, I can drop their cable modem.

New pricing:
$43 for Internet
$15 for phone ($20 initially)
$9 for Netflix
($67 total + tax)

I purchased a 32" LCD with a digital tuner to replace my downstairs 23" CRT. That was a bit of a splurge at $350, but a decent price. I also got one digital converter box for my 51" basement TV and two antennas for these two TVs. My DVR will be solely on the upstairs 32" TV running from Windows Media Center. There may be a way to stream that to my other media players, but I haven't investigated that yet.

To run Netflix and Hulu (via PlayOn), I am going to bring my original Xbox with XBMC up from the basement to go onto the new LCD. Its wireless is a bit shaky from there, so I'm hoping that moving it closer to the access point upstairs will make it better. It's possible that the Xbox doesn't have enough processing power. I'm hoping that's not the case. My backup is getting a Roku box (or two).

The Wii will move downstairs to the basement as the source for PlayOn. Allegedly, a Netflix CD will become available for the Wii which should make that interface better. PlayOn will be used for Hulu and other things at that point.

More to come...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ditching cable...

... I think ...

Every month, I look at the cable bill and think I don't need it. A friend posted this link on his Facebook page and I checked it out.


He is a single guy that, presumably, only has one television. He has no children.

I am married and have children. I have six televisions in my house, although I only regularly use three of them for general viewing. Only one is HD - a 51" rear-projection, with no tuner at all, in the basement. The other two are a 32" CRT (upstairs playroom) and 23" CRT (downstairs living room). The 23" has a Wii with it. The 51" has an original Xbox with XBMC on it. None of them have a digital tuner.

I currently have Comcast cable. I have direct coax for each of the TVs, except for the 51". It has a Comcast HD DVR attached to it. Overall, I've been fine with Comcast's service and channel offerings. It's the price that I'm getting tired of. I looked at satellite and it's not much different.

So, why now? Well, Comcast is in the process of going all digital. I stuck with them all these years because I could hook a coax into any regular TV and get service - no box, no extra cost. This is about to end. Now, I have to either have a digital tuner or one of their converter boxes for each TV. They will give me two at no additional cost, but I have to pay more for my other TVs. I have zero TVs with a digital tuner. This is not the end of the world, but it's been enough of a push to get me off my butt to investigate the ideas in the above website.

I decided to experiment this past week with the 32". This is because a couple of months ago, I had fitted one of my PCs with a digital TV card (Hauppauge HVR-1250 - $50) and a video card with an S-Video out (NVidia GeForce 9400 GT - $50). Using Vista Media Center, I was watching digital cable, including HD, on my TV as a second monitor. There were a lot of logistical problems though with video, remote, mouse, and sound. It worked ok if nobody was on the computer, but it got ugly when they were.

Having this hardware already gave me the perfect opportunity to sample what the website suggests, which is to use digital over-the-air and a Roku box. I simulated the Roku box with Media Center. I decided that the PC needed to be dedicated to avoid my initial problems. I had a third PC downstairs that I wasn't really using. It was a "throw-away" from my mom when she bought a new one. I brought it upstairs and moved the video and TV card into it. It only had Windows XP on it however. All of the new, cool Windows Media Center stuff seemed to be focused on the Windows 7 Media Center. I have a friend at work that was able to hook me up with Windows 7, so I installed it.

I bought a digital antenna ($20 at Wal-Mart) and attached it to the digital tuner. I signed up for a trial Netflix membership. Since Hulu is another biggee, I added it though a software called PlayOn. PlayOn allows streaming of Hulu and Netflix (among others) to various devices. There is a WMC add-on called PlayIt for PlayOn. It also allows my Wii and XMBC on XBox to play Hulu and Netflix on the other TVs.

I've been in test mode for the last day. I'm cautiously optimistic. The Wii's graphics are a little weak and I haven't tested XBMC yet. On WMC though, it's fantastic.

So far, the overall negatives are:

- Can't just sit and channel surf. You can with the locals, but that's pretty limited.
- It's not as simple as sitting and turning on the remote.
- I'm not using a uniform interface. That means it's different for each TV.
- I haven't solved the "most watched" cable channels: ESPN, Disney, and Nickolodeon.
- Tolerance for TV being down if the Internet is down will be interesting.

... more to come!

Friday, January 22, 2010

End of an Era?

I talk with a co-worker about trends sometimes. It's one of the things that he lives his life by. I see them, but usually go into denial about them if they're negative or difficult to correct. It's not flat-out denial. It's more of an optimism that I'll figure out how to work my way around the apparent long-term problem when I get there.

Looking at the current economic and political situation, I stand before you as a pessimist. The prosperity of the last several decades is a house of cards held up by quick, easy credit and a populous willing to use it.

In 2007, this started to fall apart under the weight of all of the cards, the Bush Administration tried desperately to keep the credit markets flowing through government intervention. The Obama Administration has continued this, even to a greater extent.

The house of cards is teetering and is precariously holding up under this strain.

Looking forward, however, the trends are all looking bad from my chair. National debt is skyrocketing and looks to get worse with the government plans for health care. Social Security and Medicare are in major trouble. People's savings and retirements are not going to be enough. The financial industry appears to have learned nothing and is back to its old ways, now armed with the knowledge that they're "too big to fail".

Sounds bad, right? Maybe.

The obnoxious spending/bailout efforts of government may be successful in keeping the house from falling. The debt incurred, dampened by inflation over time, may not cause the implosion that appears to be on the horizon. Government may be able to tackle the problems in healthcare and properly police private industry.

The strong optimist in me can't seem to look at this situation with optimism though. All of these governmental efforts just seem to be postponing what appears to be the inevitable. This economic house must fall because it is a false one. It will fall. It must fall. The key is how to minimize the damage.

The current trend toward more government - more programs, more control, etc. The majority of the people seem to welcome it. I'm not sure why - paranoia? ignorance?

President Obama does not seem to get the way a capitalist economy works. The success of this country isn't built with government. It isn't built with the common man. It's built by the wealthy - the business owners and the investors. Without these people, there are no jobs, no taxes for government wield, and no prosperity. Yes, there are abuses of power. Yes, the wealthy often seem to be wealthy to excess. Those are "cons" opposite the long list of "pros" in capitalism. Capitalism isn't perfection, but it's the best system we have.

We need to let our capitalist system work. It's the only way. Sure there needs to be checks and balances against the corporate world and I guess I'm OK with government playing a leading role. In the words of Ronald Reagan, "Trust, but verify."

Ramble, ramble, ramble...

This blog post is all over the place, but there's a reason. America, its government, and its economy is a mess. It's failing and the people trying to fix it are just making it worse. The solution to many of these problems is less government and more capitalism, not the opposite trend of more government and less capitalism.