Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Politics vs. Fanaticism

I find videos like this both amusing and disturbing, but not necessarily for the reasons the makers of the video might have intended.

Let's get the obvious points and counter-points that the video brings up out of the way: That Sarah Palin's supporters are uneducated zombies who get their political opinions spoon fed to them by FOX News talking points; that Obama has just as many mindless supporters who are simply swayed by his elegant speaking; and that the makers of the video are obviously going to edit out any intelligent responses. (Points which the makers of the video address in the "more info" section of their YouTube page, if you're interested.)

No, the thing that really gets me about this video are the points brought up from 3:23 through 4:10. Because a lot of these things are very similar to the things I was saying about Geroge W. Bush in 2005.

(1) "I think that [Sarah Palin] would acknowledge a system of government in the United States, rather than focus on an administration of czars."
"I'm an American. We don't have czars in America."

Okay, I'll admit right off the bat that I'm a little hazy on the whole "czar" concept. Wikipedia describes it by saying "the title Czar (derived from Caesar) meant Emperor in the European medieval sense of the term, that is, a ruler who claims the same rank as a Roman emperor, with the approval of another emperor or a supreme ecclesiastical official (the Pope or the Ecumenical Patriarch)"

So what I think this woman is getting at is that Obama's the head Emperor and his cabinet are the Czar of the Interior, the Czar of Defense, the Czar of Education, etc. I'm not sure where this thinking comes from; they have no more power than the previous administration did, and have done nothing to indicate to me that they believe they're now appointed for life.

Here's why this one reminded me of myself: Another thing we don't have in America is imperial dynasties. This is why I didn't want to vote for Hillary Clinton. After two Bushes and 1 Clinton already, setting up a second Clinton struck me too much as dynasty building. If Jeb Bush ever runs for president, will this woman not vote for him because it's reinforcing the Bush family dynasty? Or are unAmerican methods of government okay with her when it's her party doing it?

Not the same as the czar comparison, because the Bushes all served sequential terms, whereas czars all rule at once, but if you're going to talk about the American government being run in an unAmerican governmental style, then the similarity between this woman's thoughts on the right and my thoughts on the left still hit home with me.

(2) "The way I think the country is going, I'm wondering whether or not we're going to have a presidential election in 2012. I know there's some backroom talk of martial law."
"I'll give you one scenario that would absolutely do it: is if an atom bomb goes off in the United States."

In 2005 I was sure that Bush was going to find a way to lift the term limits so he could get in for a third term. I also thought there was a chance he would do away with the 2008 election all together if a terrorist attack happened sometime that year. I didn't really believe it, but I thought the possibility was there.

(3) "We're no longer an exceptional country. We're no longer the shining light, the beacon to the world of what a society should look to be as far as freedom."

I definitely felt this way during the previous administration. Of course, there was the Patriot Act, the illegal wire tapping of American citizens, and Alberto Gonzales calling the Geneva Convention "quaint" and "obsolete." There was also a study at the time that said Canada was now looked at as the most free country in the world, as opposed to Obama being recently given the Nobel Peace Prize for simply not being Bush.

So, to sum it all up, we both had the exact same fears about two radically different presidents.

What this all drives home to me is that Obama is not going to unite this country like I'd hoped. The people on the (far?) right are just as afraid of him as I was of Bush. What we're really going to need to bring this country back together in 2012 (well, 2016 hopefully) is a president who is moderate enough that neither side is going to feel threatened.

But what I've been seeing in the country in general, and this video in specific, makes me wonder if both sides wouldn't simply be unable to accept such a candidate, with the left tearing them down any chance they got for being too conservative and the right doing the same because they feel he (or she) is too liberal.

How much of this animosity from the right is a backlash effect from the animosity we on the left had for Bush? And more importantly, how much of both of them are coming from a blind dislike for the unlike? With FOX News and MSNBC both doing anything they can to tear down the parties they disagree with, people are not just opposed to the other party, they're afraid of them. I feel like we're becoming less of a country with different political parties and more of a country of different American factions. The passion and fervor that both sides are displaying seems to be getting dangerous close to zeal and fanaticism.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why the Concept of Entropy Should be Important to 9-Year-Olds.

This morning I gave Mylene this big explanation of the concept of entropy, and what a wonderful feeling it is when your room is clean but that the forces of entropy cause it to always fall back into being messy. And I pointed out how amazing we are as living beings that we can actually fight back against this cosmic force that will eventually even cause the universe itself to fall apart. Unlike the inanimate objects of the universe we can rail against it, even if it's just in a small way, by keeping ourselves as healthy as we can, and by restoring our dirty rooms back to their previous state, and wasn't that amazing! "Does that make sense?" I asked. "Not really," she answered. "You're boring me."

So I thought about that for a second. And I said, "Okay, how about this: CLEAN YOUR ROOM!"

It turns out my kid prefers the direct approach to the wonders of the cosmos. Sigh.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Self-Brainwashing and Radical Acceptance

My oldest buddy, who this week is going by "Mr. Stupid," posted this blog:

True or Untrue?

Here's my reply:

For me the big "Wow, I could be brainwashed" moment was watching V for the first time. I knew that if a bunch of aliens showed up saying they were friendly and offering a "Visitor Youth" program, I'd have been the first in line to sign up! Would I be willing and able to see what was really going on, or would I have swallowed their explanations because it was what I wanted to see?

I think we all have the power to brainwash ourselves. It's easy to see things how we think they should be, and then categorize everything we see as either true or false based on that definition of "should." Then what we see that matches with "how things should be" reinforces our definition of true, and what we see that doesn't match reinforces our definition of untrue.

I think that's a big part of why we, as a country, have become so politically divided-- between the pundits and the blogs and the biased news channels (FOX News and MSNBC, specifically) we all now have people appealling to that sense of "should."

My DBT therapy says that "should" is a word that signifies a judgment. By saying "Well, they should know not to do that!" or "I shouldn't have to deal with that!" you're trying to fit the world into what you WANT it to be, and not accepting it for what it really is. And so when we listen to Rush Limbaugh or Al Frankin, they reinforce our shoulds or shouldn'ts, and we help brainwash ourselves because we've got them telling us we're right. (For the record, I won't listen to Air America or watch MSNBC for this very reason... I'm naturally liberal enough on my own, I don't want to have it reinforced!)

DBT calls the answer to this "Radical Acceptance"-- being willing to see a situation for what it simply is or isn't, without our assigning values to what we feel it should or shouldn't be. It doesn't mean you're giving approval to it; you're refraining from approving or disapproving, and trying to see it simply for what it IS. From there you can make a more rational decision, rather than just reacting from your gut. I think it helps us to break through the self-brainwashing that we've been unconsciously doing to ourselves our entire lives.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Banning the Lightbulb

So, have you seen those goofy new twisty lightbulbs?I guess that's probably a dumb question by now, and the question's more of, have you started using those goofy new twisty lightbulbs yet?

We have. We jumped on them right away when we heard you didn't have to change them as often. (It's not a laziness thing, it's more that we were constantly going through lightbulbs.) And hearing that they give off less greenhouse gases and thus reduce global warming makes them quite welcome in our house.

They do have day-to-day down sides: they take a while to warm up. I'm afraid to put them in a lamp where the lampshade grips the bulb. And of course they mess up the "vanity mirror" look, so I still use regular old incandescent bulbs for those.

Then I discovered I couldn't just throw them away because they have mercury in them. So now I save all of them in a box and drop them off at the county Hazardous Waste Household Collection Day... which is five hours once a year in September. This year's is next week (Sept. 22), and I have a lot of lightbulbs for them because I forgot about it last year.

Now, I don't mind having a "burned out lightbulb" box in my closet, but I can see how a lot of people wouldn't know or just plain wouldn't be willing to go to the effort of having to drive somewhere to dump off their old lightbulbs once a year. So realistically speaking, I know a lot of these lightbulbs are just going to get thrown away, resulting in more mercury poisoning of the ground and water.

So I have mixed feelings about this article I read today:

Backlash Over Light-bulb Ban Continues to Build in Europe

In case the link doesn't work, that's at:|welcome|dl3|link7|

Now on the one hand, I totally believe this change is necessary. The Earth is hitting its point-of-no-return thresholds, and we need to do something, and if this will help and you're just whining because you don't like change, well, you'll just have to deal.

But on the flip side, the mercury poisoning risks are a serious issue. I hate to not give people credit and call for things to be dumbed down, but the basic truth is without a simple, convenient way to safely dispose of these, most people are just going to toss them in the trash when they go mandatory.

And this is going to be mandatory in the US starting in 2014. And I'm sure there will be lots of complaints of government interference and we have the right to use whatever bulb we want and the world's not really dying and blah blah blah. And I'm sure many people will jump on the mercury risk as why they don't want to use this bulb, but y'know, I think a lot of these people are really just going to be more bent out of shape that their lightbulbs now look funny and cost more and that the change is being forced on them. Well guess what, the bottom line is something has to be done NOW. That's going to mean some forced changes are necessary, and really, as long as we can all be responsible grown-ups and dispose of these correctly, this is a pretty painless change to have to make.

Thankfully, it looks like people are starting to step up to provide national drop-off points to make it easier. Ikea, ACE Hardware and (most) True Value hardware stores are now accepting the burnt out CLF bulbs for recycling.

And lastly, here's a link to the EPA's page on the subject, which has a link to where you can find a drop-off near you in all 50 states.

Or failing that, if you can get your bulbs to me by September 21, I'll drop them off myself! :P

Saturday, September 12, 2009

I remember Spy

There used to be a female graffiti artist around Greensburg and Jeannette named Spy. I know Spy was female because she would sometimes sign her work "Female Graffiti Artist" with asymbol. And she did some really creative stuff. Once there was a Sprite billboard that she altered "Obey Your Thirst" into "Obey Your SPY." Another billboard had the numbers in an odometer altered so the only thing they read was S P Y vs. S P Y. A local stop sign had been altered so it no longer said STOP, it now said SPY. They were always clever and well thought out, and it made Joy and me start looking at all the signs around town a little closer to see what else she would come up with.

Then she started doing regular old graffiti of her name on bridges and stuff, which I thought was disappointing. Then it stopped altogether.

I saw one of her old logo-on-a-building ones in Jeannette today, and I thought how ironic it was that the boring, uncreative ones are the ones that lasted, and the creative ones-- by their very nature of often being on billboards-- are gone forever. I wish I'd taken a picture of at least one of them at the time.

I also have to wonder what her story was. What led her to start doing this in the first place? What caused her to quit being creative and just be a vandal? Did she just quit altogether, or did she move out of the area? Was she normally level headed and this was her means of expression, or was she troubled and moved on to worse things and got arrested? Has she become a professional artist, or is she working in a warehouse or a Burger King or something?

I'll never know, of course, but when I found my mind wandering down this road this afternoon, I thought how amazing it was that someone who I'll never know anything about was able to make me wonder so much about her by using just a spraycan.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Messing with the Classics

I had two foods today which could arguably be called classics of the frozen pizza world: Stouffer's French Bread Pizza, and Pepperoni Hot Pockets.

The difference is both of them have recently been... changed.

In the case of the Hot Pockets, this is a good thing. They're now branded "Hot Pockets Pizzeria," but that's purely cosmetic. Let's face it, the only frozen pizza lower than a Hot Pocket is a generic Hot Pocket. But now the Pizzeria Hot Pockets have a different seasoned crust. And it really works! It gives it that little extra zing that it so desperately needs. So this "new and improved" classic gets a big thumbs up from The Pizza Tourist. (That's me. Joy wants me to start a new blog page talking about pizza, and who am I to argue? But it's not ready yet, so consider this a warm-up.)

Then we have Stouffer's French Bread Pizza, which I consider to be way at the top of the Frozen Pizza food chain. (Especially since Roxanne got me to try the micro-bake cooking method!) Now I always get a little nervous when I see "New and Improved!" on my frozen pizzas, but I figured it worked for Hot Pockets and Totino's Pizza Rolls, so I'd go into it being optimistic.

And to be honest, as I was cooking it I forgot all about the change in recipe. It smelled great, it looked great, and I was very hungry, so I eagerly dived right into it. But as I was eating it I kept waiting for the bliss to hit me, that high that I usually get from a Stouffer's French Bread Pizza which tells me my dopamines have kicked in. Instead, I started noticing a spicy build-up in the back of my throat. And then I remembered... this is the "New and Improved Recipe." I continued on with an open mind and hope that this new recipe was going to win me over.

Unfortunately the spicy feeling in the back of throat just kept building up, to the point where I considered getting some bread or something to offset it. Worse yet, it stayed with me for a few hours after I finished the pizza. Now I don't mind a spicy pizza, but that's not what I want from Stouffer's.

I'd say this new recipe dragged what I used to consider a five-star frozen pizza down to a two-star frozen pizza. I found their website and politely asked them to go back to the original recipe, but I doubt that'll count for much. File this "new and improved recipe" with New Coke.

UPDATE: Stouffer's sent me some coupons, including one for a free entrée. I have to admit, it's a good idea: didn't like the pizza? Feel like you'll never buy it again? Here, try it once more for free, maybe you'll find it wasn't so bad after all. And who knows, it might work.

However, I found it very amusing that the flyer had what I assume is Stouffer's new slogan on it:

Yes! Please, fix my Stouffer's French Bread Pizza Dinner! Either that, or if ain't broken, don't fix it.