Copyright

All blog posts, unless otherwise noted, are copyrighted to the Author (that's me) and may not be used without written permission.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Fiscally Conservative

The Repubicans today are constantly referring back to the glory days of Ronald Reagan's presidency and trying to convince Americans that we need to go that route in order to recover from the current economic disaster that started in 2008. What is interesting is how they are going about it. For example, the current Congress, and all of the Republican candidates for president, are insisting that tax cuts are needed. John Boehner believes this so strongly he has led multiple Republican sallies against any action by President Obama to raise taxes. He said repeatedly they will have zero tolerance for any bill that attempts to raise taxes.

Now, let's look at their hero, Ronald Reagan. During Reagan's eight years in office, he raised taxes 11 times. He raised them every year except his first. His advisors recognized that raising taxes, bringing more money in to pay for what the government needed to do, was the only way to cover the government's spending at the time. The money was also used to fuel the recovery options they put in place, such as job creation, military spending, space research, and infrastructure. All things that Obama wants or has tried to do.

In addition, Reagan and Obama both inherited nearly identically high unemployment figures from the previous administration (7.6% and rising). Reagan's ballooned to a high of 10.8% in 24 months before his policies stemmed the tide. Once in place and functioning, his policies reduced it to 9.6% within 30 months of taking office. Compare that with Obama's inherited unemployment ballooning to a high of 10.1% within 10 months, and then his policies reducing it to the same 9.6% rate within 21 months of taking office. It took Reagan an addition 10 months (40 months total from taking office) to get unemployment back to 7.6%. How long will it take Obama? It remains to be seen. But without money to enact his job creation plans, it may take longer.

Basically, today's Republicans are attacking Obama at every chance they get, without offering a plan of their own. Yet, by every measure, Obama is actually following a similar plan and path to their hero, Reagan, with similar success. Obama's plans are more fiscally conservative than he's being given credit for and he has turned around a bad economy faster than Reagan did (so far). Yet the Republicans in office (or that seek the presidency) continue to vilify him at every opportunity.

After looking at some important numbers, it sure looks like we HAVE gone back to the glory days of Reagan and ARE following his economic plans to solve the economic crisis. So why are they continuing to block virtually everything the President sends to them?

It makes me wonder if any Republican today would actually follow Reagan's economic plan if he were President today. My guess is no; Reagan, that bastion of right-wing politics, would likely be considered too Liberal for today's Republican.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I Do Not Have Chinese in My Armor!

Jeremy Lin is of Asian descent. Recently, a big brouhaha occurred over a few sports analysts using the term "chink in the armor" when Lin's penchant for turnovers led to a loss by the New York Knicks. One headline editor was fired, an analyst was suspended for 30 days, and many people weighed in the matter.

What pretty much every person who weighed in seemed not to know is that the phrase "chink in the armor" and the word "chink" have been around for centuries before it became a pejorative word for Asians (Chinese specifically).

My research shows that the word chink has been around since approximately the 1300s and means a small crack, hole, or opening in something. The phrase "chink in the armor" has been around just as long, and means, literally, a hole or opening in an armored suit of mail, which an enemy can exploit. The term can also be onomatopoeic and mean to make a short, sharp, ringing sound, as of two coins or two glasses hitting. The use of the word as a pejorative is much, much more recent, coming around the 1900s, when America brought a bunch of Chinese to America and forced them to work on building the railroads. They were treated as less than human, so pejorative terms were used to further denigrate them.

The sports analysts used a phrase that would be perfectly acceptable to use for any other race, and has been, when talking about finding the possible weakness of a sports player who has otherwise shown no weaknesses. Lin made a huge splash by righting the Knicks' ship, helping them to win their first seven games with him as the starting point guard. However, people noted that his turnovers were high and, when those turnovers finally led fairly directly to a Knicks loss, the analysts rightly thought that those TOs might be the "chink in Lin's armor."

One of the comments I read was that (paraphrased) "you wouldn't use an African-American pejorative to describe an athlete, so why would you use a Chinese-American pejorative?" Well, here's the problem with that thinking. The word "nigger" has no other meaning than as a pejorative for black people. Whereas, as I mentioned above, the word chink has two meanings that have been around for centuries prior to it becoming a pejorative. It has legitimate uses in everyday conversations. Many pejoratives are simply that. But some have had meanings and value prior to becoming a pejorative, and those meanings and value should not be lost.

The sports analysts in question used the phrase and the term correctly. I would be willing to bet they have used that same phrase on other athletes at various times throughout their careers without any backlash or media sensation. At this point, I think this backlash is actually proving racism in another fashion; why can't people use a legitimate word in a legitimate fashion without being vilified in the press?

An interesting side-note to this discussion: I play Dungeons & Dragons. This is a game that takes place in a fantasy medieval setting and has characters who wear medieval style armors. On one of the forums for the game, I was discussing the ability for someone to find and exploit literal chinks in the armor of players who wear these armors. When I posted the comment, the line read "... *****s in the armor ...". Now, if anywhere should allow the legitimate use of the phrase "chinks in the armor" it should be a fantasy game that actually uses armor and has ways of exploiting weaknesses in it.

The political correctness pendulum has been too far to the right for way too long. We need to grow thicker skin and a sense of humor, as well as become educated enough to know when a word has more than one meaning. We should also learn to look at meaning and use and determine if the person intended a slight. With some pejoratives it is easy, because they have no alternate meaning. But some do, and care should be taken with them to determine intent before raising an uproar.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Giving Advice

My wife and I like to see the opinions and reviews of people before we buy a product. To that end, we almost always read through the vast majority of comments made by people on sites like Amazon.com, Consumer Reports, Newegg.com, and others.

One thing we have been grousing about lately is the fact that a number of people are marking down products for things outside of the control of the product itself. For example, I was on Amazon.com reviewing "Justice League: Doom," an upcoming DVD cartoon I'm looking forward to. Today, there are 22 reviews with the majority either in 5 stars (6) or in 1 stars (8). However, when reading the 8 1 star reviews, not one of them is complaining about the cartoon. Instead, each and every one of the reviews is 1 star because of the choice of Warner Bros to release the digital copy using the new Ultraviolet format.

Now, I agree with them that this Ultraviolet format has issues. It is ONLY available when you have internet access and the ability to stream the product. Which means that, for example, if you are going on a trip and want to take this cartoon with you, you cannot. It will only be available at those times when you can connect to the internet and stream it; if your children start screaming to watch it mid-flight, you're pretty much SOL. If your internet is down, or someone is using it for something important and there is not enough bandwidth left, you cannot get to the movie at all.

But all of those are problems and issues that have nothing to do with the quality of the cartoon itself. Amazon.com is a site where people are supposed to review the product itself, not the parent company's business decisions. There is no reason to mark down a product for what may be wonderful -- the best cartoon you've ever seen.

When I was looking for products to purchase for our rebuilt PCs, I stumbled on this issue often. People would mark monitors and hard drives down for reasons other than the quality, affordability, or features of the product itself. You had an issue and the manufacturer was a dick to you? Okay, fine. Mark that in the text for the product but don't mark the product itself down because of it. You bought a hard drive that you admit and agree was awesome, ran quietly, was a great value for the price, yet you give the product only 1 or 2 eggs because the manufacturer was slow at honoring, or did not honor at all, the mail in rebate for the product? That's not fair to the product or to those using reviews to choose which product is the best for them.

If you were unsure about a theatrical release and you asked your friends, you would be left scratching your head if they responded in a similar fashion.
"Hey, you watched Safe House. What did you think?"
"I only gave Safe House one star. Did you know that Universal, the company that is distributing it, kills kittens by putting them in bags and throwing them in rivers? I can't have that happening."
"Er, that's horrible. But what about the movie, why did you give it only one star?"
"Didn't you hear me? They kill kittens, damn it!"
"Yes, that's horrible. But I really want to know about this movie right now. Is it worth seeing?"
"Kittens, man!"
Are you going to see the movie? You were on the fence before, and the information you got from the review had nothing to do with the movie and didn't help you to make your decision. It was, for all intents and purposes, worthless. Yes, you may look at boycotting Universal for their kitten killing policies, but that is superfluous to your desire to know more about the movie and decide if you'll watch it.

People need to step back and remember their purpose when they are reviewing a product. They need to remember who is reading the reviews and their purpose for doing so. And then they should put a review in that reflects that. If they have a problem with the corporation behind the product in some fashion, they should contact that company directly and complain to them about that particular action or issue. In that way, those who may want the product get the information they need, and the company receives the feedback they require.

Heaving True

If I have the least bit of congestion in my head, it all comes out of my sinus cavities by going down the back of my throat. I rarely, even under the most intense flu symptoms or colds, have to blow my nose. Nearly all of it always goes down the back of my throat and rarely comes out the nose. Which, ironically, makes people think I'm not sick, because we have all been trained that a red, runny nose is the primarily indicator of sickness. In addition, every single time I swallow, I swallow air. This combination of large amounts of air bubbles in the digestive system and a near-constant intake of mucus from my nasal passages means that I wake up a bit nauseated and often am triggered to vomit or dry heave each morning.

Take this morning as an example. I got up and went to take my shower. My stomach was rumbly from the night of air swallowing (anyone who says you stop swallowing when you are asleep is outright wrong) and my congestion issues slowly get worse during the night. During the shower, where the hot water made my congestion issues start really flowing, I started to feel a bit worse in the stomach.

Sure enough, after I was done with the shower and was starting to dress, I felt it come on: a strong desire to throw up. Unfortunately, after a night's rest, there simply wasn't anything in my stomach, so I dry-heaved into the sink for many moments until the most recent amount of mucus (snot, really) came up. This completely wore me out and made me feel worse for wear as my first activity in the morning. Most mornings I have to limit my speaking because the sheer act of moving air to speak can cause the regurgitation response to start; my guess is that mucus is around or on the vocal cords and the moving air causes it to irritate and start the regurgitation process because my body thinks there is an obstruction there.

The air-swallowing issue is an additional problem. I think that my epiglottis is not properly closing the flap that connects the nasal passages with the throat, causing more stuff to go down than is supposed to. This is also, in my estimation, why I swallow air with every single swallow that I make; due to the flap not properly closing, a little bit of air is passed through the opening during the swallowing processes, and then gets sent to my stomach with the saliva, drink, or food that I'm eating.

In general, it takes about 30 minutes up to about two hours before I feel in control of my gag reflex enough to eat or drink something. Once I can eat or drink a little something, my stomach calms down and the gag reflex eases back into a controllable area. At this point, I can then take my medications or finish eating/drinking and have a fairly normal day. If I actually reach the point of vomiting or dry-heaving, however, it takes longer for me to get control and get going on my day.

I have talked with my doctor about this twice now. He pretty much completely ignored it the first time and the second time he felt that a nasal spray would solve the problem. I plan to make an appointment, press the issue, and insist on a referral to an ear/nose/throat specialist to help me with this problem, as the spray was completely and totally ineffective. I think I need a specialist to figure out why my congestion always goes down my throat, why I have so many bloody noses (a side issue that I don't think is related), and why I am swallowing so much air. In figuring this out, I feel, the doctor can do something that will ease these issues and help me have normal mornings again.

ADDENDUM:
I have an appointment with the doctor for April 2. I also asked the receptionist to take a note to the doctor reminding him that he promised to provide a referral at the last appointment if things didn't improve. Hopefully he wrote it in his notes or remembers, so we can skip this appointment and go straight to seeing the specialist and solving this problem. We'll see.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Writing Right

For a variety of reasons, I have been reading more on the Internet than usual, including blogs, forums, and news articles from various sites and of various types. It strikes me that the vast majority of people cannot write well.

I make my living writing, so I am both personally and professionally biased, I realize. However, by writing professionally, I also know that nothing I write is ever "perfect." The first rule of my profession is to never edit your own work. When reviewing and rereading your own work, your brain fills in the gaps, ignores misspellings, and generally lets you down in subtle ways that cause errors to creep into your writing. However, that is not to say that I do not do this step; I reread, edit, and re-edit my own work and posts a few times, using different techniques designed to minimize the number of errors that can creep in. Yet, still, when I go back to a previous post, I usually find at least a couple of errors.

While I do not expect anyone to be absolutely perfect online, the average person's blog, Facebook status, or Twitter feed is littered with issues, which shows the decline in communication skills in general. However, I am especially appalled by the number of news magazine and other professional sites that have frequent issues with grammar, spelling, punctuation, and contextual writing. While I deplore what I see as a general lack of even basic skills in these areas, it is one thing to have a non-professional making mistakes and another to have professional sites, which should have copy editors, making egregious, frequent, and consistent mistakes in these areas.

With my current bent on reading more online articles and posts, I see that majority of sites have the following errors:
  1. Bad grammar. People are constantly using the wrong word(s) in the wrong syntax. Homophone usage is particularly poor, where someone will use "their" when they want "they're."
  2. Bad Punctuation. People misuse punctuation, especially putting punctuation marks outside of quotation marks and sprinkling either commas or semi-colons throughout sentences that do not need them.
  3. Bad typos. Many writers also do not take the time to reread their work and look for simple typos (I see a lot of "doe snot" rather than "does not" cropping up lately). Too many writers appear to be relying on spell-checker to get everything right, even though spell-checker cannot tell the difference between a congested fawn (doe snot) and something that works differently than you think it does (does not). Spell-checker is a useful tool, but not a panacea.
  4. Bad topic/idea creation or support. Many people do not know about what they wish to speak. They start with one idea but, by the time your each the end of the post, it has morphed into something else entirely or the person cannot support his original thesis in any relevant, coherent way.
When I was in grade school, we were taught that every idea has a thesis statement. This is the "statement of purpose" about which you were talking or writing. It is the theme of your idea, and everything else you write should be supporting that theme in some way. Generally, you want to break your thought or theme into one sentence.

Each sentence, paragraph, or, in the case of something really lengthy, topic or heading, should then establish your position, support your thesis, or explain your reasoning. There are many ways to do these steps, and I will not go into them here. It is safe to say that many people that saying, "Because I said so," is in some way an erudite and insightful way of stating their opinion. Yet, we do not know why they think as they do, how they came to their conclusion, or what could be done differently to appease their worries.

For example, if you were to speak with a friend about a new movie and the friend said, "It sucked," you would not be satisfied with that answer. You would likely follow up that statement with questions to delve into the reasons why he/she thought it sucked, what about it sucked, if there were any redeeming qualities to the movie, and then make up your own mind on whether to see it. These questions you would ask your friend about the qualities that made the movie suck are the same types of questions a writer should be asking him/herself about the thesis of their statement and then providing useful, relevant, and specific examples to showcase their knowledge of the subject. For example, the friend could say, "The movie used shaky-cam, which I find very distracting." Further, "The actors didn't seem to have any chemistry at all, but the movie was supposed to be a love story." And, "I had a very hard time following the convoluted story. There are so many twists in it, that I stopped caring what happened and simply focused on trying to figure out what was going on." These responses all provide you with much-needed information that could sway you one way or the other on whether to see the film yourself.

While it is true that literacy rates have fallen to new lows over the last decade, some argue that the Internet is actually helping to get young people to read and write more and that literacy rates are slowly trending upward. While I do agree that I young people are texting more often, texting does not equate with reading or writing skills. In fact, I argue the opposite; the use of so many short-cuts and acronyms in place of real grammar is hurting people's writing skills more than helping it. Because they are starting texting at young ages, the bad habits of texting often supersede the information they should be learning in grade school about sentence creation, thought formation, and general writing skills. This keeps compounding until they graduate high school with little ability to read or write anything above a fourth-grade level.

What many people forget is just how much writing we need to do in today's society. Unless you have a fairly basic blue-collar job, chances are that you will need to email your bosses. Most white-collar professions require constant reading and writing as you take in data and then must disseminate it to others through emails, fliers, memos, speeches, specifications, and other forms of, generally, written communication. Those who can write well often get promotions and raises that others may want or even deserve simply on the foundation that they can communicate better than those who cannot write well.

When I see that educators and education budgets are under constant attack by politicians, I shake my head in wonder. By firing teachers and gouging the budgets, the ability to teach the next generation proper grammar, spelling, and writing techniques will get even worse. Soon, we'll have a monosyllabic culture that cannot express itself in the written form. This does not bode well for our country's ability to compete in a global economy, where clear communication is becoming more important, not less.

My online reading has made me aware of a lack of communication and writing skills in the general population. While a small number of errors can be attributed to the usual mistakes that creep into one's work when one is editing his/her own writing, the vast number, consistency of, and quality of the errors and writing lead me to believe that America's communication skills have atrophied. Short status sites like Facebook and Twitter, and quick contact applications like instant messaging, seem to be further eroding our ability to write coherent communications. I wonder what affect this will have on America in the next 10-20 years, as global communication via the Internet continues to climb and the world continues to shrink?