Follow or Face My Wrath

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Hierarchy of Nerds

Let me start by saying that I myself, am a horrible, tubby, introverted nerd.  I am allowed to make fun of nerds, because I am one of their kind.  Actually, like most nerds, I could fit into several of the below categories.  So don't get pissy at me for writing this, it's just for fun.  
Here, I propose a descending hierarchy of the coolness of each category of nerd.  There are as many kinds of nerds as there are people, so for the purposes of this article, I have lumped some of them together, where I feel the respective groups are of approximately equal coolness.  To my fellow nerds, I apologize for what you will doubtless view as a slander of your particular genre.  But let's face it... we just aren't cool.

1. Technology/Science/Math Nerds:  It seems to me that there is no logical case for any other class of nerd being the coolest.  Whereas most of the pursuits on this list have grim consequences like pimples, obesity, and borderline autism, being a tech/science/math nerd has awesome consequences like gainful employment, a hand in creating the future, and the respect of society.  Not to mention an opportunity to take sweet, ice-cold revenge on the jocks and cheerleaders that bullied you in high school by becoming their asshole boss.

2. Star Wars Nerds:  Though I do have a separate category coming for other science fiction fans, I believe Star Wars nerds deserve their own category, as they are possibly the most socially-accepted kind of non-productive nerd.  Basically, everybody likes Star Wars.  Those who nerd out on it may not be cool, but they're given a pass by society because their nerdly obsession is something universally accepted as cool.

3. Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter Nerds:  Basically the same deal as #2, but since both are rooted in books, and both classes of nerd are likely to spend a lot of their lives telling people that the books are so much  better than the movies, they lose some coolness points for constantly defending their obsession.

4. Social Media Whores:  This category's nerd status is definitely debatable.  For one thing, everybody these days uses social media semi-obsessively, and we're all shameless narcissists in the end.  But since this is an activity which can consume enough time to divert a person from real life, I argue it as a nerdly occupation.  If you post on Facebook more than 15 times a day, this is you.  If you post on more than 5 social networks a day, this is you.  If you have posted pictures of yourself in the mirror or holding the phone above your head to anywhere but your profile pic, this is you.  The reason that they are so high on the list, however, is that most of the time, these people do actually have friends IRL, and much of their activity does relate to occurrences in reality.

5. Video Gamers:  This category applies to fans of the first person shooter, action, and sports genres of video games, and stuff like Guitar Hero.  There are a great deal of these people, and they spend a great deal of time and money on these games.  But they are slightly cooler than my other category concerning video games, becasue the games these nerds play require dexterity and skill, as well as patience.

6. Comic Book/Baseball Card Nerds: Comic books are a somewhat antiquated, but still interesting and monetarily valuable trade.  Plus they have a strong foothold in popular culture these days with the success of the Marvel and Batman films.  At their best, Comics are a unique artistic medium, but at their worst, they are the source of some of the weakest writing and flimsiest ideas of all imaginative fiction.  And baseball Cards, while boring in themselves, are again, rooted in reality, therefore not that uncool.  But anyone who nerds out on that kind of stuff to a truly nerdy degree, is definitely not cool.

7. RPG Nerds:  As opposed to other genres of video games, RPG's really just require patience.  I will no doubt incur some nerd-rage on this point, but I let it stand.  If you're willing to fight enough pigs in the forest for 12 exp/pig, you will eventually get strong enough to master that next dungeon.  This category includes World of Warcraft and other MMORPG nerds.  Plus this category could arguably include D&D nerds, as it's a non-computer version of the same activity, but I place them in a different category, which will follow.

8. Star Trek Nerds:  Star Trek is just not generally regarded as cool.  Though I happen to think STNG is rad, I will admit that it is the general tendency of the Star Trek franchise to favor below average actors and cheesy production values.  This was true until J.J. Abrams hit the scene, but overall, I think it still holds.  Any class of nerds willing to wear those mauve spandex Starfleet uniforms deserves a place at #8.

9. General Sci-Fi/Fantasy Nerds:  Any nerd whose primary sci-fi/fantasy obsession does not fall into one of the aforementioned categories is generally of a lower class of nerd.  Anyone who thinks Star Wars was cool, but Babylon 5 or Dr. Who was really where it was at is a very uncool nerd indeed.  Anyone who reads those 3 inch thick paperbacks with pretty, realistic-looking paintings on the front (Game of Thrones is the only exception), where maidens talk to their cats, is a low class of nerd.  Anyone who wants to read through 155 pages of exposition about the genealogy of dragons or the structure of society in Beelegeuse is super-not-cool.

10.  Internet Nerds:  These are the people that spend all their lives on message boards, trolling and panning other people's innocent queries.  If you have ever gone off on someone in an online message board or chatroom or blog, telling them what a stupid n00b they are, this is you.  There is some crossover with social media whores here, but I think these trolls deserve their own low, low echelon of nerdliness.

11. Anime Nerds:  These people are even less cool, however.  Anyone that genuinely believes that there is more than a small, small handful of good anime movies (my votes all go to the works of Haiyo Miazaki), and that any of the long-running anime series are really worth watching (Cowboy Bebop is enough for me) is a very uncool nerd.  The sad truth is, 99% of anime is just softcore hentai (look it up if you don't know what it is), and anyone that proclaims to watch it because it's good is a liar and a nerdly, nerdish, nerd.

12.  Card Game/Hobby/Action Figure Nerds:  Now we're really getting to the bottom of the barrel.  Anyone who plays Magic: The Gathering, D&D or any non-computer RPG/TBS game is a whiny, pimply, nose-picking nerd.  If you have spent more than a single hour in a hobby/game store in your life, this could be you.  If you are on a first name basis with the AM shift cashier, this is definitely you.  If you play more than one card-based strategy game, this is so you.  And if you build model ANYTHINGS and you are not also an architect/designer or a child, you are one of the lowest forms of nerd.  Chances are you don't shower much, and your favorite food comes in a pressurized spray can. 

13. LARPers:  LARP stands for Live Action Role Playing.  It's RPG nerds cross bred with hobby nerds.  Unimaginably awful.  If you have ever worn a medeival-style tunic and a scabbard on a day that wasn't Haloween or a LOTR premier, this is you.  If part of you, deep down inside, believes you really might have the power to cast magic spells, you are a dirty, friendless nerd.  I also put all Wiccans/Witches/Pagans in this category.  It's fantasy roleplay, not a religion, and mainly an excuse to dress up like RenFest is every day.

14.  Train Nerds:  And now, we reach the very lowest form of nerd.  If you have more than one gauge of train set in your basement, and you have turned it on since the age of 7, you are the lowest form of nerd there is.  LARPers get to point and laugh at you for being such a simpering dweeb.  Tech nerds are so much cooler than you, they literally don't know you exist.  Put on your blue and white striped engineer hat and go die in silent obscurity.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Pollo Asada and Chipotle Cinnamon Sweet Potato Hash

Had this for lunch yesterday, and it totally blew my mind.  This dish combines all the best flavors: sweet, spicy, salty, fatty & savory.  We make Pollo Asada and Sweet Potato Hash pretty regularly, but this is the first time we've ever put them together.  When we eat Pollo Asada, the only veggie side that ever comes to mind is either a basic salad or sauteed peppers & onions.  Its funny, because sweet potato is a totally Mexican ingredient.  I'm shocked I never thought of marrying the two until now.  Make the marinade tonight and have it for dinner tomorrow!

Asada Marinade (for Chicken)
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup lime juice
1 jalapeno, ribs & stems included
1/2 small onion
2-3 cloves garlic
1 cup fresh cilantro (lightly packed)
2 tbsp roasted cumin
salt & pepper to taste

Sautee the jalapeno, onion & garlic (the unholy trinity) in a pan with the 2 tbsp olive oil.  When everything is nice & charred, dump it into the food processor.  Add remaining olive oil, vinegar, lime juice, cilantro cumin, salt & pepper.  Puree until it reaches a soupy consistency.
Put 2-3 boneless skinless chicken breasts in this marinade for up to 2 days, but NO LESS than 4 hours.  For better results, assault the chicken mercilessly with a fork, or score with a knife, or beat thin with a food mallet.
Put the chicken in a pan and sear the top side until it's beginning to char.  Flip it over, move the pan into the oven and bake at 350 until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 in the thickest part of the breast.  If you pounded your chicken, this will happen fast, you might want to skip the oven and just stick to stove top.  Personally, I'm in love with the pan-to-oven method, it's gentler and easier.

Sweet Potato Hash
2 medium sweet potatoes
1 jalapeno, ribs & seeds removed
1/2 small onion
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp chipotle chili powder
salt & pepper to taste

While the chicken is baking, cut 2 sweet potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes.  Dice the onion and jalapeno pretty fine, maybe 1/4 inch.  Add the oil to the pan, and once it's hot, add the onion and jalapeno.  Sautee until they're just starting to get some color, then add your sweet potato.  Give it a good stir, making sure everything gets a good coat of oil.  Cover pan with a lid for about 5 minutes, to let sweet potato soften.  When that's done, remove the lid and add the cinnamon, chipotle powder, salt & pepper.  Stir often for about 5-10 more minutes, or until the potatoes have some char on them.  Remove from heat.

Optional Toppers
Lime Juice

By now, your chicken is probably done.  Pull it out of the oven, and while it rests, chop up some cilantro and slice an avocado into cubes or strips, whichever you prefer.  Plate the sweet potato hash, cut the chicken into thin slices, place on top of the hash and top with cilantro, avocado and a squeeze of lime.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Case for Harvey Danger

[First, a brief message: Yesterday I posted a blog that I had to take down for personal reasons.  If anyone read it during the hour or so it was up, I'd ask you to please email me at so I can explain]

Most of you probably have a vague recollection of a band called Harvey Danger.  They were a one-hit-wonder from the grunge era, and they had their fifteen minutes of fame with the song "Flagpole Sitta" (paranoia, paranoia, everybody's coming to get me...)
At some point in high school, before I got serious about collecting music, I signed up for one of those CD buying "clubs" that you used to see little cardboard tear-out ads for in magazines.  Anyone remember what I'm talking about?  Anyway, I got 10 CD for like a buck, I think, and one of the ones I got was the album Where Have All The Marrymakers Gone? by Harvey Danger.  I had heard "Flagpole Sitta" on the radio and in the preview for some I Know What You Did Last Summer-esque high school slasher flick and liked it, so I was glad to hear the rest of what the band had to offer.
Even at that tender age, I had an affinity for words that exceeded that of my peers.  And I was pleased to discover that Harvey Danger was a word-lover's band.  Their lyrics are clever, witty, observant and occasionally very funny, yet always though-provoking.  I devoured their first album, and for years it was an unusual cornerstone in a collection that was otherwise comprised solely of punk and metal.
Years went by and I never lost my love of this album.  It's another one of those records that's just great from start to finish, full of memorable hooks and lyrics.  Some of my favorite moments come in the songs "Private Helicopter" (I'm on a hovercraft to Paris with my former best friend/ we have to get to the cinimateque/we're not alone, but no one speaks English so we're free/to look into each other's minds and see what we're thinking like we always used to) and "Wooly Muffler" (All I ever thought we might come to was second dates and flirting eyebrows/or maybe even psychic friends/and we could share a secret language/ and almost definitely make more of it/than it was).  The whole album is packed with wordy, approachably cerebral lyrics like this, making them a band that any writer can appreciate.
Much later in life, I found out that the band had released two more albums and then unceremoniously broke up after wallowing in obscurity too long.  For the life of me, I can't figure out why this band didn't make it.  They may have been a bit more literate than the average band, but they delivered it all with such great melodies and pop-sensibility that I can't figure out why they didn't ever have another hit.  Talking Heads and The Smiths pulled off the library-punk ethos and had strings of hits and successful solo careers come out of their respective demises.  Harvery Danger's sound was rooted in grunge, but they eventually expanded to include more piano leads that remind me occasionally of Ben Folds, and their songs never lost their hook-laden appeal.  But possibly from a lack of proper management, possibly by the winds of chance, they never built up much of a national following and after a 10 year career they broke up as quietly as any band I've ever seen.
But I still go back and listen to King James Version to hear the rapid fire wit of "Sad Sweetheart of the Rodeo" (not another existential cowboy/and no more California champagne/ not another saddle tramp, sick sore lonely and out of place/cryin' in his coffee ice cream)  and their final album Little By Little contains some major gems like "Cream and Bastards Rise" (you don't have to be a genius but it helps to/fools and charlatans thay may get wise/but only cream and bastards rise)  and "Little Round Mirrors" (there you are and now you're coming to stay until/you can find someone who will love you as much/as you love all your little round mirrors/murdering your time in cold blood/there's a hole in the middle you can't seem to fill).
Its a shame when a band this good passes so far below the radar.  Go out and find their albums, they're worth you time.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Ruminations on The Beatles: Rubber Soul

Asking me to choose my favorite Beatles album would be like asking me to choose my favorite limb.  It just doesn't make sense to me, because if I were to be deprived of even part of one of them, I would consider it a tragedy.
But if you told me that you were going to destroy all copies of every Beatles album but one, and asked me which one I would save...
It might have to be Rubber Soul.
Rubber Soul is the Beatles album I grew up listening to.  My dad had one of those 6 CD changers in the trunk of his car for YEARS, and from the time I was, oh, I don't know, 11, until the time I moved out of my parent's house, Rubber Soul was one of those 6.  If it hadn't been for this album, I might never have known the Beatles as anything more than another band on Oldies 95.5.
Rubber Soul stands as the perfect intermediate piece between the Beatles that were and the Beatles that were to come, and it combines the best of both worlds.
While the albums before this were all masterpieces in their own way, today they seem like almost too straightforward rock and roll albums.  They're good, but definitely sound dated, and occasionally rely on musical devices that were cliche even in those days (The Beatles always pulled it off better than anyone else, but let's face it, there was still a cliche or two in there).
The albums that came later made monumental leaps and bounds forward in creativity, changing the face of music as we knew it, but like all explorers of the unknown, they'd occasionally go too far.  Come on, who among us has really listened to all 8 minutes and 22 seconds of "Revolution 9" more than once?  And surely no one listened because it rocked, I only ever listened to the whole thing to make sure there wasn't an actual song buried in there somewhere.  Experimentation is important, but even in the hands of The Beatles, it can still produce things that are more interesting than good.
Rubber Soul expanded the creative range of the band a great deal, but kept it in a pure rock and roll context.  The edges are a little rougher, the album rocks a little harder, and the songs are among the tightest the band would ever record.  "Drive My Car" still gets me head-banging; "Norwegian Wood" cracks me up every time I hear that ending line; "You Won't See Me" is piano-led pop at it's very best; "Nowhere Man" is one of John's finest and most thought provoking moments ever; "Think for Yourself" rocks my socks and features some of the best harmonies the band ever sang; I love singing along to "The Word"; "Michelle" will always and forever remind me of my dad (its his favorite Beatles song); the country-inflected rock of "What Goes On" beats the pants off of anything all those country-esque woodstock era American bands ever came up with; "Girl" is probably the most hear-wrenching ballad I've ever heard; "I'm Looking Through You" rocks hard; "In My Life" is one of the best and most-adored love songs ever written; "Wait" rocks and reatures som more excellent harmonies; "If I Needed Someone" foreshadows the band's future psychedelic direction; and "Run For Your Life" is probably the hardest rocking song they had recorded to that point (except maybe the proto-punk rendition of "Twist & Shout").
Shoot, that's every song on the album.  I set out to say something about my favorites, and look what happened.  I might not have a dissertation on each one, but I tried to pick my favorite songs on the album and came up with every song on the album.
Rubber Soul  kicks ass, and if there had never been a Beatles and some other band released this album today, no one would say "That music sounds old."  It's as fresh and interesting today as it was in 1965.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Layman's Thought Experiment Concerning the Scale of the Universe

[What follows is a though experiment distilled from several late-night conversations I had years ago.  It is based on a layman's knowledge of physics, and attempts to be nothing more than a sketch of the universe, purely for fun]
See the humble string.
It has but one property: Length.  It does nothing, except be precisely that long.
By the winds of chance, a string or several strings begin to vibrate in such a pattern that they are now recognizable as quarks and other particles.
The quark has mass, it has direction, it has type (up, down, top, bottom, strange or charm).  Other particles have mass, direction, some even carry an electric charge.
In a sea of chaos, fundamental particles begin to bind together, and an atom emerges.
The atom has mass, direction, velocity, momentum, charge, and the ability to react with other atoms in a myriad of ways.
After being jostled around enough, atoms begin to react to one another in such a way that a molecule is formed.
The molecule can do things the atom could not.  It can program and build other molecules, it can ingest atoms & particles and change them into new things, or use them to change itself.  The molecule is capable of chemical reactions.
And through an infinite series of these, one or more of the chemical reactions is bound to result in an organic compound.
Organic compounds contain a specific mixture of molecules that is suited to a specific environment.  And on the extremely rare instance where the conditions are perfect, some of them make the jump into actual organisms.
An organism has something that none of its constituent parts had.  It is alive.  It requires nourishment to sustain life.  Whatever it nourishes itself with produces both energy and waste.
And organisms have one special thing that nothing that came before had.
They evolve.
They adapt to their environments, change their environments, they consume their environments and move to new ones.  They reproduce themselves and with each new generation, new properties arise.
Given enough time, properties like sight, hearing, thought, memory, morality and violence arise.  And when these properties begin to interact, something else happens.
Organisms come together to create societies.  Some are simple in nature; a group of bees that work together because their instincts demand it, they can conceive of no other existence.  Others more complex; groups of humans create rules and hierarchies to control one another and move toward common goals, but some humans reject the established order.
When enough societies come together, what is created?  What properties will it exhibit that none of its constituent parts were able to?  And how will the integration be achieved?  What creative abilities will they possess?  And where could it possibly end?
At each level of existence, there is a combining of constituent parts that results in a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts.  New properties and abilities emerge that were impossible to conceive of within the context of the previous level.  It is meaningless to ask if strings can evolve, or even have chemical reactions.  By the same token, we as a society cannot begin to conceive what powers we will possess once we make the leap to the next level of existence.
But one thing seems clear.  That leap will only be achieved if we work towards further integration of our collective minds.  And in the current age, it seems as if technology is the way in which our minds pass closest.  It allows us to communicate over vast distances, and to contemplate ideas that were difficult to conceive of before it.  Given enough time, I believe it will take us to the next level.
There's a lot of room to expand.  Even our largest cities are but a speck on the face of this enormous planet.  The planet itself is to the solar system as a single grain of salt is to an extra large pizza.  Our solar system is to the galaxy as a speck of dust is to your entire house.  Our milky way galaxy is to the known universe as that same grain of dust is to the entire galaxy.  And scientists believe that the entire universe is at least 10^23 times as big as the known universe.  Its so big, and so complex that it is incapable of being accurately modeled by anything simpler than itself.
So yeah, I don't think we're done evolving yet.

What was the point of this?  I don't know.  Just trying to put my 10,000 hours in.
Wanna see something cool? Check this out

Friday, April 12, 2013

Ruminations on the Beatles: Help!

If you only had one album from the Beatles Early period, Help! would be the one.
In that period of time, both the band and the music industry at large was more focused on singles, something that doesn't really exist in this day & age.  Singles came on a 7-inch record, and usually housed one song per side, a hit song that you might hear on the radio, and a bonus on side B (hence the term 'b-side').  People who have only a passing knowledge of the Beatles will likely be familiar with the Beatles' singles catalog; they make make up the bulk of Beatles tunes you'll hear on the radio to this day.  But the albums of this period present a wholly different side of the band, one where there was room to breathe, to search out new musical territory, to pay homage to their roots or try out new instruments on songs written especially for their use (see 'Norwegian Wood' on Rubber Soul).
Help!, in my opinion, marks the end of the Beatles early period, and it serves as a distillation of all that came before it, offering up some of their most fully realized songs, and the majority of my favorite deep cuts.
Everybody knows the title track, I hope, and I seriously doubt that anyone out there has never heard "Ticket to Ride" or "Yesterday".  But between those familiar hits is a set list of some of the strongest songs the band has ever come up with.  The driving rocker "The Night Before", the folk-tinged "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away", and the George Harrison composition "Another Girl" keep the pace of side one at a gallop.  Side two starts out with Ringo's amusing rendition of Buck Owens' "Act Naturally", then moves through another handful of strong Beatles originals until we hit "I've Just Seen a Face", which probably takes the cake as my favorite early Beatles song.  The brisk drum beat fills us with the excitement of the newly found love that Paul sings about, and the unmatched energy contains the prototype of all hyperactive rock & roll that came after it. 
"Yesterday" is up next, and as most people know it's probably one of the most stirring and memorable songs of the era.  It's one of the most covered songs ever written (over 2200 versions), and one of the top grossing hits of all time.  Any Beatles collection that omits it is a foul misrepresentation of the band.
Interestingly enough, the process of writing "Yesterday" was filled with trouble.  The melody came to Paul one night in a dream, and on a following day over breakfast, in place of the now-famous titular line, he found himself singing "scrambled eggs."  The tune continued to develop, but he could never get that phrase out of his head, and it kept it from being fully realized for quite some time.  Furthermore, since the song had come to him (like all good art does) unbidden and without method, he was deeply concerned that he might have accidentally plagiarized some one else's work without knowing he'd done it.  He kept playing the song to various people in the music industry, asking if they'd heard it before, and after enough people said no, he decided it was his to record.
Help! is a definitive statement, a self-styled masterpiece from a band that had its feet firmly planted in an identity.  Some time after it's release, the Beatles had a fateful meeting with Bob Dylan, who introduced the boys to a something that would spin their lives and their music down a completely new path: Marijuana.  Once Mary Jane opened the gateway and the true spirit of the 60's flooded in, the Beatles were never the same.  In my opinion, they got a helluva lot better, but Help! stands as the final statement of the band as they started out: just a rock & roll group from Liverpool.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

You Gotta Fight... For Your Right...

[The following article was written by me and is re-published from]

Growing up, I was a tender, sensitive child. Like many sensitive children, I was a target for bullies from an early age. It began when I joined a local soccer team and quickly found out that I wasn't very good at sports. The entire team used to gang up on me, including the middle-aged coach, who led the charge by responding to my inadequacy not with advice or encouragement, but with ridicule.
Pushed by my parents (who had only the best of intentions) to continue playing sports, I had similar experiences in tee-ball and basketball. By the time all the school children in my town were starting to get to know one another, I had a reputation.
Middle school was the worst. I had a handful of friends, and we were all outcasts, bullied to some extent by overlapping groups. There was one person in particular, who shall of course remain nameless, who singled me out from the very moment our eyes first met. We had apparently attended the same kindergarten glass, though I didn't recall that at the time, and he had remembered me all through grade school, even though we went to different schools. I recall the event as clearly as if it was yesterday, which begs the question if it really happened this way, or if this is a dramatized/traumatized memory:
I walked into 6th grade English class, and this person was already sitting at a table. As I looked around for a seat, he said to me, in the most threatening tone he could manage, “Hey Pete. You don't remember me, but I remember you.” I made a face at him, and he immediately mocked me to his gaggle of goons.
From there until 8th grade he made my life a living hell; trotting out many of the classic bullying moves in the process: kicking me into my locker, upsetting my lunch tray, mocking me in front of the whole school, etc.
When I went to high school I was still reeling from these experiences, and I was elated when I found out that the person in question had opted to attend a private high school, and I would never see him again. But high school held it's own challenges, less physical and immediate, perhaps, but no less condemning.
My response was to draw further inward. I got interested in Punk Rock and Heavy Metal, and through music found an identity that gave me enough confidence to get by until graduation. I learned to own my outsider status, to act as if it was my decision, not theirs. In the end, I became enough of a curiosity that by the time senior year came, I was friendly and conversational with everyone in my graduating class.
And when I went to college and I had the same experience so many of us have. All that class-warfare, the freaks and geeks vs. jocks and cheerleaders, that all melted away and suddenly we were just people. I never heard from most of my fellow graduates again, but the ones I have, even those that were bullies to me at one time or another, have met me as equals.
But sadly, my experiences left a lasting mark on me. By becoming so wrapped up in my outsider status, I found it difficult to become fully engaged with people who didn't share it. I may have owned it this time, but the feeling of standing outside looking in persisted. Years of being told I was insufficient had caused me to lack confidence at a deep level, and this showed up in the way I failed to apply myself to constructive activities, and I spent most of college in a marijuana-induced sleepwalk, wearing a girl-proof shell of fat and poor hygiene. I squeaked out of college in just under seven years with a degree in Philosophy, boasting a 2.1 GPA.
I moved into adult life, and immediately drowned in a sea of mediocrity. I was Salieri, constantly taunted by the ease with which Mozart outdid my most solemn efforts.
It wasn't until I met my now-wife that things really started to change for me. We met on E-Harmony; the perfect meat-market for those lacking confidence. Not that I am embarrassed about the way we met (quite the opposite), we were both at a point where we were looking for something serious, and we didn't want to waste precious years messing around with anything less. Through the process of our courtship, I taught myself the most important lesson I’ve ever learned: Fake It 'Til You Make It.
Confidence is a behavior pattern, a habit like any other. It can be adopted artificially, but quickly becomes natural with practice. And this is what all those bullies knew that I didn't.
The common wisdom is that bullies act the way they do because they are protecting themselves from their own lack of confidence by projecting their weakness onto others. I generally agree with this, and I think most sane, reasonable adults more or less agree as well. Bullies are, in a childish way, faking confidence, and eventually it becomes natural. By then, though, the habit has become hard to break; they know no other way of demonstrating confidence, so they keep on putting others down, sometimes well into adulthood. But I’d be willing to bet that nine out of ten bullies started out as a child that was hurting in some way.
All this brings me to several conclusions:
We, as adults, should not punish bullies for their activities in any extreme way. Who are we to punish a child for mistakenly acting out on their inner pain? Not only that, but punishment of the top-down sort has never been shown to be an effective means of modifying behavior. It may force compliance in the short term, but it breeds discontent with authority in the long term. I learned, as many victims do, that “telling” only makes the bullying worse. I’ve had bullies be forced to say they were sorry to me before. Their false apologies hurt more than their sincere blows. And no matter how hard parents and teachers work to make it safe for victims to come forward, the act of “telling” will always be bad, even in the absence of retribution. Running for help is a habit, and its one we'd do well to discourage in our children.
All adults know there is no shame I asking for help when we really need it, but in the adult world that help is most often in a collaborative setting. It's right for me to ask for help if I have a difficult and important work project that I won't be able to finish on my own. But asking to be rescued is something different entirely. Encouraging children to do that is the same as saying “If you fall off the horse, don't get back on, just wait for mommy to come and pick you up.” Encouraging kids to beg for rescue will breed weakness in adults, and like it or not, there are always, always bullies in life, even when we're grown up. They may not be trying to hurt our feelings, they may not have even been bullies as children, but there are always those who seek to take what we have, or to take credit for our good deeds, or who believe they are in some way better than us and deserve more. Nations bully each other. And running to the UN doesn't seem to prevent much conflict, does it?
As an adult there is often no one to run to, so to teach that habit – even if it's effective at the child level – is to do a disservice to future generations. The appropriate way to meet strength is with strength, and not from the top-down, but from the bottom-up. If we want to put an end to bullying, we have to educate victims on the nature of confidence at an early age. We should be teaching them to find their power any way they can; be it the intellectual route of nerds who eventually employ their bullies, the independence of freaks who go on to live fascinating lives, or sheer power in numbers. Kids could support each other by forming an anti-bully club, so if a bully wanted to take on one of them, he'd have to take on all of them. The only way to stop a bully is to tell them you won't stand for it. There's no reward for the bully if you refuse to take their taunts lying down. If you take a few knocks in the process, I think it's worth it. Taking punches builds character. Chances are a childhood bully won't murder you. I know there are some who encourage victims to kill themselves, but if the victims learn early to stand up to this kind of treatment, to find their strength and fight for their right to be who they are, to say to that bullies face, “Screw you, I have a right to be whoever I want, and I’m not going to let you take your self-hatred out on me!” I think we could actually see change.
I don't have any children, so perhaps I am speaking in ignorance. Maybe I will one day be so consumed by protective instincts that I will change my mind. But the sad truth is that in a world where people and nations compete for limited resources, strength is the only survival strategy. Birds don't learn to fly by being coddled in the nest, they learn to fly by being rudely shoved out, sometimes hitting the ground. Fish don't learn to swim by holding close to their mother, they learn by being abandoned and hatching to find a hungry eel waiting for them. And humans don't learn to stand up for themselves by asking their parents and teachers to do it for them. I dearly hope that when my child comes to me saying they've been shoved around by some bully, I still have the wisdom to tell them, “Next time, you shove back.”

Saturday, April 6, 2013

No on SB 648!

Any of you who have known me over the past year or so probably know that I am an ex-smoker who has upgraded his nicotine habit to the electronic cigarette.  My wife and I have been smoking e-cigs exclusively since February of 2012, and I can tell you it has made a significant improvement on our quality of life.

E-cigs use some very simple technology to get around the many factors of nicotine use that are bad for the human body.  Traditional cigarettes burn tobacco, and every byproduct of the chemical process of burning ends up in your lungs and the air around you.  Most of those byproducts are bad, even in all-natural cigarettes.  It's a pretty steep price to pay for your nicotine.
E-cigs use an electrical charge running through a cluster of small fibers to vaporize liquid nicotine.  The fibers "wick" (like a candle wick) the liquid nicotine into their structure, where a small electric current causes the nicotine to vaporize.  When you draw on the e-cig, air and propylene glycol are pulled past the heating element. The sudden heating causes the the propylene glycol to flash, or rapidly expand. The moisture in the air being drawn through with the propylene glycol instantly clings to it, making it both visible and cooler.  So the exhaled result is a mixture of trace amounts of nicotine, propylene glycol and water vapor that mimics the behavior of cigarette smoke, giving the smoker a pleasant feel like smoking a real cigarette.
Propylene glycol may sound like a big scary chemical, but check out the link in the previous paragraph.  Its virtually impossible for humans to consume it in amounts that would cause perceptible damage to your health.  It's an organic compound, and is considered Generally Recognized As Safe by the FDA, and it's present in a lot of the foods you eat and medicine you take.
Water vapor is obviously harmless, so what about the other exhaled compound, nicotine?  Well, there's no arguing that nicotine is bad for you.  However, it is not itself a carcinogen, and the simple truth is that administered in the absence of cigarette smoke, it's primary detrimental effect is it's habit-forming stimulant response.  Lucky for second-hand e-cig smokers, all signs point to the nicotine content of exhaled vapor being extremely low compared to traditional cigarettes; far below the threshold that could trigger an addictive response, or even have a significant health impact.  I won't argue that the exhaled vapor is completely harmless, but I will argue that it is nearly harmless and certainly less harmful than the normal air in a city like, oh, Los Angeles for example.
The science on all this is still in it's early stages, I'll admit.  But so far, it's hard to argue that e-cigs are worse - or even half as bad for you and those around you - as traditional cigarettes.  They are not harmless, but they're demonstrably less harmful than almost anything else we let into our air.  the smoke coming off your charcoal grill is worse.
Furthermore, I can tell you from personal experience (and I'm not alone here) that switching to e-cigs has made a noticeable improvement on my health.  I don't stink of smoke anymore, I can breathe deeply without coughing, I no longer hack up phlegm every morning and I don't get dizzy climbing a staircase.  I feel better, I look better, and my doctor says I am healthier.
And yet... California is currently voting on a bill that would treat e-cigs as if they were just as bad as traditional cigarettes just because we don't know exactly how much healthier they are.  The argument is not that they are as bad as cigarettes, it's just that we don't know precisely how much healthier they are. 
Now, I'm all in favor of the FDA taking a closer look at the e-cig manufacturing process.  Since we've been using them, my wife and I have had a number of "dud" cartridges that simply don't function.  The batteries we use all draw differently than one another, and some break down within a few uses.  Manufacturing consistency would be a good thing, and if I have to pay a little more to get it, I'd say it's worth it. 
But if new laws cause the price of e-cigs to rise to or above the level of cigarettes (and there's a very real possibility of that happening), it'd be a horrible thing for everyone.  I'm still addicted to nicotine, although I have stepped down my dosage by half over the last year, and am about to cut it in half again in a month or so (as soon as I'm out of my current cartridges).  If e-cigs are more expensive than cigarettes... I'm gonna have to fight pretty hard not to switch back.  I don't want to switch back.  I'm trying to quit, eventually.  E-cigs come in a nicotine-free variety that I would eventually like to step down to.  At that point the e-cig is essentially a toy, it's completely harmless.  I'm using e-cigs as a cessation device (slowly, but surely), and one of the major MAJOR  benefits is that they are far cheaper than cigarettes.  About half the cost per year for my wife and I, and we smoke a lot of e-cig. 
I like this method of quitting because it allows me to keep everything I like about smoking, while slowly phasing out the things which are bad for me.  Other quitting methods just don't deliver when it comes to the more psychological aspects of smoking.  I didn't really want to quit smoking.  I just knew I had to, or else.  I enjoy having something to punctuate my day, I like writing with something in my hand (as I am right now).  I smoke like a chimney when I write.  As Ayn Rand put it (and I'm paraphrasing) "When a man is thinking, there is a spot of fire in his mind.  It is fitting that there should be a spot of fire in his hand as well."  E-cigs let me keep the spot of fire, while disposing with the health risks.  I've chewed the gum.  It's disgusting and unsatisfying.  I've used inhalers.  The lack of visible vapor totally breaks the illusion that I'm still smoking.  I've never used the patch, but I know I'd miss the physical activity associated with smoking.  I'm finding, as I step my nicotine dosage down, that I don't miss the nicotine at all once I'm down to the next level.
If California passes this law, much of this could be taken away from me.
If any of you read my article on GMO foods, you may have noticed the comment I got from a reader and the subsequent argument I had with him.  My feelings on GMO foods are similar to my feelings on e-cigs.  In both cases there are some demonstrable, real-life positive impacts, and the only reason certain parties are against them is because we "don't know enough."  As I said to the gentleman who commented on that article, I refuse to fear the unknown.  I refuse to accept that the measurable positive impact on my life from using e-cigs is but a ruse, and that I am really making a bad health choice, and my choices should be prohibited by law.  I'm generally against anything that inhibits individual freedom, and SB 648 could take away, or at least grievously tax my ability to make what I perceive as a monumentally beneficial health choice.  It would remove the incentive to switch for those who are contemplating it, and it would create an incentive for current e-cig users to switch back to cigarettes.  That's bad, any way you slice it, no matter what we do or don't know about e-cigs.
The California government takes its role in the health of it's citizens too far.  They have a precedent of outlawing anything they're uncomfortable with, without regard to the behavioral incentives they create in the process.  If this bill passes, it could set an example the whole country could follow.  So help me on my journey to quit nicotine and vote NO! on SB 648!!!!!
Check out my brand here, and learn why you should switch if you're a smoker.  Contact me for a 15% off promo code.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

What "Sequestration" Means to Me

Picture this:
A young woman, fed up with the "lie-to-the-consumer-or-get-fired" ethics of the sales business decides to take on a challenging new path in her life: Air Traffic Control.  Told by some close to her that she wouldn't be able to handle it, she sets out to conquer the new and difficult profession, leaving her home and everything she ever knew in the process.  Beginning with nothing, she pursues her goal with a relentlessness that can only come from being told you can't do it.
After five hard years of rigorous training, having the deck stacked against her, falling off the horse and getting back on again, she emerges into the profession as a strong, confident member of a government agency whose job it is to faithfully monitor the safety of the skies.  She's become passionate about the importance of her job, so passionate she encourages all around her to take their profession seriously.  She's proud of herself, knowing that hard work and perseverance have allowed her to realize a dream, and to triumph over those who never believed she could do it.  When people ask her what she does for a living, she can hold her head high.
For some reason, she marries me.
And I'm proud of her too.  People ask me what my wife does, and I say "She's an Air Traffic Controller."  Invariably, the response I get is something along the lines of "Holy shit, that's a hard job.  Wow, that's incredible."  If I told people she was a surgeon, they would be markedly less impressed.  I take pride in being married to someone who, through individual effort and self-sacrifice, has built the exact life they want to live.
And now, my wife may be out of a job in a year, no severance, no opportunity for appeal, no ability to transfer to another location.  Five long years of fighting uphill in a rainstorm will count for nothing if her facility is shut down.  Once ejected from the FAA, she would not be able to get back in to the agency without starting again from the beginning, and if the hiring freeze remains in effect even this may not happen.  Her individual ability to work towards her passion will be stripped from her in order to satisfy the needs of the collective.  Marx would be delighted.
What does freedom mean if your efforts can go up in a puff of smoke?  Why would anyone work hard to earn anything if it can be taken away from you without reprisal? Why should the bantering ineptitude of our government be allowed result in the achievements of our citizens being stripped from them?
Because the right won't cut defense, and the left won't cut social programs.  Screw both sides of the aisle, I say.
We have the most powerful military in the country.  I know we need it, especially with North Korea on the warpath again.  But surely there are some losses that will not affect our ability to defend ourselves. 
We also live in a society that, until now, allows people to earn however much they are willing to work for.  Surely we can do without some of this nanny-state bullshit that only creates government dependency. 
Surely there's a better way to get our budget under control than across-the-board cuts.  Why are we allowing the muscles to atrophy and the skeleton to weaken in order to make room for all this fat?
SMO is a relatively small airport, but they control a crucial section of airspace, essentially acting as the fifth runway of LAX, one of the busiest airports in the world.  If that tiny airport gets shut down, the loss of jobs for Controllers would be but a small part of the economic impact.  Without FAA control, the majority of the flight schools there would be forced to shut down, and the airport would take massive revenue losses, creating further loss of jobs on the civilian level.  The burden of controlling the airspace would be pushed on other areas who are already overloaded because of their own budget and staffing difficulties.  And this is but one of hundreds of facilities facing this eventuality.  The burden of controlling the sky will be spread amongst too few professionals, and as a result, the overall safety of air travel will be negatively impacted.  There's no way around that fact.
Help my wife and the countless others like her by making some noise.  This sequester is bullcrap, everybody agrees on that.  I've yet to meet a single person who thinks it's a good thing.  So re-post this link and help us get the word out so that maybe we can keep our skies safe.