Let There Be Light …

31 05 2008

As you know (“you” indicating the four or five people who regularly read this tripe), I find a great deal of mirth in shooting at sacred cows. One of my favorite things in life is to heap scorn upon the inexcusably stupid and to mock and belittle those with closed minds and a smug sense of superiority. I am especially fond of demolishing the sense of superiority among those who are profoundly undeserving of that attitude- most of them, in other words.

In general, I find that people who believe themselves to be superior are trying desperately to convince themselves. These are the folks who insist that black is white, up is down, and that the Emperor is fully clothed in the face of all evidence to the contrary because believing otherwise would somehow destroy the cozy little fictional universe they have created for themselves.

Pointing out that the Emperor is not, in fact, wearing any clothes is the duty of everyone whose brain cells are not obliged to make long-distance calls to communicate. Inexcusably stupid statements demand to be called out for what they are, and those making such statements should be verbally destroyed in public to (hopefully) teach them to engage their brains before removing the brakes on their mouths in the future.

Unfortunately, this only works with actual facts. As an engineer, I like facts. Facts are backed up by actual evidence and reproducible results. In other words, empirical data and objective evidence. These are the tools of rational thinking and the scientific method.

These are not the tools of faith and religion. There are a great many people on this planet who profess a belief in one deity or another who are fine people- good to their families, generous to the poor, and generally good citizens in every sense of the word. In spite of their mania, these people are generally not bad sorts to have around, invite over for a barbecue, lift a few glasses with, or date.

Sadly, a small but vocal minority of these people are wingnuts and whackjobs of the first water. When it comes to closed minds and undeserved senses of superiority, these people have it in spades. Since actual evidence for the existence of their Angry Invisible Skyman is not available, they refuse to believe that evidence to the contrary has any meaning. The scientific method demands proof and reproducible results before stating facts. These people of faith cannot produce proof, evidence, or reproducible results for any of their beliefs, so the scientific method must go. This sort of blinkered, philistine pig-ignorance leads to atrocities in the name of Angry Invisible Skyman.

Whenever possible, religious zealots try to enact their stupidities into law. This often leads to serious problems (pogroms, Inquisitions, Crusades, rebellions, massacres, etc), and always leads to manifold stupidities.

In a great many television shows, for example, the word god is bleeped out. Even when combined into goddamn, god gets deleted while damn is left alone. It is censored on almost every network. WTF? The god fetishists claim that it is wrong to take god’s name in vain. Last time I looked, the name of the deity christians, jews, and muslims worship is not god. It’s either Jehovah, Yahweh, El, or Allah (depending on which flavor of Angry Invisible Skyman you’re into). God is simply a title. Why not censor president, chairman, officer, or mayor, if you’re going to censor titles? Quite aside from the stupidity of forcing everyone within range of the television broadcasts to comply with one religion’s beliefs, this is just wrong on its face- even going by the god fetishists’ own rules.

A similar bit of stupidity has cropped up regarding images of the muslim prophet, Mohammed. Even according to the muslim sacred texts, Mohammed is not to be worshipped. But the fact that a couple of Danish cartoonists drew pictures of this historical figure sparked riots, death threats, and a great deal of general unpleasantness. Again, aside from the asinine attempt to make everyone comply with one religion’s beliefs, this isn’t even one of those beliefs. Ditto for a Wikipedia entry showing contemporary drawings- by muslim artists, no less- of Mohammed.

This sort of thing is stupid. I have a low tolerance for stupidity, but when someone wants to force me to practice their stupidity, I start looking around for a weapon. When someone screams that I must say, “Peace be upon him” after naming Mohammed, I promptly invite them to eat a bowl of dicks. If they persist, I like to throw pork at them and show them the bottoms of my shoes. When people shriek that I cannot speak the name of a certain zombie jew, I take a great deal of pleasure informing them that the man’s name was not Jesus, it was most likely Yehoshua or Joshua ben Yosef. I also enjoy reminding them that christ is another title- in this case Greek. This sort of thing gets the religious dumb-asses all spun up- every time.

Another persistently annoying batch of idiots are those who insist that the bible is the literal word of their god. Really? I’m pretty sure that English didn’t evolve as a language until the Middle Ages, and I’m absolutely certain that the authors of the original documents did not write in English. The original semitic languages did not have written characters for vowel sounds. The vowel sounds were inferred from context- thus YEHOSHUA would actually have been written as YHSH (actually HSHY, since the semitic languages are and were written from right to left). So if a Greek translator (for example) were trying to transcribe the original documents (more likely copies of copies of the originals), he would have to guess at the meaning unless he had the assistance of a native speaker who could also read. Since those people were generally the religious classes, this sort of help was unlikely to be forthcoming. Even assuming that the translator could speak as well as the natives and had no personal agenda to follow, the mere act of translation involves a great deal of approximation. I use this argument whenever some god-fetishist refuses to go away and insists on trying to “convert” me. It happens more often than you’d think.

Mind you, I don’t go out of my way (most of the time), to say and do these things. I rarely have to seek out the religiously stupid- they take the time and trouble to find me. If they continue to pester me after I’ve told them to go away, then I have no problem with abusing them to the greatest extent possible. Pointing out the ignorance and stupidity of the willfully ignorant and stupid is not impolite or cruel, it is a necessity. It is also a survival mechanism for our civilization. Allowing outspoken stupidity to go unchallenged is to be complicit in its ascendancy. I, for one, will not be a party to the destruction of our civilization and society at the hands of the religious barbarians in our midst.

Current status: Disgruntled

Current music: Pachelbel’s Canon in D

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Common Sense Generic Nondenominational Religious Text

27 05 2008

A long time ago … OK, it was this past November … my wife and I were having one of those terminally silly conversations that makes life with her so great. After we stopped laughing (BTW, laughing to the point of tears is not a wise move while driving), I suggested that we take the bits and pieces of nonsense we’d been giggling about and turn it into something useful. Lo and behold, the Common Sense Generic Nondenominational Religious Text was born.

Here are the Chapter headings:

Mutagenesis

Exit Us

The Ten Amendments

The King of Books

The Judge of Kings

The Plague of Smug

Semi-Proverbs

Amateurverbs

P.S. Alms?

The Gospel of Ludicrous

The Gospel of Hilarious

Epistles from the Nigerians

An Open Letter to Pretentious Pilate

The Book of Cacophony

Saint Birkenstock and the Algorians

I’ve already written Mutagenesis and part of Saint Birkenstock and the Algorians. The titles should give the educated reader a clue as to the content. From time to time, I will post excerpts from the CSGNRT.

The purpose of the CSGNRT is to entertain and offend as many people as possible. I believe that a significant majority of Americans will enjoy this book, while most of the rest will hate it (you know who you are). Those who hate it are probably going to be people with no discernible sense of humor to begin with, so I’m not particularly concerned.

If you hate this concept, too damned bad. You’re obviously not my target demographic. If you are in search of more concepts to stoke your ire, I suggest perusing the internet for sites dealing with “rational thought” or perhaps read anything in Reason magazine. A casual visit to Barefoot Bum will really get your vascular fluids in a boil, so avoid it at all costs.

For those who may cry “heresy”, I say “Lighten up, Francis. If your beliefs aren’t strong enough to stand a little sarcasm, that’s not my problem.” For those who might claim I speak blasphemy, I can only quote Robert of Locksly and reply, “Fluently“.

An Excerpt from Mutagenesis, being the First Book of the CSGNRT:

In the beginning was the void. Fortunately for us, it quickly got filled up by all sorts of neat stuff. And it was good. Some of that neat stuff got together and formed conglomerations of neat stuff- which made it better. Eventually, some of the conglomerations of stuff managed to start spamming the void with rough duplicates of itself. And it was really cool. Differences in location forced some of the self-duplicating stuff to develop minor variations of itself, and things got totally weird.

Current status: Amused

Current music: In a Lifetime by Clannad





California- It’s a whole ‘nuther Species

8 05 2008

Will Rogers once observed that California was like a bowl of granola- what ain’t fruits and nuts is flakes. Having lived there (relax- I’m no longer contagious), I can laugh at that while acknowledging the joke’s essential accuracy. Every so often, however, a news story comes along that makes me wish Will had been a little less truthful.

The story in question is about a coyote attacking a little girl in San Bernardino County. The story itself is not the the biggest problem. The big problem is the local talking heads on the idiot box (for those playing at home, I’m referring to TV “News” reporters) who commented on the story after reporting the basic facts. The following is an actual quote:

Male TV Personality: “Scary story. Wow. If I came outside and found a coyote had its teeth in my kids neck, who knows what I would do?

Here’s a clue for you: If you were an actual human being and not a stuffed shirt peddling a journalistic, infotainment-like art product, you’d do exactly what the mother in the story did- you’d attack the animal with whatever was at hand until it let go of your kid. This is what any human on this planet would do … except- apparently- TV “personalities” in California.

How far removed from the basic human condition does someone have to be to utter that sub-moronic quote? It’s a running gag that normal human rules of behavior do not necessarily apply in California, but this is fucking ridiculous!

Humans do not- as a general rule- tolerate predation. Animals which once preyed on our species are now either extinct, nearly extinct, or have learned from painful experience to avoid humans at all costs. When animals decide humans are kinda tasty or easy prey (much the same thing), communities of humans get together, hunt down the offending critter, and kill it. Generally, a whole bunch of other critters of the same type get croaked during the hunt- just to be on the safe side. We- as a species- don’t like being considered “food”.

The mother’s atavistic response to the coyote trying to drag off her kid was (probably) almost instinctive. I’m certain she didn’t hesitate for a second before running after the animal. This is a basic human reaction to any danger to our young. It’s a survival trait shared by many animals.

But not TV newsreaders, apparently.

In most of the rest of the country (and most of the rest of the world, too), this episode would have been followed by armed humans keeping watch over the area both night and day, accompanied by vigorous attempts to track down and destroy the animal responsible (and any other potentially dangerous creatures in the area at the time). But this is California. A few traps were set, people were cautioned to keep their pets and kids indoors, and the police took pains to warn people against shooting any coyotes found near their homes.

A brief digression is in order. Coyotes are primarily scavengers. Humans- even human children- would not be primary prey for a healthy coyote. Humans- including children- are generally too large for any but the most desperate coyotes to consider a prey animal. The most likely reason that this particular coyote tried to carry off a child is that the animal was sick or injured (or both). Unable to compete for regular meals with other animals, it went for what seemed to be a totally helpless 10-kilo bag of meat when its protector was momentarily absent. This sort of attack is news precisely because it is so rare. It’s rare because only desperate animals (mostly) go against thousands of years of humans are dangerous conditioning.

An animal in those kind of dire straits is unlikely to change tactics. Posting armed humans around likely food sources- especially at night- has a very good chance of eliminating this animal. Traps are also likely to work on this animal (healthy coyotes are usually good at avoiding traps). But the police in San Bernardino County don’t seem to like the idea of people actively protecting their kids and pets.

It must be a SoCal thing. Up near the Oregon border or in the Sierras, folks would have no problem dealing with this kind of issue themselves.

Current status: Bewildered

Current music: Don’t Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult





PC

5 05 2008

Those of you who fear yet another iteration of the artificial “Mac vs PC” arguments may relax. I have no intention of ever commenting on that issue.

Those of you who fear yet another iteration of the multitudes of rants about “Political Correctness” may begin the mass clenching of sphincters, because that is indeed the subject of this rant.

I say this in all sincerity: Political Correctness is going to get people killed.

Specifically, it is going to get people killed at the place where I work.

Not long ago, a storm savaged the area, destroying a good section of one nearby city and causing minor damage to my building.

I was inside when the storm blew over, and my only warning was the sounds of skylights being destroyed and large objects striking the outer walls. As soon as the sudden, bitter squall had passed, I hastened down to the front desk to make sure the people there were all right. The main entrance to the building is surrounded with large sheets of glass, and I was concerned that the savage winds and hail might have broken the windows and injured someone.

When I arrived, I found the glass was intact, but there was no one manning the desk. I called loudly and finally managed to get the desk crew to emerge from their hiding place in the back office. It turns out that they had heard the local emergency warning loudspeakers outside bellowing a warning about the weather, and had immediately taken cover … without taking the time to warn everyone else in the building via the intercom system.

I asked a few questions and discovered that the desk crew were not aware that passing the word on the intercom for such events was part of their job. OK. No problem. This is an issue that can be fixed with a little bit of training. It wasn’t my place to do so, but- in the interest of self-preservation- I gave the kids at the desk (including the supervisor) a brief lecture on what to do in this sort of emergency. I resolved to address this matter in more detail the next day.

Unfortunately, the next few days had me away from the office, dealing with some problems in another building- which then turned into problems in several buildings and finally a cross-country video-teleconference and a series of nastygrams. In short, I wasn’t able to get back to the problem for several days.

When I finally had the time to write up my observations and list some suggested remedies for the systemic problems on display during the storm, I sent the one-page document to my boss for his review prior to sending it farther up the food chain for action. Remember, I have no direct authority over the front desk personnel- I’m not even in the same department. The recommendations I’d written would have to be forwarded from my boss to our Department Manager, who could send it on to the Big Boss, whereupon it could be delivered, ex cathedra, to the appropriate Department for action.

No big deal, I thought to myself. This is how the system is supposed to work. Someone sees a problem, reports it, and suggests possible remedial action.

With all that floating through my head, I was somewhat surprised to find myself escorted by my boss into the Department Head’s office. I was asked why I was trying to cause trouble. I was asked why I was trying to create more work for the Department. According to my DH, whoever brings up a problem becomes the party responsible for fixing the problem, with daily reports to the HMFIC until the problem is resolved, with all “I”s dotted and “T”s crossed.

I’m an engineer by inclination and training. When I see a problem with the potential for catastrophic failure results, I immediately begin thinking of some effective ways to reduce the probability of calamity. Most of the time, there are a few simple ways to reduce the probability or severity of any potential clusterfuck. In an engineer’s world, those observations and recommendations get communicated to the responsible party, who would then deal with the issue.

Sadly, too few people- especially Managers- are engineers. Remember what the Flight Safety Engineer for the Challenger’s last mission was told by his Manager to “take off your engineer hat and put on your management hat“. That worked out really well, didn’t it?

I don’t give a shrill soprano hoot in Hell about politics. I suck at politics. Politics gets in the way of getting the job done. In this case, the “job” is correcting a couple of policies in another department that might save a few lives.

Despite my concern for the safety of the people working here, I am now informed that I will not report the problem through the usual channels. My boss and my DH do not want to open a can of worms or rock the boat or … fill in lame metaphor here… and get the people in the front offices upset with them. I am told to edit my observations and recommendations to avoid giving offense to the responsible personnel (and their DH- who is closely connected to the HMFIC). My thoroughly watered down suggestions will be informally conveyed to the appropriate DH in the most politically-correct manner possible. I am told that this will get the problem resolved.

More than likely, this will get the problem resolved.

Probably.

Eventually.

If I bypass the normal food chain to report this, I might get fired. If my boss finds out I’ve written about this, I will probably get fired. Politics is very likely to get some people killed- maybe even me. Given that, a basic risk-benefit calculation is required:

What’s the worst thing that could happen if I do nothing? Worst case scenario: several dozen people in this building get killed because they aren’t aware of an avoidable hazard. Probability of this happening: Low.

What’s the worst thing that could happen if I make a stink about this? Worst case scenario: I end up working for Wally World as a door greeter. Since my job involves a security clearance, I could possibly end up sharing a cell with Achmed Ahmabomberguy in Gitmo. Probability of this happening: Low.

Using my handy-dandy Engineer’s Calculatron, that gives me: Scenario 1: High severity, low probability. Call it a category 3. Scenario 2: Moderate-to-high severity, low probability. Call it a category 4 or 5.

One stink, coming up.

UPDATE

Damn! I positively hate politics! Because everybody seems to be in mortal fear of offending the higher-ups with actual facts, I’ve been forced to do an end-run around my boss (who’s normally a good enough guy that I wouldn’t consider doing so). I made a point of quietly interviewing various people who work at the front desk to see if they had a clue. None of them did, although one girl told me that she had been told not to use the intercom- even during an emergency- without the express permission of her supervisor.

Ungood. Doubleplus ungood.

I then talked to the DH for the guy who’s supposed to be in charge of the front desk personnel.  I told him that the training for the front desk crew needed work, and repeated my concerns about their utter failure to warn the rest of the building about the severe weather. I repeated the information that the front desk was not allowed to use the intercom without permission, and asked the very reasonable question, “What if the supervisor isn’t in the building when an emergency arises?”

To his credit, the Services Department Head actually thought it over. He even agreed with me. I’ve sent him my little memo with suggestions for corrective actions, and he has promised to make sure it happens. We’ll see. I also mentioned to him that I was violating policy by going to him directly. In for a penny, in for a pound. I’ll keep informally checking with the front desk to see if anything changes. In the meantime, we’ll see if my boss or DH finds out I went around them.

I fucking hate politics!

Current status: Irked

Current music: Sunday, Bloody Sunday by U2