Gun control in America

Dec 19, 2012 | | 0 comments |

It seems America might finally be ready to talk about gun control, and all it took was 20 dead children. The problem now is the GOP and NRA rhetoric has already started. Already I've heard the tired old argument about how the German government took all the citizen's guns away before WW2. Yes, yes, and in that same period in history, America thought nothing of enslaving black people and treating women as second class citizens so suck it up and realise that times change. The second Amendment is an outdated notion; when it was introduced, the gun was largely the most powerful weapon in existence and the predominant form of transport was horseback. The Amendment was put in place to allow Americans relatively equal footing to defend themselves from their own government should it turn on them. Nowadays, if the government turned on its citizens, it has far more powerful weapons and methods of delivery. People are living in the past if they think they'd be able to defend their property and towns and cities from an advancing military using nothing but guns. Air superiority would be the way to eliminate the majority of resistence right off the bat. That or a daisycutter (MOAB). "Ah Yes", say the apologists, "but that's not working out so well for us in Afghanistan is it?". Correct, it's not. But that's because they've been at war for decades and everyone in the country is well-versed in guerilla warfare. Can you seriously imagine the average American trying to attack trained troops from behind the shoe display in Macy's? Who in your street knows how to improvise an explosive device that would destroy a car instead of themselves? Who in your street has ever shot and killed another human being? The truth is that people here don't have the stomach (nor the experience) for sudden attacks and ensuing guerilla warfare, and should the worst happen, the government could easily overrun most cities here in a matter of days if the military cooperated.
Locally, a graphic example of the inability of people to use their weapons properly came a few years ago during a shopping mall shooting. Of all the people in the mall who fled, eight of them had concealed carry permits and were armed at the time. Rather than do their civic duty and attempt to use their precious gun to actually defend themselves and stop the gunman from killing others, all eight of those people fled along with everyone else. It fell to a trained, armed, off-duty police officer to take the gunman down. The same story is true for most large-scale shootings in this country. Regular armed citizens who could have done something, always flee. Multiply that up from one shooter to a trained military and you can see where my argument is going. Until people accept that simple truth, and realise that the second Amendment is irrelevant, there will never be true gun control in America. If you want the real story, go and find the statistics on the number of Americans who's ever successfully defended themselves using their own gun versus the number of Americans who've successfully attacked someone else using a gun. (Hint: the ratio is in the ballpark of 100,000 to 1).
Those who are currently buying assault rifles and hoarding ammo are just demonstrating how little they understand of the world at large. For a super conservative and very religious nation, I have to ask : what are you going to do with all those guns? If famine or a large natural disaster hits, are Americans going to do what their religion espouses - share and help the needy? Or are they going to power up and obliterate their neighbours because someone came asking for help?

Playing the waiting game

Aug 27, 2012 | | 0 comments |

You know those times when you know, 100%, that you're right? A lot of the people I work with are 100% convinced which way our company should go with its products. We've been convinced for years - decades even. But every day we fight an uphill battle with the top brass who have a different view, a view that has been proven to be wrong on most occasions, but a view they stick to like chewing gum in your hair. Every time we get into a bitching and moaning session, one level-headed soul keeps telling us to "just wait - things always change". We've been playing the waiting game in its current form for five years now and just today, a single ray of light emerged from the dark storm clouds of this company's future. But it's a really bright ray of light, the sort of light that shines the truth on people. I think the end might be in sight for this round at least, which is more than I thought a couple of weeks ago when one of our most talented programmers walked off because of, as he put it, the bumbling idiots in management. Wonder if he could be tempted back?

What is Romney hiding and why?

Aug 24, 2012 | | 0 comments |

It's traditional, but not required, that presidential nominees release copies of their tax returns. The posting of the returns is a form of trust despite the fact that only an accountant could understand them. This is a standard set by George Romney in 1968 when he released 12 years of returns whilst running as a presidential candidate. The Clintons released 8 years. Both Bush's (senior and junior) released 3 years and 7 years respectively. Reagan released 6 years. Barack Obama has released 11 years worth (even showing he overpaid by $8,000 on the income from his books last year). Mitt Romney still steadfastly refuses. Sort of.
At first he said he didn't plan to release the returns. Then he said, "Maybe." Then he declared he'd release only the previous two years' returns. Then he said that because of the complexity of the return, he filed for an extension from the IRS so he could file after the April 15 deadline for the 2011 return. Then this past week before a fundraiser he said he "never paid less than 13%. . . . So I paid taxes every single year." (Most of Romney's 2011 reported income was capital gains - the tax on which was lowered to 15% by Bush in 2003 in order to benefit the rich.) He expected us just to believe him? Wouldn't that be awesome if we could all just phone the IRS and tell them how much we paid in tax and expect them to believe us? Mitt never defined whether that 13% was just income taxes, or included all taxes paid, including social security, local, and state taxes (thus making the federal income tax even lower). If he meant income taxes, 13% is extremely low. Especially compared to the average American's 25%.
Given how many lawyers and accountants Romney has, why did he need a 5-month extension on the tax return? Strange how all his accountants are perfectly capable of working the complex tax code with all its special interest loopholes, ensuring Mitt gets everything wealthy Americans are entitled to, but they seemingly can't get his tax return done by the deadline the rest of us have to use. I'm guessing they could, but knowing he'd be forced to reveal it, they spent those 5 months massaging the data in an attempt to make it more digestable for the public. Yes it's legal, but is it ethical for someone running for president? I wonder how many other deductions the Romneys had in the past 10 years that were larger than the average US salary? (I'm thinking of their $77,000 deduction for a show horse). More to the point, if he can't get his personal finances done without an extension, how is he going to manage the budget of an entire country?
I understand LDS members typically tithe at least 10%, correct? The Romneys claim they gave $2.5M last year, meaning their income was at least $25M. Now he's claiming he won't release earlier returns because his LDS tithing is "between him and his God". I'm sorry but that doesn't wash - he's already exposed his 2010 and 2011 tithing. Why attempt to hide behind that as excuse for previous years? Specifically he's very adamant about not giving up his 2009 return. Is this because he took advantage of the IRS amnesty in that year to disclose hidden income in offshore accounts? The amnesty that year allowed people to escape criminal prosecution for tax evasion. We know he has bank accounts in Switzerland, the Caymans and Bermuda too - not something the "average" American has (and until recently, not something many Americans knew the Romneys had). Offshore accounts are typically a haven for hiding money; did he declare those in 2009 and how much is in them?
For someone who vehemently insisted that Obama produce a birth certificate - a far more personal and important document, Romney sure is being very suspicious with his tax returns. The longer he stonewalls and hides this information, the more it looks like he has something to hide - in some cases, the more it makes him look like an outright liar. Why not just produce the returns? It's not a matter of how much he earns, its a matter of trust. All Americans - not just the democrats - should be pursuing this matter simply on trust alone. It's appalling how the GOP are treating it as if it's no big deal. If Romney is untrustworthy now, he's certainly not going to change if he takes office. And we know what happened last time an outright liar took office - we're still in those wars today.
More info on Presidential tax returns : taxhistory.org

The opening ceremony

Jul 31, 2012 | | 1 comments |

Being in the US, we initially watched the London Olympics opening ceremony on NBC and it quickly became apparent that they had no clue how to do a live broadcast like this. The sound was awful, the commentators had no idea what was going on and spoke over all the parts where they should have stayed quiet. Countries were missing from the parade, they ditched chunks of the Industrial Revolution and Frankie & June, and they completely cut Emile Sande's 7/7 tribute song. So all in all, a massive #NBCFail there. Fortunately, the interwebs is a wonderful place, and thanks to BitTorrent, we acquired a 9Gb MKV file of the BBC transmission. So last night we sat down to watch the ceremony for a second time, this time on our big screen (and I mean big, as in a projectors and a 10ft diagonal screen) with our theater sound system.
Where to start? I suppose given that I bought the official soundtrack album as soon as we'd finished, and that I'm listening to it as I type, I'll start at the end. The entire parade of the athletes was a spectacle the likes of which I've not seen in an opening ceremony before. I think it was probably because Danny Boyle raided my MP3 playlist so the entire soundtrack to that parade was keyed perfectly to my brain. We turned the amp up to 11 for that. Having that little segment of the BeeGees played when Fiji came out was pretty funny too - nicely done Mr. Boyle. But then the rest of the ceremony was good too. Not the same sort of amazing that China pulled off four years ago, but amazing nonetheless. I did have two WTF moments though - first - what was the deal with all the rugby footage during 'Jerusalem' at the beginning, and second - celebrating the NHS? Really? Ok I'm totally OK with Great Ormond Street and the kids stuff but celebrating the NHS was a total "huh?" moment for me (given how appallingly my family has suffered at the hands of their so-called Doctors over the years). But anyway back to the ceremony. I loved it. The industrial revolution was brilliant but by far and away my favourite section was Frankie & June and Tim Berners-Lee. Once again, my playlist had been raided for that section. The ending where they had the whole stadium with flames on the arena lighting that flashed white, dropped to black and had the single white strobe outline the rim of the arena to the end of Emile Sande's "Heaven" totally did it for me.

Video is not visible, most likely your browser does not support HTML5 video

Danny Boyle shot up several points in my book when he managed to play Frankie Goes To Hollywood during that number as well - I never thought I'd see 'Relax' get such a huge airing again, and I loved the one-finger salute to the BBC - they played the exact lines that got the song banned by the BBC all those years ago. Nice one Danny.
Now if you want the full experience, I recommend you track down the video on youtube that was posted yesterday by one of the performers in the Industrial Revolution. He had a GoPro sewn into his costume. You can synchronise the TV coverage with his footage and watch them together to see his point of view compared to the entire spectacle, and that's well worth the time to do.
And so back to the final part - the thousands of drummers. Who cares if they were plastic tubs and not actual drums? Keeping the athletes marching in-time to 120bpm with all those synchronised volunteer drummers was another scene that qualifies for the amazeballs tag.
I think the takeaway from this is that the NBC coverage sucks donkey balls, the BBC had much better audio, picture and much less commentary, and Danny Boyle is the man of the moment for using my playlist in the opening ceremony. Twice. Almost makes me wish I'd been there to see it for real....

So about that rapture thing.

May 22, 2012 | | 1 comments |

Remember Harold Camping? That religious nut who predicted the end of the world 12 months ago today? I wonder how things are working out for him?
It always makes me giggle when nutters like him make those sorts of predictions. They're so adamant in their belief that the idea they could be wrong is completely beyond them. What's bothersome though is when they manage to get others onto their side and waste their lives too. I'm thinking of the various suicide cults that we've seen over the past couple of decades - flying up to the UFO hidden in the tail of the comet etc. I know the world is a diverse place and some people are more easily led than others, but I find it despicable that people will masquerade as religious fanatics because they know they can attract the weak-willed. David Koresh, Harold Camping, Marshall Applewhite, Warren Jeffs. They're all the same. Persuasive lunatics who get their kicks from destroying the lives of others. They all choose to reinvent religious tales to suit their own needs and then sell others on these ideas with the ultimate intent of one of three things: sex (rape, polygamy, child sex, human sex slave trafficking), death by suicide (by which many of the founders miraculously seem to be unaffected), or money (draining their bank accounts). History is littered with them. I just wish people would learn from history - on all fronts, not just this one. So many mistakes could be prevented by a little education and research.
I wonder if I have these views because I'm not easily led - because I'm a natural skeptic. You founded a whole religion based on us being sneezed out of a volcano and you had monkeys flying spaceships? Bollocks, I say, but tens of thousands will look at that and think "yeah, I can go with that."
Our world is a properly odd place in which to live.

Corporate online training courses

May 16, 2012 | | 0 comments |

I was just subjected to another of our company's online training courses this morning and every time I do one of these, it saps the will to live out of me. I do these courses wondering how anyone could get the questions wrong when everything is just basic common sense. You don't even need to watch the course to get the answers right - just leave it in the background somewhere and when the noise stops, check and see if it wants you to press a button.
Most of the engineers around me are of the same opinion - we just can't understand why time and money is wasted creating these courses and forcing people to sit through them.
"John wonders if he can take the code he wrote for a project in his old job and just re-use it for the current project. Is this the right thing to do?" Frankly I don't need training to tell me the answer to that one but recently we began to understand why these training courses exist. Apparently in our company there are tens of thousands of corporate drones that have so little basic intelligence that a question like that would be baffling and confusing to them. How did we find this out? An email was sent to everyone in the company by mistake, rapidly followed by an "ignore that email" followup. In the meantime, many employees had already hit 'reply to all' and posted a message along the lines of "I don't think this email was meant for me". That prompted thousands of other drones to 'reply to all' with "me too" emails to the point where corporate IT had to shut down our email system for an afternoon because it was choking on all the 'reply to all' emails.
It properly saddens me that there are so many people nowadays who seem devoid of even the most basic common sense. I'm not sure what's to blame but I'm sure that the brain-cancer that is "reality" TV is partly to blame. I'm sure there are still people that think Jersey Shore or TOWIE or WWF are all real and in no way scripted. Actually, I'm sure there are people that think those shows are somehow important, and that's probably the issue here. When personal accountability has vanished, where accident and injury lawyers can be used to pursue money for the most simple scrape or bruise, when the highest ranking shows on TV are depressing soap operas and America Can't Skate With Talentless X-Idol, I suppose it's no wonder we have to endure these vacuous online training courses.

When I unsubscribe, it means unsubscribe.

Mar 27, 2012 | | 0 comments |

Recently, moveon.org has started spamming my mailbox with "newsletters" sometimes as many as four a day. So today I went to their 'unsubscribe' page and took my email off the list. Fixed. Sort of. This afternoon I received two "please don't go" emails from moveon.org telling me to re-subscribe, or confirm that I really had intended to unsubscribe.
It's this sort of crap that gives online presences a bad name. I'm quite happy to support moveon.org for the most part but when they start spamming my mailbox even after I've left their mailing list, that's when my support for them evaporates. Same is true for any online system that sends me newsletters or emails. I'm quite OK with them arriving at the predetermined interval but when that goes from once a week, to once a day, to multiple times a day, that's when it is time to draw the line.

Wow the Mormon church has a lot of money

Mar 26, 2012 | | 1 comments |

Our rejuvenated city centre opened this weekend - City Creek here in Salt Lake City. It's a glorified shopping mall, built by the Mormon church, on land that they now own in the centre of the city. The cost? $5bn. With a "b". To put that into perspective, the Burj Khalifa - the tallest building in the world - with all its associated infrastructure and shopping, office and living facilities, only cost $1.5bn to build. Here's the best part - because it's owned by the Church, City Creek is closed on sundays - arguably the busiest shopping day of the week for people with regular jobs. That's a good investment then. I knew the Church had a lot of money to burn. With all it's followers paying a mandatory 10% tithing (they'll tell you it's optional or 'suggested', but in reality it's mandatory), they rake in the cash like a charity on steroids. And speaking of charity, because that 10% is considered to be charitable donation, they don't pay state or federal tax on it (the entire church is tax-exempt).
But blowing $5bn on a shopping mall in the middle of a recession? That's a terrible waste of money, especially for a Church who's followers are 95% Republican and allegedly all about austerity and reigning in out-of-control spending.
However - I suppose they can afford it. After all - according to Mutt Romney, "There are no poor people in Utah".

This won't end well.

Mar 12, 2012 | | 0 comments |

You'd think that after American forces had been exposed for burning a copy of the Koran, and then last week for urinating on the bodies of dead combatants, that things couldn't get much worse wouldn't you? You'd be wrong. Now we've got reports of one, possibly more, US soldiers going house-to-house in the middle of the night last night killing sixteen people - between five and nine of which were kids - with gunshots to the head for no apparent reason, then piling the bodies into a room and trying to burn them. Reports are still sketchy at the moment but irrespective of whether this was a single person or a group, this can't possibly end well. As commander-in-chief, Obama is now responsible for this latest US military lunacy. This could all have been prevented if he'd just pulled everyone out of Afghanistan at the beginning of his presidency. Instead we're still emboiled in military conflict in countries where we should have no business. I'm sure America would react violently if they were invaded and the aggressors tried to force a system of religion and government on them that they didn't want, like or need. But when we do it the other way around, somehow everyone thinks it's just fine and dandy. Perhaps the middle east doesn't want or need democracy. Perhaps we should just leave them all alone to do what they want and only involve ourselves when they (and this is the important part) directly threaten us. That doesn't mean some goon with exploding underpants or a guy with flammable shoelaces trying to get on a plane. It means when they make a statement or action of War against the US, the UK or our allies. Now some of you will be saying "but that's what 9-11 was". Yes - and we've killed the ringleader of that operation but never addressed the country that carried it out - Saudi Arabia. Instead, Bush sent more kids to their death in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than were killed on that day in September itself, and Obama has since spectacularly failed to get us out of either conflict (special forces are still involved in Iraq).
We have an appalling record of military involvement in other countries and our shocking foreign policy is probably the single biggest reason so many countries hate the US and the UK. Frankly if we ever do get properly attacked, by missiles, air strikes or a Navy assault by a foreign aggressor, I'm sure our government would be surprised and shocked, but they would have no right to be. It should be expected because as long as we're continuing to occupy other countries, we're building up generations of hatred that won't ever go away. I doubt the Iranians have a nuclear weapons program, but if they do, and they do one day turn Israel into glass, we can all sit back safe in the knowledge that decades of failed foreign policy has finally culminated in the inevitable.

It's been a long time

Mar 9, 2012 | | 2 comments |

Well it's been a while - most of my status updates and general thoughts and ramblings go to Facebook now but it seems like I should probably keep the blog going for the idle curiosity of anyone who reads it. In the weeks that have passed since the last post, things have continued to go from bad to worse where I work. The management have a firm grasp on the stick and have it pushed as far forward as possible so we continue to hurtle to our inevitable demise at great speed. Still I suppose when the messy end comes at least we'll have a process or procedure that explains how it happened.
I was totally robbed of winter this year. My favourite time of year and we barely had any snow - it's been unseasonably warm, sort of like it was when we had the Olympics here ten years ago. Skiing's been OK - the resorts finally have enough snow to ski on unlike the beginning of the season where it was like an episode of Wipeout. The flip side of that of course is that it's rapidly becoming motorcycling season, compared to last year's record winter where it wasn't even worth wheeling the bike out of the garage until May.
I did pass a pleasing milestone though - I finally paid off our remaining car loan so we have a clean title on the car now. We own it - not the bank. That's nice given the sketchy future of my job - one less debt to worry about.
Our local legislature here in Utah just finished it's 45-day hack-and-slash and left the state back in the dark ages when it comes to sex education. Teachers are now banned from talking about contraceptives, and cannot teach any sex ed other than abstinence. Parents can't opt their kids in for full sex ed either. Also, women are now forced to have a 72 hour "cooling off" period before being allowed to have an abortion. Given the predominant religion in this state and the corresponding size of families, a cynic would say all the above legislation is designed to "encourage" women to have as many kids as possible, starting as young as possible.
But hey - we did pass some important legislation to prevent the public from taking pictures of farm animals (I kid you not). So that's all good.

Corporate culture when it comes to layoffs

Jan 10, 2012 | | 0 comments |

It's silly season again. Our company just laid off 10 more people. One of my closest friends who has bailed us out of many a precarious situation and has led the way on a bunch of new development work - he was deemed expendable. Obviously no managers were touched. As of this exact moment in time, I still have a job but it's not 11am yet. When the middle managers swan in to take lunch, I'm sure there's going to be more moronic decision making. It just wouldn't be corporate America if any logic or business decisions were used to determine the people to be laid off.