Saturday, February 20, 2010

What if Joe Stack attacked a bank?

Just wondering what the reaction would have been had Joseph Stack III decided to fly his plane into the headquarters of Goldman Sachs, or Citibank or one of the other financial institutions vilified by the federal Government over the last year. Would those calling him a right wing tea bagging terrorist be more sympathetic to him? I think they would. Not that he would deserve it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Name your Heaven

If the rumor mill proves accurate, and it has a good track record, many people where I work including myself may be out of a job soon. Supposedly we lost a huge customer worth several million dollars of revenue to our division. The last time this happened there was an across the board layoff of quite a few people.

This bit of gloomy intelligence got me thinking about my sanity, happiness and what it would take to maintain it. I have spent the first 40 years of my life denying myself pleasures to save for the "future". Recently it has become apparent that the future I expected, (financial security, wealth from small investments made early and a relatively frugal lifestyle, comfortable old age and golden years) was not coming. Instead it sent its cousin (financial uncertainty, a possible return to minimum wage employment and golden years much like my early twenties living hand to mouth but without youthful health and energy). This transformation has taken place over the past 2 years. Before that I always had confidence that even though I was not the best and brightest, I was a hard worker with enough will power to avoid the common pitfalls of life. I have never borrowed much money, I have always managed to live within my means which provided a sense of well being and security that I enjoyed. This may have been the result of my childhood which was chaotic and full of uncertainty. There were times through no fault of their own that my parents could not pay for fuel to heat our house, and other hardships I never wanted to encounter again.

I'm taking a bit of a detour, what I really wanted to say is I've been thinking a little about alternative ways to be happy given that my first choice does not appear possible. This last year I started to indulge a little. I started some hobbies with my kids that I really enjoy. They are not inexpensive but I have found real joy in doing them. I think if I could find a way to keep doing them I could deal with giving up other expenses in my life. My wife and I were discussing the big what if yesterday and what our options would be. We both agreed that if necessary we could sell our house and live happily in an apartment like we did years ago. I always envisioned reaching a point in life where I and my family would be financially set. This always drove me, motivated me but now appears very unlikely to ever happen. The probability is I will spend the rest of my days scratching out a living worrying about money like I always have. But if I can have moments of happiness like the time spent recently with my sons doing things I enjoy I think I can be happy.

One of the things that recently happened was I took one of my sons skiing. The third time out we graduated from the rope pull to the chair lift slope. The first two times up he fell getting off the chairlift. The third time he nailed it and skied to the bottom without falling. Its hard to describe the sense of joy and pride and happiness I felt. It made me wonder if there really was a heaven, would the feeling be like this. I remember as a child trying to comprehend the concept of heaven and finding it a little intimidating. Like the song says:

When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise,
Than when we first begun.

I don't know of anything that I want to do for 10,000 years especially go to church. Even the moment I described above with my son only works for that brief instant. We are not wired for constant joy. Its the long periods of strife, effort and disappointment that highlight the joy and make it exceptional. 10,000 years of being perpetually joyful would not be a significantly better situation than 10,000 years of depression, in my opinion anyway. Even 10,000 years of life's ups and downs would be hard to take. After the first century or so you would probably run out of new ideas and new experiences. Would you then spend the next 100 centuries repeating everything over and over? In about 10 to 12 years I will be done raising my family (as far as legal obligations go anyway). I could start and raise hundreds of families in 10,000 years, enough times to actually be good at it perhaps. But my sons are unique, they are the only ones I will ever have. I can't imagine feeling the same way after having 1000 children. Life is special because it is finite, it ends. Because it has an end it focuses our attention to the few things that are worth focusing on or it should have that affect at any rate.

Monday, February 8, 2010

If Ed Begley Jr. ran the world

I heard environmentalists everywhere were getting aroused during this commercial. Maybe Al Gore could get his own reality cop show like Steven Seagal.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Reality is going to bite, someday

There is no such thing as a perpetual motion machine, multi level marketing is a scam that makes a few people rich, if everyone in the world quit their jobs to make money buying houses for no money down we would all die broke of starvation in a few months, there is no practical way to make a cheap flying car for the masses, flying jetpacks do not work (cannot carry enough fuel), and it is simply not going to be possible to send a human being to Mars. All these statements are true or will likely be proven true in the future. Most come up against the cold hard laws of physics and die right there. The problem is with wrong ideas that are given longer lifespans than reality by itself would allow.

Case in point, these windmills in Minnesota. The real story is not that they don't function in cold weather but that they cost $400k a pop to make 160kw of power (when the wind blows more than 12 miles per hours and the temperature is not below 1 degree Fahrenheit). The $400k is just the startup, these things have to be maintained and to acheive the 25% renewable energy that the state is going to mandate, you will need thousands of these things. What is the cost on maintaining thousands of small generators. Granted, they will probably buy bigger turbines if they get serious about meeting the 25% requirement but still it will have to be many thousands. Looking at this site, the average coal fired plant probably generates about 500 MW of electricity 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, regardless of temperature or wind speed. You need 71 of these big boys running at capacity all the time to replace 1 medium sized coal fired plant. Did I mention this windmill is only a prototype? Nothing this big is currently in production. Estimates seem to range for initial cost from $1000/kwh to $2000/kwh so for 7 MW that would be $1000*7*1000 or $7 million on the low side per unit. If government was not involved and companies were left to themselves to find the most profitable way to generate electricity, this would not be it. I am not saying we should burn coal until the skies are black with soot, where I live used to be a major steel producing town and the area where the steel mills were was called the valley of fire. No one wants to go back to the days when the valley was covered in smoke and soot rained down on peoples houses. But to suggest that Minnesota is going to meet its 25% renewable energy generation requirements with windmills is like ignoring the laws of gravity which is exactly what is happening on a widespread basis.

All across the country bad ideas are not dying and not being disproved. Instead they are being put on life support by government. A certain amount of bad ideas can be tolerated but there must be a tipping point where society's delusions reach critical mass and explode. Ideas that bypass the harsh Darwinian testing of reality can be dangerous as they suck up resources and lead people down a path that separates them from reality. In nature this doesn't happen, if a mouse is born an albino the success of this change is proven or disproven quickly. Someday the government is going to build the 71 windmills and scrap a conventiional power plant (coal, nuclear, hydro, whatever). Some winter it is going to get cold and either the wind won't blow or the windmills will freeze or there won't be enough mainenance people to keep enough of them running. Depending on how far down the path the government has led us away from reality, there may not be enough capacity from the remaining conventional power plants to take up the slack and people will freeze and or starve. This is not the way to find out our ideas were wrong.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Watchmen revisited

I've been watching the Watchmen again. I didn't like it much the first time I saw it in the theater. Since they started showing it on HBO I have had the chance to watch it a few more times and I find it growing on me. The feelings of nostalgia for a universe that is 1985 but at the same time not are strange. 1985 was a significant year in my life, I've always looked back on my life as two periods, pre 1985 and post. The fraction of my life before 1985 is getting smaller and harder to remember so I suppose that will fade away.

I thought it strange at first that with one exception, the superheroes had no superpowers. Now I think the purpose of this was to focus the story on the human aspect of how real superheroes would act, what their personalities would be like.

The movie has a great feel to it. The music, the look, everything just fits. I was never a Bob Dylan fan but the opening sequence with "The Times They are a Changin" sets the tone. All through the movie the right songs at the right time keep setting the perfect tone. I just downloaded Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah". Admittedly the scene with this song is a little on the pornographic side, something like you see late night on HBO. Maybe this was to appeal to the teenage boy inside all us guys, it was a comic book after all.

I don't know if the movie is great or if I am just overwhelmed by the style and nostalgia factor. The story line was original. The last time I watched it I found myself wondering if Ozymandias was right and arguing pro and con in my head. When is the last time a movie had any ideas worth debating? Every movie I have seen in the last few years has been a sequel, a remake or new variation on an old theme. Not necessarily bad things if done well but it was nice to see something original. I never read The Watchmen comics so it was new to me.

The characters are intriguing. I found myself captivated and horrified by most of them. The Comedian is a charismatic sociopath that you can't stop watching. I wish there was more of him in the movie. Dr. Manhattan is a god like being who has not yet acheived god like maturity if there is such a thing. Rohrshach who oddly enough is god like with his absolute uncompromising views on right, wrong and justice. Then there is Ozymandias, the protagonist and smartest man on earth except for Dr. Manhattan. A couple other superheroes, Night Hawk 2 and Silk Spectre 2 are along for the ride.

The key question of the movie seems to be whether or not humanity needs a god. To be honest, I wonder this myself and I don't know the answer. The greater question may be if humanity cannot exist without believing a lie, should it?
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