Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Journey Part IX

The Journey is chronicling my thoughts and feelings as I proceed down the path of spirituality. For a detailed explanation, see The Journey Part I

Now, I know what you are thinking. Two Journey posts on the same day? It will become clear enough soon, but let's just say that what I have to say in this one needs to be separated from the other post.

Lately I have been having some doubts about this whole journey. I really can't see myself becoming religious at all. I don't, among other things, seem to have the temperament for it. I tend to take things seriously that others seem to think I shouldn't and I laugh off things others seem to think are serious. Normally, that wouldn't bother me. In fact, most times I laugh off things others take way too seriously. But religion is different. You need to have convictions that, for the most part, are not easy for me to have. I have a quizzical mind. I often question things. It's because I need to know why a lot. Religion is one area where too many questions are sometimes frowned upon. I do want to thank Randy Skaja and Andy Brumm for taking the time to answer the rather goofy questions I have had so far.

I'm sure you will agree that some questions are healthy, but the problem I have is I want to ask the unhealthy ones. I will admit that occasionally I have an unhealthy need for knowledge. That's just who I am. That is why I can identify the flag for Burkina Faso in just a second or two and tell you where it is.

I have a lot of questions that I probably will never ask because I do not want to offend a group of people who have been very good to me and my family for a very long time. I will not ask questions that will cause more stress and anger in my family. I will not, in a quest for knowledge, ask questions that appear to be questioning someone's religion.

So, that leaves me at a crossroads. One that I have been standing at a long time. Two choices stand before me. One path leads down a road where some knowledge is sacrificed in the name of faith. The other is a life of knowledge without faith. I have seen the beginnings of both paths. They both appeal to me. I do not know which path I want to go down. What's worse is that I do not know which path is the right one. I guess I will stand at the crossroads (listening to some Clapton) for a little while longer.

The Journey Part VIII

The Journey is chronicling my thoughts and feelings as I proceed down the path of spirituality. For a detailed explanation, see The Journey Part I

As we go through the second most holy period of the Christian faith, I am forced to reassess myself. I have been trying to develop some semblance of religion and spirituality over the past several months. If you have read my blog for a while, you will have seen that in the other posts in this series. The Christmas season will probably be my sticking point for the foreseeable future. The reason for this is the fact that the season has very rarely been good to me. Stress, discord, and anger have all been present during most of the Christmases that I can remember. So, I rarely look forward to the season. This year will be just as bad. I'm uninviting myself (for now, that could change) from a Christmas Eve gathering due to stress that will be present. A stress I know very well, almost too well. Add that to the lovely Wisconsin weather we are expecting on Christmas Day which will make our 6+ hours of round trip driving that much more interesting, well, I'm not too excited about the next few days.

Add the fact that everyone seems to take the opportunity to spew hypocritical rants about what the season has become and there seems to be very little to like about this time of year anymore. Political correctness has crapped over everything to the point that you can't walk down the street and wish someone a merry Christmas without the other person taking offense. 31% of the world and 78.4% of the US identify themselves as Christians. What is so offensive about trying to be friendly and wishing someone a merry Christmas?

I guess it's the whole majority/minority dichotomy. No matter what those in the majority do, they will always be attacked by those in the minority. Of course, that is a one way street. The majority cannot complain about the minority. Still, why can't we put these feelings aside during a time that is universally recognized as a time of peace, joy, and forgiveness?

Yea, I know the season makes me more than a little cynical, and I am working on that. It's a slow process. I'm old and forgetful. If I do learn something, I forget it pretty quickly!

Pardon the epiphany here, but I think that the above might be at least part of the problem I am having with religion. I'm white, male, politically conservative, and 32. I am already part of a group that, in this society, has no right to complain about anything. Becoming Christian may just make me even more intolerant in the eyes of the more "progressive" folks out there. Now, I do know that is not a good reason to not become religious. It is, however, one of the mental blocks that is in my way. Not the biggest, but even the smallest of blocks can cause you to fall down. If that particular block causes me to fall down, I'm not sure how easy it will be to get back up.

There is no greater meaning to this post. The posts in this series rarely go beyond my feelings. However, all I ask is for people to try to drop their prejudices for at least a few days. If you want to encase yourself in your shell, please wait until Boxing Day!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Facebook responds to critics

Weird...Apparently Facebook actually decided to respond to the numerous complaint groups that have popped up recently. I received an e-mail recently that was supposedly leaked from the offices of Facebook. The text is below.

Dear Facebook user,

In an effort to make Facebook the #1 social media tool on the internet, we have made an effort to respond to all of the complaints that many of our users have been sending us over the past few weeks. While we have experienced unexpected growth over the past year, we have strived to bring you the best experience possible. However, despite our efforts, there has been a portion of our users who have been inconvenienced by our seemingly constant changes. To those who feel slighted by these changes, we say this:

Facebook development team.

Kinda sums it all up, huh?

Are we bringing about our own demise?

This is going to be a bit heavier than most of my other posts. If you enjoy the funny, smarmy posts I make, please know that I am completely serious here.

Technology is a wonderful thing. It has allowed us to do wonderful things. Nowhere is that seen more than in the areas of health and medical technology. We have cures for illnesses that weren't even discovered 60 years ago. Heart disease, diabetes, mental illnesses, even some cancers have treatments that can cure or delay the disease. We are living longer and having more productive lives. However, these same technological advances could easily lead to our demise.

I am not a fan of all the hand sanitizing products out there. I believe that the body's own immune system is a wonderfully effective illness killing machine. However, like a world class athlete, it needs a lot of practice. Besides, there have been numerous studies, some from as far back as 2000, that question the effectiveness of these products. People are given a false sense of security when they use these products. To make things worse, the germs that aren't killed by these products are getting stronger. If they can survive the alcohol, it will make it that much tougher for an out of condition immune system to combat, possibly leading to more severe illnesses.

Let's not forget every doctor's friend, antibiotics. True, it's not as bad as it used to be, but there are still many, many doctors who will prescribe antibiotics for everything. Even viruses which are rarely, if ever, affected by antibiotics. So where does that leave us? More superbugs that are getting tougher and tougher to kill. Malaria, Salmonella, Tuberculosis, even strep throat have all seen strains that have developed drug resistances.

What's worse, all these antibiotics are killing off the friendly bacteria. In case you don't remember your high school biology classes, we have many strains of bacteria in our intestines that help us in many ways. One of these bacteria helps protect us from a bug called Clostridium difficle. Symptoms of this little bugger are: severe diarrhea, ruptured colons, perforated bowels, kidney failure, blood poisoning, and even death. Large doses of antibiotics kill off the friendly bacteria that keeps this bug at bay. So now, because of heavy antibiotic treatments, 15,000 to 30,000 people a year die from this bug. In 2001, only 150,000 cases a year were reported. Now, it's up to 500,000.

We need to take a step back. How many needless deaths do we need to endure before we take a good, hard look at the treatments we are using? You hear a ton of stories on how we need to protect nature from the affects of human activity. From where I stand, it appears that nature is doing a good job taking care of itself.


After thinking about it a little bit while waiting to get my son off the bus, I wonder how much this topic relates to the current health care reform? How much money is wasted by doctors prescribing unneeded antibiotics? Who knows what kind of reform we could get by just eliminating that!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Basking in the reflected glory

Let's face it, the closest any of us are going to get to fame is if we happen to be in the background of a famous person's photo or if we have a spectacularly dumb death. Up until very recently, my greatest brush with fame was a picture in the local paper when I was 8. I was attending the official opening of Houdini Plaza in Appleton in 1985 (God, has it been that long?) and the unveiling of possibly one of the goofiest tribute statues of all time. That is, until recently.

Now, I will be the first to admit that being linked to a small podcast which originates from a basement in Wauwatosa isn't on the path to great fortune and fame, but I have to take what I can get! Being mentioned in the same paragraph as the great Joseph Paul by the official PhilCast intern, Dan Baggott, well, that makes the weather geek in me squeal like a little girl. To think that I could attain the fame and notoriety of one of the giants of the industry, well, it's more than a little embarrassing. Add that to the mention that I received on the Thursday December 10th edition of the PhilCast and you have more reflected glory than one person should be allowed to have!

Keep up the great work Phil! I have been a fan of yours pretty much from the first day I was a listener of your former employer in the fall of 2000. I have listened to the PhilCast from the very first test Cast. I will do my part, pimping for the Cast for as long as you are on. I wish you luck in making the PhilCast a paying venture for you so you can pamper those gals of yours!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Snowmageddon 2009 and the ignorami who grind my gears

I have been kicking the idea for this post around for a day or two. What's been holding me back is my tendency to descend into technobabble when talking about the weather. However, now that the first major, complex winter storm is over and the sniping has begun, I feel I have to respond.

As you know, I am a weather geek. I do not attempt to hide that fact, nor do I apologize for it. I love the weather. I love the dynamics and the complexity. All of the models, graphs, data, and observations are fascinating. The amount of information used for even a 48 hour forecast would make your head spin. This complexity is a constant source of irritation for me when I watch TV news, or listen to radio reports. Ask any real meteorologist, and they will tell you that anything more than a three day forecast is impossible to predict with any degree of certainty. 7 day forecasts are a joke. There is no way you can know that far ahead what will happen.

With all that complexity, is it any wonder that often things don't go exactly as forecast? Sometimes it rains more than called for, sometimes less. Sometimes storms develop where they weren't expected, and sometimes all the ingredients are in perfect alignment but nothing pops. People who have little to no knowledge of the weather are often the first to complain. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in snowstorm forecasts.

Which brings me to the crux of this particular rant. Early season snowfalls are notoriously hard to forecast accurate snowfall totals. A warm Lake Michigan, a lack of previous snowcover, and varying ground temperatures all conspire to destroy even the best of snowfall forecasts. It never fails though, every single snowfall, there is a loud, vocal group of people who seem to take it as a personal attack if we get less snow than was predicted. This last storm, I actually saw someone calling for weathermen to be sued for a missed forecast. Really? Your life is so devoid of meaning and excitement that you would consider such an extreme measure over a

Granted, I have an issue with the sensationalized local weather myself most of the time. Most. The only exception is during tornado warnings. In Wisconsin, a tornado is one of the few, if only, meteorological events that is a serious, immediate threat to life. In those cases, I don't mind the wall-to-wall coverage. It serves a greater good. Hour upon hour of the same information every 10 minutes is asinine. I guess that's why, with the exception of one, I have little faith in TV weathermen. The guys at the NWS offices, on the other hand, have my total respect. The TV guys merely parrot the forecasts that the real meteorologists spend hours on every day.

Do I expect anything to really change with this? No. I know that there is a group of people out there who are not happy unless they are complaining about something. To those of you I say, take your complaints elsewhere. Your complaints are better served in areas where it may make a speck of difference.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

HTML, oh how I loathe thee

As I sit here after a lovely, two hour session trying to help an online buddy get a blog set up, I have just one question. Does a website really need to be that difficult? Seriously, they couldn't have come up with an easier method by now? OK, that was two questions, but you get my point.

Now I know that someone who is certified in HTML will come along with some obligatory technobabble that would make Wesley Crusher look like Rain Man, but that will just prove my point. Why should it take so many codes to produce a single image? WHY?

I don't know...Maybe I'm just frustrated that it took so long to do so little. Maybe I had higher expectations than was warranted in regards to what we could get accomplished tonight. Maybe it's the fact that I'm old now and techie things are not supposed to make sense to me anymore. Who knows. Why should I care?

I guess I just don't want to admit that i'm behind the tech curve. Intellectually, I've known that for some time. To prove that point, all you need is me, my brother, and his Game Cube with Super Smash Brothers Melee in it. All the button mashing in the world isn't enough to save me from the butt-whooping that ensues. Hey, I grew up in an era where a D-pad and TWO buttons was advanced!

Oh, well. I guess when it comes to technology, 30 is the new 60. If you don't get it now, you may never get it!