Thursday, December 27, 2012

On vacation and sick

It seems like one can go an entire year and be relatively well. Then, the minute you go on vacation - WHAM! - you come down with some illness. In my case, it's Christmas and I seem to have acquired a nasty little upper respiratory infection according to my doctor (though I'd just call it a cold). Either way, it's a nasty little thing and, while I'm grateful I caught it the day after Christmas, I'd just as soon have done without it entirely. So now, instead of getting out and doing some fun things (because I am apparently not part of the country being inundated with snow), I'm basically stuck at home and trying to breathe which is not easy when you're congested. Oh, well, that and sleep since I couldn't get much of that last night, either.

On the good side, though, this means that I get to sit down and watch several Star Wars movies uninterrupted! And, while I can't say as though I am feeling 100%, this certainly helps me to feel better. Now, if only this medicine will kick in quickly and get me back up to normal by tomorrow...


Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Music

A few weeks ago, I had the very distinct pleasure of attending a concert by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Suffice it to say that I had a great time and enjoyed it tremendously - and that was in spite of the poor seats that we had which placed up in the rafters directly the right side of the front of the stage which meant that we couldn't see some of the lighting conducted from the very front. But, in the end, that did not really matter a great deal.

Now, I should caveat that I am a big fan of TSO and it is about the only Christmas music that I can bear to listen to for more than an hour or so. Their eclectic sound is a mixture of heavy metal with a Christmas theme and clearly has a devoted following as the theatre was jammed with fans. It is clearly a genre all its own, too, as those fans ranged from families with kids (such as mine) to older couples to young headbangers (including a young couple who sat in front of us and whose head-banging motions during the concert were almost as entertaining as the concert itself). Their most famous song, Christmas in Sarajevo, was the denouement of the evening and a fitting climax to a terrific show.

The show began with lights and fire and did not let up from there. The guitarists and violinist kicked things off with some hard-rocking licks which then led up to the beginning of the story of the Lost Christmas Eve (the name of one of their albums). The story was compelling and the intersection of the story with the music was unlike any concert I had ever heard - though it should be noted this was only my 4th concert ever attended. Regardless, it was a wonderful experience and one that should be experienced at least once. In my case, I think we'll be attending again in another year or two so that would make it at least twice.

I may not post another low-level review after the next one, though. Unless I remember to write it within a few hours of actually seeing the concert...

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Random Thanksgiving Thoughts

Thanksgiving, that most American of holidays. And I had a very nice Thanksgiving for which I was thankful to see a cousin and uncle I had not seen in some time with the rest of my family (blood and otherwise). Hopefully will be able to continue to renew old family acquaintances in the near future. Ah, the joys of the internet making the world that much smaller...

Several things have been on my mind lately so I'll just skip over a few. First, in the interest of making sure everyone is treated fairly, what the heck was John Sununu and much of the Republican Party doing when they said that the only reason General Colin Powell, a staunch Republican who also happens to be black, chose to support President Obama's re-election (as well as the first time around in 2008) was because he is also black?! I've happily taken Democrats to task for such idiotic statements and will do the same here. Regardless of whether the Republican establishment liked the fact that Gen. Powell voted for Obama or agreed with his reasoning for doing so (and he clearly stated why he supported the president and it wasn't because he was black), to suggest he did so because they share a skin color is racist. The fact that no one prominent within the party rose up to disavow those comments is a major reason why there is a very real perception that the Republican Party is the party for racists (well, ok, white racists). Unless and until the party recognizes it cannot continue with the strategy it has employed for the last 40 years, it faces the very real possibility it will go the way of the Whigs.

Ok, it's been a while and I actually started another blog post on this but got sidetracked and not in the mood to finish that thought so I'll address it in short here. Thank goodness Lucas is no longer controlling the Star Wars empire! Don't get me wrong, I am most grateful for the empire (I know, an ironic word choice) he created back in 1977 and to suggest that I am an ardent devotee is a significant understatement. But over the course of the last 20 years, he has angered me far more than made me happy with the bastardization he has done to the franchise with continual technical upgrades to the original movies and the lousy prequels he did (well, ok, Episode III was watchable but still far lagged behind IV and V). Now, with someone else in charge, even if it is as part of Disney, I have a lot more hope for the future and am looking forward to seeing where the franchise goes from here. Somewhere in a galaxy far, far away, I'm sure better things await.

Recently, have come across several people who have become much more politicized. That is in contrast to myself as I have grown less so in my old age. What struck me, though, was how they view everything in their life through the very narrow lens of politics. One person made it clear that they were removing all of their social network friends who had differing political viewpoints. Another tried to argue with me that I was wrong for not being as strident in my political views and that I should be focusing my efforts on getting one of the candidates elected for the betterment of our country as the other candidate would destroy the nation. Trying to point out to this individual that I would vote (without disclosing to whom, they simply made an assumption) and that I had problems with all of candidates and their views a variety of issues was useless as they took the opportunity to point out how the opposing candidate (only the major party candidates mattered to this person) was wrong on EVERYTHING and ignored anything I tried to say. I guess it goes along with the tendency of these same people to only hear things that support their particular worldview and ignore anything else as irrelevant. So, if I don't listen to Fox News then I am getting a slanted viewpoint that only supports liberal weenies who want to burn the flag, get rid of English and turn the country into Northern Mexico (or choose your own country) or if I am listening to Fox News then they only offer "conservative" news and I am some back-woods redneck hillbilly who spends every Sunday in church listening to ignorant preachers who hate gays. Nope, thanks but I prefer to get my news from many sources and ignore the many talking-heads who somehow manage to get paid for saying stupid things for both extremes of the political spectrum while ignoring the needs of the nation as a whole. I now hope that the day comes where we can come back to some sort of middle ground that will allow collaboration on big issues for the nation instead of small-minded wedge issues designed to only garner votes from a small subset of the electorate - because we are now in election mode every day of the year. Politicians now view their job not as one of governance but of getting re-elected. Unless and until this changes, things will likely not improve significantly.

Ok, ok, I've digressed so I'll stop ranting now.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Say what?!

I found the statement below from an article on CNN to be absolutely amazing in its oxymoronic insanity (and emphasis really should be on "moronic") and belief that people are going to be so stupid to actually take it at face value:

"Our goal is for no customer ever to pay the $100 fee," said Spirit Chief Operating Officer Tony Lefebvre in a statement. "By planning ahead and paying for bags before getting to the boarding gate, our customers are saving time at the airport and speeding up the boarding process. When our customers choose these time-saving, self-service options, our costs go down, and we can pass those savings along to our customers."

Really, by charging your customers up to $100 for luggage, it makes things more efficient for your company so that you can then pass those savings back onto your customers?! Um, how does charging your customers more to bring their luggage onto your planes save them money?! Aren't you doing the exact OPPOSITE by making your customers pay more rather than actually saving them money?! The only way they will save money is not to fly on your freakin' airplanes!

Maybe the airlines should go ahead and seek a government bailout? Seems like a good possibility based on how the election is likely to go. If banks and the auto industry can do it, why not the airline industry (which has been in decline for the last couple of decades)? Then people can pay more in taxes AND the same ridiculous fees that the airlines are making up as they go along...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Really, who is the racist?

As I have pointed out on this blog a few times before, I have a hard time understanding how it is that, in the political landscape, Republicans are racist and Democrats are the new party of Abraham Lincoln come to rescue the downtrodden blacks.

And apparently I'm not the only one is willing to point this out as this one gentleman did. And he did a good job in pointing out that he doesn't necessarily have to agree with her choice or her reasoning in making said choice (and he doesn't on both counts). But to suggest that she is a race traitor or worse because she is expressing her freedom to choose someone else and to stand outside the mainstream is not wrong but is a step that shows that the color of one's skin should not be the determining factor in one's political affiliation. After all, wasn't that the point of the Civil Rights Movement?

Unfortunately, I suspect that such a nuanced point of view will continue to be ignored because it's an uncomfortable thing to reflect upon contradictions in our views. Well, for most people, anyway...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

That says a lot...

But probably not what the perpetrators intended it to say.

No, what they intended to say was that "Hey, we can kill anyone who disagrees with us, even 14-year old girls who think they should be educated when the laws of God insist that they should be barefoot and pregnant." Instead, what they said was, "Hey, we are a bunch of grown men with guns who are afraid of a 14-year old girl who might convince people that we're grown idiots with guns who are afraid of a smart 14-year old girl."

And the fact that this guy sent a hit team to kill her speaks of desperation.

Now I just hope that this tragedy can serve a greater good and wake people up to recognize the dangers inherent in not opposing ignorance and the violence that it so often breeds. It is sad that it has cost this young woman so much but perhaps good may come of it after all. At least we can hope that it will...

History being a useful predictor of the future, however, I am not entirely encouraged.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What is fair and what do we deserve?

It's the high point of the political season in the United States and there is a steady refrain of how things should be more fair and clearly the poor (or insert your own group here) deserve more than what they have. I have to admit that this is a subjective subject at best (is it really possible to say "subjective subject"?). When we talk about "fair", what is fair? Fair to whom? The idea that it is fair to take from some and give to others is a Robin Hood-esque idea that makes everyone feel all warm and fuzzy. And I say that as a fan of the story of Robin Hood. However, there is a significant difference between Robin Hood that should be pointed out. Namely, Robin Hood was an individual who sought to assist people from the tyranny of the governing power. However, in many of the arguments bandied about today, the suggestion is that government should be taking from the rich and re-distributing to the poor, or protecting the poor from rich. Should the government take that role? Doesn't that make the government tyrranical - to at least a part of the society that it alleges to represent? At the very least, the Robin Hood comparison is a poor one.

But to cut to the idea of fair, it would be more appropriate to ask if fairness can ever truly be achieved. After all, the reality is that life is not fair. Some people are better looking than others. Some people are taller than others. Some men have more hair than others. Some people are smarter than others. There is no equality in life as people may wish for and it is not possible to make people equal in this fashion no matter how much they may think they deserve it. Yet the refrain is that we should strive for equality, particularly in terms of economics. While I would not argue against striving for equality and giving people equal opportunities, it makes no sense that the fairness being argued for only deprives those with (money) unfairly to give it to those without. Instead of giving people money to make it "fair", give them the same opportunities to make money. Those who can take advantage of those opportunities will get what is both fair and what they deserve. Those people deserve the opportunity to succeed, not the money or the goods that others have earned.

Somehow, though, I fear that this may not make it into the political discourse. *sigh*

Monday, October 8, 2012

Day off

Today was a day off and I had fully intended to take the unexpected reprieve from anything pressing to do to do things that were not quite so pressing. You know, things like writing, reading and generally nothing at all. One thing that was definitely at the top of my list of things not to do - watch television. Yes, I have found that is taking up way too much of time lately for reasons I can't really fathom since I normally do not watch a lot  to begin with. However, there are some shows that I do enjoy watching and Netflix is not proving to be very helpful, either. For me, it's The Big Bang Theory, Law & Order (I've been a huge fan of all of them for years), and a new show this year called Revolution (which grabbed my attention with the numerous commercials that were tied to it during the Olympics). You would think that would be fine since that does not seem like a lot of tv. However, you would be wrong. I am also a bit of a sports fan and my two favorite sports are football and football - the American and the international variety. So I watch the British Premier League during the week and on Saturdays and then American NFL on Sundays, Monday and Thursday nights. And that doesn't even count the occasional things that may pop up that I find interesting.

However, I have been working to reduce that and have gone an entire day without even turning on a television. Instead, I got out of bed and started my day working around the internet - a guilty pleasure that I've not been able to do a great deal of recently. After breakfast, I then did some work for the office (I know, I know, what was I thinking - but I did have some deadlines that were creeping up and I had to get them done because I know I'll be interrupted as soon as I get back to the office) for a couple of hours but that is ok because I wasn't in the office and not pushed to do so. Then I ran a few errands, read for a little while and even managed to take a short nap of about an hour (for me, that can be a short nap, even though I don't like to nap in the first place).

A couple of quick meals mixed in there and now some free writing time this evening. I'm even going to skip the football game this evening (because nothing can make me want to watch the disaster that the New York Jets are becoming this season) and then tomorrow should find me somewhat refreshed and recharged. And, at the end (and even the beginning) of the day, isn't that what we all want?

Saturday, September 22, 2012


On my reading list are three that I am really either currently enjoying (yeah, I know, I have a tendency to read a few books concurrently) or looking forward to reading.

  • A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin
  • Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom by Stephen R. Platt
  • Beijing Coma by Ma Jian
I'm about halfway through the first two and both are good in their own ways. Martin's book is one of the Game of Thrones series (no, I've never seen the HBO show and no intention of doing so) and I have found it to be a very interesting series. His writing style reminds me of James Clavell in how he handles each of the characters and we get any different perspectives. And since Clavell is one of my all-time favorite authors, Martin is currently moving his way up my list of faves.

I'm also about halfway through the Platt's novel which is an engaging recitation of the Taiping Revolution in China and the interaction of the Western powers at that time. Thus far, I have not found it to be a flattering portrayal but, considering the times, that should not be entirely unexpected. Though, I have to admit that I was thinking about this earlier today - how is it that so many ministers spent so much time going to foreign countries to convert the "heathens" and held such low opinions of those same "heathens" yet they were charitable "Christian" souls? Maybe I'm just simple-minded or my opinions on those who convert others to their beliefs do not easily lend themselves to being kind. However, I digress...

I recently saw a review of Beijing Coma and thought it sounded pretty good. Turns out that the local library (though not the branch I normally I visit) has a copy so I've requested it. Hopefully shows up in the next couple of days and that will be something else to enjoy.

I've tried to switch away from the history and social science books that have been more of my interest in recent years to a little more fiction in order to help resuscitate my ability to do more writing on my part. I've got about 5 different short stories going right now (on paper, no less!) and trying to finish at least one (I'm sure Heather is beginning to wonder about this). But I'll get there - have faith (ok, that does sound funny when you consider my religious views at times)!

Thursday, August 23, 2012


So much of life is not what happens to us but, to overuse a common cliche, our reactions to what happens. So, in my own case, there has been a great deal in my life over which I have had no control and which I would not have chosen to occur. And there were times where I allowed those circumstances to overwhelm me and could not react in the best manner.

However, I have tried to learn lessons from everything that has happened in this life and apply those lessons where applicable. Rest assured, that has not always been easy nor, in some cases, at all possible. Life and death situations have, understandably, been very difficult to approach with anything resembling equanimity and I have struggled through those situations. But life is much more mundane than significant life and death situations (thankfully, those are fairly rare) and that is where the lessons can be more applicable. Frustrations at work, traffic, poor customer service, forgotten services or any number of other things are items that tend to be very temporary and, hopefully, easily resolved. Sometimes, it just takes time away from a given situation to restore some positive thought to one's life. Other times, a new day or a conversation with someone else can offer new perspective on a situation that perhaps is not so bad as it seems at the given moment. Granted, this is not always easy as we can be so wrapped up in a situation we are unable or unwilling to see anything beyond our own limited perspective. But if we can recognize that we are viewing situations from a very limited perspective, perhaps that will help to find ways to alleviate them.

So, for example, while driving today, I hit some rough traffic which I normally find very aggravating - particularly if I'm running late (which I was today). However, I then made myself compare it to the last time I made this particular drive - when I was even later with more traffic - and realized that, in the overall scheme of things, today's traffic was not such an issue to be stressed over.

And this week has been a particularly rough week at my office which has been an issue as my entire team has been impacted by some pretty significant changes - all negative. However, while rough, I have tried to look at each incident individually and recognize that, while they are all hard cumulatively, they are easier to handle as separate issues and try to work with each of them as such. This enabled me to resolve those issues I could and to take a deep breath on those I couldn't and just let them go until the next day - understanding that the next day will hopefully offer a better perspective or, at the very least, a better attitude. And sometimes, a better attitude can make a huge difference.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Random Thoughts

Things noticed on a random basis. The last several times we've been on vacation to various areas, including NYC, Myrtle Beach, Toronto, Atlanta, and Virginia Beach among other places (this is over the last couple of years, mind you, so don't think I have the ability to spend all of my time on vacation), I've noticed a lot of mixed race couples and their children. Maybe I'm just a big ol' liberal in this line of thinking but I think that is the sort of diversity growth that makes the US such a great nation. Fifty years ago, miscegenation laws would have ensured that this would never have happened and now there are growing numbers and they all appear to be doing pretty well (as they appear to all be able to travel based on my own very unscientific notion as we were all doing touristy things in each of those areas). Maybe one day we can stop applying labels to people based solely on the color of their skin and just apply labels based on intelligence, speech, area of residence or any other number of equally prejudicial items...  *sigh*

I haven't seen as much of the Olympics as I would like but it's been a rather busy time (note to self - if I'm that "busy", then I need to learn how to reorganize my time and not be so damned busy!). Ok, so maybe I just haven't cared as much about the Olympics this time around. Or perhaps it's the fact that, in the US, the broadcaster (NBC) is almost entirely focused only on the US athletes and I like to hear the stories of the women from Saudi Arabia who were finally allowed to attend the games for the first time ever and other sundry, and equally interesting, stories. However, I have noticed the medal counts and that the US and China seem to be dominating them. So, it made me wonder about the approach of the two nations. China has specialized sports facilities (circa Soviet Union) where children are identified early and spend their entire lives doing only those sports with no other life - often even away from their families. Great sums are spent by the state and the children are failures if they do not achieve the highest honors. In the US, most athletes are either supported by their families or support themselves while doing their own training on their own time. For them, success is as much about getting medals as it is getting to the games themselves - and US fans take pleasure in learning those stories regardless of whatever medal success they may get. I have to admit that I prefer the US method but maybe that's just because I am steeped in that culture - does that mean the Chinese are wrong?

For the rest of this week, I will enjoy my vacation. I am finishing "The Game of Thrones" (by George R. R. Martin) and enjoying it. I just finished the entire Hunger Games series and found it interesting even if the ending of the last book threw me just a little bit - not sure I liked the evolution of the series. Probably write up some poetry and maybe even a short story (for the writer's group that a certain someone keeps hounding me about and I keep saying we need to start as I need that kick in the butt). And then I'll go back to work next week and die from the thousand or so emails I'm sure I've gotten this week... But that's next week so leave me alone for now...  :-)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

How many ways to pay in DC?

So we recently took a quick day trip to Washington DC on a weekend to see some of the memorials and parts of the Smithsonian. Should have been a fairly quick drive to the outskirts where we were going to take the Metro into the city. We've done the trip before and it's usually a pretty good trip. However, on this trip, things went sour fairly quickly. We got to the metro station to find that it was having a problem and therefore non-operational. There was the option of commuting via bus to another metro stop and going into the city from there or driving in ourselves. The idea of having to take a bus to another metro stop (rather than into the city directly) and still having to pay the money to do so did not appeal to us but I didn't have a map to know where to go into the city - a city that I personally hate driving in because the city streets seem to have been laid out by a hyperactive schizophrenic with no sense of direction.

Yet I didn't have much choice. I recalled that L'Enfant Plaza is near the Smithsonian so just needed to figure out how to get there. On a Saturday, provided I could find a parking spot, I could actually avoid any parking fees and now I would be able to avoid the metro fees, too. Which is probably just as well since my taxes clearly weren't enough to help ensure the smooth operation of the metro in the first place - probably because they're being used to pay for the waste and inefficiency so endemic to the city and the government that it hosts. So, using my Android, got the address I needed and mapped out the drive which was only about another 10-15 miles beyond the metro station.

Once I got to L'Enfant Plaza, I received my next surprise - parking was no longer free in this area. If it had been, I'm sure that I would have fond no available parking spots. Instead, there was a plethora of spots available and, once I found a spot, realized that I had no spare change to put into the parking meter. However, in the spirit of the government, er, city finding additional ways of fleecing its citizens and visitors, they have now set it up where you can pay your parking fees using your smart phone. While I am normally a proponent of utilizing technology to create efficiency, I was simply annoyed that what used to be free parking on Saturdays was no longer and they were finding new ways of making people pay. While I have a smart-phone and can do this, there are still many people who don't and this is just another annoyance to trying to visit the city - a city that hosts the federal government that represents us all and for which we pay to maintain it with the taxes that it imposes on us. Yet, in order to visit it, we continue to pay in other ways.

Before I go too far into that rant, let me continue on with my little story. So, after spending 10 minutes setting up an account on  my Android, I find that I can only park for two hours in that location. If I want to stay longer, I have to move my car (again!) and then pay again using the same method. So, I could only go so far from the vehicle to ensure that I had enough time to get back and move it without being ticketed. Which meant that we would be unable to visit the Jefferson Memorial (which was the one thing I wanted to go see that day!) and could only spend limited time at the Smithsonian museums. So, we went to the Air and Space Museum and had a quick lunch before I took the kids to to looking at some of the exhibits. Then I took them back to my better half who went with them while I went back to move the car and pay for another two hours. And, two hours later, I thought I might be able to renew the parking without moving the car again - but couldn't connect to their application this time. So, instead of most of the day enjoying my day in DC, I spent it paying for a failed mass transit system and parking that previously had worked fine. Exactly where do my taxes go?

Maybe it's not such a big issue and this is just the way of things. Perhaps I am just being too demanding and should lower my expectations. It is possible that I am just blowing up a minor annoyance into something far more significant than it should be. However, I believe that there is a growing failure on the part of a leadership that claims to represent us and yet the evidence instead indicates only serves its own interest. But instead of whining about it here, I should spend more time looking for ways to help fix the problem. I just hope that others will feel the same way and there is yet a way to a viable solution for the entire country and not just the entrenched leadership.

And I'll stop my rant now...

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Chinese History

I tend to hit the local library every couple of weeks or so because it's a lot cheaper than buying all of the books from the bookstore. Of course, the fact that I have no shortage of books at any time is not something that makes my better half happy at any time but it's one of the few vices (as she would see it) that I have so she's patient enough with them. And, in the last couple of weeks, I've found books on the Chinese in America by Iris Chang (just finished yesterday and an interesting read), Ezra Vogel's biography of Deng Xiaoping (just started and looks like it'll be informative - not to mention I've heard several good reviews of it) and David Cordingly's Pirate Hunter of the Caribbean, a story about the life of Captain Woodes Rogers who was what the title states. I also reserved a copy of George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones which I've heard a great deal about and of which there is a mini-series on HBO that I've not and will probably never see. Yes, libraries are a wonderful thing and I am certainly a great believer in them.

But I sometime have to temper my enthusiasm because the library does not necessarily carry all of the books I would like to read at any given time. As a matter of fact, I started thinking about the reading selections available as they pertain to China and Chinese history. If I were to use the library as my source of all information on China, I would only know the history of China mainly from the end of the Qing dynasty through to the current day and projections on the upcoming conflict between the US and China. While I've heard vague rumours about 5000 years of Chinese history, one would not know it from the books available on China in your local libraries. Even university libraries are hardly better in this regard - I had to look long and hard for any books that went much further into Chinese history beyond the Ming when I was in college not so many years ago.

So, now I will ask the few people who actually read my blog if they have any good recommendations for books on Chinese history that extend past the Communist-imposed history or the Qing dynasty? I am truly an avid learner on the subject but feel terribly inadequate in terms of my own knowledge. Oh, and the only real requirement is that they be in English - I am probably eternally a functional illiterate in Chinese. Any and all suggestions are much appreciated. Thanks.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Random Thoughts

Lots of things to think about.

The US election is coming up and, while it seems like President Obama and former Governor Romney have been running for the last four years already, those of us in the US still get to suffer through another several months of political lies, truth-twisting and partisan yelling from both sides with no decent chance of true leadership being the result. I always find it amusing when politicians claim to be public servants who are here to serve the public good. If that were truly so, would they be spending hundreds of millions of dollars to "serve"? Heck, if they have so much money to spend for the opportunity to "serve",  perhaps they could prove how good they are by simply giving the money to the public they claim to represent.

I thought this was pretty interesting. I have pointed out before that racism is real and it doesn't just belong with white people. In US politics, it's a given that Blacks (or should I use African-American - though you will notice I did capitalize Black, think I had this thought somewhere in a previous post) should vote Democratic because of course the Republican Party is comprised of overt white (should I capitalize White?) racists. But I really hate labels. I know Republicans who are not white racists and Democrats who are. What does it prove? Personally, I'd prefer we skip past the process of separating people and bring them together. But, then again, I am an idealist. It'd probably never work in the real world.

I found this to be a step in the right direction. These are the stories that need to be told and I hope that more are eventually brought to light one day. The truth is never easy but it is preferable to lies and cover-ups. It is living proof that the Chinese government cannot sweep away the seminal event that occurred 23 years ago. I only hope that these stories can one day be told by the people who lived them publicly instead of history books that have to be compiled secretly until some unknown date in the future.

Have you ever noticed how many commercials there are (well, at least in the US) for products to make people healthier or better looking? Why does the pharmaceutical industry populate so much our tv ad time? Or the beauty companies? It almost puts the political ads to shame at this point. Except that the political ads just run during an election year while we get stuck with pharmacy and beauty ads all the time. I do feel for those people who get suckered in by the belief that you must look better or take meds to make yourself feel better all the time. And note that I didn't even address the lawyers who advertise their services to drum up clients who should sue for car accidents or meds that may have had ill-intended side effects (OMG, medicines - advertised on tv - can have SIDE EFFECTS?!!!). Nope, can't do that or I'd have to start talkin' 'bout lawyers... Don't wanna go there...

Sunday, June 10, 2012


After having gotten through a pretty major project at the office which took up a significant amount of time for the last month, I am back to a more "relaxing" schedule of just 8-9 hours a day, not to mention the near hour's worth of driving back and forth (about 20-30 minutes each way). I almost find myself wondering how I should be spending my time. Oh, wait, I know! I should spend it WRITING!

Yes, and I have been trying to do a little bit more of that. I am currently working on a nice little story for my better half along with a variety of posts here on this blog that I have been saving up over the last few weeks. Yep, getting those creative juices flowing...

It also helps that I've gotten my laptop back from visiting family who had been using it to watch movies online. Now I've gotten them setup with another machine and they're harassing the living daylights out of me and my better half because they are completely computer illiterate. But, hey, it gives us a little bit of time while they're occupied with the movies so it's all good in the end.

In the meantime, I've been able to spend some time writing a wee bit along with some reading (working on a history of China from the end of the Ming dynasty to the present after having finished Dumas' The Three Musketeers earlier this week) and now watching the UEFA Euro 2012 tournament. If it hasn't been pointed out before, I am a huge football (or soccer) fan and really enjoy watching the matches. So, for this past weekend, I watched the US in a rather desultory match against Antigua & Barbuda in a World Cup qualifier on Friday evening, Holland lose in a disappointing match against Denmark and Germany barely get past Portugal (and they were very lucky to do so). Then I watched the second half of the Spain/Italy match (was a pretty exciting second half for a while, too) and now the Ireland/Croatia match. Yes, I can list this as a rather enjoyable weekend. If only they were all this way.

Maybe I should spend some time before the weekend is out fixing the website that I created a few years ago so that the admins of the site can make their own changes rather than emailing me all the time when they type something in wrong... Yeah, I think that may be my task for the next week or two as I get free time... I haven't written any code in almost a year now and don't want to lose all of those skills...

Saturday, June 9, 2012

China-related thoughts

It would seem that history never really goes away. Just ask the Chinese censors on the Great Firewall (GFW) who spent a good part of June 4, 2012 trying to erase the anomaly from the Chinese stock exchange that dropped 64.89 points on that particular day. For those who are unaware, June 4, 1989 was the date of the violent crackdown by the Chinese government on (largely peaceful) protesters in Tiananmen Square. And it's often referred to as 6 4 in Chinese so the numbers hold some significance. So, when the Shanghai stock exchange dropped 64.89 points exactly 23 years after 6/4/89, it certainly prompted some effort on the part of the GFW to ensure that people would not be disharmonized (and yes, I use that term on purpose) by such a coincidence. Indeed, in a country where so much effort is put into erasing this event from history, this is not surprising. However, what may be somewhat surprising is how many people in China unofficially realize this and will not let it go no matter how much pressure is applied to enforce the erasure - as evidenced by the commentary on Weibo (the Chinese Twitter, if you will). Equally surprising, perhaps, is that the Chinese government continues to wear blinders on this subject and refuses to realize that the only way that it will ever truly go away is to open the history books and try to deal with it as honestly as possible. Of course, the fact that the government has not dealt openly with any other incident in its short history (including the Long March, the Shanghai massacre of communist partisans in 1927, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution or any other incidents regarding the corruption of its members - mot notably Mao himself) does not make this an isolated incident.

As an aside, this is not to suggest that other governments deal honestly with their own history, including various democracies. They are often similarly dishonest. The difference, if not always true, is that most of them (particularly in democracies) can and are held to account for their mistakes and misdeeds and there can be open discussion among those citizens (for the most part). It is quite clear that this is not the case in China.

And, while we're on the topic of the Chinese government looking, um, well, foolish, how about the fact that it is again calling for the US government (namely, the US embassy in Beijing) to stop producing data on the environmental pollution issues that plague China (and Beijing specifically). After all, it's making China look bad. Heaven forbid that honestly reporting on environmental pollution that is legitimately dangerous to the citizens should make someone look bad and want to encourage them to remedy the situation! No, the entire point is to maintain the power structure which is obviously hard to do when those idiot Americans are telling people what they already know because they see it everyday - the pollution where they live is dangerous to them. While the Chinese government makes some valid points about a single site making a statement about the overall pollution level in the area, this just obscures the fact that the government is simply wanting to hide facts from its citizens for fear it may be held to account - as, quite frankly, it should. Instead of trying to find reasonable solutions, the government spends more time and effort seeking to assign and avoid blame for issues. Unfortunately, this will probably only make it more likely that it will inevitably fail to last in the same fashion that it continues to fail those it alleges to represent.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

WTF? Not thinking

While some of my friends pay attention to my blog (in much the same haphazard way that I may read theirs occasionally), I suspect that most people who read this have no idea who I am other than what little I may actually write about myself. So, before I go into details with this post, let it suffice to say that I consider myself an average guy who is just generic enough to fit in most places, depending upon how I look and carry myself at any given moment. And I've almost always been that way. I've been an outsider to most groups and yet just enough of an individual with knowledge and personality to be able to deal with people from almost any social/cultural/religious grouping. I've never been a close member of any of those groups but I have close friends who are from almost all of them. As a result, I like to think that I'm fairly diverse in my outlook, opinions and viewpoints.

Put another way, I don't necessarily look Chinese but I speak the language and have lived there. I don't necessarily look Hispanic but I grew up in a largely Hispanic area and was fluent in Spanish at that time (nowadays, if I start a sentence in Spanish I invariable end up in Chinese because I forget the words in Spanish). I don't necessarily look Middle Eastern but have done a great deal of research on some of the cultural and religious customs of that area so I'm not completely ignorant - especially since 2001. (As an aside, it is interesting to note that I've been mistaken for all three of the above at different times.) I don't necessarily look black (or African-American if you prefer, though oddly enough, most of my friends can't stand the term) yet, again because I grew up in largely minority-populated areas, I can fit in well enough with my friends. And perhaps it is because I do have such a diverse background and it is natural for me to talk with anyone regardless of their social/cultural/religious background that I have some of the experiences I do. It has only been in recent years that I have started to realize that most people grow up in a very mono-ethnic area and never leave that area and thus my experiences tend to make me unique (at least with the majority of people with whom I deal). I don't pretend to be an expert, mind you, I just have grown to realize that my background and knowledge is a little different from a lot of other people...

So, that being said, it sometimes amazes me what people will say to someone based solely on their looks. I've worked for a boss who had the temerity to tell me one day that Blacks and Hispanics (I started to leave that word with a lower case "b" but figured if I was going to capitalize the "h" in Hispanic - because I've only ever seen it that way - I should probably do the same for "Blacks" though I've typically seen it in lower case. Is that a form of latent or institutionalized racism?) were genetically inferior to Whites and Asians (ok, see my aside above about blacks and consider I was going to do the same for whites. Does that make it ok?). I've had Black friends (well, now I'm just going to capitalize it for the rest of this post to prevent acrimony) tell me that all Asians looked alike. I've had Asian friends tell me that they don't like Blacks because they're dirty and criminals. I've listened to White people tell me - who didn't know me at all - about how all Arabs are terrorists and we should just nuke all of them back to the stone age. I've listened to some of my Indian and Pakistani friends complain about the hypocrisy of Americans (typically Whites) and their faux-religious foreign policy that discriminates against them - even if they're just as Christian as the Whites who would otherwise bomb their home countries back to the Stone Ages.

Yes, one would think that after hearing all of these things many times in my lifetime, I might become somewhat inured to these comments. However, that is apparently not the case. Recently, in my office, one lady with whom I work started making asinine, racist comments about Asians and then using her fingers to slant her eyes as a way to discern Japanese and Chinese (Japanese eyes slant upward while Chinese eyes slant downward, according to her). I rarely take anything personally in my office but I have to admit that this lady got to me and I had to walk away before I said something that would be totally right but also grounds for termination. Then, after doing it again yesterday (she's done it a few times over the last several weeks) while asking if I wanted to order Chinese food with her team, I politely (ok, well, as politely as I could manage) declined stating that I preferred my wife's cooking. One of her co-workers must have said something to her because when I came back by her desk later, she stopped to ask me if my wife was Chinese. I answered in the affirmative and walked on (because I was worried I would say more if she said something else). She has worked to avoid me since then - as best I can determine because she's embarrassed realizing the things she's said were totally wrong and she would not have said them to any Chinese person and I'm probably the closest she will ever get to that ("y'know, 'cuz ya can't understand anything they say 'cuz they got those ter'ble accents!"). So, in short, she knows she was wrong because she made comments that would be publicly unacceptable but were ok to someone whose background she assumed based on their appearance - though I've made no attempt to hide my family. Yep, that's what I refer to as "not thinking". Or stupid - take your choice.

What gets me is that they will make all of these comments to others who they believe are like them but won't try to address these issues publicly and try to resolve some of the underlying issues. Thus, they continue to perpetuate and fester because no one will deal with them. But, saying that, maybe I will take up the opportunity to discuss this lady's comments with her in the near future and see if maybe I can help to get one person to understand some of these differences. As the saying goes, think globally but act locally. And every change starts with one person.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


There are walls everywhere.

Jails have walls to keep the criminals in. Posh neighborhoods have walls to keep people out. From a national perspective, North Korea puts up walls to keep its citizens from escaping while the United States considers putting up walls to keep others from entering the nation. We put up mental walls for a variety of reasons, both for keeping things in and keeping other things out. In a way of speaking, it seems that walls are a definition of our lives - for better or worse.

In essence, they serve as protection. They protect us from others and they protect others from us. They are both physical and mental. They seem necessary. And therein lies a potential issue. Because we have these barriers that we have created, it makes it that much more difficult for us to do things. I am a firm believer in learning from others and in tearing down these barriers - even when I put them up on my own (inadvertantly or not). I want to remove these barriers in the hope that we can grow, evolve and continue to become better people. I know that there are limits to my knowledge and I work to overcome those limits by expanding my knowledge and experience as best I can. I can often see (what I perceive to be) the limits in others and strive to show them alternative viewpoints that will hopefully also help them - at least as I see it. Perhaps I am wrong in hoping that we can tear down some of these walls that separate us on educational, emotional, cultural, religious or other levels. However, I think that whatever pain may be incurred as a result of those barriers will only be recompensed by the additional knowledge that surely must be the result of said removal. It has usually been that way for me and I feel that much richer - even if I was resistant at the time.

However, it is also important to note here that we are all not the same and not everyone seeks knowledge as I do. They are neither wrong nor right to deny it through the construction of the walls (even if my own opinion dictates a feeling on the subject one way or another), it simply is. To borrow and paraphrase from the move "The Matrix" - not everyone is ready to be unplugged from the reality in which they live.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Really Random Thoughts

For the first time in more than a month, I did not bring my work laptop home and work. I probably should have but I have grown tired of pulling long shifts at work and then having to do more work at home each night (and weekend). Less than two weeks to go and then this project should be done and I can move onto other (less pressing) deadlines. Woohoo!

And now I feel inclined to write a little bit tonight while I have some free time. I could have gone to exercise tonight but decided against it as the urge to just relax was more important to me this evening. So instead, I'm currently listening to "I'm With Stupid" by the Pet Shop Boys on Spotify. And while I'm at it, I think I'll intersperse my musical selections (via the randomizer with Spotify) as I write up this blog post. Apparently, this is going to be a really random post. :-)

It's a cliche that you can get a better insight by seeing how people interact with others who are in the service industry (such as waiters/waitresses, clerks at the market, etc.).

(Next song is "You think you know her" by Cause & Effect)

I like to think another good way to see a person is by observing what they when they think no one is watching or when they think there will be no repercussions. So, while standing outside a local market while my better half shopped, I watched as more than 20 people brought their purchases out to their cars in shopping carts. And I watched as more than 20 people then either left their carts in an open space nearby (ensuring that no one could park there without first removing the cart) or, in the case of one 30ish woman, proceeded to actually push her cart to a nearby curb which was actually farther away from the store but out of the way of someone who might want to park their car in a parking spot.

("Everything You Know is Wrong" by Weird Al Yankovic)

So, in short, not one person actually attempted to return the cart to the store or to the designated repository of the store for all shopping carts. Which, I suppose, only goes to reinforce the belief by some that people generally only do right if they think they will be held to account. And, for the record, you'd better believe that after I unloaded all of our groceries that I then took my cart all the way back to the store. And I was parked a lot further away than most of the people I'd observed.

("Voulez-vous Danser" by Ace of Base)

This is a good time to point out that I've recently become a user of Evernote. I think it's a good way for me to keep track of things that I see and want to comment upon but may not have time to devote to doing so at the given moment. So far, I have about 8 different things that have popped up on my radar that I've listed on my notebook that I want to address when I have time (and apparently, that time is not now). But I like the fact I can be at any of my computers and simply bring up the application (or the website itself) and write up a quick note for later or I can even run it off my phone and leave a voice note for myself (I've done that several times when I'm not near my computer).

("Der Kommissar" by Falco)

It's also a great resource for listing off ideas for the book I have in my head (read: not yet actually written). Sure, it's been around for a while and I'm probably a total dork for not having utilized it before but it's not my fault that my techie self ignored it for so long. *sigh*

("Stay Beautiful" by Taylor Swift)

And it's just now dawned on me that this would be a great time to maybe spend 30 minutes working on the Chinese classic "The Monkey King" which I found a simplified version of in a shop in Flushing, NY, a little while back. (Did I write about that trip and the things I enjoyed? Nope. Ok, something else to add to Evernote to write about later.) Though, that does bring to mind another good story from this past weekend. Went to dinner at a Chinese/Japanese/American style buffet. While there, I asked one of the waitresses for chopsticks. She asked me how many and I told her 三双.

("She Wolf" by Shakira)

I honestly wasn't thinking about what I was saying but I'd heard her talking earlier to another waiter in Chinese so it was just habit, I suppose. Of course, I can't say that I look all that Chinese so she just stared at me for a second and asked "三双?" So I repeated it and she fumbled around for three pair and handed it to me while looking at me rather quizzically. Later, when my better half had stepped away, she stopped by and asked me "你是中国人吗?" (Are you Chinese?)

("Tik Tok" by Ke$sha)

I told her "No." She followed up, "美国的?" (Are you American?) I smiled politely and told her yes. Now, normally when I surprise someone by using Chinese (and I don't try to do it on purpose but it just sort of slips or they realize that I understand a conversation), they are very surprised and ask me pointedly if I speak Chinese. But I think this is the first time someone has asked me if I was Chinese. And, believe me, I may look like someone from Xinjiang (if you have some imagination) but not really Chinese in any way.

("The Diary of Jane" by Breaking Benjamin)

I have to admit that I was taken by surprise to be confused as Chinese - are there really that few foreigners who speak the language with any degree of proficiency (and let me assure I am can carry on a conversation but wouldn't consider myself to be proficient to any degree)? Sure, I've been taken as Iranian, Mexican, Norwegian and a few others but Chinese was probably stretching it. On the other hand, it was a good chuckle - even my better half found it a little amusing. The waitress was very nice, though, and I did leave her a nice tip - which I didn't have to do but maybe that says something about me? Who knows?

("Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by Elton John)

And, on that note (I'm wondering what my musical selections thus far say about me so feel free to chime in with whatever analysis you'd like), I am off to practice my Chinese a bit more...  :-)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Too busy

Today was a 12 hour workday, give or take. I took a few breaks in between 7 am when I started and 10 pm when I finished. But I can honestly say that I'm now at a  point where I feel somewhat comfortable with the status of the project I've been working on - and that has a June 1 due date for completion. It certainly wasn't looking promising a couple of weeks ago and goodness knows that I and the rest of my team have put in enough hours over the past couple of weeks not only doing our regular jobs but also the extra work entailed in this particular project. Suffice to say that I've learned some valuable lessons through this project that will hopefully help to ensure that I don't suffer similar situations in the future. Not the least of which is better planning up front and utilizing automation where we can. This project was far more manual than it should have been and the automation that was added as the project wore on was more ad-hoc than anything else. It helped but it could have been done better. So, in the long run, it will be a lesson learned. Let's just hope it's not a lesson ignored.

The worst part is that this is the first time I've picked up my new laptop in the last two weeks - ergo the reason for my not submitting any entries here even though that was a large part of my getting the laptop. So, now, let me go play some more with the new things on this machine. It's time for a tech lesson today. Woohoo!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Night

I was very happy when my new laptop arrived. Indeed, that is what I am using to write this post on a Friday night - clearly I have nothing better to do. But one of the key points of having a new laptop was to have something that I could drag out real fast when I wanted to take an hour or two to write down some things. It's  probably a sad commentary that I need to have something like a laptop in order to write but I guess I've gotten terribly lazy in my old age. That's as much an indictment of my laziness as it is my skills at this point. Oh well.

On the bright side, though, I've written up two blog posts this week as a result, so maybe it's not all bad. Between that and the two books (both of the Eragon series), I'm feeling pretty good and revived with the things that I enjoy doing - reading and writing. I think I should also be writing more short stories since that is more of my forte along with poetry. But I tend to write my prose better on the computer while my poetry must always be done with pen and paper. So I've been trying very hard to keep pen and paper always available. I think that I am more of a troglodyte than may be immediately apparent based on my knowledge and experience. As my better half has put it previously, for a techie, I seem to be very technophobic. Must be an old people thing...

I think tomorrow I will be working to move all of my current in-situ writings onto this machine so that I can continue working on them as I find the time. After all, having a laptop is intended to allow me to do what I want where I want when I want. And I want to be more productive in this manner.

Maybe I'll write this weekend on some of the interesting things going on in China recently. See, that would be productive, right?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Random Thoughts

Is $750 million enough to win the presidency? Or could it be put to better use? President Obama spent about $750 million to win the presidency in 2008 and his staff has indicated that he'll raise about the same amount for this year's election from all of his sources. Romney will likely do the same between his own campaign and the PAC's who support him. So it does beg the question of what is the difference between them and are we reduced to the point in our democracy where only the rich (or the super-rich who support them) are able to have a serious opportunity to "serve" the people? From my limited vantage point, I'm not seeing much of a difference. All I see is a new class of elite leadership that enriches itself and perpetuates its own hold on power through that enrichment. I wonder if we could find a better way to invest that combined $1.5 billion for the nation as a whole instead of on a couple of power-hungry rich guys...

Two lawmakers say that the Secret Service needs more women? So goes the line from senators Susan Collins and Carolyn Maloney. Temporarily bypassing the idea of bipartisanship (in Washington DC?!) that these two are temporarily displaying, I have to admit that my first thought upon hearing this was "why?". I am not opposed to diversity in any workforce or group and think that it is a fine idea. However, in the aftermath of the Secret Service sex scandal (should I capital Sex Scandal?), the underlying point becomes "if there were more women there, then there wouldn't have been a sex scandal." Riiiiiight. Because women are never involved in anything dirty like a sex scandal.

Sorry, if we want to push for diversity in the Secret Service (or anywhere else, for that matter), let's not use stupid excuses to do so. Let's push for it but let's do so for the right reasons - not as a political sop based on the actions of a few stupid people.

And now, I'm tired and off to bed... I may have to review this later to be sure it's coherent since I don't feel particularly so at the moment.  :-)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Random Thoughts

A couple of things that I've overheard recently that I found interesting:

Spike Lee posting the address of someone who he thought was George Zimmerman (responsible for the shooting of Trayvon Martin) - and it ends up being the address of an elderly couple completely unrelated to Zimmerman or Martin. Sure, he apologized for it and settled with the couple, to whom he called and apologized personally, but the problem was that he felt it was ok to post anyone's address on Twitter - particularly when you have 240,000+ followers who may think it is ok to do whatever they want with the address. And, considering the inflamed passions that have resulted from the Zimmerman-Martin case, surely he didn't think that people were going to be sending polite letters to Mr. Zimmerman. No matter where an individual stands on the case, publicly posting someone's address is bound to create another situation that will, in most cases, only worsen it. And the problem with the immediacy of Twitter is that such a mistake is very difficult to take back or rectify once it has been committed.

The same goes for baseball players who post the personal phone numbers of their former teammates. What made CJ Wilson think that such a prank (as he described it) was acceptable is up for debate but it was clearly - and understandably - not well-received by Mike Napoli. In this case, Napoli can simply get a new phone number and he can get on with his life (without being harassed by the numerous idiots, er, people who think its acceptable to compound the tweeting "mistake" by actually calling the number). But as people continue to seek the fame that is so readily accessible by the online world where fame is counted in the number of followers/friends/viral videos a person has, there must be a point where common sense will kick in and they will realize that there are very real consequences for their actions. I used to think that the Human Flesh Search Engine was only a Chinese concern but I worry it is not so limiting and fear that the consequences will become all too real all too soon.

Along the same lines of technology concerns (aside: is it good or bad that a techie such as myself is worried about these technical advances?), this article on flash trading was both interesting and worrying. These systems that are being developed are making calculations and decisions that have very real impact on the real world in terms of financial transactions faster than the human mind can do, let alone be able to stop in time before they become reality. When I first read this, I kept thinking this must be the first version of Skynet where the machines begin to operate outside the immediate control of human hands and minds. The understanding that these machines are making these decisions (as it relates to trading) with little apparent understanding on the part of their human "masters" is just slightly frightening. I always enjoy when the inner workings of an application and the logic behind them are black boxes to the people who allegedly operate them. Yep, nothing to see here, please move along...

Finally, something to consider. Without doing a Google search, what were the headlines three days ago? Even one headline? What was the related story? I would be willing to bet that most people can't come up with a single headline. Which leads me to wonder about this 24 hour news cycle that we go through and whether it is sensory overload and results in a situation where people actually learn nothing. Life today, in the 24 hour news cycle, is a constant barrage of information that people remember so long as it's being blasted at them continuously and only stays in residual memory for so long as it's a headline. Immediately thereafter, it is discarded and nothing is truly learned until the next time it makes a headline. And forget about context - that only comes if people care to dig deeper into the stories and learn more - and that doesn't often happen. So, quick, let's go see CNN Headline News (which is only a very small selection of actual news stories and typically very little that has anything to do with the average person - "OMG, a kid fell down a well!" or "OMG, someone contracted this really weird disease that affects one in 2 billion people - everyone PANIC NOW!") and see how much we retain until tomorrow.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Are we what we thought we would be?

What did you want to be when you grew up? And now that you have grown up, are you that which you had dreamed about in your youth?

I suspect the answer is "no" in a great many cases.

Does it make you sad or happy? Are you content with who you are and what you have accomplished? Do you desire to change? And are you willing to do the things needed to effect that change if you so desire it? Or is it simply easier to stay where you are in life for fear that you may lose what you have with no guarantee of achieving that which may otherwise grant you that which you sought in your youth?

For me, I am not spending my life in the way that I envisioned when I was younger. This does not mean that I am necessarily unhappy or discontented - anymore than I am totally happy or content with life. Perhaps it would be more accurate to state that I am comfortable with my position in life today. But comfort can have both a positive and a negative connotation. On the positive side, I do not lack for the things I need and want (most of the time, anyway). On the negative side, there is little challenge to those things that I do and my sense of purpose is sometimes lacking as it seems I simply ride the waves rather than steering my way to a specific destination.

I suspect I am not the only one who simply rides with the waves in whichever direction they flow. But I am starting to work toward a specific destination as I would like to have a little more control over the direction I seek to go. It is a slow process and filled with many detours - much as it seems my life prior to now has gone. However, I regret no experiences that have brought me to today and will try to be accepting of those detours in the future as I remember that life is not the destination but the journey.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

“We are selling weapons to Syria for its national defense, national security,” Lavrov told lawmakers in the lower house of Russian parliament. “We aren’t providing Syria with any weapons that could be used against protesters, against peaceful citizens, helping fuel the conflict. We aren't doing that, we are only helping Syria to protect its security against external threats.” 

The above quote is from the Russian Foreign Minister as it relates to the Russian government selling weapons to the Syrian government. So, in addition to the fact that the Russians (along with the Chinese government) have blocked any serious action from the UN taking place (ok, yeah, it's funny to think that the UN can do anything even if the Russians and Chinese aren't deliberately blocking them), they're also selling them weapons and then thinking the rest of the world is stupid enough to believe that they're selling them weapons that can only be used against "external" enemies. Or perhaps their definition of "external enemies" refers to anyone who opposes the government? Frankly, I'm curious to know exactly what kind of weapons can only be used against external enemies but can't be used against protesters and peaceful citizens? Tanks? Fighter jets? Oh, wait, no, those have been used against protesters and peaceful citizens.

Now, to be fair, do I think that Western or other Arab nations haven't been selling weapons to those opposition forces in Syria? Heck no, I'm certain they have - though probably not to the same degree or dollars as the Russians. But at least they're not trying to use logic (or the obvious lack thereof) to justify that it's ok to do so and watch the tragedy currently unfolding in Syria. Or maybe the rest of the world really is just that stupid or uncaring. I probably shouldn't be surprised...

Monday, March 12, 2012

Losing focus

I don't know about others but staying focused on any one subject for any period of time, significant or otherwise, is a challenge. Perhaps this is why I have tended to fare well in jobs that allowed me to venture into several different areas or aspects and had a more difficult time with positions that required me to work on only one thing all the time. Indeed, that was one of the larger reasons why I left my last role - I simply did not want to be writing code for eight hours a day with no other responsibilities. That is not to say that I did not enjoy writing code and learning how to make things work better - but I wanted to do much more than just being a code monkey. Needless to say, my current role is far more expansive in terms of responsibilities and I find myself both happier and more productive because my distractions can be set to focus on other things that need to be done.

The same holds true for things that I do on my own time. One only has to see my collection of music currently starred in Spotify to get a feel for my ADD tendencies - it runs the gamut from classical to death metal and everything in between with the exception of country (hey, I do have some standards!) More specifically, in my case, I enjoy writing and have recently been working on several ideas that have been floating around in my head when time allowed. At this moment, I am in the middle of two stories and have another that I'm hesitant to start until I can complete one of the other two. I also tend to jot down poetry as inspiration (and time) hits me and that does not include the book I am working on when I'm not otherwise distracted. And I do all of that as I currently skip through four different books that I'm reading (two history books, a Calvin & Hobbes anthology and some FoxTrot books). And I seem to be able to function rather well whenever I make the switch. I know others who can only do one thing at a time and cannot be distracted from it lest they screw up. For me, if I can't distract myself with something else, I'm likely to screw it up.

I'd sure like to know how that works but, for now, I guess I'll just have to accept that losing focus is the only way for me to stay focused enough to get it completed. To my credit, though, I did finish this blog entry in about 15 minutes. That's probably the outer limits of my focus for today.  :-)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Killing the messenger not so softly

Every so often you are criticized for being “radical.” So triumphant is the critic that it is as though once the word “radical” is laid on you, nothing you have said is of any worth, the foundation of your argument collapses on contact, and you are defeated and dispatched.  On the other hand, your critics never say a thing about the atrocities of the government perpetrated over decades, they hold no principles against it and have unlimited tolerance for it. They suffer from severe Stockholm syndrome without knowing it; they even feel complacent about this mental deformation.

Before I get into the source of that quote, I think it's important to consider context here, particularly for the first part of this statement. Frankly, when I first read it, I considered politics in the US and the carelessness with which terms like "liberal" or "commie" or "radical right" or "religious fundamentalist" are bandied about by political opponents. Quick, if you want to discredit someone, assign some label to them which will be readily interpreted by your followers as a symbol of denigration and therefore not worthy of consideration! It is a sad and unfortunate commentary that when people are unable to argue the merits of a particular point of view that they then reduce themselves to demonizing the ideological view of their opponents. I am not so naive as to argue that we should all agree but no justice is served by attacking the messenger when the message itself cannot be refuted.

For reference, the above quote comes from Ran Yunfei ( 冉云飞), a Chinese intellectual and blogger, in relation to the government of his own nation. It's sad, however, how applicable it is elsewhere throughout the world... *sigh*

Monday, February 20, 2012

Peace of mind

Yesterday, in the middle of our first snow of the year (well, ok, beyond the 30 minutes of snow showers we had a few weeks ago which I won't count), I took a 30 minute walk outside. Of course, if I had woken up on time and felt more motivated, I would have gone to the gym and worked out there before the snow started but clearly I was not functioning properly. I would say that I will learn from that for the next time but, knowing myself, I doubt it. :-)

Nonetheless, I did this walk in order to get exercise as that is something that I am trying to focus more upon - exercise, that is. Spending most of my days in front of a computer or at meetings and such is not terribly conducive way of feeling good so I have to find another way of doing it. I would run but I have an arthritic knee that screams at me in 6 different languages when I try; I have instead tried to walk very quickly and hope that my knee does not become too upset.

Now, normally when I find myself alone (often in my car as I traverse the 25 minutes each way to work and back), I tend to have long, prolific conversations with myself in my head. It is a method that I used for many years to come up with stories that I would then write down. Of course, the fact that it also made me look a wee bit on the loony side was an unfortunate side-effect was that it would ensure no one would want to approach me (or fortunate, if you consider that it would keep people away that, in many cases, I did not want to interact with in the first place). It also helps me to sometimes rationalize things in my head that may have been bouncing around inside for a while. In short, such time alone has been like speed for the neural synapses and, after many years, have been very reassuring to me.

However, yesterday, I was approaching the end of my walk when I realized that my mind was completely blank. Not necessarily blank as in the vacuous statements issued by politicians to encourage people to vote for them but blank as in nothing was distracting me from what I was doing and I could focus, such as it was, on the current here and now. And for those who know me, being able to focus in such a manner is a rare event, indeed. It was a blankness that was a peaceful feeling that permitted me to find the balance that I often seem to lack in my occasionally frenetic daily pace. To essentially blank myself from everything for that short time is reassuring and grants me the ability to reacquire the sense of peace that is the legend written about in prose and poetry. It does not happen, and indeed has not happened, very often but that makes it so much better when it does occur. It is almost like recharging the mental and emotional senses and a restoration of equilibrium that it so often needed in my own chaotic world so I am grateful.

I'd be even more grateful if I could find that same sense of blankness when I want to go to sleep - but perhaps that is asking a bit much?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Nothing ever really changes

I'm currently slogging (and believe me, "slogging" seems negative but it's the right word considering how long it is taking me) through The Great War for Civilization by Robert Fisk. It is a long book and covers much Mr. Fisk's journeys and research on the Middle East. And while he has a certain leftist bent that does not diminish the work that he has compiled. I have found it to be fascinating reading, though not everyone would necessarily agree. I only wish I had read it when I first purchased the book more than a year ago - then promptly misplaced it until recently. *sigh*

But before my ADD tendencies cause me to diverge too far from my intended subject, I am currently reading through one of his sections on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. He brings up the demonization that takes place by the Israelis when they discuss the Palestinians and how they are vermin, cockroaches and insects to be stomped upon in order to teach them lessons. This is, of course, when they're not being referred to as terrorists or homicide bombers. <sarcasm> Really, I suppose the world owes Fox News a debt of gratitude for that. </sarcasm> And one only need go through MEMRI to see how many Arabs and Muslims talk about Jews. And these are things that have been occurring for years, not something that is just recent. If anything, the only thing recent about these characterizations is that they're now much more easily translated into English and therefore available to the English-only crowd who previously may have been unaware of them. And it is this demonization issue that I discussed less than a year ago on this blog and it seems to have come around again.

Indeed, how it easy it is to learn that the best way to make it easy to hurt or kill someone is to strip away their humanity and see them only as a negative caricature or as nothing more than a beast. It is not hard to understand how the situation in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians continues to fester when they see each other as beasts needing to be slaughtered in order to obtain what they want. Someone needs to really bring both sides to the table and enable them to start talking to each other - as people. This doesn't mean that it would be as easy as that but there can be no real beginning to a solution unless and until each side recognizes the other as someone more than just a generic "enemy" - or vermin or terrorist or Zionist or pig.

Would that it were so easy...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Movie weekend

Apparently, it must have been movie weekend. I suppose, when the temperature is hanging around "cold enough to snow" (and we got 30 whole minutes of it! thunder snow, no less!), that is a good time to spend inside watching movies. So that is what we did on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Friday night we watched "Aftershock" (or 大地震). I have to say that is probably one of the better movies that I've seen in recent years, especially for something that was produced in mainland China. One of my criticisms of movies coming out of China in recent years is the overt politicization and/or nationalism that seems to pervade the great majority of them. Perhaps there many people who enjoy them; I am not one of them.

But I did enjoy Aftershock. It was emotional, I didn't have to suspend my disbelief and, while the disaster scenes at the beginning of the movie may not have hit some of the high standards that have emanated from Hollywood in recent years, it also wasn't a movie about only the disaster. I felt that the mother in the movie was a bit of a martyr but I also understood (and admittedly agreed with) her attitude and choices. The children were also realistic to me and it was great to see such a wonderful story being told (that was not as depressing as some movies feel they have to be these days). As I put it to my better half, this was one of the best movies I'd seen in a while. "Out of China?" was the response. "No", I responded, "period". I enjoyed it and it didn't matter to me where it came from. I wish there were more stories like this sometimes.

Saturday was an old favorite, Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring). Of course, now I have to go back and also watch The Two Towers and The Return of the King, but that goes without saying. Combined with the fact that I also need to go watch Star Wars Episode I in 3D soon, you could argue that it is a week or rehashes, but that's ok. I happen to like each of the movies.

Sunday was "The Flowers of War", another Chinese movie by Zhang Yimou. While I've not been impressed by Zhang in recent years (as much for his philosophical changes and willingness to toe the government line), I have to admit that this movie was almost a guilty pleasure. There were parts where I felt the movie was good and moderately realistic and other parts where they seemed to be carrying things to excess (a single Chinese sniper wipes out an entire Japanese patrol single-handedly?). I enjoyed the story even if it seemed to swing wildly between excess and sappiness, often in all the wrong places. I know enough of the story of Nanjing during that time to believe the worst of the Japanese but there were times it really annoyed me, too. More of the politicization and nationalism that I mentioned earlier. And that doesn't even mention the fact that they kept saying "Nanking" rather than "Nanjing". Perhaps someone can tell me if that is actually accurate or playing to Western wordplay... Regardless, while not the best movie I've seen, it wasn't as bad as I thought it might be, either (though I did have to really suspend my disbelief at times).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

New Year Post - late, as usual

I suppose, depending upon your point of view, we are either quickly approaching the Mayan apocalypse or it's a new year and new resolutions. A time for reflection or a time for resolutions. Or, in my case, a time for both reflection and resolution as well as writing up a new blog entry - a task with which I've been seemingly lax as of late. I average may a post or two a month lately, and sometimes even that is a bit of a stretch. It's not that I lack for any number of topics upon which to write, more often it is the time and the desire to do so (at the same time).

However, part of it has also been some reflection on my part about the purpose of this blog. Unfortunately (or even fortunately, depending upon one's point of view), I have a variety of interests and that means that many of my posts are all across the board in terms of subject matter. Politics, history, China, philosophy, technology, social commentary, international relations, science and anything else in between that happens to catch my eye/ear is potential fodder. But that seems to clog up this blog and render it interesting to only a few people at any given time. To make it worse, I would not classify myself as an expert in any given matter. Instead, I have some knowledge on a great number of subjects that allows me to sometimes see things through a very different perspective than others but one that can occasionally be moot to the subject itself.

So I've been pondering if perhaps I should be more focused in this blog - or to perhaps create an entirely new blog or series of blogs to cover each of my varied interests. The problem with that is that I will likely update those even less frequently than I update this one and that would make me into a rather poor (or, in my case, poorer) blogger. Besides, I already blog occasionally on the technical forum LessThanDot (disclaimer, I am one of the owners of that site) though I've not done anything there in a while (though I have one or two that I am in the midst of putting down on paper in order to post), either. And while that should handle at least one of my passions (technology), I can't go looking for others to do the rest of my various ideas (well, ok, I could do guest posts on SeeingRedInChina - the only blog I read with any real regularity and the best China-related blog in my very humble opinion) so I wonder if anyone can offer suggestions or ideas on how I should approach this conundrum.

And thus ends my reflection for now. As for resolution, writing more is at the top of the list and I guess this post is a good start. So now my new year (well, ok a little over two weeks into it) is off to its proper start and hopefully will continue to roll on at a good clip.

Oh, and just noticed that this is my 100th blog post. Woohoo! Over the course of the last 2 1/2 years I've managed 100 posts. I'm not going to do the math average for that number since I'm pretty sure it's pathetic. But that's what resolutions are for!  :-)