Archive for category Ruminations

JoseMonkey Loves Your Dog (But Hates You)

As you’ve no doubt heard, on August 6th, six miners became trapped underground in a horrible coal mining accident in Utah.  The search for these men has been on-going, and while it’s been a long time, many are unwilling to give up hope. I sincerely hope the miners are found alive, and I truly feel for the families.  But, if I’m being perfectly honest, I can’t say that I’ve devoted all that much time to thinking about this incident.  It may sound callous, but I don’t recall feeling any profound sadness about it, either; in general, I wish it had not happened, and I totally agree that it’s sad and awful, but I won’t pretend that it’s something that provoked strong emotions in me.  Perhaps it’s because I don’t know any miners.  Maybe my monkeysphere is just too small to allow me to care deeply about it. 

In any case, the bottom line is that I feel bad about the mining accident, but I’m not losing any sleep over it.  I suspect I’m not the only one who feels this way, though I bet most people aren’t comfortable admitting it.  It makes you sound like an uncaring asshole.

The reason I mention this is not to reinforce what an asshole JoseMonkey is, but to contrast it against another story that was recently in the news that did provoke strong emotions in me. 

the more people I meet the more I like my dog T-shirtLast week in West Virginia, a dalmatian named Alex got caught in a storm drain and was buried alive.  After two days of searching and two days of digging, the dog’s owner was finally able to free him.  When I saw this story, I nearly started bawling immediately.  Then I watched the video of the man pulling his dog from the hole, and I completely lost it. 

I’m not sure what is says about me that I was so thoroughly moved by the dog rescue, yet rather detached and insensate when it comes to the trapped miners.  Get this: I know the dog’s name, yet I can’t name any of the six men that are trapped in the mine. 

This isn’t the first time I’ve caught myself caring more about animals (generally) and dogs (specifically) more than people.  I can watch a film in which endless people are brutally killed without emotion, but if one effing on-screen dog gets hurt, I’m a mess.  I find WWII weaponry to be fascinating, but mention a dog mine, and I get really upset.  I won’t even watch the cartoon “All Dogs Go To Heaven” because, the way I figure it, I know where that’s heading and I’m not interested! 

Does all this make me a jerk?  Perhaps.  What can I say?  JoseMonkey’s just keepin’ it real. 

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A Word About Schadenfreude

I don’t have time to post much atm, but I wanted to highlight this rather insightful message I came across today related to the Republican party and the downward spiral in which they appear to be sinking.

Over at Daily Kos, front page contributor DarkSyde said something that, to me, seemed like real wisdom.

Right about now is when the obligatory dig at the Neo-GOP is inserted, perhaps placed in an all too familiar list of failures, maybe with a concluding and slightly gleeful observation that at least they’re systematically destroying themselves. But that conclusion is little consolation. A once decent mainstream political party has been hijacked by a small band of fringe kooks, incompetent crooks, and predatory clerics. This cabal of mendacity has ripped off the poor, the sick, the middle class, and even the unborn to give to the super rich. They have left a trail of broken lives, broken dreams, abandoned neighborhoods, maimed bodies, and corpses from Baghdad to the Gulf Coast. In the process they have driven that party over a cliff with the entire nation in tow. We will all be stuck cleaning up the wreckage left in their wake long after this ugly chapter in American history has drawn to an official close. That’s nothing to celebrate.

In other words, stop high-fiving and get to work, folks.

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Move Over Fahrvergnugen

I’ve been a Volkswagen guy for a long time.  My dad has worked for VW/Audi for pretty much my whole life.  My brother works for VW, too.  I’ve only owned two cars in my life, and both were VWs.  Fahrvergnugen isn’t just a slogan in my family; it’s a tradition.

I’ve always liked the VW brand.  There’s something about VWs.  Frankly, there’s something about people that drive them.  It’s hard to explain.  But it’s more than just a car.  When you drive your VW, you’re more than just a driver.  Everyone I’ve ever known who has owned a VW has simply loved to drive it.  Invariably, I tend to get along well with other VW drivers that I meet.  Fahrvergnugen, man.

Sadly, my VW Passat is starting to rack up quite a few miles.  For a long time, I figured I’d buy another VW — maybe even another Passat — as my next car.

Enter conflict.

As I started to seriously think about what my next car ought to be, I came to the following conclusions.

  • I need a bigger car. Let’s face it: I need a minivan, SUV, or a wagon.  I’ve got two dogs that I take with me everywhere I go, and babies aren’t so far off that I can pretend a sedan will cut it for much longer.
  • I really want something that gets above average gas mileage. It’s a matter of principle for me.  It doesn’t take a prophet to see the impending oil crisis, and I’d like to stay ahead of the curve.  So, I’m thinking about a hybrid or maybe a diesel.  (Except diesels, even the clean ones, are polluters.)

These two options are, sadly, damn near incompatible.  A fuel-efficient SUV?  It’s practically an oxymoron.

So, with a hopeful heart, I went to check out what VW had to offer.  (Where else?)  My options were limited: the Diesel Touareg or the Diesel Passat Wagon.  I’m not really crazy about the diesels, either.

After relaying my dilemma to a friend, he began to suggest a number of other cars that — horrors! — weren’t even VWs!  I began explaining to my friend how I couldn’t possibly buy those cars.  He asked why.  Well . . . because I’m a VW guy!  Yeah, but why?  I have to admit that he stumped me there.

Sure, I love my VW.  It’s great to drive.  But honestly, it’s been a little bit of a hassle, and also pricey to maintain.  And it’s not just me; according to Consumer Reports VW has been “losing ground” in terms of reliability.  Consumer Reports turned out to be a treasure trove of facts I’d never even thought about.  For instance, they say that VWs, Audis, and other European cars, while better than domestic cars, have been shown to be less reliable than Asian cars.  Furthermore, they said of Asian cars:

As they age, Asian vehicles generally have fewer problems than U.S. or European vehicles. The 2001 Honda CR-V, for instance, with 12 problems per 100 vehicles, was more trouble-free than many 2003 models. 

Well, as it turns out, this is news to no one except me, and possibly my dad.  If you look at the reliability rating for Hondas and Toyotas in Consumer Reports, the assessment is staggering.  They’re as close as it gets to trouble-free.

So, in light of this new information, I arrived at a third and very important conclusion:

  • I need to consider cars other than VWs and Audis. Specifically, I should consider Japanese cars that have excellent reliability ratings, like Toyotas and Hondas.

That one was earth-shattering for me.  It’s part of who I am that I drive a VW!  So what if they’re less reliable than Toyotas or Hondas — it’s the Fahrvergnugen, baby!

Enter reality.

If you take my three conclusions all together, there are still remarkably few options.  One notable exception is the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, due out in 2005.

The regular gas-powered Highlander has gotten terrific reviews.  Consumer Reports recommends it.  The hybrid engine is based on the engine used in the Prius, which also has gotten great reviews.  It’s a full size, 7-seater SUV and it gets gas mileage like a sedan — roughly equivalent to my Passat or better.

Then, somewhere in the back of my brain, a voice says, “But it’s not a Volkswagen!”

Yes, I reply.  But maybe that’s . . . ok?

I have to admit that I would really like to own a hybrid vehicle.  With so few hybrid SUVs available, the Highlander becomes an easy choice.  I just need to get over my life-long bias towards buying German cars.

So, to sum up, I guess what I’m saying is: Dad, is it okay if I buy a Toyota?  I promise I won’t like driving it as much as my Passat.  But it might be exactly what I’m looking for right now.

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Some Post-Election Thoughts

Yesterday, America voted and we lost.

Frankly, it was a bit of a reality check for me.  I’ve been reading blogs, reading editorials, and having conversations with so many like-minded individuals lately that I truly began to believe that Kerry would win.  The sad truth is that the majority of Americans simply do not think like me and apparently do not share my values.  I can’t even begin to express the profound sadness this realization brings.

At first, I went through denial.  “Surely, once the votes are counted in Ohio,” I told myself, “Kerry will come out on top.”  No such luck.

Now I’m in a grieving stage, I suppose.  I suspect I will be for a while.  So, tonight I will watch The West Wing and try to imagine President Bartlett isn’t fictional.

Some people say “we get the government we deserve.”  Well America, you asked for it.  Four more years starts now.

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The Night I (Almost) Lost Faith in the Chinese

I find it truly amazing that, in this politically correct age, people still toss around stereotypes.  I’m not talking about the time-honored, blatantly offensive stereotypes that you’re thinking of.  Rather, it’s those so-called “positive” stereotypes that people seem to be so fond of these days.

You know the type of comment I mean; the ones that are generally complimentary, but at the same time require you to make a broad generalization about the group of people you’re supposed to be complimenting.  These “positive” stereotypes are often sound something like this:

  • “Russian people really can hold their vodka.”
  • “Jews are good with money.”
  • “Gay people are so interesting!”

And so on.  Most people make statements like this almost without thinking.  They simply don’t see why it’s so bad, but it is.  Is it as bad as using slurs and negative stereotypes?  Of course not.  But it’s still bad.

Having said all that, let me tell you why I like Chinese people.

Specifically, I like the Chinese people that work at the Chinese take-out restaurants.  No particular restaurant, mind you; I’m talking about pretty much every one I’ve ever purchased a meal from.  You see, without exception, I’ve had very positive experiences with these folks.  They’re generally quite friendly and accommodating, and they seem eager to please the customer.

For example, I always joke about how you don’t actually need a menu for a Chinese restaurant.  In my experience, you can pretty much just call any take-out joint, order a dish you like, and they’ll bring it.  This usually works since the menu is largely the same from place to place.  However, on at least one occasion, I’ve had them deliver food that I later discovered was not even on the menu.  (E.g., I ordered shrimp egg foo young, but they only list pork, chicken, and vegetable.)  Now that’s customer service.

Furthermore, the delivery service is always fast and reliable.  This is no small achievement, given the competition’s track record.  Without fail, if I order from a place like Pizza Hut or Cluck-U, it takes 45 minutes or more.  Half the time, the food is cold.  But not the Chinese!  They manage to get me the food in under 20 minutes on most occasions, and the food is usually so hot I can’t even eat it right away.

For a while, in my bachelor days, there was a place I ordered from so frequently that I got to be sort of friendly with the delivery guy.  I say “sort of” because he didn’t speak much English, so I’m not really sure if he shared my fondness for our brief visits.  But he smiled at me a lot.  Sometimes he would bring me a can of soda, even if I didn’t order one.  It’s possible that this was because I had somehow earned a free drink with my purchase, but I prefer to think the guy just liked me.

So, I like the Chinese.  Sue me.

Then something terrible happened.

Just the other night, I ordered some Chinese food.  Twenty minutes later, I was astounded to find that my food had not yet arrived.  Inconceivable!  Thirty minutes came and went.  Then forty.  At forty-five minutes, I was sure that something had to be wrong.  Finally, at the forty-five minute mark, the delivery guy’s car finally pulled up to the curb.  As I watched the man approach my door, I began to doubt everything I had believed about my faithful Chinese friends.  With great sadness, I began trying to calculate an appropriate tip.

But then, as the man reached my door, I found myself looking at a thirty-something white guy.  Fucking white guy?!  It all began to make sense!  My Chinese friends hadn’t let me down after all.  Whew!  For a second there, I was really afraid that I might have to alter my world view.

So, all is well.  My General Tso’s Chicken combo was still hot, too.  Yum.

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Is This Guy For Real?

U.S. goverment attorneys are seeking to extradite radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri and try him on several alleged terrorism charges.  Now, I don’t mean to sound biased here, but this guy clearly looks like a Bad Guy™ to me.

Dig it: this cat has one eye, frequently wears an eye patch, and has a metal hook for a hand.  And he’s crazy, to boot.  He actually talks in terms of world domination.  Check it out:

“The real weapons of mass destruction are the desire for martyrdom. Millions of you are ready to be shaheed. Half a million martyrdom shaheed is enough for Muslims to control the whole of earth forever. In the end of the day, Islam must control earth, whether we like it or not”

That’s some scary shit!

Yikes!We couldn’t have made up a better villain.  It’s not hard to picture this guy kidnapping the girl and subsequently using her as bait to lure our unsuspecting hero into some frightening, albeit overly complex, death trap.

Do you think he has some sort of hidden, evil lair where he plots his awful schemes?  I bet he’s got all sorts of bumbling, oafish henchman who can’t hit the side of a barn with a bazooka.

If they bring this guy to trial, I’ll be the first to volunteer to testify to the fact that this whack-job scares the bejesus out of me.

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Amazon, What Were You Thinking?

So, what the hell is the story with Amazon.com’s recommendation engine?  They’ve been trying to sell me all sorts of things lately, and while some of the suggestions seem reasonable, there are always a few weird ones in there.  What’s more amusing, however, is getting inside the recommendation engine’s head with the “Why was I recommended this?” feature.

For those who don’t know, the Amazon recommendation engine works on some proprietary algorithm that uses information about the items that you have either purchased, rated, or simply viewed (!) on their site to push items they think you’d like to buy.  Frankly, I think using items you’ve merely viewed is a little weird.

Anyway, Amazon recently suggested I’d like the Sarah McLachlan album Afterglow.  Not exactly my favorite, but nice try, Amazon.  So how did Amazon decide I’d like this CD?  Amazon selected several items I’d bought, rated, or looked at to make this decision.  I expected to see several CDs in this list, particularly other female artists.  There were only two CDs in the list: No Doubt’s Rock Steady and the soundtrack to Chicago.  Um, ok.  So what other items did Amazon think were relevant?  Well, among other things, a Linksys USB hub (that I vaguely recall looking at) and my Weber grill.  I don’t get it.

Sometimes even items that I’m genuinely interested in get recommended for crazy reasons.  For example, Amazon tried to sell me a Linksys wireless router.  Fair enough — I actually might buy that.  Why was I recommended this?  Among the items that Amazon used to make this decision were a T-Fal deep fryer and the real-time strategy game Warcraft III.  What the hell sense does that make?  Maybe Amazon thinks that dorky guys who play computer games and eat fried food have an inclination toward wireless networking.  Hmm, maybe there’s something to that.  You win that one Amazon.

One last quick one: Amazon thought I’d like Al Franken’s book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, a scathing attack on the right-wing media.  Why?  Well, because I’d purchased The Best of The Muppet Show on DVD and the old school classic rap album Raising Hell by Run DMC.  Makes sense to me!

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