Sunday, November 20, 2011

Butch up...

I put this up on Twitter this afternoon.  The University of California at Davis, the media, and the Occupy Wall Street crowd are all up in arms that the UCD police pepper-sprayed some of the OWS protestors there.  Maybe the cops over-reacted, maybe they felt legitimately threatened, who knows?  But at the end of the day this was pepper spray.  Pepper spray.  A chemical considered so non-lethal that anyone can walk in off the street and buy some.  Please.

Okay, protestor wannabees, let's talk about protests.  Tienanmen Square was a protest.  I wrote about it in one of my first blogs.  The protest at Tienanmen Square was so effective that the Chinese government had to call out their army, send tanks into the square, and start killing people. in dead.  You were sprayed with pepper spray.  Think about that.  What happened in Tienanmen Square was, literally, world changing.  It put the most populous country in the world on a course that, in a few years, changed it from a third world backwater to what will be the dominant economy in the world within the next ten years.  You, on the other hand, just got pepper-sprayed and roundly ignored.

Your little encampments are being tolerated because you're threatening no one.  Certainly not Wall Street, the banks, or "evil" corporations, who are ignoring you because they have the law on their side.  The "law" that exists because it is supported by the power of the government, which oddly, you seem to have no issues with.

If you want to to take your "movement" beyond the exercise in quasi-intellectual masturbation that it has become to a legitimate protest, make sure you are protesting against the right things to the people who are really responsible...and when the police start using bullets instead of pepper-spray, you'll know you're on the right track.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt...and that's how it should be.

Driving in to work today, I found myself stopped at a light next to a large step van belonging to TotTurf, which purports to supply "playground safety surfacing."  What. The. Fuck.  Have we come to a point where we've become so wussiefied that we have to cover the world with foam rubber to protect "the children"??

Warning!  Geezer rant sequence initiating in 3, 2, 1...

When I was growing up, we had playgrounds and those playgrounds were made of galvanized steel pipe and surfaced variously with concrete, asphalt, gravel, or just plain dirt.  By today's standards these places were safety nightmares.  Kids fell down and they bled, kids jumped, fell, or were pushed off these abominations and they broke bones, bruises and lacerations were so common we didn't even think about them...and note:  We usually only played at these playgrounds under adult supervision.  Why, you may ask?  Quite simply, by our standards of "fun," playgrounds were just plain boring.  Left to our own devices, we had far better ways of entertaining playing with fire.  This was back in the days when people burned their garbage and everyone had a "incinerator" (generally, an old oil drum) in their back yard.  Burning garbage was one of my brother's and my "chores."  Heh.  Little did our parents know that we would have burned all that stuff, and more, without being told.  But trust me, we were absolutely zealous about getting every last bit of combustion out of every last bit of garbage.  Poking the fire with sticks was required, flames leaping 10 feet in the air, a goal, and showers of sparks, a source of joy.  Setting parts of the garden on fire in our zeal only added to our entertainment as it required a scramble to get the hose to put the fire out.  Good times.  As I type this, I am looking down at a scar the size of a quarter, acquired when my brother flung a flaming, molten piece of plastic at me in one attempt of ours to maximize the spark generation rate.

The town I grew up in was in a transition from rural to suburban and our house backed up to a cattle ranch...and not just any cattle, it was a Brahma bull ranch that raised bulls for the rodeo.  The primary fixture in the pasture behind our house was Black Dempsey, an enormous, retired rodeo bull who, it was rumored, had actually killed a few rodeo clowns, or so the story went.  Black Dempsey presided over a harem of a few dozen cows, who exceeded even him in bad temper when calves were around.  Of course, the pasture was strictly off-limits and the penalties for disobeying parental dictates were threatened to be particularly fearsome - this, in a day and age when corporal punishment was a daily occurrence.  Naturally, we never passed up a chance to climb the fence and mingle with the livestock.  I suspect my brother and I escaped goring and/or stomping solely for two reasons:  1) Small boys can easily hide in 3 foot high field grass and 2) Our half springer spaniel/half cocker spaniel dog was an absolutely fearless cow chaser, in spite of his ridiculously short legs.  Good times.

Within walking distance of our house, there was a landlocked piece of undeveloped and wooded property that was bounded on one side by Little Cottonwood Creek (known simply as "the Crick" in the local lexicon).  Of course, there were as many parental edicts against going anywhere near "the Crick" as there there were involving the bull pasture.  So what to do with 4 acres or so of forest?  BB guns wars, of course.  These were highly organized, if infrequent, events with pre-chosen teams and agreed upon starting times and starting points.  I marvel even now that several dozen 12 year old boys were able to put these events together in complete secrecy.  A BB gun war involved, as one might expect, showing up with a BB gun - I had to borrow one - with whatever protective gear you might deem necessary and running about "the Grove" as it was called, shooting the other team.  No rules and we didn't keep score.  We would fight until we ran out of ammunition or were completely exhausted, which generally didn't take too long as a heavy winter coat was standard body armor and these wars were always in the summer.  In retrospect, this was all appallingly dangerous, but we never had any injuries outside of returning home sporting a few telltale round bruises.  Good times.

I really feel sorry for the kids whose concept of "fun" involves a foam rubber covered swingset.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

More bad vacation ideas...

In my on-going efforts to stay abreast of bad vacation choices, even incipient ones, I have come across this story: Take a Volcano Vacation.  Well, sure...who doesn't have a hankerin' to see molten lava spewing hundreds of feet into the air?  However, let's review this "tempting" offer:
  1. It's in the Congo.
  2. It's Nyiragongo, referred to by Forbes as "the world's deadliest volcano."
  3. It's an actively erupting volcano.
  4. Armed escorts are required.
  5. Reread #4: Armed escorts are required.
But, not to worry..."experts" say that it is perfectly "safe."


Monday, November 14, 2011

Perceived risk

The Chevy Volt catching on fire recently has gotten a lot of attention and has many people raising the issue of how dangerous electric cars might be.  The car in question was being used by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in some routine crash tests that every new vehicle is subjected to.  In the crash test, the vehicle's battery was damaged and three weeks later, the car burst into flames in a NHTSA storage facility.

I'm not a fan of the Volt and tend to agree with Johan de Nysschen, the president of Audi, when he called it "a car for idiots."  However, my assessment of the Volt has nothing to do with how safe it is.  Let me repeat, the car was involved in a crash and three weeks later it caught on fire.

Some perspective:  The Chevy Volt has a 16 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery (to be specific, since there are a lot of flavors of lithium-ion out there, it has a lithium manganese oxide/graphite battery manufactured by LG Chem of South Korea).  For you techie types, that is 57 million joules of stored energy...a big battery by any measure, but it has to be; it takes a lot of energy to move 3700 pounds of metal and plastic around.  However, ponder truck has a 23 gallon gas tank.  When full, that is 3 billion joules of stored energy; more than fifty times what was sitting in the Volt's battery.  Twenty-three gallons of gasoline, properly dispersed and ignited, would flatten several city blocks...and yet none of us thinks twice about getting in these mobile explosive devices we call cars and driving around at high speeds with other mobile explosive devices driven by individuals whose driving skills are almost always vastly inferior to our own.

Let's get a grip here.  While we still don't know the root cause of the recent Volt fire, at the end of the day, my bet is on the problem being a lack of understanding of how to deal with a damaged battery. Remember  it took three weeks for this fire to start.  If the battery had been fully discharged prior to putting the car in storage, chances are we would never have heard this story.

Speaking as someone who has seen his share of battery fires, the most likely cause of death for any electric car owner is: boredom.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Knowing who you are...

Travel is inherently a self-centered activity.  Surrounded by strangers, each of whom is intent on their own plans and destinations, loaded into and unloaded from metal tubes with the same courtesy  afforded cows on their way to slaughter - and less personal space, it is hard to avoid devoting your full attention to getting yourself and your baggage to your destination with as little discomfort and inconvenience as possible.

If you travel enough on a given airline, you'll invariably find yourself elevated to one "elite" status or another.  This is, of course, a sham as the benefits in most of these programs are inconsequential and do little to make travel any more civilized.  However, given the generally dehumanizing nature of travel these days, it is hard of avoid a slight feeling of self-importance when an airline lets you board slightly earlier than the mass of hoi polloi.

With these observations, I present the following vignette recorded by Paul Theroux in Dark Star Safari:
The best story about the Cairo Railway Station, told to me by a man who witnessed it unfold, does not concern a luminary but rather a person delayed in the third-class ticket line.  When this fussed and furious man at last got to the window he expressed his exasperation to the clerk, saying, "Do you know who I am?"  The clerk looked him up and down and, without missing a beat, said, "In that shabby suit, with a watermelon under your arm, and a third-class ticket to El Minya, who could you possibly be?"
...and aren't we all holding third-class tickets to El Minya these days?