Monday, December 29, 2008

Clarity In The Middle East

The nerve of Israel.

Attacking the peace-loving, innocent people of Gaza. Don't they know that Hamas only wants peace on Earth and for everyone to treat the Palestinian people as well as they have historically treated the rest of the world?

Those poor 300+ Palestinians who have been killed over the past three days by Israeli aggression are heroes of the innocent struggle for Palestinian statehood. Surely, Israel's behavior is deplorable, and these awful attacks should be cause for Israel to be destroyed.

How awful.

This, of course, seems to be the tone I encounter when I read about this latest episode between Israel and one of its neighbors. The last time, it was Sadr's militia in Lebanon that was targeted, and this time, it's Hamas. The pattern is always the same: attacks on Israel are regarded as commonplace and almost acceptable, and the media only wakes up and begins its reporting when Israel defends herself from rockets randomly fired into Israeli territory.

Invariably, people will decry Israel's actions as deplorable and disgusting, and the Hamas/Palestinian PR machine will go into full effect, showing bloodied elderly women and children and bodybags showing the death of the innocent.

The problem, of course, is that Hamas -- an admitted terrorist organization, which has participated in the bombing schools, buses, cafes and civilian airliners -- is now the ruling class of the Palestinian people. Known terrorists running a government -- and they, somehow, seem apathetic when their constituents randomly fire rockets into their neighbor. The only time they seem to react in any adverse way is when the country which their brothers in arms have targeted fight back.

About five or six years ago, a business associate of ours, in an off-hand way, suggested that he thought Israel was, in effect, a terrorist country. Being that said associate wasn't addressing me directly with said commentary, I didn't respond. However, I frequently regret not responding. I wanted to advise said associate that he is a perfect example of why the Palestinian people spend as much time lobbying their cause to the internation media -- CNN, in particular -- as they do building bombs and suicide vests. The reason why is that anyone with any unbiased view of the situation -- this one, as well as Lebanon, et al -- would surmise that Israel is defending itself from being the target of random rocket attacks with these attacks on Gaza, and that if the Palestinian people don't realize that Israel was provoked into defending itself -- which is their right as a nation -- they shouldn't be entitled to their own nation or their own land. Further, it would seem that if the Palestinian people are satisfied with Hamas's treatment of other nations -- condoning or ignoring attacks on neighboring countries -- they should expect similar treatment from their neighbors. Essentially, the next time some shitbird with a rocket launcher decides to point it at Israel and let fly a bunch of rockets, that attack will result in the deaths of 20 Palestinians. As those attacks escalate -- whether with Hamas's blessing or not -- the Israeli response will increase exponentially.

Is this wrong? Is this mentality inappropriate? Is it appropriate for some random assholes in Gaza to fire randomly into Israel and then decry the Israelis' response thereto?

If you're part of -- or believe -- the Palestinian lobby, then yes, Israel has absolutely no right to respond militarily. Israel should instead talk to Hamas -- an organization that talks out of both sides of its mouth -- and Israel should allow Hamas and the other terrorist entities operating in the Middle East to attack it without response. After all, Israel has no right to declare "all-out war" on Hamas or the terrorists in the region; the right of "all-out war" only applies to Palestinians and other Arabs intent on wiping Israel from the map.

Shame on the Israelis for not playing by the rules.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Chill In The Air and Elsewhere

The last week or so has been an interesting one, and not simply because the weather has been incredibly cold, windy and filled with snow. That's part of it, naturally, but mainly the excitement factor sees me running around trying to get everything addressed and wrapped up before this week ends.

Every year, the Christmas holiday is a pleasant one for me. Usually the weather isn't this terrible, but even with the weather being downright awful, the weather rarely plays a factor. This year, however, it has; I've had to spend a lot of time outside the office at various City agencies, as well as meeting with several big-time clients for end-of-year face-time.

So with temperatures, including wind chills, that approach the single-digits, it's not a lot of fun carrying ten pounds of files and paper through a subway station filled with cranky, overeager shoppers ready to not work for a few days.

Moreover, while we're on the subject, since the economy has tanked and many people are extra-desperate, it seems like I'm getting 150 e-mails a day offering sales, last-minute savings, free shipping and extended hours. Normally that's a minor irritant; however, 90% of those e-mails are, essentially, stuff I ignore, and the other 10% is repetitive in a major way. I get e-mails from so many different stores, companies and/or entities that it's hard to determine if I've seen the same one sent to three different addresses or if there's something new, so invariably I don't bother ignoring them and check 'em out. Problem is when you've got eight e-mail addresses synced to a Blackberry and your hip vibrates every 41 seconds, it's sort of hard to get anything done beyond checking quasi-spam. And to add insult to injury, most of these e-mails have all sorts of pretty graphics that look like crap on Blackberry e-mail.

I'm hoping that next year's Christmas economy isn't this balls-to-the-wall desperate, because if it is I'm shitcanning every single company's e-mails starting November 15th and, if I'm amenable, I'll re-up with them somewhere around February 1st. It's not like I'll really miss the e-mails, but every so often I see something therein I want to pick up for my other half or for my parents or a friend, so it's sort of a Catch 22 -- if I dump the e-mails I'll retain my sanity, but lose a lot of opportunities to score goodies for people about whom I care. Oh well...such are the woes of the US consumer.

The one nice thing about this year's holiday season, of course, is that both Christmas and New Year's Day fall on a Thursday, which pretty much guarantees that the weeks during which these holidays fall are cupcakes. Monday and Tuesday are work-days, but Wednesday is a half-day in both cases, and Friday in both cases is an off-day. So it's a half-week in each case, and I'm sure that most, if not all, people celebrating these holidays (or celebrating not working on these days) already had their heads wrapped around the upcoming holiday(s) and are barely there, mentally (if not physically). I've got lots to get done before Kaia gets here early next week -- prep, wrapping, cleaning, laundry, organizing, etc. -- so the extra few days off will come in mighty handy. Plus I'm bringing home a shitload of work to get done via our newly-fangled remote office network, so I'm pretty jazzed about being able to make progress without having to log miles in commute time in the great, chilly, windy, snowy outdoors.

In either case, I hope each of you and your families has a great holiday -- no matter what your beliefs -- and stays safe, happy, healthy and warm. I'd include the term "Peace on Earth" but, thankfully, my penis is still attached and fully-functional, so you'll understand my reticence to do so.

Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

F*cked At Birth

Invariably, we Americans -- whether we're entitled or not -- deem ourselves an intelligent bunch. Regardless of the fact that we consume junk food at alarmingly high rates, purchase (and consume) beverages -- coffee, soda, sugar-flavored juices -- in gallon-size containers, and make celebrities out of people like Jeff Foxworthy, Larry The Cable Guy, Sarah Palin and Dan Quayle, we are -- on many levels, relatively speaking -- an intelligent nation.

So what if a large chunk of Americans can't find North Dakota on a map? So what if more Americans vote for an American Idol than the US President? So what if most Americans weigh more than their IQ?

These factors alone neither confirm nor contradict the issue of our nation's stupidity.

This story, however, makes it official: we should be proud we have some of the dumbest people on the planet as fellow Americans.

Incidentally, if you've ever seen the movie "Idiocracy" and thought to yourself "That could never really happen here," think again. And keep in mind that by doing so, you could one day -- soon -- be in the minority.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

When In Baghdad...

Invariably, the world has managed to continue to get increasingly stranger than even I'd have predicted. Frankly, there are some things out there that are just plain weird. This year, we had an election which would have produced either a black President or a female Vice President. As for the Vice Presidency, if Dan Quayle could be Vice President, I'm sure Sarah Palin could have handled that office as well. However, let's just be glad things turned out the way they did.

Meanwhile, speaking of "weird," who hasn't seen the video of Muntadhar al-Zaidi. hurling his shoes at President Bush? And who among the people who have seen it didn't laugh out loud at some point either during or after Mr. al-Zaidi's footwear flinging? I can say I chuckled, although there was weirdness on several levels.

First and foremost, when I saw the video, my first thought was that, somehow, this dude was connected to Richard "The Shoe Bomber" Reid and this was his way of attacking the President. Second, after it was made clear that hurling a shoe (or two) at someone is among the highest insults in the Iraqi culture. Personally, I think whipping out a 9mm and shooting someone in the leg is a bigger insult, and of course there's the ever-popular whipping "it" out and letting 'er rip on someone's leg or another part of their anatomy -- perhaps even their shoes.

But nonetheless, Mr. al-Zaidi's actions were both odd and humorous; except that is, of course, if you're an Iraqi.

Does -- or should -- it surprise anyone that the Iraqi population not only supported al-Zaidi's actions but also came out in support thereof en masse?

When I initially discussed this incident with Kaia, she and I both agreed how unbelievable it was that the Iraqi people so proudly turned on George W. Bush, who essentially gave them freedom. And to do so in such a bold, proud way, not only shed some light on who Arabs are but about the Arab culture.

This is not the first incident which has reminded me how of the disparities between Eastern and Western culture. This isn't even an issue of Islam and Christianity; it's really just an issue of sovereignty and dignity. To Iraqis, regardless whether Bush's actions -- and his alone -- rid Iraq of a tyrant who saw fit to killing hundreds of thousands of his countrymen, the presence of American troops in Iraq was more of an insult than anything meted out by Saddam Hussein's machines of torture. It's insignificant that Saddam was the Middle Eastern answer to Stalin; Bush's actions and presence in Iraq was the deplorable, inexcusable offense.

This makes sense on some level; this mentality -- nationalism coupled with pride -- caused the resurgence of Germany and fueled Adolph Hitler's rise to power in the early 1930's. However, in this particular sense, it's a bit unclear as to why this nitwit -- al-Zaidi -- was so angry at George W. Bush for addressing troops which have risked their lives so that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis -- like al-Zaidi -- could be free from Saddam Hussein's tyranny.

There are some legitimate responses to this Western reaction. The United States' "occupation" of Iraq is insulting to Iraqis on some level; unfortunately, if the US withdrew its troops almost immediately after the initial expulsion of Saddam Hussein's government, the country would have imploded and it would have resembled Somalia or any other lawless, tribal warlord wasteland. Another response is that many Iraqis have had their lives turned upside down on Bush's "whim" -- although in the long run, Iraqis will be better off. They'll be able to represent themselves, speak without fear of oppression or death, and if they want to throw their shoes at someone, they won't be hanged on the spot.

As Kaia mentioned, and I fully agreed, I don't think al-Zaidi is stupid. However, I wonder if it occurred to him that had Bush -- the guy at whom he threw his shoes -- not decided to plant Saddam Hussein six feet under and al-Zaidi felt like throwing his shoes at Saddam Hussein, it's likely that instead of the Iraqi population chanting for his release, it's more likely that they'd be mourning him after he was hanged within five minutes of throwing his shoes.

The irony here is pretty engaging: Bush's actions led to the freedoms of Iraqis -- like Mr. al-Zaidi -- to throw shoes at people with whom he was irritated -- like George W. Bush.

This is another example of how stupidity and culture collide. I wonder how many of the nameless throngs of people demonstrating for Mr. al-Zaidi's release have stopped to consider that his actions -- and his freedom of expression -- are a direct result of Dubya.

I don't think very many, judging by the repeated examples of crowd mentality and groupthink that pervades Arab culture.

I wonder if Arabs in the Middle East know why the West thinks of them in the way they do. Although, after this particular incident, I do know one thing: they probably never bothered to wonder why.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Inevitable No-Win Pass-The-Buck Buy-Out

Most people in this country agree that there are some things that are wrong and some things that are right in the current economic roller-coaster we're riding. That we as a nation rarely agree on anything -- to wit, look at the popular vote from last month's Presidential Election -- is not shocking but it is somewhat disconcerting.

There are major issues which are addressed -- and sometimes resolved -- during election years. Abortion, gay marriage, nationalized health insurance -- topics like these inspire extreme opinion, belief and passion among our nation and yet, polarize the masses like two similarly-charged magnets.

So where do we as a nation stand on the auto bailout now being finalized in Congress and the White House?

There's certainly no real way to answer that question; however, most people with whom I've discussed this topic are, like me, divided. On one side, there is the opinion which suggests that GM, Chrysler and Ford have been doing the wrong things for so long that they don't deserve bailout monies. American cars are, without a doubt, inferior to import vehicles in almost every possible category. They are not built as well, their performance is -- generally speaking -- inferior, and the prices for "comparable" vehicles isn't enough to justify the mass-defection of Americans to imported cars and brands.

What's telling is the fact that Toyota has managed to build quality vehicles (the Camry and some other high-selling, high-rated vehicles) in America (I believe their factory is located in Lexington, Kentucky) whereas GM and other American auto manufacturers have farmed out auto production on some models to Mexico, with results similar to cars built on US soil. Why is it, then, that Toyota and other non-American car manufacturers can somehow assemble quality automobiles on US soil but American car manufacturers seemingly cannot?

Makes one wonder -- if not entirely doubt -- Ford's slogan "Quality is job one." Clearly, it isn't.

So why should the US taxpayers be responsible -- in part, if not in full -- for a $15 billion bailout of an American auto industry that has shown disinterest for self-improvement and for surpassing other auto manufacturers? Let's face it; there are some iconic designs in America's auto portfolio that are still manufactured today. The Mustang and the Corvette are two that come to my mind; and while both are nice-looking vehicles, I doubt anyone -- with a straight face -- could tell me either vehicle was especially well-made or a good example of a quality automobile.

The American auto industry has dropped the ball and ignored quality standards to which other companies around the world aspire. Assuming that statement is accurate -- and frankly, I believe many people agree with that statement (regardless of its truth) -- if the US bails out the Ford, GM and Chrysler, won't these policies -- and the downward spiral -- simply be delayed until Federal dollars are no longer there?

Well, according to the details that have been leaking forth from Capitol Hill, there are some strings that will tie the hands of the bailed-out Big Three. Similar to the bank bailout, the government will insure that executives aren't compensated with huge, ridiculous EOY bonuses. Further, from what I understand, these monies would be contingent on some policy restructuring (ie developing more energy-efficient vehicles and electric/hybrids).

So should we as a nation support this bailout? It's clear that we probably don't have much choice. If it doesn't happen and the big three are allowed to implode, what would be the problem?

The most obvious problem is that all the jobs that these companies provide would be lost. That would put one hell of a dent in the unemployment figures for this and next month. Moreover, in an instant, American's final manufacturing component would evaporate. In years past, this nation's manufacturing supremacy -- in steel, items like TV's, typewriters, sewing machines, etc. -- has abated and deferred to the Japanese. Assuming the American auto industry disappears, so too would this aspect of manufacturing. The problem isn't that we should be so concerned that the Japanese have superior manufacturing; the problem is that we would have none. Part of the problem with allowing this to happen is that in years past, ie World War II, Korea, et al, American car companies suspended -- for better or worse -- their production of consumer automobiles and shifted production to mechanized hardware like tanks, troop transports, planes, etc. If the auto industry disappears, that's yet another thing America would have to buy rather than produce on its own.

And whether we're talking about a household or a country, when things are tight economically, it's far more efficient to produce in-house than to go out and buy what could be self-made.

I think that there are serious consequences with bailing out the American auto industry; first and foremost, why invest billions in companies who show no sense of remorse or understanding that they have created their own problems? Clearly, by showing up to the hearings this and last week in DC in private planes, neither GM nor Chrysler nor Ford show very much understanding of waste management and scaling down operations to fit the economic climate. Second, while it's clear these companies have never needed to show any sense of the dangers around them, they similarly show little, if any, ability to shift with the times. While the world seems intent on producing smaller, more efficient hybrid-powered cars, what the world seemingly needs less now is larger, bulkier, SUV-type vehicles (hello Escalade, Hummer). According to the reports from this past summer, car dealerships were so frantic to sell SUV's (during the so-called "gas crisis") that they were selling them below cost. And to show how little GM and the others get it, do we really need a hybrid-powered Escalade?

No one should expect GM to shift gears in an instant and become more like Subaru or other environmentally-conscious auto manufacturers; however, without supervision, it's clear that GM, Chrysler and Ford know very little about change or adaptation to the economic and environmental times which are no longer on the far horizon but are here now and today.

Finally, the other -- and perhaps, most pressing -- concern we should have regarding this impending bailout is not that the monies as offered will not save these manufacturers. It will -- at least for the short term. And to answer what should be our secondary concern, ie how do we know this will save these companies long-term, the government will focus on preventing these companies from maintaining their typical, sloth-like behavior -- in essence, they will supervise or nationalize these companies.

My problem with that is that the government is the last entity I'd want at the helm of a company. To wit, I choose to deal with Fedex or UPS rather than the US Postal Service because the bureaucracy is minimal with the aforementioned choices. So how can a monolith like GM get better, be more streamlined and increase its efficiency if it's operated like the IRS or another Federal entity? The answer, of course, is it cannot.

So while supervision will insure these companies don't continue their race towards obsolescence -- like many of their products -- by supervision, they will be directed towards safer financial and efficient operation.

The only question remains: how long will this supervision last, and if these companies are worth saving, why would they require anything beyond an influx of capital to insure it happens?

The answer is it's a no-win situation; of course, none of these companies is truly worth saving. Their products have consistently been inferior to their foreign competitors and the only superior aspect of American auto manufacturing over the past thirty -- if not more -- years is the benefits and security of American auto union employees. Of course, now that the unions have successfully placed and hammered home several nails in the coffins of these companies, their security has evaporated along with their employers.

My recommendation, in a nutshell: contribute the bail-out/influx of capital with the government a ten-year board member on each of GM, Chrysler and Ford; insure that 70% of those products destined for consumers of each of the three be hybrid or eminently fuel efficient (30 MPG or better); mandate a realistic and rigorous timetable for the repayment of these monies; insure that each company build new factories which are environmental bastions of efficiency, including solar, wind and/or renewable energies; and finally, restructure auto unions' grip over a complacent, head-in-the-sand mentality that has plagued the executive branches of these companies.

Also, have each of them start driving Toyotas to and from work, and ban them from ownership of private planes, yachts and anything not produced by their own employees.

And finally, buckle your seatbelts and strap in -- no matter what, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Comments From The Peanut Gallery

Last night, Barbra Streisand was honored at the Kennedy Center for her contribution to the arts. The more interesting angle (not referring to the photographing of her nose), however, was that she appeared at the White House, the one occupied by George W. Bush, the President who she has claimed should be impeached.

The CNN article describing these facts is not interesting in its description thereof, but instead because of the myriad comments from what seem to be among the many morons we refer to as our fellow Americans.

Enjoy, if you can.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Wherewithall and Without

While Kaia naps away the tiredness resulting from a combination of late-night and early-morning festivities with an out-of-town friend, I've been chipping away at the various items on my personal to-do list. The sink is yet again clear of dishes, the apartment is cleanish and vacuumed, the homemade PC is humming along at a crisp, cool 26 degrees Celcius, and I'm listening to one of several new Led Zeppelin concert recordings that streamed to my PC courtesy of other like-minded mongo Zeppelin fans out there on the good ol' InterWeb.

In the meantime, the apartment is chilly and winter is out there just waiting to arrive. Granted, it's early December and the weather hasn't been awful thus far -- thank you, global warming -- but it would seem to be inappropriate to lament winter's impending arrival even though that's, more or less, what I'm doing.

I also have been doing some homework and research for work; now that we're a remote network, I can VPN over to our server without having to plug in, unplug, pray, or wait with anticipation. Everything is pretty much instantaneous. Granted, there are some miscellaneous delays, but they're largely transparent and insignificant. I 'spose we could increase bandwidth on the network -- by both upping the speed on the network and on each of our remote PC's -- but thanks to the 'Net, the technology is heavy on the upside with little or no downside, other than the cost involved. But even then, the TCO is pretty reasonable given the aforementioned upside.

In the meantime, on non-PC matters, as I indicated via FaceBook, I was disappointed that tonight's fiesta had to be postponed. I'm still putting some finishing touches on where, when and how (much), but for the most part, the pieces are fitting together, albeit slowly. It looks like it'll be a January bash, and most of the likely attendees are cool with that, but I'm sure some of the out-of-towners will not be able to swing it. In the past -- at least the last two or three years since I've been re-actively doing these parties every three or four months -- the main obstacle has been the date(s) of the parties. Peoples' schedules fill up really quickly -- even months in advance, natch -- and finding a date is hard enough. But now, considering all the economic issues everyone's facing these days, and accounting for airfare, hotel reservations and the other ancillary NYC-related costs and you've got a pretty tough sell for a weekend in NYC just for shits n' giggles.

Guess we'll see how many people actually manage the trip, especially given how many people near and far are interconnected via Facebook and all the other social/viral techno-connections out there.

More later.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Pass The Remote

After a load of research, review, consideration and deliberation, we finally went ahead with a project we've been looking to move on for quite some time: getting our office server behind a bona-fide wireless firewall and simultaneously making all our data accessible outside the four walls of our office.

I can hear the collective yawn from deep within cyberspace.

It's not too big a deal, and I'm sure within a week or ten days I'll be yawning alongside each reader that mistakenly finds his or her way through these parts. But for right now, it's pretty fargin' sweet seeing the data come alive as if I were sitting in front of my office PC. Moreover, it's nice to know I'll be able to access client data from there whilst here.

I think what gets me off about this capability is not simply the notion that I'll be able to get more done more efficiently; it's also the aspect of technology working with us rather than against us that does the trick. With one or two small software loads, I can be in two or more places at once, and methinks that's pretty awesome.

Granted, remote PC access isn't quite a new technology. It's been around, for better or worse, for twenty or so years. PC Anywhere has been selling its wares to the masses for as long as I can remember -- so long, in fact, that they were originally handcuffed by the lack of speed inherent in dial-up modems. Feh.

So now, with the myriad options available to us, together with the monster security we implemented, I can not only sleep at night knowing my data's secure, I can actually get out of bed and go check on it with a matter of steps rather than having to traverse the City to hit the office.

This, of course, doesn't mean I'll be spending my days confined to the Casa de Boogie. What it does mean, however, is that nights and weekends won't be rife with me doing work and leaving some left for the next morning/Monday. That may not excite many people about their jobs, but knowing I'll be able to get done what I need to without walls being in my way is a nice little perk.

The fact that Kaia's been doing this for the past four years with her work doesn't get lost on me, but now I sorta-kinda understand how she can do her work from anywhere in the world and not need to be confined to a desk lit by flourescent lights.

Next on the agenda: T1.

I won't hold my breath. But then again, I doubted we'd ever be able to get remote access to be a serviceable, cost-effective reality.

So I'll wait to exhale for just a bit ;-)