Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Aching for more time in San Francisco

So I'm in San Francisco for the 10th JavaOne conference, and every day is full of exciting stuff I want to write about -- but time in front of a PC is not a common commodity. There's a big part of me that wants to write a blog entry for each day, detailing everything I'm seeing and doing, but I just don't have the time.

We'll see. Maybe I'll get some free time today and will be able to write something at least....

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Burning Political Issues

The US House of Representatives has approved a constitutional ammendment making it legal for Congress to create a law banning the desecration of our flag. It now has to be approved by the Senate and states.

Some links:
Yahho News
Flag Burning FAQ

This has happened in the past, but each time the Senate has overturned it. Many observers expect this time around to be different. For example, 49 of the 50 states (thank you, Vermont, and fuck you, New Hampshire - live free indeed) have expressed non-binding support for this amendment.

Regardless of how you feel about burning the flag in protest, let's look at some facts:
  • The Constitution has been in effect since 1789
  • It has been amended only 18 times in those years (the first ten amendments arrived all at once)
  • In the past century, only 12 amendments have passed. These include our system of taxation, women's rights, and various voting and representative technicalities.
  • Two of those amendments "cancel each other out" -- Prohibition and its removal.
  • The flag is already hevaily protected: you cannot even use in it advertising (someone tell car dealers this, please).
  • Congress estimates 7 flags are burned in protest each year.
  • Our elected representatives do not have the power to tell us what to hold sacred.
  • Most flags that are burned are burned in protest of flag-burning laws.
  • A theoretical law protecting the flag will be impossible to enforce equitably.
  • Our "old" laws against flag-burning were terribly written and we cannot assume new ones will be better.
In summary, our elected representatives feel it is worth modifying the founding document of our nation in order to make illegal something which happens, according to their own estimates, seven times a year. They further willingly walk into the minefield of legislation of religion, as they take on the task of defining the sacred and punishing those who disagree (see: Jehovah's Witnesses, who refuse to hold the flag sacred due to strict interpretations of Biblical prohibition of "idolatry").

I'll wrap this up by stating that I feel this is the single most frightening step this administration has taken against our freedoms, and that's saying a lot (USA PATRIOT act, anybody?). If we do this, we create a nation where it is now actually possible to commit a thought crime.

Let me put it this way. Our Contitution is more sacred than our flag, and our nation as a whole will desecrate it by passing this amendment. That desecration is not worth the benefit of giving our cops another way to harass the dirty hippies whose flag-burning protests don't convince anybody of anything anyway.

I'm ashamed of every single vote in favor of this amendment.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Morbid family

Why are our families so morbid and uninformed?

So, evidently there have been a few earthquakes in California recently. And it's got my family rattled, pun intended. See, my wife and I are headed there soon, and after having never mentioned it in the past both our parents recently asked us if we had wills set up.

After all, they both said, you don't want your stuff to go "to the state."

First off, yeah, thanks for the vote of confidence. I fully expect to come home safe and sound from this trip.

Second off, what "stuff" do we have? Barring items of sentimental value, we're talking about a very small savings account, a life insurance policy, a car which is mostly still owned by the bank, a couple pieces of jewelry which are more sentimentally important than financially, and some substandard consumer electronics. We're not talking about real estate, substantial savings, or a hidden sack of precious gems.

Third, "the state?" Come on.

But, you know, just to be safe I did a little research. My life insurance policy goes to a list of beneficiaries in the order I specified when I signed up. I don't even remember what I did, but I'm sure I made the right choice and didn't somehow accidentally list "the state" as one of the recipients of my death loot. Even if the only recipient was my wife, according to the plan if all my beneficiaries are dead when I die, the benefits are paid out to a surviving family member in order of spouse, child, parent, etc. So, no worries there.

But what about all my stuff? Who gets my substandard consumer electronics?

Evidently, the body of law dealing with what happens if you die and leave no will behind is called Intestacy Law. According to the wikipedia,
In most contemporary common-law jurisdictions, the law of intestacy is patterned after the common law of descent. Property goes first to a spouse, then to children and their descendants; if there are no descendants, the rule sends you back up the family tree to the parents, the siblings, the siblings' descendants, the grandparents, the parents' siblings, and the parents' siblings' descendants, and sometimes further to the more remote degrees of kinship.
So, again, if we both die in a terrible accident, our "stuff" goes to our families. Only if it becomes impossible to identify such an individual does the mysterious "state" get my mad loot. I guess there's some concern that the person dividing up the loot belongs to the impersonal "state" but, really, is that enough to lose sleep over? Some further research into Massachusetts law brings up a lot of arguments in favor of a will, but most of them revolve around making sure your "assets" go to the "right people" in your family or in expediting the process (counting on the courts to divide your assets can take over a year).

So, yeah. I know I "should" have a will, so I can determine that Clint gets my D&D books and my mom gets my cat and Jess's cousins get her jewelry, or something. But, really, at this point? Give me a break.

On second thought, maybe I should make up a will. I'll leave everything to charity.

Monday, June 20, 2005

I Built God's House

Ok, not really. But I did lend a hand in turning what used to be a golf store into a church this weekend.

Now, obviously, I am not a church guy. I am not what you'd call a god guy. But I'm surrounded by family who are god people, church people, even "pray for your broken appliance" people. This weekend, as part of a Father's Day "present" from my wife to her Dad, I contribued a ton of untrained manual labor to some family work. Some of that was basically demolition work on a house, and some of it was helping put their storefront church together in time for yesterday's services.

We moved a few dozen chairs from one place to another. We built a podium and carpeted it. We took down blinds and hung them up, curtains, decorations, A/V equipment, signs, even an American flag. We cleaned, we climbed ladders, we carried all manner of heavy objects around, and in the end it looked almost respectable.

And there's a small part of me that felt strangely satisfied yesterday knowing that somewhere, a few people were praying, singing, and listening to a sermon in a building that was once a golf store and was now "God's house" as far as they were concerned.

Of course, the sign on the street still says "Al's Caddy Shack." And I'm still an atheist stuck in an extended family of fundamentalists. And I try not to think about the fact that the people who get sucked into that church are being handed a belief system which cripples them and sends them back into the Dark Ages.

Because I say take your satisfaction where you can get it, people, and don't overanalyze it :).

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Rampant Consumerism - Food Edition

Who needs movie reviews when you can read FOOD REVIEWS?

I've tried 2 new food products this week:

Nabisco Rosemary and Olive Oil Triscuits
It's kind of a weird dark secret of mine that I can't get enough rosemary. It's like I discovered this herb about 2 years ago and am catching up on a lifetime of not using it. I try to sneak it into foods we cook when my wife's not watching, and every time I manage to enjoy some restaurant food with it as an ingredient I'm happy like a little kid who found "Chocolate Bread" on the menu.

That said, the taste on these was a little overdone. It tasted (sort of) like rosemary (kind of like bacon bits taste sort of like bacon), but it was a little greasy and heavy for what I wanted. I think they could have gotten away with a lighter taste and still teased the edges of my rosemary craving.

Don't get me wrong; we still ate them. But they aren't the next big thing....

Side note: how did Thomas Cutter end up with the triscuits.com domain?

Coca-Cola Zero
Yes, another diet coke variant. This one is made with asparteme and Ace-K, a relatively new sweetener which has been in use in Europe for a few years but has only recently showed up in the US. You may have seen Ace-K previously as a "filler" sweetener when products who intended to use just Splenda ran into a shortage. In any case, Coke Zero tastes a hell of a lot like regular coke. That same somewhat-heavy taste you get when you drink sugar soda is there -- but there's no sugar. It's a very odd sensation.

In any case, I've been drinking plain-old-diet coke for so long that I associate that sugary flavor with "bad" instead of "good." So, I'm not sure if this new potential flavor will win me over or not. It might work well in a rum&coke drink, where the heavier sugar-like flavor is more desirable....

Monday, June 13, 2005

Monday Grab Bag

I had hoped to update this blog twice a week. Instead, it's being updated every two weeks.

Bi-weekly vs. semi-weekly.

I guess I could just say I intended to publish bi-weekly and let the confusion over the term rule the roost. Reference this quote:
Be aware that these terms have come to mean either twice a year, month, or week, or every other year, month, week. To avoid confusion, use either twice a or every other, according to need.
Why can't I use both? "Twice an every other week." Yeah, figure that out. You'll be so busy you won't notice I'm not updating.

I was going to sit down and write some kind of thoughtful entry, but instead I'll just dump some random thoughts down for perpetual safekeeping on the internets.
  • Probably four times in my life I have bought non-dairy flavored creamer, expecting it to make my coffee taste like mildly sweet flavored coffee with creamer in it. Instead, it consistently makes it taste like someone dumped a ton of sugar and some heavy cream into my coffee, and it's a struggle to get it down. And yet, I keep trying, every couple years. It just sounds so good.
  • I watched Along Came Polly yesterday. It's nothing. Hank Azaria's small role as a nudist SCUBA instructor is damn funny, though. The guy's a chameleon. He can play anything.
  • I ate "healthily" six days out of the last seven. It was a welcome change and reminds me how good it feels to eat right. And how good it can feel to skip off for a day, binge on margaritas and tortilla chips, and come crawling back.
  • On a related note, I had no idea we hadn't started cultivating blueberries seriously until the early 20th century. Hot damn, I love blueberries. Peak season for blueberries starts now and lasts until mid-August. Indulge today!
    A one-cup serving of fresh blueberries will give you 5 grams of fiber, more than most fruits and vegetables and 15% of your daily value for vitamin C at a cost of only 80 calories.
And that's what I got....