Monday, August 18, 2014

Another Boring Post About Climate Change

When a compelling argument is made and supported by a preponderance of evidence and a majority of experts, that argument should speak for itself, without the help of inflammatory, disingenuous, or misleading language. If there is a compelling argument from the other side, that's also worth hearing, if it is based on good information and has the support of experts.

What could I be talking about? The environment, of course. I think most people would agree that the climate is changing, just based on what we see and hear in our news sources and on the internet. I can't tell you that I've noticed anything anecdotal that would indicate to me the climate is changing, but if 97% of the experts tell me it is, give me examples, and show me data, then I will concede that, yes, the climate is probably changing.

Now we come to the "however." If the 3% of dissenters are offering evidence that counters the claim, and they make good, reasoned, compelling arguments, I'm going to listen to them, as well. Like I said, I can't tell that the summers are hotter, or the winters are warmer, or the storms are more fierce - they haven't affected me directly. I MUST listen to people who claim to have recorded these, and then make my own decisions.

I understand that "climate" and "weather" are different things - I'm not stupid. However, if you tell me that the world is consistently warmer year after year after year, and all I can see is that the last two summers where I am have been incredibly mild - and you tell me that the winters are far warmer, but all I can see is more snow than I've ever seen, a polar vortex that froze my tushy off, and incredible photos from the Great Lakes as they were more covered in ice than in years, you're going to have to give me some evidence. And tweaking the words you use is not going to fool me.

The climate is an amazingly complex thing. Plants and animals expire gases, the earth has lava at its core, the sun can be more or less active seemingly on a whim, weather patterns change, and man creates pollution. These all have an effect. I get that. So when I see a quote like this: "May 2014 was the warmest May globally since records began in 1880. The average global temperature this May was 59.9 degrees, 1.3 degrees hotter than the May average for the whole of the 20th century. (," it kind of irritates me.

Either the first sentence is a lie, or the second is a typo. In order for the average temperature of all Mays since 1880 to be 58.6 degrees, there had to be many of those 134 Mays that were much cooler, and many that were much warmer. I just plain don't believe that they all hovered right around the 58.6 mark. Some had to have averaged 60 degrees, and some 50 degrees. Some may have been even warmer - or cooler.

So I decided to look it up on the NOAA site and I found some peculiar things. One is that the global average temperatures are exactly that - global. BUT, not all the places reporting temperatures have been doing so for the entire 134 years. South Korea, for instance, only dates back to 1973. Spain to 1971, but Australia dates all the way back to 1910. And what about the sites WITHIN Australia? I suspect there's a huge difference between the temperature in Melbourne and the temperature in Cairns. Have they both been reporting for the whole time? What about Perth and Alice Springs?

Look, I'm not denying that climate change is real. I'm saying this kind of research gives credence to the deniers by throwing disparate data into one big pot and calling what comes out an average. It's either lazy, or dishonest. I'd be interested in seeing averages that compare apples to apples to see what they reveal.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Warning: Bicycles Ahead!

A couple of weeks ago I was riding my bicycle down Connecticut Avenue near Adams Morgan in DC. As I approached a three way intersection, I noticed the light was changing. I opted to continue through the light.

There were a couple of pedestrians waiting to cross the street and one yelled at me as I sailed through the now red light “You ran that light buddy!” Yes I did. He was right and, technically speaking, I could have stopped so I should have stopped. However, everyone who ever drives a car on roads frequented by cyclists should be thankful I ran that light.

Let me explain… You see, not only did I not hold up the pedestrians - even in that man’s wildest dreams, he couldn’t possibly RUN fast enough to have been far enough into the crosswalk for me to have hindered his progress - I also didn’t hold up any cars. The light was red right before I got to it, which means the cars coming the other direction didn’t yet have a green light.

But none of that really matters when talking about why you should be glad I ran the light. You should be glad because if you’re going the same way I am, it means that when your light turns green again, I’ll be long gone and out of your way. As a cyclist, I have every right to the lane as you do. I’ll do my best to stay as far to the right as I can, but sometimes that isn’t enough, so it’s better that I just keep moving.

I’m not advocating completely flouting traffic laws and riding willy-nilly all over the roads any way I damn well please. I’m advocating a practice of getting, and staying out of the way of traffic whenever possible. Sometimes that means jumping red lights. Sometimes it means going the wrong direction on one-way streets. Sometimes it means getting off the bike and using the crosswalk.

One thing I always try to avoid, if I can, is riding on the sidewalk. Most sidewalks aren’t big enough to accommodate bicycles. When I do have to use the sidewalk, I ride REALLY slow because pedestrians are notoriously self-absorbed and oblivious to their surroundings. For the record, I can’t stand the jackass cyclists that fly down the sidewalks like they own them. For that matter, as a driver, I can’t stand the jackass cyclists who fly down the roads and through intersections without slowing a little bit to check their surroundings.

Pay attention the next time you see a cyclist run a red light. If he slows down and looks around before sailing through, and he doesn’t hinder anyone’s progress, he just did someone a favor; it may not have been you this time around, but he saved someone a little bit of time. You should thank him.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Goodbye My Friend

Goodbye my friend

Today the world lost a tremendous talent, and I lost a dear friend. Lao Tzu said “The flame that burns twice as bright, burns half as long.” He had men like Frank Cummings in mind.

You won’t see Frank memorialized in the national media, although he was easily as talented as any singer, dancer, actor, or artist you’ve heard of. If you asked him, he’d say “nah, I’m just a silly cartoonist.” A silly cartoonist with a rapier wit, and a self-deprecating humor that showed true humility.

I worked for Frank at “JAB Magazine” in the early 90’s. JAB was a local satire magazine, in the style of “Cracked” or “MAD” that poked fun at the local politicians and celebrities in Birmingham, Alabama. Frank, along with Tim and Andy Spinosi, and Jim “Coyote J. Calhoun” Batten saw an opportunity to express their creativity and that outlet quickly drew a cult following.

After a couple of years, the guys decided to go national…


National distribution proved a huge undertaking. Lessons learned, lumps taken, Frank moved on to some other amazing things. Since the mid-90s, he’s produced Richard Simmons’ newsletter, contributed to “Cracked Magazine” and for the last 10 or so years, he’s been one of the artists of the most widely distributed comic in the world - Blondie.


More than all this though, Frank was a good friend. He was always quick to have a beer, to commiserate in bad times and revel in good times. He had no pretension and despite his insane talent, had no delusions of grandeur. As far as he was concerned, he was just a dumb kid from Kentucky who got paid to draw funny pictures.

I used to hang out with Frank, and a handful of other guys, every Tuesday night in a garage or warehouse in Birmingham. We accomplished nothing of any particular merit. There was no plan and no agenda. Mostly we just sat around in folding chairs drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and talking shit. I moved away from Birmingham several years ago and obviously couldn’t make the “5 Guys in a Garage” meetings any more, but I still kept up with Frank. We talked often, corresponded through email or Facebook from time to time, and I would try to meet him in New York if I could when he made his semi-annual pilgrimage.

I don’t know any secrets about Frank and I don’t hold any dirty laundry. Maybe he doesn’t have any. I’ve heard funny stories from his past about roommates and friends and bosses and girlfriends and wives and family members and he’s always been an open book. He never hid his true feelings about things and he never tried to be someone he wasn’t.

Frank was always a joy to be around and a good friend. His presence, his talent, his work, his personality - made the world just a little bit better than it would have been without him. And that says a lot.

Goodbye Frank. We’ll miss you.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

It's a Fleeting Life

Last week was emotionally difficult. Over the space of three days I lost two friends. Now, these weren't best friends or particularly close friends, but they were people whose paths crossed mine in a significant way during different points in my life. I knew them well. I liked them. I will miss them. Both were wonderful people who always offered smiles, kind words, and inspiration to others. For those of you who know me, you know I'm not wont to offer treacly platitudes, so for me to give these descriptions, you must know these people made an impact. 

On Wednesday morning, my friend lost a valiant fight to overcome breast cancer. I understood her to be in remission, so either I understood wrong, or the cancer came back with a vengeance. She was 42. This is a devastating illness that takes far too many women at far too young an age. 

If you're one who's taken with politicizing charity groups like The Komen Foundation because "oh, they support abortion" or "oh, they kowtowed to the right and quit supporting Planned Parenthood", do me a favor - shut up. Because you know what else the Komen Foundation does? They spend enormous resources supporting cancer research and prevention; and that's all that matters.

On Friday morning, another friend lost a different kind of battle - this one against personal demons. Here was a man who brightened a room with his mere presence. He was never without a joke, or funny anecdote; personable, bigger than life. But like so many others suffering from depression, the light, avuncular exterior belied a dark and troubled psyche. We no longer live in the same town, so I don't know what might have triggered his deep despair or if there were signals, any kind of cry for help, but I know from personal experience, there are almost always clues, but most of us don't know how to recognize them.

This is the second friend in 8 months to commit suicide. The first was someone I knew less well but for a much longer time. I spoke to him a few weeks before he took his life. He was in a very dark place - business trouble, marital trouble, substance abuse, and the creeping mortality of mid-life all haunted him.

It's common for depressed people to believe they are doing their loved ones a favor, particularly if there are money troubles. Often there will be life insurance policies payable to the survivors and the depressed parties actually believe "They'll be better off without me." If you, dear reader, ever have that thought, let me tell you right now - NO, they WON'T. You see, suicide is a permanent solution to what is almost always a temporary problem, and by your making that ultimate decision, you are leaving people behind who will always have a big hole in their souls. 

And that doesn't even begin to touch the guilt. My two friends both have children. Fortunately (is that even an appropriate word in this context?) their children are grown, and probably understand a bit more about mental illness than they would have as impressionable kids. When it happens to a kid, the first feeling is guilt. "What did I do to cause this?" That's not to say there won't be feelings of guilt by adult survivors. "Why didn't I recognize his depression?" "What was so bad he couldn't deal with it any more?" "What could I have done to prevent this?" Adults are better equipped to handle these questions, given time, but they are by no means immune from the feelings. 

You'll hear people from time to time talking about suicide being selfish, or how those committing suicide are "taking the easy way out". Let me dispel those for you. For the person who feels those left behind will be better off, "selfish" is the exact opposite of what he's feeling. He truly believes he's doing them a favor. As for "The easy way out", that's just stupid. It takes quite a set to taste the cold steel of a gun barrel and pull the trigger. There's nothing easy about it. These are people who are so tormented, disillusioned and deluded, they don't believe there's any other way. Accusing them of being selfish or taking the easy way out is like calling those who jumped off the Twin Towers on 9/11 cowards for not hanging out in the inferno and waiting for help. 

There was a girl I knew in high school who committed suicide. She threatened suicide and no one took her seriously. They thought it was a joke. When I heard about it, it made me physically ill. By that time I already had some experience with it and knew there was no such thing as a suicide joke. I couldn't believe her parents and her friends hadn't taken her seriously.

I don't know where I'm going with this screed, or what I hope to accomplish. Mostly catharsis I guess. All of us have the capacity for self-absorption and self-pity. If you've ever been in a romantic relationship for any length of time and you haven't had a fleeting thought about suicide or homicide, you're probably not normal. But to ever seriously consider it shows you have a problem and you need help. Don't just assume the feelings will pass. Go get help. Your family and friends depend on you. 

So go now. Be happy. Hug your loved ones. If someone threatens suicide or seems really depressed, get help. If you feel depressed, get help. If you're a woman, check your breasts. And if you're human and you care, make a donation to the Komen Foundation. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Daylight Savings Time - Really?

It's time we end this foolishness called "Daylight Savings Time". I hate it, everyone I know hates it. It's dumb and there is zero benefit to it. Any argument about getting 'an extra hour of daylight' is just silly. You don't actually get an extra hour. There are still the same number of hours. Adjust your schedule if you want more daylight. I'd be okay if we stayed on Daylight Time and never went back to Standard, but whatever the case, we should pick one and be done with it.

But what about the farmers? you say... Farmers farm when it's daylight. I'm guessing they don't care much about what the clock says. I've heard that reason all my life and it's never made sense to me. I think it was just someone trying to placate someone else by just coming up with an answer that couldn't easily be verified and kinda made sense - provided  you don't really think about it.

How about energy savings? It's bunk. There are no data to show that we actually use less energy (in modern times) during the DST portion of the year. Benjamin Franklin is credited with conceiving the idea of daylight saving in 1784 to conserve candles, but the U.S. did not institute it until World War I as a way to preserve resources for the war effort. The first comprehensive study of its effectiveness occurred during the oil crisis of the 1970s, when the U.S. Department of Transportation found that daylight saving trimmed national electricity usage by roughly 1 percent compared with standard time.(1)

In 2006 Indiana instituted daylight saving statewide for the first time. (Before then, daylight time confusingly was in effect in just a handful of Indiana’s counties.) Examining electricity usage and billing since the statewide change, researchers unexpectedly found that daylight time led to a 1 percent overall rise in residential electricity use, costing the state an extra $9 million. Although daylight time reduces demand for household lighting, the researchers suggest that it increased demand for cooling on summer evenings and heating in early spring and late fall mornings. They hope to publish their conclusions this year in the Quarterly Journal of Economics.(1)

So no savings in energy usage but what about the known dangers the switch (particularly in the Spring) poses? I know I'm tired, groggy, grumpy, and don't sleep as well for about a week every Spring. I'm not a unique snowflake in this regard. And there is a stack of research to back it up. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, there's a statistically significant rise in the number of Myocardial Infarctions (heart attacks for the rest of us) in the first week after the Spring change. And it's worse for women than for men.(2)

In another New England Journal of Medicine article, research shows that traffic accidents increase during the week after the Spring time shift and actually DEcrease after the Fall shift.(3)

It's stupid. There's no good reason to keep doing it and there are plenty of good reasons to stop. Politicians have the authority to change the dates around so they surely must have the authority to do away with the obsolete practice. We don't burn candles any more. We should be screaming at them - especially in that first week after the Spring jump, when we're really grumpy - to do away with it.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Four Cars to Avoid on the Road

The headline should in no way reflect an opinion or judgment on the quality of the cars in this column. It does, however, reflect on the types of people who choose to buy and drive these vehicles. If you don't know what I'm talking about now, start paying attention the next time you're in traffic and you'll see I'm right.

#1 - the BMW
This is one of the two entries on the list that covers a whole brand, and not a specific model. And, different from the other cars on this list, it's okay to be behind a BMW, in fact it can be handy because they'll clear a path, but you don't want to be beside or in front of one.

The BMW driver is a douche. He wears Tag Heuer sunglasses - even at night - and a matching watch. He may not be rich but he feels rich and definitely thinks that one day he'll be rich. He thinks he's more important than you - nay - better than you. Traffic laws only partially apply to him; okay, only red lights. Everything else is optional. He will cut you off, he will speed, he will ride the bumper of the car in front of him just to keep you from merging in. And crosswalks? Forget it. Screw you, walker. You are only walking because you can't afford a BMW.

Here's the sad part. BMW makes a great automobile. They're fast, and sporty, and dependable, and good looking. But they teeter on that line (especially the 3s) between just affordable for the average guy, and not affordable. So the average guy who thinks he's a mogul, but is actually a douche, will buy a BMW to impress you. Sorry, I'm not impressed.

#2 - Subaru Wagons
This is not ALL Subarus, primarily the wagons, but it's best to watch out for them all, just in case. No worries being in front of one - he'll never bother you. Beside isn't usually an issue either, unless you want to pass. Then you're stuck.

You see, Subaru drivers aren't malicious, they're just painfully slow. It's usually a very granola older lady with wild hair, but you won't see her hair because she's wearing a floppy fishing hat. She'll also be wearing Merrell hiking boots, wool socks, nylon pants that the legs zip out to make shorts, a flannel shirt, and a fleece vest in an Earthtone color. Probably her car has out of state plates (usually Vermont) so she doesn't really know where she's going, and has a hard time seeing it anyway, through her thick, wire-frame glasses.

The Subaru wagon might be in the right lane, not really bothering anyone, or she might be in the left lane blocking traffic. She isn't really paying attention. But she can tell you in great detail about the flock of Cedar Waxwings she just saw in the Holly bush in front of the rancher she just passed.

#3 - The Honda CRV
Like the driver of the Subarus, the CRV drivers aren't malicious, just terrified. The CRV driver will always drive the speed limit, unless she needs to slow down because she's coming up on a bus in the other lane and she's not certain there's enough space on the two lane road for both of them.

The CRV driver is typically a woman in her early to mid twenties, probably a college graduate and quite possibly a new mom. This is the first new car she's ever bought herself and it's by far the largest vehicle she's ever driven. Owing to that, she doesn't really know how big it actually is, so she has problems on narrow streets and in multiple lanes. She is likely to try to stay in the right lane, but if she ever accidentally finds herself in the left lane, she's staying there because she's too frightened to move over.

This driver will never cut you off, and you should have no problem merging in front of her because as soon as she sees your turn signal, she'll come to an almost complete stop, out of concern that she might hit you. She will stop at an intersection to let you pull in, even though there's only one car behind her and by just continuing on, you would only have to wait an extra 3 seconds.

#4 - The Toyota Prius
Like BMW drivers, the Prius driver is a douche. When the Prius first arrived on the scene, there was some level of novelty to the whole notion of a hybrid car. Finally, you could have a car that got very high mileage but didn't require diesel fuel. Cool. They were expensive and very unlikely to ever pay for themselves, and their carbon footprint is actually pretty horrendous. But never mind all that.

The Prius has been adopted by an eclectic mix of people. From the Sierra club-ers, to the suburban hipsters, to the college professors in their tweed jackets with suede patches on the elbows. But the one thing they all have in common is some kind of pious, smug, messiah complex. And by-golly, they're going to do everything they can to force you to help.

The worst of these are the ones with so many bumper stickers, it's hard to make out the original color of the car from behind. You know the stickers "Coexist" (all in religious symbols), "Green cars for blue skies", "Love Your Mother", "eARTh", "Think Globally, Act Locally". Here's the thing, I'm for all those things. I think we should all get along, and do our best to protect the planet and be conscientious people. But you'll never accomplish any of that by being a dick.

I used to believe Prius drivers were slow because the cars just won't go that fast. Now I'm pretty convinced they do it on purpose. They want YOU to slow down because THEY want to save the planet. They LOVE driving in the left lane and not allowing people to pass. Seemingly, they have no place to be.

So here's what I say to you, Mr. Prius Driver - get out of the way and go save the planet on your own time. The rest of us have shit to do.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Net Neutrality - what's the big deal?

I'm hoping I get some response to this because I'm a little confused about the whole "net-neutrality" debate. For starters, the term is a bit misleading. It seems to me, the issue has nothing to do with "neutrality" or "non-neutrality" and much more to do with economy.

Some say the death of net-neutrality will lead to service providers blocking out other service providers, or charging different rates for different kinds of data, or not allowing some kinds of data at all. Others say it will allow service providers to charge in a tiered system, similar to cellphone usage charges.

I don't understand why that isn't the case anyway. If I use the internet to check my email, or surf the web for an hour or two every evening after work, why should I pay the same usage rate as the kid down the street who plays online shooters for 10 hours a day, sucking up a ton of bandwidth?

As for the argument regarding equal access; that's just like everything else that can be regulated. You don't get the same content from ABC Family as you do from Skinemax. So what?

Maybe I'm missing something; can one of my propeller-head friends who knows this topic far better than I do please enlighten me?