Bob's Basement

Just a short, simple blog for Bob to share his thoughts.

More Thoughts About Vaccines

Two years ago I wrote a post which was titled Anti-Vaxxers are Idiots, in which I explained in great detail how important it is for people to be vaccinated and to vaccinate their children. So it came as something of a depressing surprise for me to witness another needless debate fueled by ceaseless drivel from uninformed conspiracy theorists who still cling to the long-disproved belief that vaccines cause autism and other maladies. I am simply amazed at the level of denial from most of these people; it's like they belong to the "Flat Earth Society." Nevertheless, these fools are most-likely alive and healthy and able to voice their misguided opinions only because previous generations were vaccinated sufficiently enough to halt the spread of diseases which would otherwise have killed the parents or grandparents of these naïve nitwits.

Despite any protestations to the contrary, vaccines stop diseases. Period. If you deny that fact, then there is no other way for me to put this - you're just an idiot. I wish that I could put that nicer way, but that's just the way things are.

However, because someone was positing the theory that vaccines are ineffective since occasionally some people still get sick, I thought that I should point out another point of truth: sometimes a vaccine doesn't just lessen the chances of contracting a disease, sometimes it lessens the severity of the disease.

Here is a true story: during my time in the Army, all of the soldiers were forced to have flu vaccinations every year. This decision was passed down from the Pentagon because diseases run rampant throughout the military, which is due to the deplorable conditions in which we had to live in order to do our jobs. (See the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic for an example.) In any event, there were several years when I was vaccinated and I still got the flu, although I was over it after a day or two. So when I left the military, I decided to stop having my annual flu shot.

However, two years later I contracted the flu during another domestic outbreak. The illness wreaked havoc on my system for several weeks, and my life was spared only because medicine has continued to evolve over the past few decades since the last devastating pandemic. But make no mistake - 20 or 30 years ago I probably would have died from that strain of the flu.

I have learned my lesson, and now I make sure that I get my flu shot every year. Sometimes I still get sick, but never as sick as that year when I skipped my flu shot.

Posted: Jan 12 2017, 23:36 by bob | Comments (0)
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The Truth about Che Guevara, Castro, T-Shirts, and Motorcycle Diaries

After the recent long-awaited and highly-anticipated death of Fidel Castro, I must admit that I was shocked at the number of "famous people" who were emanating never-ending streams of revisionist history drivel about Castro's many "accomplishments," while falling over themselves in futile attempts to outdo each other with undo praise for this despicable despot. Make no mistake - Castro was a terrible, wicked, horrible dictator who sent thousands of innocent people to their graves.

However, on a completely related note is the number of misinformed idiots who walk around wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the following logo:

che-guevara-large-face

For those who are too stupid to know better, wearing a t-shirt like this in public is exactly like wearing a t-shirt with Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin printed on it. The subject of this ridiculous memorial attire is Ernesto "Che" Guevara, who was one of the worst mass-murders in the 20th century. Countless multitudes of gullible and easily-swayed malcontents read books like Guevara's "Motorcycle Diaries," and they fall victim to his knee-jerk deceptions about how much he cared for the plight of the poor in South America. While I completely agree that the corruption in South American politics is pervasive and often horrific, most people do not realize that the terrors which were brought about by Guevara were far worse than anything about which he had complained.

That being said, I recently discovered the following article which illustrates some of what I mean; this is a great article, and you should take a few minutes to read it:

The Truth About Che Guevara

http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/michael-j-totten/truth-about-che-guevara

To put it mildly, Guevara was a spoiled, upper-class brat who became one of the worst mass murderers in Communism's long history of putting innocent people to death simply for having a college degree and/or being able to think for themselves. There are no two ways about it - if you lived in a country where Guevara had helped to overthrow your government, you simply would have been killed. No trial, no appeal - just executed.

All of this is to say - there is nothing admirable about wearing a t-shirt with Guevara's faced printed on it; the only thing that it signifies is that the person wearing the shirt is an idiot.

Posted: Jan 02 2017, 14:45 by bob | Comments (0)
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Updating Your Facebook Profile Picture Is Not Activism

I often find it mind-boggling the number of people who seem to think that updating their Facebook profile picture is an effective means of offering support for a worthy cause.

Don't get me wrong, there are certainly times when updating your profile image might "raise awareness" for a lesser-known issue of some sort (like saving sharks from extinction), or to show a sense of solidarity in a time of crisis (like the thousands of updated profile pictures in the wake of the terrorist bombings in France). But for the most part, updating your profile image is a meaningless act.

Here is a perfect example: some people will update their profile image with a pink ribbon in order to "raise awareness" for cancer. But what has this actually accomplished? Perhaps a few people might see the profile picture, but everyone on the planet already knows about cancer. What would be considerably more effective would be to actually do something about cancer. How about volunteering at a hospice? How about organizing a fundraiser for your local hospital? Or at the very least, how about personally donating to the American Cancer Society?

If there is an issue which you are truly passionate about, then you need to do something about it. March in a protest. Write your congressman or congresswoman. Speak out at a town hall. Work with others going door-to-door to promote your position. Organize. Plan. Act. Women's Suffrage and the Civil Rights protests of the 1960s would have gone nowhere if people simply sat at home and updated their Facebook statuses.

No, updating your Facebook profile does not make you an activist; it makes you a lazy non-contributor.

Posted: Oct 31 2016, 09:26 by bob | Comments (0)
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Some Thoughts About Freedom

An acquaintance of mine recently posted the following image to Facebook, which has rapidly become the central repository for all sorts of stupidity:

anarchists-are-idiots

Just for perspective, I have traveled to other countries where its citizens cannot build a house - ever.

Or drive - ever.

Or go fishing - ever.

Or do pretty much anything they want - ever.

These unfortunate souls often have to work 7 days a week for less money per month than our minimum wage workers make in two hours. But most-importantly, these citizens cannot speak their mind about how messed up their country is - ever.

Unlike the dude who created that meme.

The schmuck who created that image has no idea just how many personal freedoms he actually has; so now he takes his over-privileged life for granted and believes that a few inconveniences in a free society are some sort of bondage.

What an ungrateful idiot.

 


UPDATE: See 7 Harsh Realities Of Life Millennials Need To Understand for more information; especially point #4.

Posted: Oct 29 2016, 01:19 by bob | Comments (0)
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How The Walking Dead Lost Me As A Fan

First and Foremost: SPOILER ALERT!!! There will be MAJOR SEASON 7 SPOLIERS about AMC's The Walking Dead (TWD) in this blog; so if you have not seen the Season 6 ending episode and the Season 7 opening episode, then I highly suggest that you stop reading now. Seriously. STOP. READING. NOW.

Okay, now that this blog should be limited to just the people WHO HAVE ALREADY SEEN THE SEASON 7 OPENING EPISODE, I shall continue.

I like a good television series. And I like zombies. So the fact that I would like a good television series about zombies seems like a no-brainer. (No pun intended for the zombie genre. Well, maybe just a little.)

Anyway, there have been very few times when I have become completely disillusioned with a television series at the height of its popularity, but that has just happened with the opening episode of TWD's seventh season. Although to be honest, my dislike for the series started at the end of the previous season. But I have kept my silence over the past several months because I wanted to see how this new season would start out; and now that I have watched the opening episode, I'm done with the series.

To put it mildly, I wasn't just disappointed with the final episode of TWD Season 6, I was irate. I was angry. Infuriated. Enraged. Incensed. Those of you who have followed TWD since its inception know why, and for those that don't - for the final episode of Season 6, some Hollywood idiot decided that it would be funny to kill off a major character. That's not a big deal for TWD, which has always made it clear that it will kill off a major character with no mercy. But this series-killing poop-for-brains decided to end the show with a cliffhanger about who died - so TWD's message it fans was, "We just killed someone important, and it's probably a character that you love, but we're going to make you wait six months to know who it was. Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah."

But it was worse than that, because the pace of the show had slowed to a long, monotonous crawl toward that final scene, which was probably because some mentally-deficient Hollywood executive thought that it would create dramatic tension. But it didn't. What it created was apathy. This particular episode was easily a 60-minute show which had been dragged out to 90 minutes just to sell more advertising space, so by the final scene I really didn't care anymore. We fans knew someone was going to die; TWD is very bad about telegraphing that. Almost every episode where someone important has died on TWD has been incredibly predictable; that was also true for the Season 7 opener, but I'll come back to that later. (By the way, the TV series Lost was much the same way; it was blatantly obvious when someone important was going to die. TWD's creators should learn from Lost's mistakes, not repeat them.)

Getting back to the main point, when the death scene finally happened, it was done through the eyes of the victim, where the person being killed watches as the newly-introduced evil-bad-dude-Negan beats him to death with a baseball bat. I believe this cinematic approach to a character's death was also supposed to create additional tension; but once again, it failed to do so. It merely added to the annoyance. And hearing the evil-bad-dude-Negan continue to bash in the skull of the unidentified victim as people screamed in the background while the scene faded to black simply sealed the fate of this television show instead of sealing the fate for evil-bad-dude-Negan's intended target.

When that episode had ended, I was furious. I was exasperated. I was offended. However, within a few days it was a small consolation to learn that I was not the only fan who thought this was one of the worst season finales in the history of television; fans and critics alike exploded with thousands of angry reviews, blogs, tweets, etc. Here are just a few:

As you can see, there was no shortage of loathing for the way that season finale was envisioned and how it played out on screen. Things were so bad that one of the show's creators, Robert Kirkman, apologized to fans:

That was a half-hearted apology at best, but it reveals something very important about the people who are guiding TWD - they really do not understand their fanbase.

Let me put it this way, killing a major character in a television series is a big deal. When you're in charge of the creative vision for a series, you can kill off  a major character when necessary, and you can make it a painful experience for your fans, but you have to respect your fans when you do it. The Season 6 finally could have ended with evil-bad-dude-Negan choosing his intended victim, then perhaps changing the camera view to the victim's eyes to see the bat extended at that victim's face (as in the original finale), and then cutting to black. That would have had the same cliffhanger effect, and a lot of fans would still have been unhappy about having to wait to see who gets killed. But the way the show actually ended - killing the character anonymously - was way over the top; it was extremely unfair to its fans. This was abundantly evident during the few weeks after the Season 6 finale had aired; my wife and I heard dozens of people exclaiming that they were done with the series, and we met dozens more fans who - like me - were ready to quit the show, but thought that they would at least wait to see the Season 7 opening episode to decide whether to stop watching. But now that I have seen that episode, I am done with TWD.

AND NOW I WILL REALLY DELVE INTO SEASON 7 SPOILERS.

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Over the ensuing months, there was a fair amount of online debate over who evil-bad-dude-Negan was going to kill. Although for me, there was no debate; I knew that it was going to be Glenn or Abraham. Everyone else was easily ruled out:

  • Some people were redshirts, (e.g. Aaron, and possibly Rosita or Eugene), so the audience wouldn't care enough if any of them died, and certainly not enough to warrant a cliffhanger death, so their deaths would simply have been a let down.
  • It couldn't any of the women (e.g. Michonne, Maggie, or Sasha) simply because that just wouldn't be right; any of them could die in a different situation, and that might still happen, but not (SPOILERS!!!) execution style. (e.g. It was heartbreaking yet acceptable when Beth's, Lori's, and Andrea's characters died.)
  • It is similar for Carl; an execution style death would be wrong. (Although killing an unarmed teenager would have amazing shock effect; but no - it's still wrong.)
  • It simply wasn't going to be Rick or Daryl; like it or not, they are the show's predominate characters, and TWD's creators would have to be even stupider than they already are to attempt killing one of them. And besides, you can't kill Rick or Daryl... just because you can't.

That left Abraham or Glenn, and things weren't going in Glenn's favor since his death at the hand's of evil-bad-dude-Negan happened in this exact scene in the graphic novel upon which the television series is based.

But here's where the show's creators - once again - seriously screwed their fans. In an effort to keep their fans' unhappiness in check, the show's creators had promised in several interviews that they would reveal everything in the starting moments of the Season 7 opener; but they didn't. They didn't reveal that (SPOILERS!!!) Abraham had died until more than 21 minutes of the show had gone by. (That's if you count time for commercials, which I do since I watched the show live.)

Although at the beginning of the show viewers did see the aftermath of Abraham's death - because his brain and skull fragments were copiously littering the ground around the surviving protagonists. So not only did the episode not reveal who had died as promised, but the show's creators masked Abraham's demise in the most-gross fashion as possible.

Now, let me be honest here - if you are watching a show about zombies, you should expect there to be a lot of gore. There could be gore from half-rotting zombies walking around, or gore from zombies eating humans, or gore from humans killing zombies, or gore from humans killing humans. To reiterate, if you're watching a show about zombies, it's just going to be gross. And I will admit, over the past 35 years I have watched a lot of movies and shows about zombies... LOTS. AND. LOTS. OF. ZOMBIE. SHOWS. In addition, there was a time in my life when I wanted to be one of the the guys doing the makeup for zombies in these movies, and I have done my fair share of creating zombies for haunted houses in the past.

Having said that, when the show finally got around to replaying Abraham's execution in a flashback sequence, TWD's special effects department left out no amount of abhorrent minutia from viewers when the time came to show Abraham's death - you watched Abraham get hit with a baseball bat again, and again, and again, and again, again, again, again... for a total of 18 times over three minutes of spare-no-detail carnage, until Abraham's brains and skull were a gigantic mess of bloodied pulp lying on the ground next to Rick and the rest of the group.

THIS. WAS. TOTALLY. UNNECESSARY.

PERIOD.

Seriously, there are a lot of other ways that this death scene could have been handled. However, as it was shown, this scene might have garnered an NC-17 rating if it had been played in movie theaters. As I said earlier, in a show about zombies, I expect a lot of gore, and this series has provided plenty of it. But this was too much. Way too much.

And then, surprise, surprise, the show's creator's decided to throw their viewers a curveball a few minutes later by (SPOILERS!!!) killing Glenn IN ALMOST THE EXACT SAME DEATH SEQUENCE. Once again, TWD's special effects department spared nothing from their viewers as evil-bad-dude-Negan hit Glenn with a baseball bat again, and again, and again, and again, again, again, again... for a total of 17 times over two minutes of let's-see-how-gross-we-can-make-this drama. In the end, viewers were treated with one scene of Glenn pitifully gurgling to Maggie with a half-bashed-in skull, and another scene of Glenn's skull and brains scattered randomly around the ground as his headless and near-lifeless body continued to spasm involuntarily while evil-bad-dude-Negan walked away with bloodied fragments of Glenn's scalp hanging precipitously from his baseball bat.

THIS. WAS. ALSO. TOTALLY. UNNECESSARY.

PERIOD.

The amount of carnage displayed in these two deaths was so far beyond what was needed to solidify evil-bad-dude-Negan's character as the worst villain in TWD's television series that it borders on cinematic negligence. (Seriously, Hollywood would probably be better if fans were able to sue a show's creators when they've totally lost their vision. Are there any Castle fans reading this? If so, you know exactly what I mean.)

Let me explain something that TWD's intellectually-deficient creative staff does not seem to understand: well-loved characters in a television series are like family or friends to their fans; we invest a lot of time in these characters, we're happy to see them every week, and we hope that they will return each season. While it is painful to see a favorite character leave a series, we understand that these things happen; some actors are swayed by more-lucrative contracts, creative differences cause some people to leave a series, other actors like George Clooney and Charlie Sheen get too full of themselves and need to go, etc.

However, to gratuitously murder two beloved characters in such a prolonged, heinous and disgusting manner is inexcusable. Killing Abraham because you needed to kill a major character is sad but understandable given the apocalyptic setting of the series, and killing Glenn simply because most fans wouldn't see it coming was taking an understandable risk for the shock value, but it could have been done better. MUCH, MUCH BETTER. Neither Abraham's nor Glenn's deaths needed to show several minutes of cranial evisceration; Abraham could have died as the result of several blows to the head without the unnecessary level of detail, and I personally think that it would have been more effective if evil-bad-dude-Negan had simply spun around quickly and shot Glenn without forcing the audience to suffer through yet another long monologue from evil-bad-dude-Negan about why he is such an evil, bad dude. This would have resulted in a more-shocking and totally unexpected immediate death for Glenn, and I think no one would have seen it coming. However, in the episode that was aired, TWD once again telegraphed that Glenn was going to die long before evil-bad-dude-Negan had even swung the bat. How disappointing.

I know that the show's creators really needed to introduce evil-bad-dude-Negan since he is so critical to the graphic novel series and fans have been waiting for him to appear, but I should point out something else as a fan of TWD which is very important: I'm bored with the series. TWD is hideously formulaic; it used to be about killing zombies, now it's just about bringing in a new villain every season or two. JUST. LIKE. EVERY. OTHER. DRAMA. SERIES.

How about introducing something new? Like a new strain of zombie? Or someone who's learned how to control zombies? Or a discovery that there's a major collection of survivors somewhere trying to band together and eradicate all the zombies? Or how about people who are actually the "good guys" and they don't like Rick and company because they've actually been pretty awful characters for quite some time? Or maybe someone who's working on a cure? Or... anything other than yet another evil-bad-dude-villian. (Although a really evil-bad-female-villian would be great; sort of an anti-Michonne.)

However, the people in charge of TWD's production seem to lack the psychological fortitude that is required to take the show in a new direction, so it seems like Season 7 is just going to be more of the same; an evil-bad-dude-villian gets the upper hand, but eventually our heroes overcome all obstacles and they move on to the next evil-bad-dude-villian.

So as far as the Season 7 opener is concerned, I think the people who created it should be ashamed; and quite frankly, I think that this is the beginning of the end for TWD. I know that I - for one - have already removed TWD from my DVR schedule, and I highly recommend that others do the same. It was a good run while it lasted, but for all intents and purposes, it looks like The Walking Dead is over; I guess it's time to get used to it. While the series continues, I will periodically check the episode synopses on Wikipedia in order to see what happens to the characters about whom I am still interested; because I still care about these characters, but not enough to actually watch the show.

Posted: Oct 24 2016, 02:58 by bob | Comments (0)
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What I see on Facebook all day now...

Facebook Person 1: "My terrible candidate is nowhere near as terrible as your terrible candidate!"
Facebook Person 2: "No way! Your terrible candidate is more terribler!"
Facebook Person 1: "Not a chance! Your terrible candidate is the terriblest!"
Facebook Person 2: "Whaddabunchacrap! Your terrible candidate is the most-terriblest terrible candidate EVER!"

Blah, blah, blah... Can we get back to people posting hideously-insecure "If you're my friend you'll repost this" drivel and ridiculous urban legends which are easily refutable on Snopes? Isn't that really what FB is all about?

[Deep Sigh.] Sad smile

Posted: Sep 28 2016, 21:27 by bob | Comments (0)
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How One Jerk Ruined MapMyFitness For Me

As you may have seen from several of my earlier posts, I'm a big fan of recreational road cycling. Over the past few years I have ridden thousands of miles, and I have blogged about several of the "Century Rides" in which I have participated. During the average month I love climbing on my bicycle and riding through the surrounding desert three or four times per week.

Earlier this year I had shoulder surgery, and cycling became an important part of my recovery program. When my doctor and physical therapist both said that it was okay for me to start riding again, I spent several painful weeks working through the shoulder pain and slowly increasing my mileage, but it was ultimately worth the effort.

That being said, I also like to track my rides on the MapMyFitness website, and over time a playful competition developed between myself and a few of the other riders on some of my favorite desert courses. I am too old to be a serious competitor, so I was always a few minutes behind the fastest riders. But I usually rode more often than a few of the other riders, and therefore I was able to earn enough points to maintain my standing.

mmfit_logo

However, earlier this year someone moved to town who - for some inexplicable reason - decided that he needed to cheat.

On the one hand, this makes no sense to me: the MapMyFitness website is supposed to be about tracking your health, so why anyone would want to cheat seems beyond my comprehension.

On the other hand, some people like to compete with each other, as I mentioned earlier about myself and a few others on the MapMyFitness website. And where there's competition, some people like to win - regardless of what it takes to do so.

All of this leads me back to the cheater. What this guy likes to do is ride several of the courses with several cycling GPS devices and upload the results from all of his devices to the MapMyFitness website. I wasn't aware of this before, but the MapMyFitness website is poorly-designed in such a way that it allows people to do this, so it doesn't bother to check if a person is uploading multiple rides for the same course at the same time. This seems like a pretty trivial thing to check, so it was amazing to me just how easy the MapMyFitness website made cheating possible.

Needless to say, once this guy started uploading his fraudulent ride data, it became impossible to compete with him. I usually rode one of my favorite courses twice each time that I rode, and this guy would ride the same course two or three times. But since he was uploading the data from three GPS devices, the MapMyFitness website was giving him credit for six or nine rides. At that point it didn't matter how many times that I rode each course - there was no way that my honesty would be able to keep up with his dishonesty.

Now you would think that the folks at MapMyFitness would care about this, so a few months ago I decided to bring this to their attention. Here's what I sent them:

I have been a member of MapMyFitness for several years now, and an MVP member for some time. To be honest, from a workout tracking perspective, MapMyFitness has a lot of stiff competition from Strava, Ride With GPS, Garmin, etc. There is one reason why I chose MapMyFitness over its competitors - and that is for the friendly competition with other members. Over the past couple years, a few members have competed with me for Guru and Sprint King on a few of the MapMyFitness courses, and the opportunity to challenge or be challenged by someone else has created fun and attainable goals for me to strive for. This has been especially beneficial for me recently because I spent the latter part of last year and the early part of this year recuperating from surgery due to a series of cycling accidents last year, and the challenge of competition got me back on my bicycle again. As I mentioned earlier, this spirit of competition is specifically the reason why I chose MapMyFitness over its competition, and why I became an MVP member.

However, over the past few weeks I have realized just how easy it is for someone else to cheat, and as a result it has become apparent that honest behavior on my part will never achieve the numbers that someone who is being deliberately deceitful can attain. While I realize that MapMyFitness cannot actively police all of the activities that its users post, I think some things are easy enough to detect. Consider the following workouts from one person in question:

GARMIN_EDGE_500 GARMIN_EDGE_800 GARMIN_FR920XT

It is readily apparent that this user is uploading the same workout from three different Garmin devices, so each time that he completes a course his numbers are multiplied by three. With that in mind, on days when he has completed some of the courses in our area more than once, his numbers are simply unattainable by anyone who doesn't resort to his methods of dishonesty. Following my surgery I can barely make it 20-25 miles before I have to quit for the day, so there is no way that I could ride the 90-100 miles that I would need to ride in order to overcome this person's deceit.

As I mentioned earlier, I realize that MapMyFitness is more or less on an 'Honor System' and it cannot actively police all of the activities which are uploaded, but it would be easy to detect this specific user's behavior by simply checking if any user is in a course more than once at the same time; when that happens, do not count one of the courses.

Unfortunately, I also realize that my complaint will likely fall on deaf ears, and as a result I will probably cease using MapMyFitness in the near future. Since the one feature for which I chose your service is apparently suffering from unchecked fraudulent behavior, I feel that am left with little alternative. Thankfully, as I mentioned earlier, there are other choices available to me.

To be honest, I did not expect a response, so I was surprised to hear back from them. However, the banal substance of their response was ultimately worse than hearing nothing:

Kyle (Help & Support)

Hi Robert,

Thank you for writing in about this.

We have a system in place for identifying users that circumvent the rules on both challenges and courses. Sometimes, these are missed and certain users are able to manipulate the system, but we actively monitor and check leaderboards and challenges for cheating. We appreciate you reporting this to us and I have passed this along to the appropriate team.

Cheating participants will not be awarded prizes.

Let me know if you have any additional questions or concerns

Thanks,
Kyle

It may sound like I'm being overly harsh to what seems like a polite response, but the truth is - the scammer rocketed to the top of the leaderboard on several courses, and MapMyFitness didn't do anything about it. The year is barely half over, and this fraudster has already amassed scores which cannot possibly be attained by anyone who refuses to stoop to his level of deception.

So I used to look forward to the friendly competition on the MapMyFitness website, but now that's something of an impossibility. No matter what any honest person does, they simply cannot compete with this schmuck. It's amazing how all it takes as one jerk to ruin something.

Posted: Aug 08 2016, 01:12 by bob | Comments (0)
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Politics, Plagiarism and the Press

To be honest, I could care less about the Trumps, or the Clintons for that matter. From my perspective, this is going to be a lousy election year. But that being said, the amount of attention that a single, stupid, and seemingly-insignificant speechwriter gaffe is generating in the press and social media these days is enough to make me want to hurl. (Although I will admit to finding #FamousMelianaTrumpQuotes pretty amusing; almost as much fun as #BrianWilliamsMisremembers.)

In case you've been living under a rock for the past 24 hours, the following article should catch you up on what happened at the Republican National Convention (RNC) yesterday; Melania Trump's speechwriter lifted a handful of phrases from a speech by Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) eight years ago:

The Melania Trump Plagiarism Scandal
https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2016/07/19/melania-trump-plagiarism-scandal/

The above article does a good job of pointing out just how much was copied, which amounts to around two paragraphs in which Melania Trump's speech was either substantially copied or paraphrased from Michelle Obama's speech. In my college days, if I had used the same level of copying or paraphrasing in a term paper without proper citation, the best-case scenario is that the entire paper would have been rejected, and the worst-case scenario is that I would have justifiably received an "F" in the class. However, as the above article points out, Melania Trump is not alone in the recent history of presidential campaign plagiarism.

To begin with, and what is most amusing to me, is that the same speech by Michelle Obama at the 2008 DNC leveraged a few phrases from Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals" book without proper attribution, although to be honest I think those few phrases were probably added by Michelle's husband since he was a big fan of Alinsky's work. (However, if someone wanted to be as obnoxious as everyone in the press is being today, one could make the argument that Melania Trump's plagiarism is simply carrying on a tradition of campaign speech misappropriation by potential First Ladies which was first established by Michelle Obama.)

Nevertheless, if the gaffe in Michelle Obama's speech was indeed the fault of her husband's, that would not be too surprising, as Barack Obama has often quoted other authors' works in the past without proper attribution. Here are just a few examples:

Obama by the Numbers: Twice-Told Tales, and Nine in a Row
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/19/AR2008021902342.html

Obama's State of the Union Was Tantamount to Plagiarism
http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/alvin-felzenberg/2011/01/26/obamas-state-of-the-union-was-tantamount-to-plagiarism

The Obama Plagiarism Scandal
https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2008/02/20/the-obama-plagiarism-scandal/

Bush speechwriter accuses Obama of plagiarism in State of the Union
https://www.yahoo.com/news/blogs/sideshow/bush-speechwriter-accuses-obama-of-plagiarism-in-state-of-the-union-143818874.html

You might be tempted to take the following video with a grain of salt based on its origin, but it does do a good job of showing the levels to which Barack Obama (or his speechwriters) will go when leveraging other people's speeches:

When Obama Plagiarized Speeches from Deval Patrick and John Edwards
http://youtu.be/H6pDCvXNVTE

And of course, I could go on about John McCain, Rand Paul, Ben Carson, and a host of others, but let us not forget Joe Biden, who seems to have made a career out of plagiarism. I love how Joe Biden not only stole material from other people - he actually stole other people's life stories and substituted them for his own. He also fabricated his academic records, and eventually his web of intentional deceit forced him to drop out of the 1988 presidential race. Of course, Biden went on to become the Vice President later, proving to future generations of politicians that outright plagiarism will not necessarily be the end of your career. Nevertheless, here are just a few articles about Biden's many transgressions:

The Write Stuff? Why Biden's plagiarism shouldn't be forgotten.
http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/history_lesson/2008/08/the_write_stuff.html

Biden Admits Errors and Criticizes Latest Report
http://www.nytimes.com/1987/09/22/us/biden-admits-errors-and-criticizes-latest-report.html

Biden Admits Plagiarism in School But Says It Was Not 'Malevolent'
http://www.nytimes.com/1987/09/18/us/biden-admits-plagiarism-in-school-but-says-it-was-not-malevolent.html

The Biden Plagiarism Scandal
https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2008/08/26/the-biden-plagiarism-scandal/

All of this is just to say, a lot of people in politics have plagiarized other people, and the frequency with which it occurs does not make it right. However, from where I am standing it seems as though the way in which today's press has latched onto this single incident with such venom while essentially giving a multitude of other offenders a free pass is more than a little lop-sided. I guess we can see which candidate the mainstream media has chosen, as they have done in the past.

To be honest, nothing in this mini-scandal is going to do anything to sway me any more against either candidate; at the moment, the following image seems like my best option. And just to make sure that I give credit where it is due, I am pointing out - for the record - that I plagiarized it from someone else.

Giant Meteor 2016

 

 

 


POSTSCRIPT: The following information was interesting, albeit somewhat outside the original scope of the blog, so I intentionally omitted it from my main narrative. However, I thought that it was worth adding to the end of this post. In an odd turn of events, Barack Obama has also been accused in the past of plagiarizing from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who in turn was guilty of plagiarizing other people:

Boston U. Panel Finds Plagiarism by Dr. King
http://www.nytimes.com/1991/10/11/us/boston-u-panel-finds-plagiarism-by-dr-king.html

So the saga of Melania Trump quoting Michelle Obama who quoted Saul Alinsky has a rich tradition in politics. Perhaps nothing is original anymore?

Open-mouthed smile

Posted: Jul 20 2016, 23:38 by bob | Comments (0)
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An Open Letter to LIVESTRONG

I have recently been unable to read any articles on the www.livestrong.com website, and as a result I sent their customer support staff the following letter:

Despite having been on your mailing list for years and thoroughly enjoying your articles, I am no longer able to use your website because of your poor website design and engineering decisions. Look, I get it - LIVESTRONG needs to make money, and to do so you charge for advertising. And I realize that in order to increase your advertising revenue, most of your "articles" are now "click-bait slideshows" which require your readers to click through multiple pages in order to read a single article.

The problem is, your website designers have built an extremely-fragile house of cards, so more often than not I can only get one or two pages into a "slideshow" before your website ceases to work; e.g. pages hang, display timeout errors, etc. Because I actually WANT to read your content, I will try other browsers and other computers, but the results are the always the same; after a couple of pages I get nothing else.

In some cases I think this is because your website is trying to popup a modal dialog to ask me to sign up for your newsletter, which I already receive, so this is annoying for multiple reasons; I hate being asked to sign up for something to which I am already subscribed, and I hate your website crashing while asking me to do something which I have already done.

As a result, I'll probably stop trying to read your content. Oh sure, I'm just one guy so it's no big deal to you, but here's food for thought: I'm willing to bet that other website users are facing these same frustrations, so you're really losing ALL OUR BUSINESS and not just my business. So please, for my sake and yours, FIX YOUR @#$% WEBSITE.


07/16/2016 - Update: LiveStrong appears to have fixed their problems. Yay! I can read articles again!

Posted: Jun 20 2016, 12:51 by bob | Comments (0)
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We Need Less, Not More Idiots

A friend of mine recently posted the following video from Jacob Appelbaum on Facebook:

"We Need More, Not Less Democracy"

I have a lot of problems with this video, and I would love to go through this speech line by line and address each ridiculous point that Appelbaum makes, but that would take more time than I have available. Granted, Appelbaum makes some valid points in this video; for example: "We will not bomb Syria [or any other country] into peace - at best we may bomb it into submission. Submission is not the same thing as peace." This is true, however - submission as an alternative to war is still a palatable solution for many people, but I digress.

That being said, when you set aside a few bright points, you quickly realize that for all his flowery rhetoric, Appelbaum is an idiot. For lots of reasons. Here are just a few.

Appelbaum is an idiot because he naively believes that spontaneous peace erupts in the vacuum that would exist if a war suddenly ceased. There are a million things wrong with that argument. First of all, Appelbaum's point of view presupposes that everyone wants the same things that he wants, whether that is "peace" or something else. However, Appelbaum is too shuttered behind his self-imposed exile of naïveté to realize that - even at the most-basic level - everyone has a different definitions of peace and security. This difference of opinion has led to wars in and of itself - here's a simple example: some people foolishly believe that peace means "no war" for everyone, but it doesn't. For some people the word "peace" means removing the possibility that there may ever be another war, which typically means disarming everyone. While universal disarmament sounds attractive, many people justifiably lack the faith to believe that peace will continue to exist, and therefore disarming means that they will be ill-prepared in the event of another war, which threatens their sense of security. Because of this all-too-realistic expectation, when one nation is told to disarm, they might choose to say "no." So what can the rest of the world do when faced with this situation? The remaining nations can choose to: 1) do nothing, in which case the world will have a heavily-armed nation which is waiting for the next dictator to gain power and start a shooting war, or 2) forcibly disarm that nation, which means that everyone is going back to war in order to promote peace. Yes - everyone laying down their arms forever would create "peace" by the textbook definition, but that peace will not last. Someone sooner or later will want something that someone else has, and no amount of socialism, or communism, or redistribution of wealth, or any other left-leaning solution will ever alleviate that fact. If we managed to somehow create a world in which everyone's essential needs were met - e.g. food, shelter, security, health - someone will still "covet their neighbor's wife." That is human nature. We should still strive to provide food, shelter, security, and health for everyone, but we need to provide these things under the full knowledge that no matter how equitable we try to divide whatever resources are available, everyone will always have a different definition for what is "fair." And that's how wars begin.

Appelbaum also fails to realize the logic (or illogic) of the adversary in this situation, which I will explain based on my years in the intelligence services. Nations of the west are perceived as "wrong" because they believe things that go against certain non-western points of view. A case in point is freedom of speech, and examples of how this difference is perceived has manifested itself in the acts of terrorism at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris and the art exhibition in Garland, Texas. In both of these cases, artists believed that it was their right to express themselves through their art, whereas other people believed that it was their right to kill these artists for expressing themselves through their art. (Yes, you can blame radicalized religion in this specific instance, but that doesn't matter - the same situation will present itself for dozens of other root causes which have nothing to do with art or religion.) However, in this specific situation, the attackers believed whole-heartedly that it was their right to open fire, because - from their perspective - the artists fired the first shots in this "conflict," and as such they were justified to retaliate against west. However, because the attackers genuinely believed that they were responding to provocation, the west is wrong if it chooses to retaliate. And if the west retaliates, the attackers are once again entitled to bomb, kill, maim, etc.

What Appelbaum is too naive to realize is that you cannot reason with enemies who believe that they have been attacked and therefore allowed to retaliate when you have not actually attacked them. Appelbaum foolishly believes that with enough diplomacy and "democracy," the opposition will magically realize the wisdom and logic of his arguments, but that's simply not the case. When Appelbaum says stupid things like, "We need more, not less democracy," he is clearly assuming that democracy is a gift which is wrapped up with a pretty bow and found under a religiously-appropriate form of ritualistic foliage at a certain time of year. Don't get me wrong, I'm very pro-democracy; but when some nation doesn't want a democracy, what is Appelbaum going to do about it? Force democracy on that nation? If so, then he's at war again. If a nation has a despot in power but the bulk of its people want a democracy, what is Appelbaum going to do about it? Encourage their rebellion? Train their rebels? Take sides when civil war erupts? If so, then we're looking at another political quagmire like the dozens of intrusive maelstroms in which the United States has been embroiled (or has created) all over the world. This is - once again - the trouble with idiots like Appelbaum; they believe that democracies happen spontaneously with no wars or loss of life, and that's just not the case. Revolutions are often protracted and painful; liberty comes at an extreme cost.

On a complementary point of view, Appelbaum is also an idiot because he genuinely believes that if everyone stopped fighting, the terrorists would suddenly stop acts of terrorism. This is a very, very foolish belief, and many a conquered civilization throughout the history of the world has believed that refusing to fight means the other side will stop fighting as well. That is NOT the way that human nature works; a potential adversary who also happens to be a pacifist is simply an easy target, and not a laudable peer. Martin Niemöller was a noted theologian and pacifist in the mid-twentieth century who adequately summed up the inevitable effects of pacificism when he wrote, "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me." Niemöller's comments were certainly meant to express his sense of self-condemnation for refusing to help out when he had the opportunity, but Niemöller's attitudes at the time were a direct result of a prevailing sense of anti-war pacificism which was sweeping across Europe prior to WWII. Many thousands of people at that time believed that peace at all costs was the only answer, and these people are directly responsible for the Nazis gaining power throughout Europe. Chief among these pacifists was Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister during the 1930s, who foolishly believed that if the world simply gave Hitler everything he wanted, (through a program called "appeasement"), then Hitler would eventually stop asking for more. Chamberlain's naïveté is equally as condemnable as Appelbaum's. (The latter of the two being a petty academician who has never actually had to face the prospect of war, and therefore he can safely pontificate about his unrealistic visions of the world from the security of what he thinks is an ivory tower, but it's really a house of cards.)

Another sheer indicator of Appelbaum's idiocy is his circular arguments about the failures of the world's intelligence services and the need to reduce the amount of government surveillance. Appelbaum is too stupid to realize that these are not exclusive concepts: if you want the world's intelligence services to succeed, that means you need more surveillance. If you want more privacy, that means the world's intelligence services will not succeed. Period. Note that this does not mean that I personally advocate more government surveillance; I am simply aware of the fact that intelligence services do not succeed where there is no data to analyze. To suggest reducing the amount of surveillance data while condemning the lack of intelligence results is a really stupid thing to do. But then again, considering that the source of this suggestion is Appelbaum then stupidity is a given by this point.

In the end, most of Appelbaum's arguments are circular, and he's too stupid to realize it. He has an admirable level of passion, but he obviously lacks the intellectual wherewithal to grasp the basic concept that the rest of the world does not see itself as he sees it. To restate what I said earlier, everyone has different definitions of what constitutes peace, security, fairness, equality, justice, etc. These are ideals, and we should certainly strive for them, but we need to do so with the full knowledge that there will always be wars, insecurity, inequality, injustice, etc.

Consider the following quote John Stuart Mill:

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth a war, is much worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice; a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice, is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need be, to do battle for the one against the other."

Ultimately, war is an evil concept envisaged by evil people, but conversely peace without consequence is most-often a stupid concept embraced by stupid people. War has it's place, and peace has its place; and sometimes you paradoxically need one to have the other.

Posted: Nov 29 2015, 17:07 by bob | Comments (0)
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