Category Archives: Opinion

MasterCard’s Truly Priceless Ad Campaign

(Originally posted on 2007-11-20 as /archives/118)

The 2007 Subprime Mortgage Financial Crisis is well underway, and what does MasterCard do?  Present me with an ad about using a credit card to get busy with some big-time housing market speculation (see a cobbled-together version of it below).  Priceless.

house

To be sure I don’t see many enemies there.  The market is non-evil.  It just is.  Real Estate has always been a very risky business.  Why?  …because buildings aren’t liquid capital, and houses eat up a large part of one’s income, so one isn’t diversified when one buys a house.  What do I call a non-liquid, non-diverse investment?  I call it a gamble.  Still, if you really want to live in that house, and that house is for sale, then you will need to buy it.

Me?  I tend to prefer to go the Coliag route, which is to rent, while putting the difference between what I pay for rent and what I would have paid for a house into diversified funds.  Coliag (not his actual name) did so well this way that he was buying things like cars, computers, and photographic equipment with cash… before the age of 44, and he stilled had a great retirement stash.  The man was frugal and it paid-off, plus he didn’t need to worry about mowing the lawn.

Yes, some folks have done really well buying and selling their houses, but guess what?  It’s still a gamble, and the baby boom that drove the long-term-run-up is over.

My first house purchase was in Plano Texas… just North of Richardson’s Telecom Corridor…  just before the Dot-bomb-bubble-burst.  IT is a luxury, and spending on luxuries slows down when the overall economy slows down. Yes, I know, “But computer jobs are important.” …but they are not. If I run a foundry that makes car parts, and business is slow, then do you think that I am going to buy more aluminum, or complete my new HR IT project? That’s the real story of the dot-bomb implosion. The media focussed on the failing dotcoms, but that didn’t account for most of the layoffs. We had too many computer programmers, working on too many projects, at too many companies, that were still needing to “buy their aluminum”. In a slowdown-like-that the luxuries go first. My industry went first.

I survived one-layoff-per-quarter for 5 years at two different companies, but when I finally was “affected” it was certainly not within my control: the company that I worked-for went from around 2500 workers to less-than 250 during my period with them.  No-one is safe when the cuts run that deep.  Folks said, “Why aren’t you looking for another job?” and then looked at me like I was some kind of freaky alien when I said: “There aren’t many available jobs for what I do, so I am going to focus on doing the best job that I can at my current position.”

  1. I lost my job, and most people that do-what-I-do were already flooding the job market.  I could no longer afford my house, because I had too-little work (I never completely stopped working).
  2. My foreign national neighbors, most of whom were great engineers, were forced to go home, when they also lost their jobs, and couldn’t afford to pay Dallas Texas real estate prices, and also live in India, or wherever, so many of them were forced into foreclosure.  This drove down the value of my house.  So I couldn’t afford to sell it.
  3. I could not afford to rent-out my house, because any potential renters could simply buy my neighbors’ houses for peanuts.  I was very dissapointed with  NPR‘s recent article about renting-out your house if you can’t sell it.  The interviewie had a good experience doing that… when the market was hot… and the article implied that y’all will have the same experience now.  It’s just not so.
  4. The housing market in my area-of-town completely crashed as developers put their new houses on the market, because these builders were also competing with the foreclosures.  Spec builders make building decisions based on yesterday’s demand: where “yesterday” was around five years ago, but the housing market moves up-and-down much faster than that.  (This is is the type of thing that makes it tough to sell a house in Phoenix these days.)  Plus, new houses are luxuries, and “spending on luxuries slows down when the overall economy slows down.” <– I just quoted myself!  (Why 5 years?  They need roads, and sewers, and utilities, and government approvals, and so on.)
  5. …then my car got totalled.
  6. …my spouse divorced me (actually that happened before the layoff).
  7. …my arthritis got worse.
  8. …and someone kicked my dog.  No, I just made that part up.  I didn’t have a dog.

How much did I lose by “owning” that house for three years?  It cost me $100,000 more (two closings, two residences, and a 30,000 loss in value) than I would have paid for renting one apartment, but hey, my (former) spouse wanted that house, so we bought it.  I now had no job, no family, and no savings.  Swell.

My plan was to work as much as possible, while spending my free time either looking for better work, or riding my motorcycle to Wendy’s for that great dollar menu.  Really.

I followed every lead.  I went to a Diversity Job Fair like this one (because how diverse would it really be without at least one white male?  That’s a joke.  Actually, it was because I was going to every job fair.)

So I go to the hotel that’s hosting the job fair, and they have 30-or-so companies arrayed around a large conference room.  Two of those companies were tech companies.  Hundreds of people were in line to speak to those two companies.  One of the companies was looking for Math folks with top-secret government clearance to work on a flight simulator or something (not a good fit for me), and the other one wasn’t taking resumes.  They simply asked every person to go to their Web site.  Well…  Well, why not talk to everyone else?

The Wal-Mart recruiter that was there explained to me that she was hiring night stockers for the Christmas rush, and I told her that I loved doing night stocking when I worked in retail, plus that I would really like to move to Bentonville Arkansas to work for the IT department there.  She told me that she would take my resume back to Arkansas.  I assumed that it would just be tossed.  It wasn’t.

Wal-Mart called me up.  I had a few interviews.  They asked me to fix something that couldn’t be fixed in the way that they wanted it to be fixed (this “something” happened to be listed on my resume). I told them what could, and couldn’t be accomplished.  I have integrity, so I was clear about the situation.

During one of the interviews Jeff (the manager) spins around in his seat and types “W. Paul Caligiuri” (my old name) into Google and finds the Web site that I set up to sell my house.  He laughs and says: “Did you put this up yesterday in order to impress us about how confident you are about this job?” or something like that.  “Well… No.”  I didn’t explain that the Web site had been up for years.  Bentonville Arkansas had a booming economy.  So that’s how I ended up in Arkansas: the best motorcycling-place in the US of A.

I had to pay for the Texas house for 1.5 years of my stay in Arkansas.  It was simply that hard to sell.  I would go down there every other weekend, and work on it.

I suspect that lots of folks are being burned by the mortgage crisis, but that we only hear about the fringe cases, because the fringe cases make for better stories (just like in the dot-bomb days).  Also, Real Estate is:

  • Not-liquid
  • Not-diverse
  • A gamble
  • …and a luxury, and “spending on luxuries slows down when the overall economy slows down.” <– I just quoted myself!

Oh, and the MasterCard ad was a really bad idea on someone’s part.

There’s lots of bad ads out there.  They don’t get made “because they work”, they get made because advertising firms know more about selling their own services, than they know about selling their client’s products.

THE END

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Countersteering

(Originally posted on 2008-03-04 as /archives/160)

This simulator could have been awesome, but the steering works backwards! BACKWARDS!

Someone asked me, “Are you using countersteering?” at my last track day, and I didn’t know how to answer that question. I thought, “Is there any way that I could not be countersteering at these speeds?”  Countersteering occurs when the rider of a single-track vehicle (bicycle or motorcycle) pushes on the right side of the handlebar to turn right, and pushes on the left side of the handlebar to turn left.  By pushing on the same side, the rider is “turning” the handlebars the opposite way.  With cars you steer right to go right, but with bikes you steer left to go right.

OK, so you might be thinking, “I don’t do that! I lean!”, but you are doing that.  Imagine this: a bicycle rider holds her arms out straight.  She needs to turn right, so she leans to the right.  What’s happening here?  As she moves her weight to the right her right arm begins to push the right side of the handlebars out farther than the left: she is now countersteering.  Countersteering has more to do with initiating the turn than the leaning itself does.  You might have to sit on a bike and actually try this out to be able to picture it.  Do it in an exaggerated fashion, lock your arms, and watch the handlebars as you lean.

Motorcycle instruction usually includes discussion on countersteering because the locking-of-the-arms-thing greatly slows down steering.  Sometimes the effect on steering is so bad that riders ride right off the road when they tense up.  If the rider can learn to loosen her arms, and consciously push on the opposite side of the handlebar, then she will turn much quicker.

I literally practice holding the bars loosely when I ride my wife’s cruiser.  I take each hand off the handlebars one at a time (it has a throttle lock).  I practice bending my arms.  Etc.  This can actually help in all kinds of conditions.  That instability that occurs next to a truck?  It’s less troublesome if you hold the bars lightly.  When you push back against the shaking of the bars, your pushes lag behind the bars movement slightly.  Your periodic pushing summates with the periodic movement of the bars increasing the shaking.  Really.

So, how does this all work?  Countersteering initiates the lean by using the bike’s momentum to pull it over.  Imagine the momentum that you feel when a car turns.  When you turn to the left the momentum makes you feel like you are being pushed slightly to the right in your seat: correct?  This is the same with a two wheeled vehicle.  Turning left simultaneously causes momentum to push your vehicle to lean to the right (like an upside-down pendulum).  The bike then turns in the direction that it is leaning.  It’s that simple.  Really.  I didn’t understand this for a long time, because I was told that the affect was caused by gyroscopic precession, and for sure, that occurs, but it doesn’t cause bikes to turn.  Anyway I am sitting there watching a Kieth Code video, and he explains it.  He only spent a few seconds on the subject, but it made the whole thing clear.

Here is the Wikipedia entry for countersteering. The very top says “For the similar technique used in automobiles, see opposite lock.”  Please ignore that first statement.  The technique described there is about pointing your car’s wheels in the direction that you want the car to move, even if your car’s body is stepped-out.  This automotive technique is not remotely like the motorcycle technique, even though Doc Hudson says otherwise.

Before I tell you about this next part I want to make something very clear: I very much appreciate MSF instruction.  Without the MSF I wouldn’t be riding.  I would have no idea how to get started.

I took the MSF Basic RiderCourse twice.  In 2007 I took it near Topeka Kansas (where I earned 100% on both tests), and in 2003 I took it in Plano Texas.  While in Plano one of the RiderCoaches told us some things about countersteering that weren’t exactly correct.  I don’t know if any of those things are part of the official curriculum, but I want to quickly cover them, just in case you are told something similar.

  • She told us about countersteering, and that it is caused by gyroscopic precession occurring at a 90-degree angle, but she didn’t tell us what plane the 90-degrees was measured from.  This Web site has a good example of what she was talking about. This is all true, but that force doesn’t cause countersteering to work.  In fact gyroscopic precession makes turning more difficult.  Robby Kasten proved that with his wonderful reverse rotating rotors invention.
  • She had us sit on motorcycles that were standing still and told us to turn our bars and feel the motorcycle fall in the other direction, while using our legs to not let it fall all the way.  About 50% of the time my motorcycle fell in the same direction.  Of course it did.  Countersteering doesn’t work while standing still: gyroscopic, momentum, or otherwise.  A motorcycle should never be used as a Ouija board!  To be sure the RiderCoach in Kansas had us do the same exercise, but he made it clear that we were to make the bike lean ourselves by using our legs and imagine that the handlebar turning caused it.
  • She told us to watch the other RiderCoach’s front wheel, and to see how it was facing the opposite way while he was riding around.  I couldn’t see this, and I said so, and the reason that I couldn’t see it is that it just wasn’t so.  The front wheel doesn’t go the opposite way once you are leaned over.  (The speedway/flat track thing is something slightly different.  It works more like the automobile-reverse-lock technique once the bike is leaned over.)
  • She told us that countersteering doesn’t work under 13 MPH. This is not true. What is true is that there is another, much-safer, turning-technique that involves turning the handlebars in the direction of the turn, weighting the outside peg, and using your own body to lean the bike. That doesn’t mean that countersteering won’t work. It just means that you are capable of exerting enough-force to overcome-it at those slower-speeds. Here is a video that proves that countersteering works at-all-speeds, and on-all single-track-vehicles (motorcycles, scooters, bicycles, etc.)

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Are emergency rooms really that big a drag on the medical system?

(Originally posted in 2009 as /archives/2634)

By Thierry Geoffroy (Thierry Geoffroy) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

My how things have changed since I wrote this essay in 2009. Governor Romney pandered to the voters in the 2012 Presidential Election—by continuously insulted the President of the United States for adopting a national health care plan—that is almost exactly like Governor Romney’s plan for Massachusetts. Massachusetts’ plan works, and Romney knows it; that’s why he signed-it, and that’s why the United States adopted it.

Our country has adopted Governor Romney’s and Massachusetts’ health care plan, and Governor Romney pandered to the Republican voters by insulting the

This is a new version of my contributions to Are emergency rooms really that big a drag on the medical system? on The Straight Dope board (A message board for fans of The Straight Dope).  I highly recommend The Straight Dope.   If your favorite newspaper doesn’t carry it, then go here. Everyone knows Snopes.com. The Straight Dope has a different purpose, but it is Snopes equal in the fight against ignorance.

Emergency rooms shouldn’t be free, but they must help everyone, and some never pay the bill. If a patient doesn’t pay her bill, then who ends up paying it? The hospital does at first, but ultimately we all do. As Shodan said, “If you are mandated to treat everyone whether they can pay or not, you have to charge those who pay more to cover for those who don’t.” We now have a national health care system without a detailed policy for those that cannot pay. The patients, the insurance companies, and the Physicians have little means of controlling those costs.

I was in poverty for many years. I am certainly not against care for the poor. Being “against” national health care is meaningless. We have had it for some time (whether we are talking about Medicaid, Medicare, or yes, those that simply don’t pay). The question is whether we want control over what is happening, or not, and “not” is just bad business.

How bad is the problem? Go here to read Malcolm Gladwell’s Million Dollar Murray. Here is a teaser quote: “Culhane estimates that in New York at least sixty-two million dollars was being spent annually to shelter just those twenty-five hundred hard-core homeless.”

Being against national health care is unreasonable. We have it, we just do it really badly. Lets stop doing it badly.

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Target Shooting: Members Only? All Are Welcome.

(Originally posted on 2015-11-15 as /archives/10597)

NRAI was on a shooting team with Brian Kubricky. The NRA included Brian in one of their advertisements. I was there when they took Brian’s photo for the ad, so I want a copy. The only copy that I could find online was this little photo that Dr. David Serlin included in his “Members Only” essay for thefeministwire.com. Members only? Punny.

In it he talks about how “preserving the status of heternormative masculinity – is one of the more familiar tropes of industrial modernity” and stuff. I think that he believes that gays, disabled people, and women, are only welcome in certain sports if they can look manly while holding a enormous rifle in front of a lake. Nothing could be farther from the truth in the case of this particular sport.

You should probably go read his essay first. [Jeopardy theme plays in background.] OK? All done? Here goes:

I sent an email to Dr Serlin with my thoughts below. He sent a very nice reply. I won’t quote it here, because it’s not appropriate to quote another person’s email publicly.

Dr Serlin also sent a hi-res copy of the ad.

EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES

Brian Kubricky and Beth B. were two of our top shooters. Their scores were some of the highest in the United States. The sport is inclusive: men, women, wheelchairs, or not: we were all equals.

Beth wasn’t in the ad campaign, but as Dr. Serlin mentioned, it did include another woman. It’s a sport that had equal opportunities for women, and disabled people, before Title IX.

MASCULINITY?

Your job is to slow your breathing, and slow your heart. You shoot between breaths (at first), and between heartbeats (as you get better). You must completely relax under pressure. It’s the least violent sport that I know of: even bowling involves throwing something. This does not.

I used meditation to improve my scores.

There are shooting sports that simulate tactical situations, and there are shooting sports that simulate hunting (such as skeet), but this isn’t one of them. There is nothing particularly masculine about it.

The photographer took the photo in the high school basement. It’s an indoor sport, but that’s the best background that the photographer had on hand. Brian wore the clothes that he wore. The symbolism wasn’t intentional

ENORMOUS RIFLE?

The rifle looks big because it’s designed to be stable. It’s only a .22 caliber: one of the smallest. It has soft recoil (no kick). The competition involves shooting pieces of paper at 50 feet. It’s challenging, because the center of the target is the size of a pencil eraser. I didn’t realize that the rifles look big until [Dr Serlin mentioned it.]

HERE’S ANOTHER WOMAN

Here’s a video about shooter Amanda Furrer. Her sport is a has a different distance, and more shots, but otherwise is very similar to what we did:

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CTOE Live @ JP Bruno’s 4/22/2016 Full Set

(Original Posting Date: 2016-05-01)

Steve Newton has been sharing New York Capital Region music with me. I will post some of the best examples here.

CTOE describe themselves as metal. They’re chunky late-80s-early-90s metal: like back when the difference between hardcore and metal was hair length, and everyone mixed styles. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Wow, I just realized what CTOE means, and it’s not Common Topographic Operating Environment, nor is it Centro de Tropas de Operações Especiais. I can’t understand what those guys are singing about, but it’s certainly not obscure military acronyms.

Here’s more than one hour of music worth listening to:

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How Enterprise Software Is Sold, and Delivered, Today

(Originally posted on 2008-11-23 as /archives/1557)

Computer systems: By Agiorgio (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
I see-and-read way too many presentations that both start with doom-and-gloom, and then overstate the case that the author wants to make. This seems to be the only way that software consultants know how to begin a presentation: “Information is getting harder and harder to manage.” No its not. “Software is getting harder and harder to write.” No its not. “The sky is falling!” Actually, no its not.

“Our software will help you manage your Enterprise.”

Or your software will cause headaches and heartaches for countless people.

Your future client will read reports by an “independent” technology research firm. Then she will hire a consultant, and ask that consultant to write an evaluation of all of the available enterprise software applications for a given need. (Here is what Doug Savage has to say about this. Cluck, Cluck, Bawk!)

The consultant will produce a large report that says exactly what the independent technology and research firms say, in spite of the fact that neither said consultant, nor any employee of the research firms have any practical experience with the enterprise software in question.

Here is why:

  1. There are only a couple of large independent technology research firms. They don’t have the resources to become experts with every product, so they do their research by meeting with the vendors and viewing their presentations.
  2. This gives the product vendors incredible leverage. That’s why you can look at the descriptions of three completely different products where one started as a document repository, another started as a code versioning system, and another started as a Web UI toolkit. These products’ architectures have little in common, yet they are all called Enterprise Content Management Systems, and they all have the same listed features. Those feature lists are written to satisfy the independent technology research firms’ evaluations, and really tell you little about a given products’ actual capabilities.
  3. CIOs and other executives subscibe to, and read, those independent technology research firms’ evaluations.
  4. Then those executives hire the consultants. They ask for the consultants evaluations, but they really are looking to validate what they already believe. Consultants quickly figure this out after hearing “But [Insert-Name-Here] Research said” a couple of times. The consultants learn to mimic what the independent technology research firms say, in spite of the fact that the original research is based on little more than writers watching PowerPoint presentations.
  • Here is a universal piece of advice: never buy anything unless you get to prototype with it before you write a check.

Your future client will then ask the consultant to write a request for proposal (RFP) to send out for bids. That consultant will write the RFP in such a way that only his company can fill all of the “requirements” in time.

You will charge your client $1.5 Million. You will first ask for more, and after weeks of negotiations you will convince your client that you can go no lower than 1.5 Million, and that nobody gets your software for less, meanwhile all of your clients are actually paying 1.5 Million, plus training, plus development, plus support, plus travel, and the pluses just keep on coming.

  • I worked with one product at three different companies. Each of the company’s managers told me something like, “They normally charge X, but we got them down to 1.5 Million instead, because they really want our business. They won’t do that for anyone else.” Oh. Really.

Your client will spend many times the expected amount on employees and consultants. These people’s job will be to manage the mess that you create, and you client will have to live with that mess, lest she admit that she wasted millions on your “Enterprise” software.

You will convince your client that the mess was actually caused by her incompetent employees, in spite of the fact that her employees are actually proud, hardworking, well trained, and intelligent. You will then provide high-priced consultants to replace your client’s employees.

  • What else can they do? In some cases the enterprise software vendor’s management team is in survival mode, and will continue passing-the-blame-to-their-customer until they have a mature product.
  • In some cases, they may truly not know that their product doesn’t work, because the support team is filtering-out the bad news. This happens when you measure support success by how quickly problems get solved. The tickets get closed quickly, but the root problems rarely get solved, because that takes too long.
  • Either way the vendor has no incentive to admit that their software is actually not stable.
  • I once worked for a consultancy that was helping an energy company implement a new content management system (CMS), and the CMS vendor’s chief technologist simply repeated, “You have the DTD. That’s all you need” over-and-over again in front of the client. What we were asking for was the proprietary query language’s (non-SQL) documentation. Imagine if you had to learn a language with nothing but a description of the noun-verb-noun syntax. No dictionary. No thesaurus. No books. No teacher. No examples. Nothing. That product was not ready to be sold, and the chief technologist was able to seed doubts about us  simply by saying, “You have the DTD. That’s all you need” over-and-over again. That product was highly recommended by the two large independent technology and research firms.

Your client will put up with this “gladly”, because how else is she going to explain why she wasted so much money on your “Enterprise” software, when there was actually something better out there for free such as:

If you are going to write enterprise software, then start out by solving the hard problems, because the easy problems are already easy. I don’t know how many vendors told me, “We can do session management!” So? Anyone that knows what a Static Class and a Hashtable is can write a session manager in an afternoon. “Our sessions can survive a reboot!” OK, anyone that knows what a Static Class is, and also knows how to embed a relational database can create a session manager with sessions that survive a reboot. Solve the hard problems for me.

Before “SOA” made integration “easy” it was “N-tiered”, before that it was “RAD”, before that it was “CORBA”, before that it was “OOP”, before that it was “SQL”. Then there were all of the “Managements”: “Document Management”, “Content Management”, “Service Management”, etc. Obviously a couple of these technologies matured to the point where they helped enormously, and others didn’t. Either way integration will never be easy.

Project management, and software engineering are incredibly difficult, and that’s what makes this work interesting. If it were easy, then there would be no way to get me sitting in front of a computer screen for so long. Doing this stuff well is a true reward.

I have been meaning to write this essay for years, but I never bothered, because I didn’t believe that anyone would read it; it would be lost in a sea of more exciting tech news. The truth is that it caused a spike-in-viewing during what is traditionally a slow-day here.

Then there is the worry that a potential employer would see this world-view as negative.

Ironically it was an anthropologist’s (Dr. Michael Wesch) video that inspired me to finally write the essay. To see many of the real advances in the Web-realm presented in a few minutes, made clear many of the non-advances. The video’s name: “Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us” sounds provocative, but the video looks optimistic to me. I suspect that different people see a completely different message in this video depending on their background, and that’s cool too.

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Too Much Stuff In A Car Story

(Originally posted on 2007-07-04  as /archives/38)

During my freshman year (1986) I lived in Hood Hall (under my old name: W. Paul Caligiuri). Some other guys that lived there would circle the place for hours in an old white convertible. I think it was a 1959 Cadillac deVille.  When it was time for a dorm picture, the driver drove the car over, and offered for us all to get in it, and on it, in the tradition of how-many-people-can-you-fit-in-a-phone-booth? Folks opened the doors afterwards, but they wouldn’t close.  For a few seconds people were trying to figure out what was wrong when I loudly said, “That thing is shaped like a ‘U’!”  Needless to say we never saw that car again.

Why this image? I like it. It’s a wrecked car. No, it’s not the one in the story. John Allan [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Under God

(Originally posted on 2007-10-07 as /archives/110)

By daveynin from United States (Pledge of Allegiance plaque) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Many people don’t realize that the pledge was originally inclusive of all beliefs.  Here it is:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Kay sent me a link to Jon Meacham’s New York Times editorial: A Nation of Christians Is Not a Christian Nation.  Jon is the Editor of Newsweek, which has become very open to discussions about faith under his watch, and the author of American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation.  Here is Jon’s Newsweek article about the subject: God and the Founders.

Here is a quote from Anna Quindlen’s: Indivisible? Wanna Bet?

So let’s go to the history books, as citizens of this country so seldom do.  The Pledge of Allegiance started in 1892 as a set piece in a magazine, nothing more, nothing less.  It was written by a man named Francis Bellamy in honor of Columbus Day, a holiday that scarcely exists anymore except in terms of department-store sales and parades.  The words “under God” were nowhere in it, hardly surprising since Bellamy had been squeezed out of his own church the year before because of his socialist leanings.  His granddaughter said he would have hated the addition of the words “under God” to a statement he envisioned uniting a country divided by race, class and, of course, religion.

Those two words went into the pledge nearly 50 years ago, and for the most deplorable reason.  It was the height of the Red scare in America, when the lives of those aligned or merely flirting with the Communist Party were destroyed by paranoia, a twisted strain of uber-patriotism and the machinations of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, after whom an entire vein of baseless persecution is now named.  Contrary to the current political argument that “under God” is not specifically devout, the push to put it in the pledge was mounted by the Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic men’s organization, as an attempt to counter “godless communism.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill making this law, saying that the words would help us to “remain humble.”

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Don’t eat burning matches. Do join The Rolling Stones.

My science teacher once accused me of trying to steal magnesium. He told us to cut off a piece, and then said that I was cutting off too much, and I must be trying to steal it.

Well, I cut off _exactly_ how much he told me too. I asked, “Why would I steal it?” He said, “Well it burns good.” Riiiiiiight. And I would know this how? There was no YouTube in 1984.

Well, it only took me about 20 years to realise that this conversion had nothing to do with magnesium, and everything to do with what another teacher was saying about me. I am slow when it comes to relationship stuff.

The magnesium-loving teacher had been my rifle team coach for years, but by this time he had completely written me off, and for good reason. I was nearly incapable of keeping friends, and I had quit varsity shooting to play in a rock and roll band.

The shooting could have easily won me a full scholarship, (if I had good grades, and was accepted by a school with a shooting team, neither of which happened). I was really good. Good enough that nobody on any competing team ever outscored me (I was really only competing with my own team, which was one of the best in the country.)

What did rock and roll earn me? Some talent-show battle of the bands failures, and the ability to perform at open mic night. (Meanwhile some of my teenage friends here on Facebook became successful, professional, musicians.)

Later on that period, I entertained that science teacher with my burning match trick, where I eat… a burning match. There’s not much of a trick to it, I simply eat a burning match (who needs magnesium to entertain? Not I.)

(Kidz DO NOT TRY TO EAT A FRICKIN’ BURNING MATCH, I have seen this not end well for people that thought they knew how I did the trick. Don’t do it. Don’t steal magnesium. Don’t burn magnesium, and don’t join a rock and roll band, unless they are The Rolling Stones. You can always join The Rolling Stones.)