Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Escaping the Herd's Bacon-Wrapped Turkey Recipe

With all the bad s**t going down in Ferguson, I think a lighter post is needed to help balance me out.  So with that in mind, I present my Bacon-Wrapped Turkey recipe.  It's a variation on an existing recipe I found somewhere online years ago, but over time I've added to and modified it so much it's practically it's own recipe now.

  • 1 Turkey, 14-22 pounds (I tend towards the 20+ pound birds because I cook for two families)
  • 2 pounds of bacon, uncooked (if you have a smaller bird you may only need half that)
  • 5 or so apples, chopped in medium-large chunks
  • 2 onions, also chopped in medium-large chunks
  • 5 or 6 stalks of celery, chopped in 3-4 inch chunks
  • 1 bulb of garlic, all cloves separated and peeled
  • 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (what the hell, regular olive oil works fine too)
  • Sage, 1 small bunch chopped (if you don’t have fresh sage, dried sage is an ok substitute)
  • Kosher Salt & Pepper, whatever you feel is a modest amount
  • Wooden Toothpicks

  1. Heat the oven to about 400 F.
  2. Take out the giblets bag and neck, rinse the turkey with lukewarm water (or cold water if it will be a little while until you put the bird in the oven), and dry with a paper towel.  Put the bird in the roasting pan
  3. Mix the olive oil, chopped sage, and salt & pepper in a small bowl.  Then give that bird a good rubdown of that mixture on the outside and then the inside of the turkey cavity.  I usually leave any of that extra fat and skin around the cavity on the bird so it can add to the drippings (fat adds to the flavor).
  4. Stuff that bird full of the chopped apples, onion, garlic cloves, and celery.  Any remainder that won’t fit inside you can put on the bottom of the pan under the turkey where it will cook and mix with the drippings.  Tie up the turkey’s legs/drumsticks together with twine, or that turkey leg-cuffs metal doohickey that sometimes comes with the bird.  The turkey should be breast-side up, with the wings tucked underneath the turkey.
  5. Drape the bacon slices across the turkey.  I lay the bacon strips more or less in a parallel fashion, but I’ve seen other recipes where they lay the bacon criss-cross fashion on the bird.  I’m sure either way works equally well, so feel free to go nuts and do what feels right.  I try to concentrate more of the bacon around the breast of the bird, but wrap the bacon around the legs, wings and sides of the bird too, using the wooden toothpicks to secure it as necessary.  Basically try to cover the whole bird except for the parts resting on the roasting pan rack.
  6. Put your meat thermometer in the inner thigh (that sounds like something Family Guy's Quagmire would say).  It should be good and deep in the inner thigh, but shouldn’t be touching bone.
  7. Cover the bird loosely with aluminum foil, so loosely that it barely touches only a few parts of the turkey.  You can leave a little space so you can see the thermometer, but since the foil won’t be on the whole time it’s not really an issue.
  8. Put the turkey in the oven, and then lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.  Now I don’t baste my turkeys and they turn out great, but if you want to do it feel free.  I just think it’s better to maintain a more constant temperature in the oven, that’s all.  As for cooking time, the 20-21 pound birds I get usually are done in a little bit more than 4 hours, but there are many cooking time charts like this one ( where you can get a reasonable estimate based on your bird's weight.  These times are just guidelines though, and it's the internal temperature that will tell you when it's done.
  9. I take the foil cover off about 2/3 of the way through the anticipated cooking time (about an hour and a half before the estimated cooking time ends).  This is just so the turkey and the bacon can get some color.  If the bacon or turkey skin already looks pretty dark, keep the foil on longer.
  10. When both the thigh meat and the breast meat reaches about 160 degrees Fahrenheit, take it out of the oven and put it on a platter or grooved cutting board that won't let the juices leak over the side.  Take that foil you removed earlier and loosely cover the turkey with it, and let it sit for 20-30 minutes while you make the gravy or attend to any other cooking tasks that need doing.  The internal temperature will continue to rise well above the 165 degree threshold of safety.  Meanwhile you can use the pan drippings to make your gravy.  
  11. Take the apples, vegetables, and garlic out of the turkey cavity.  In the past I've tended to just throw them in the garbage because of uncertainty about insufficiently cooked turkey juices, but this year I think I'll try to simmer them and strain out the liquid for use in the gravy. 
  12. Remove the bacon and the toothpicks.  The bacon will be really crispy, almost crumbly in texture.  I usually use the crumbled up bits to mix into the mashed potatoes, and put the rest on the side of the turkey for people to snack on as they like.  Prepare to see some competition for who gets the pieces of turkey skin, because that bacon grease just does something wonderful to the taste of it.

And that is pretty much that.  Being immigrants, my wife and in-laws didn't grow up with the Thanksgiving holiday and so they see this whole turkey cooking business as rather intimidating, but as you can see it's really quite easy.  They don't believe me when I say how easy it is, but I don't argue the point too much.  After all, I get to stay in the kitchen and read a book or play games on the tablet while THEY have to watch the kids.  Oh yes, poor little me....   :-)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Link of the Week

“The world is always ending for someone.”
― Neil Gaiman, Signal to Noise

This Link of the Week is a podcast I thought might be of interest to those who are concerned about the fragile nature of our economy, society, and lifestyles, but are put off by the ‘Doomsday’ association to anything related to “preppers”.  The podcast that follows is a very common sense breakdown of what’s really important, what’s much less important (even though we sometimes think otherwise), and some of the basic measures that are the most practical for us people who are NOT obsessed with bugging out to the wilderness to fight the rampaging hordes of Mutant Zombie Bikers….

Friday, November 21, 2014

Random Musing on a Movie "What If" Scenario

(Because not every post has to be super serious...)

I recently watched the movie "Predator 2" again, which I had last seen probably 15 years ago.  And one thing struck me this time, and I wonder if anyone else had this notion: other than causing the death of one of the alien Predators, the cop Harrigan (played by Danny Glover) and his team didn't affect the overall outcome for the better.  In fact, I think his involvement actually ended up causing more harm than good.  Let me explain.

So in the beginning after Harrigan and the cops find most of the Colombian Scorpion drug gang dead at the beginning of the movie, we find out from his conversation with his chief he was supposed to stay out of the building.  And after that, he was told to stay out of the penthouse where the Jamaican gang was slaughtered.  So what would have likely happened if he had actually obeyed orders, at least when it came to the penthouse? 

The alien Predator most likely would have left the cops alone, as its active interest in them appeared to have begun when they poked around in the penthouse.  With so many more active threats worth hunting like the rest of the drug gangs, it seems unlikely it would have bothered with the cops if they hadn't kept trying to investigate the Predator's activities.  So Harrigan's team would have likely all lived, and that scene in the subway probably wouldn't have happened since it was only the Predator's later interest in them that brought him to the subway in the first place.  Therefor all those armed subway commuters would still be alive, or at least SOME of them assuming there might have been a minor shootout anyway between the commuters and the street punks trying to rob that one commuter.  The Feds would still probably try to capture the Predator in the meat warehouse, presumably with the same tragic results for the government's capture team (in the movie Harrigan was not in the warehouse until practically all the team was dead, so his total absence probably wouldn't have affected that outcome).  The Predator would have likely then escaped the warehouse and the Feds.  Assuming the Predator is at least as intelligent as we are, and most likely significantly more intelligent, it would recognize the capture team as part of a larger coordinated operation by the resident authorities.  The most logical course of action would be to pick up stakes and leave, as its "hunting" would continue to be interfered with and there would be at least some possibility that it might be captured.

So if the protagonist had let the matter drop, the government team would still be dead and the Predator ship would still have escaped, but no cops or commuters would have been slaughtered by the Predator.  If anything, the Predator would have killed even more violent criminals and drug dealers if it hadn't been preoccupied with Harrigan and his team.  Harrigan didn't manage to save any lives, and the ONLY thing in the movie he changed for the better was killing ONE alien Predator.  But even that's of questionable benefit.  At the end of the movie Harrigan himself said he figured that the aliens would be coming back, so what difference did killing one really make in the grand scheme of things?  Perhaps the government ended up retrieving a few bits of their technology... the severed hand with part of the Predator's (now nonfunctional) wristband, its spear, and the dart found in the penthouse... but that's small potatoes.  The forensics doctor admitted that none of the materials in the dart corresponded to known elements (absurd I know but it's their story so I'll take it at face value), so material science couldn't advance much if they couldn't even identify what the alloys were made of much less how they were combined.  And it would be extremely difficult at best to reverse engineer much of use from a piece of an alien wrist-computer and a spear that, despite its alien nature, is pretty basic and non-complicated in what it does.

Anyway that's just my thought.  No moral or grand lesson here, just a random bit of 'what-if' fun.  Well maybe there's one takeaway from it... I could accept Harrigan's decision to barge in to the penthouse if he had a logical reason for disobeying orders.  But the way it plays out, it appears he does it out of stubbornness, territoriality, and pride.  I'm all for spirited insubordination to authority (or at least authority that is evil, sociopathic, or utterly clueless), but one should be smart about it and have good justification for it.  Reasons like 'because I feel like it' doesn't quite cut it.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Advantage of Mobility and Flexibility

“You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you're satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you've got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you're trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you.    ― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

If there’s been one constant in how I’ve lived my life, it has been a focus on mobility and being flexible in life.  Through the majority of my adult life I’ve been able to fit the possessions I care most about in a small car, and I’ve made many moves and relocations doing just that.  In fact twice in my life I’ve lived between 3-8 months on simply what I was able to bring in two suitcases and a carry-on bag, and one of those being at an overseas location.  Now that I’m married and have a family the number of possessions has certainly grown, but even so the possessions that our family considers most precious would still fit in two suitcases a piece.  Even if extending that list of stuff to the ‘really-nice-to-haves’, it all would still fit in a mid-sized SUV (which coincidentally is our family vehicle).  Part of the reason I do this is because of my interest in travel and experiencing new places, but the other part is because early on I noticed how I was able to take advantage of various opportunities that more ‘rooted’ people have a difficult time of doing.  And while it has never come down to this for myself (at least yet), mobility and flexibility is a handy tactic for survival.

How Does One Define a Life that is Flexible and Mobile?

1) Keeping one’s material possessions to a modest level.  As with the Fight Club quote that started this post, the obsession with ‘stuff’ can get to the point where the stuff you own becomes more of a burden than a benefit.  Whenever making a significant purchase, try to avoid purchases that you will either be unwilling to lug it wherever you go or unwilling to sell and leave it behind.  

2) Limiting one’s attachment to material possessions.  This is just as, if not more important, than limiting the amount of one’s possessions.  Seeing your stuff as ‘just stuff’ is critical in staying mobile and flexible in life.  And when you truly grasp the truth that the majority of your stuff is easily replaceable with a little cash and/or time, you free your mind of being ‘owned’ by your stuff.

3) Having little or no debt.  Debt is the anchor that chains the majority of us to jobs we don’t like or situations we can’t stand.  The less debt you have the more flexible you are, so think very hard before taking any debt on.   

4) Having a healthy savings with a slight emphasis on liquidity.  Money is extremely useful when it comes to relocating or simply dealing with a changing situation.  Money helps you buy new furniture at a new residence after you move, or able to stay in the black when between jobs, or able to pay the bills when something unexpected comes up.  

5) Keeping expenses reasonably low and being frugal (but not cheap).  This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point (saving money), as keeping expenses to reasonable levels helps accomplish the other goal of maintaining a healthy savings.  As for frugal vs. cheap, I think it is best defined as follows: frugal is about knowing one’s priorities and appreciating value, whereas being cheap is only about finding the cheapest price period.  A frugal person is able to splurge when it comes to something important, but a cheap person is not.  I may be willing to accept mediocre quality for something I don’t care much about, but you won’t find me pinching pennies when it comes to buying a computer, a car, or a firearm.  

6) Embracing the information age.  It is wonderful being alive at a time when your movie and book collections can fit on one external hard drive, and that you can do most, if not all, of your banking, bill-paying, business, and communications from anyplace with an internet connection.  The ability to keep in touch with family and friends with Skype, Google Hangouts, and other such things is an immense help in staving off homesickness and preventing the drifting apart that so often happens when situated far from the people you care about.  

7) Keeping one’s eyes, and mind, open to new opportunities.  Simply put, being flexible and mobile isn’t of much use if you never see a reason to change your circumstances.  You have to spend a little of your time looking to see what’s out there.

The Disadvantages

Now all that being said, there are disadvantages with this lifestyle.  In exchange for mobility and the ability to quickly chase opportunities, one has to give up or severely limit some things that are dependent on staying in one place.  If you like gardening or other hobbies of a long-term and land-dependent nature, this won’t work well for you.  Likewise if your hobbies, work, or interests that take up a lot of space, like working on cars, carpentry & woodworking, fine arts, etc.  Also, this lifestyle pretty much requires one to rent vs. own when it comes to your residence.  As much as I find home ownership to be over-hyped, I do understand its benefits and the appeal.  So this lifestyle isn’t for anyone whose top priorities include owning their own home.  Lastly, it doesn’t really allow for putting down roots and being part of a community, which honestly does have advantages of its own that CAN outweigh the advantages of mobility.  This is best articulated by a recent podcast I happened to catch from; if you are interested you can find the podcast link here at The Case for Putting Down Roots.

The Growing Trend

So why am I trying to sell this idea when I acknowledge its disadvantages and the benefits of settling down?  The reason is that I see a growing trend towards contract jobs vs permanent employment, and for many of us mobility and flexibility will be our primary competitive advantage.  I keep my job profile up at various sites just to see what’s out there, and in the past couple years I’ve seen a huge increase in the number of temporary contract positions vs. full time positions advertised for IT and other technical positions.  Most of the various emails and calls I get are from recruiters looking to fill temporary contract positions or contract-to-hire positions, with only a minority looking for permanent hires.  The majority of these contract positions seem to offer a higher (sometimes substantially higher) pay rates, but no health coverage or any other benefits.  We can point fingers all we want as to the causes of the growing temporary/contract work force (the Affordable Care Act, the changing economy, shifts in supply and demand for certain skills, etc.), but at the end of the day we have to deal with the situation as it is and adapt accordingly.  I see a future where many of us will be changing jobs and residences at an even faster pace than now just in order to make a living, and we are going to find mobility may be an advantage, or possibly even a requirement, when it comes to staying employed.  This especially applies to those of us in the younger half of the worker spectrum, where we are often at a disadvantage with our relatively lower levels of experience.  The upshot of it is that it’s younger workers that usually are less tied down to a place and more willing and able to relocate, and that will help offset some of the experience disadvantages.  And while I feel this is a lifestyle better suited for the young, I think many older workers may find this to be advantageous as well.  With industries being created and dying out, many older workers are finding themselves starting in new career fields and having to compete with workers 20 or 30 years younger than they are.  And that can present its own set of challenges for those older workers.  I’m not saying I think this is a good thing, I’m just saying we have to face the situation AS IT IS instead of what we think it SHOULD BE.

When To Say When

There is no easy answer on when the time is right to put down roots, as everyone’s personality and opportunities are different.  I would say that as long as one remains an employee and working for someone else, it will be more of a challenge to stay in place.  So if one really knows it’s time to put down roots or is already ‘rooted’, I would encourage them to go into business for themselves if they have any inclination towards it at all.  At least on a part-time basis, a little something to grow one’s skills and earn a bit of money in addition to one’s regular job.  My family does actually intend to transition to a more permanent living situation over the next 10 years.  My wife would like to be able to have a garden and plant roses, and I would certainly like to eventually be able to have things like a large workshop, a firing range, and a place to plant fruit trees among other things.  And I think it’s no coincidence that the timing of this coincides with our plans to go into business for ourselves.  Yet there is still no doubt that this lifestyle has helped me a great deal up to this point in my life, and I think it can do the same for others as the job climate continues to shift and get more challenging. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Link of the Week

This week I've got links regarding the Philae probe's recent landing on Comet 67P...

Comet lander: Camera sees Philae's hairy landing

"By Jonathan Amos, Science correspondent, BBC News 

High-resolution pictures have now been released of the Philae probe in the act of landing on Comet 67P last Wednesday.
They were acquired by the Narrow Angle Camera on the Rosetta satellite, which had dropped the little robot towards the surface of the "ice mountain".
The images are presented as a mosaic covering the half-hour or so around the "first touchdown" - the probe then bounced to a stop about 1km away.
This rebound reached hundreds of metres above the comet and lasted almost two hours.
When Philae came back down, it made another small leap, which took it into a high-walled trap.
Telemetry and pictures from the robot itself indicate this location is covered in deep shadow for most of 67P's day.
As a consequence, Philae receives insufficient solar power to re-boot and form a radio link to the orbiting Rosetta spacecraft.
Esa cannot be sure the robot will ever come back to life, but even if it does not the agency says it is "hugely happy" with what was achieved in the more than 50 hours following landing.
The probe managed to complete over 80% of its planned primary science campaign on the surface.
Scientists say this shows the icy material underlying 67P's dust covering to be far harder than anyone anticipated - having the tensile strength of some rocks.
It also helps explain why Philae bounced so high on that first touchdown.
The 4km-wide comet has little gravity, so when key landing systems designed to hold the robot down failed at the crucial moment - the probe would have been relying on thick, soft, compressive layers to absorb its impact.
However much dust it did encounter at that moment, it clearly was not enough to prevent Philae making its giant rebound."

You can read the full story at the BBC link here.

And lastly a little humor for you.... you find The Oatmeal's take on the story here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Thoughts on Military Service and Better Ways To Express Our Thanks

"My problem has always been with authority, and I'm sure if anybody understands that, it's people in uniform."  -Lewis Black

So Veterans Day rolls around once again, and once again I feel as though much of the country is missing something important.  For example:

Veterans Day Means Freebies for Those Who Served

“Veterans Day is not only a time to honor those who have served in the military: For American businesses, it's also a time to back up that appreciation with a freebie.

A slew of locally owned businesses and national chains offered something free Tuesday to anyone who has served in the military — a trend that has been growing since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"I think it's pretty cool businesses are showing their appreciation this way," Rances said.”

Don’t get me wrong, I think businesses giving discounts and freebies as a ‘thank you’ for one’s service is a great thing and I encourage it.  My problem is that all the stories and editorials (the ones that I’ve seen anyway) don’t go much further than a basic acknowledgement and recognition of veterans’ service and sacrifice.  And the politicians are worse, too many of them using the holiday as a tool for propaganda and making themselves appear properly patriotic in the eyes of the voters.  What I’d really like to see in public discussion and the media are people questioning what our current political policies and the so-called “War on Terror” are doing to our men and women in uniform, and how a once-a-year “thank you” rings somewhat hollow when the political leadership’s selfishness, short-sightedness, and half-assed playing at realpolitik are putting those men and women unnecessarily in harm’s way.  There may be a lot of grumbling from military men and women about the insanity and idiocy that passes for some of the military leadership, but incompetent and unworthy officers and NCO’s can’t hold a candle to the enormous damage done to our military by our political leadership (and by extension, the corporate elite and special interests that pull their strings).

I had once seriously considered joining the military at one point, back in my mid-20’s.  I had decided that I wanted to go back to school to study engineering, and thought that the military would possibly be a good way to do that while at the same time giving something back to the country.  But do you know what ultimately killed that idea?  I felt I simply could not trust the political leadership.  I didn't feel I could trust them to deal with me honestly, or trust them to see me as anything but entirely disposable, or trust them to know which wars are worth sending people in harm’s way and which are not.  Seeing things like the Iran-Contra scandal and first Gulf War when growing up (and then all the various scandals and the crap that went on in through the 90’s) made me deeply skeptical of the motives and integrity of elected officials, and hearing my father recount some of the messed up stuff he’d both seen and been subjected to in the Army during Vietnam increased my skepticism further.  Needless to say, when later that same year George W. Bush was elected president and the disastrous “War on Terror” followed a year after that, my skepticism turned out to be well justified.  While ultimately I think I made the right decision for my circumstance and conscience, I do sometimes wish that things were different and that I could have had the opportunity to serve, at least for a short time, under civilian leadership that was honorable, pragmatic, and worthy of trust.

I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside a large number of currently-serving as well as retired military men and women through my previous two jobs, and many (if not most) of them expressed the same reservations about the political leadership’s decisions and lack of integrity.  They usually spoke in more general terms and didn’t mention certain individuals by name (a requirement when one such politician is your Commander in Chief), but the sentiment was there.  And yet many of them still stuck with it, for more than one enlistment if not for the full 20 years.  Perhaps trusting that they’re doing the right thing or maybe feeling a sense of responsibility they couldn’t discard lightly; I'm only guessing since I haven't served myself.  Now there were certainly a number of grade-A douchebags among the soldiers I worked with, people I would not willingly associate with in most other circumstances.  Yet even they were willing to put their lives and trust in others hands by the mere fact that they signed up and stayed in (or at least didn't try to weasel out before their time was up).  That’s something I was not willing to do, and so that speaks to a level of sacrifice that deserves a measure of respect for them whether or not they have the personality of a complete tool.  What better way is there to acknowledge this than to ensure their time, lives, and physical & mental health are not squandered by the political establishment’s questionable motives and decisions in carrying out the “War on Terror”, a war that by definition can never end as there is no specific opponent to defeat?  Our leaders talk about respect for the uniform and the patriotic soldier out one side of their mouth, while at the same time putting those same soldiers in harm's way for short-sighted power games and dreams of an American empire that actually hurt the country in the long-term.

Whether they fully understood it at the time they signed up and took their oath or not, the soldiers are putting their trust and lives in the hands of the civilian leadership.  In exchange that leadership has a responsibility to use those lives and resources in a responsible, sensible manner.  Unfortunately the majority of the decisions made over the past 13 years (one could also easily argue perhaps the past 50 years) have been neither responsible or sensible, and we're seeing the men and women in the military suffer for it in unnecessary combat deaths, physical injury, mental and emotional trauma, and suicides.  Yes these things often go with the job, but we owe it to them to expose them to those risks only for the defense of the nation.  When we give our consent to govern by voting for the ass-hats in both parties that keep involving us in these foreign military entanglements, any thanks we give to them on this day won't mean much.  So I say if honoring the troops on Veterans Day REALLY means a lot to you, look beyond the surface and see if your actions and decisions are helping or hurting the troops and the country in the long run.  If enough of us do this, maybe we'll have the kind of leadership that will inspire more young adults to consider military service as a worthwhile and honorable option (emphasis on 'option'!), instead of fearing their civilian leaders will use them for selfish and bone-headed purposes.

I'll end this with the following worthwhile links.  One is to the recent Veterans' Day podcast at, and the second is to one of the few articles I've seen that share my sentiments, one written by an Army vet titled, Why Do We Keep Thanking the Troops?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Link of the Week

Interesting article..... perhaps they should test the water and people in Washington D.C.  Though what I'd really like to see is one of the Colorado universities test the water around Denver for the related virus that makes the people here crappy drivers...

"A virus that infects human brains and makes us more stupid has been discovered, according to scientists in the US.

The algae virus, never before observed in healthy people, was found to affect cognitive functions including visual processing and spatial awareness. 

Scientists at Johns Hopkins Medical School and the University of Nebraska stumbled upon the discovery when they were undertaking an unrelated study into throat microbes.

Surprisingly, the researchers found DNA in the throats of healthy individuals that matched the DNA of a virus known to infect green algae.

Dr Robert Yolken, a virologist who led the original study, said: “This is a striking example showing that the ‘innocuous’ microorganisms we carry can affect behaviour and cognition."

Read the full article here.

Friday, November 7, 2014's Premature Criticism On the Heels of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Crash

As much as I tend to dislike many of the more recent popular slang expressions, "Haters Gonna Hate" does have a certain simple appeal in how it sums up the motives of some critics.  It was this expression that instantly came to mind when I read the following article "Enough With Amateur-Hour Space Flight" at  Before I get too far into this, I think it's worth mentioning that I do have an engineering degree (B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from University of Arizona) and have worked a number of years as a systems engineer on a space-based DoD (Department of Defense) project, so I do have some understanding of the underlying subject matter.  Anyway, moving on to the article:

"It’s difficult not to feel sympathy for the hard-working people of Virgin Galactic—Sir Richard Branson’s private space tourism company—after the loss of their SpaceShipTwo vehicle in a crash in the Mojave Desert at a little after 10 a.m. PDT Friday. And it’s completely impossible not to hurt for the families of the two pilots involved in the accident—one of whom was killed and the other of whom suffered serious injuries, according to local police.

But it’s hard too not to be angry, even disgusted, with Branson himself. He is, as today’s tragedy shows, a man driven by too much hubris, too much hucksterism and too little knowledge of the head-crackingly complex business of engineering. For the 21st century billionaire, space travel is what buying a professional sports team was for the rich boys of an earlier era: the biggest, coolest, most impressive toy imaginable. zillionaire Jeff Bezos has his own spacecraft company—because what can better qualify a man to build machines able to travel to space than selling books, TVs and lawn furniture online? Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, has a space operation too because, well, spacecraft have computers and that’s sort of the same thing, right?

Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines, is at least in the business of flying aircraft, but the key part of that compound word is air. Space, as Branson surely knows, has none of that—and that changes the physics considerably."


Ok, my biggest problem with the article is that the author, Jeffrey Kluger, throws out these assertions "too much hubris... hucksterism... too little knowledge" but cites no examples or proof of such.  The only thing he bases this on is the crash itself, which we do not know even close to the full story yet.  Yet here is this guy demonizing Branson and Virgin Galactic the very same day as the crash.  Can you say "premature"?  (Or perhaps more accurately, "axe to grind"?)

Furthermore, he's equating Branson's business experience in running Virgin Airlines with the actual engineering decisions made with SpaceShipTwo.  Now I don't doubt that Branson has some input on the direction of the project, but is he really directly involved in the serious engineering and design decisions that may have led to this accident?  At most, he MIGHT be responsible for influencing the timeline of the test flights as part of any high-level management of the project on his part, but unless he's been ignoring the safety advice of his engineers in pushing the timeline (which there's no evidence for, at least yet) it is still jumping the gun to go on blaming him.  One should at least wait for some preliminary investigation to be done before shooting one's mouth off with such allegations.  And one more thing... the initial design and the concept originated with Burt Rutan and his team at Scaled Composites, whose prior expertise and experience, before winning the X-prize, was primarily with aircraft design.  Does that mean the "amateur" Rutan should have stayed home and played with his aircraft and left the X-Prize competition to the big boys?

The author continues:
"Once NASA announced that after the shuttle program ended in 2011 it would be outsourcing the low Earth orbit portion of its portfolio to the private sector, it was inevitable that there would be a scramble of companies vying for those contracts—and that’s by no means all bad. In some respects, space has always been privatized: North American Aviation, Grumman Aerospace, Boeing and others have all been major NASA contractors, and they are hardly government-owned operations."

What a crock!  I've worked for two such contractors (again, in a DoD capacity), and let me tell you most of these contractors and the government are joined at the hip more than most people imagine.  Northrop Grumman was, last I checked, 90% dependent on government contracts, and even moved its headquarters to the Washington DC area in recent years in large part to better position itself for further contracts (a smart move for them... not necessarily good for the taxpayer or keeping government spending down, but as a business decision it makes sense).  Boeing is probably the one large aerospace/defense contractor that is least dependent on government contracts, but even they had $20 billion in sales coming from government contracts, nearly a quarter of their total revenue.  They may not be government-owned operations in the strictest sense, but when anywhere between 25-90% of one's business is government contracting it is foolish to think they are independent operators.  In reality they are tied intimately with government as well as to each other, so it's not really quite the free market arena that the author implies.  It's only recently that companies like SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic to a lesser extent, have started to shake things up.

I point this out because the author highlights these companies as examples of private space operations, when in fact they are so tied to government (politically and financially) that most could not function without it. They have become a cartel of sorts, and one big reason space launches and operations are still so expensive is in part because they discourage true competition from the outside (cost-plus contracts also play a huge part in it, but that's an argument for a later time).  While I don't have much of an opinion of Richard Branson one way or another, I do appreciate that his company is operating outside the old paradigm and pushing the envelope.  If we left it to these big contractors the author seems to think are better alternatives, space technologies and exploration would continue to stagnate.

More from the article... 
"All, however, are deeply experienced in the business of aeronautical and astronautical design, too. Elon Musk, founder of the upstart SpaceX is, so far, defying doubters, with a string of both commercial launches and resupply missions to the ISS and no major disasters. But SpaceX is a rare bird—and still a young one—and it has a while to go before it establishes its true space cred.

It’s Branson, however, who has always been the most troubling of the cosmic cowboys—selling not just himself on his fever dreams but his trusting customers. One of those would-be astronauts I met in the Mojave that day was a teenage girl, whose parents had put aside enough money to buy her the singular experience of a trip to space. They beamed at her courage as we spoke, and seemed thrilled about the ride she was soon to take. Those plans, presumably, are being rethought now."


Again, more trash-talking of Branson without any examples to back it up.  Also interesting to see the back-handed compliment towards SpaceX, which by the way is only two years older than Virgin Galactic.  Anyway, let's assume for a moment that Branson is the arrogant egotist that the author suggests.... how exactly is that supposed to have contributed to the disaster?  Is it that the author thinks that arrogant egotists are incapable of running wildly successful businesses and endeavors (*cough* Apple! *cough*)?  Seeing as the author doesn't highlight one or more specific decisions that could have played a part in the crash, we are left to assume that his problem with Branson and Virgin Galactic is simply in daring to try something new and challenging.  

And that is where "haters gonna hate" comes into the picture.  Some people don't like it when others try something new or dream big or draw outside the lines, and they will want to tear you down no matter what decisions you make or how you conduct yourself.  Some may do it because seeing someone take a risk to dream big highlights their own insecurities and their failure to chase their own dreams, whereas others may do it to get some attention or even to pursue some grudge.  Ultimately the important thing is to ignore these people, because not only is their criticism the unhelpful kind, but they will never be happy until you stop trying and give up.  Most of them are unhappy, full of regrets, and have resigned themselves to living less than a full life, and their only fleeting moments of joy are in spreading their misery to others and keeping others from achieving more than themselves.

So I say to Richard Branson, find what mistakes were made and have your people keep trying until you succeed.  Continue to push the envelope.  It is an inherently risky endeavor, and accidents can and will happen to the best of them no matter how many precautions and safety measures are in place.  You can only minimize risk, not eliminate it altogether.  Even NASA and the big aerospace companies like Boeing that the author seems to think are the end-all-be-all of the space industry have had their share of recent accidents, and that is despite their incredibly deep pockets and/or extensive engineering resources at their disposal.  And lastly, by all means don't place too much stock in criticism on engineering or space operations and design from a guy whose education and background is in political science and lawUntil I see solid evidence that proves critical, avoidable mistakes were made, I'm more inclined to back a proven entrepreneur and business owner, no matter how flamboyant or egotistical he might be, than a lawyer working in the mainstream media making unsubstantiated claims of recklessness.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

More on “Basic Laws of Human Stupidity” - Part III: The 'Stupid' Group

Having just endured an election season, I figure it’s a perfect time to pick back up the topic of Carlo M. Cippola’s essay “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity” from last month.  This time I’ll focus on the mindless chowderheads that comprise the ‘stupid’ group.

Quickly, let’s review Cipolla’s definition of ‘stupid’ and the group’s qualities:
  • A stupid person is someone who causes damage to another person, or a group of people, without any advantage accruing to himself (or herself) — or even with some resultant self-damage.

Now realistically speaking, everyone is capable of stupid actions as defined here.  However, the difference between most of us and a truly ‘stupid’ person is that for them it’s more a regular state of being rather than the exception.  I would argue that this is a category that is actually pretty modest in size, and that a good chunk of the people that we see as ‘stupid’ in our day-to-day lives are actually those in the ‘helpless’ and ‘bandit’ categories that lean towards the borderline of the ‘stupid’ category.  They may do stupid things more often than average, yet the overall proportion of the stupid behaviors & actions is still less than other behaviors & actions from the other 3 categories.  Such people may be frustrating, but aren’t quite the walking disasters that the ‘stupid’ individuals represent.  Those squarely in the ‘stupid’ category, however, stand out and are hard not to notice.  They are the people whose very presence tends to create difficulty for anyone they’re around.  How about some examples?
  • That person at work who makes constant mistakes and messes everywhere he/she goes yet manages to keep their job because of excessively restrictive firing requirement policies (common in gov’t), nepotism or social connections, a manager’s misplaced sense of obligation, or simply because the manager is too chickens*** to do what’s best for the workplace.  Quite often the person in question tends to be put in places or assigned projects where they can “do the least amount of damage”.  Perversely enough, sometimes that happens to be some type of management position, often one that’s technically supervisory in nature but in reality just requires a pulse.  Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss would be one such example… as would a disturbingly high number of managers in government employment that I’ve had the misfortune to have to deal with.
  • The horrible driver who talks on the phone at all times while driving, never paying full attention to the road yet sloppily weaving through traffic like a drunken Nascar driver.  And yet has the nerve to wonder why they are so ‘unlucky’ in how many accidents that ‘happen’ to them and why their auto insurance rates are so high.
  • The lecherous dumb-ass who had three kids with three different women by age 23 (he having ran out on the first two women), and managed to get fired at his job for sexual harassment by hitting on yet another woman at work after only a few months at the job.  He even talks about the first two women and kids he ditched like it was some weird badge of honor.  This is a real-life example from my time at one of my several McJobs in my teen years during the 1990’s… and amusingly enough, he was actually an assistant manager at this particular fast food joint.  To this day I still can’t help but have a slightly negative perception of Lynyrd Skynyrd superfans because of this particular superfan example.  In fact, if you picture a skinny version of ‘Clevon’ from the beginning of Idiocracy, that image would fit this guy to a ‘T’.
  • The stoner that decided he wanted a convertible, so he sloppily cut the roof off of his car.  In the fall season.  In ALASKA.  A few months later you see him and the unfortunate friends of his freezing his ass off in the car with some plastic sheeting strapped and lashed to the door and windshield frames.  Yet another real-life example I remember from my late teens (Ok so this last one was based on one spectacularly dumb act that I knew of, but that along with some of the things he said made it clear such lack of sense was a regular thing)

As much as I tried to, I couldn’t think of any clear-cut examples of politicians in the ‘stupid’ category.  While many if not most of them had caused damage to a great many people through their actions and decisions, most still manage to consistently come out ahead themselves.  Therefore they fall more in the ‘bandit’ group, though I’d argue closer to the ‘stupid’ end than the ‘intelligent’ end given the magnitude of the damage.  Even George W. Bush couldn’t technically be considered ‘stupid’ under this definition, since he’s managed to come out ahead personally even if most of us suffered under his term.  And I suspect that he and Obama the other presidents of the past couple decades (at least) have largely been acting on the advice of special interests and connected insiders, and being an opportunistic shill for personal gain is more of a ‘bandit’ behavior than ‘stupid’.  

In my opinion, perhaps the best example of a political leader that comes close to ‘stupid’ would be Adolf Hitler.  While early on I suppose he (mostly) played a shrewd game, later on it’s easy to see how he consistently and regularly caused avoidable damage to himself and others.  And while he may have been charismatic and skilled at manipulation and politics, the Second Law of Human Stupidity does state: “The probability of a person being stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.”  So being good at some things still wouldn’t exempt him from being stupid.  And if you think about it, most people that had extensive dealings with him got burned one way or another (Stalin, Mussolini, Tiso, as well as various leaders & participants in the Nazi movement that were perceived as ‘potential’ threats), which lines up well with the Fourth Law of Human Stupidity: “Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid people… they constantly forget that at any moment, and in any circumstance, associating with stupid people invariably constitutes an expensive mistake.”  And I think the best justification for lumping him in the ‘stupid’ category would be the Fifth Law: “A stupid person is the most dangerous person in existence.”  It’s hard to find anyone else that better fits that statement.

So what is the essential quality or qualities that makes these people ‘stupid’ and do the things they do?  What is the common connection between them?  My best guess is that it boils down to this: an insufficient amount of self-awareness, self-reflection, and self-control.  
  • Self-awareness is critical in understanding how one arrives at one’s decisions, why we do the things we do, and in making honest appraisals of our abilities and limitations.  A lack of self-awareness leads to making similar mistakes over and over, not taking time to determine what our goals are or what they should be, or overestimating our abilities to the extent it gets us into trouble (like the person who thinks they’re such an awesome driver they can yak on the phone and put on make-up while driving in the fast lane).  
  •  Self-reflection is tied to self-awareness, though it is more about the act and willingness to deliberately examine the nature, purpose, and motives of themselves and humanity in general.  As the act of self-reflection tends to build self-awareness, refusing to engage in any self-reflection contributes to a continued lack of self-awareness.  
  • Self-control is necessary in being able to manage one’s impulses and desires in order to achieve a positive outcome or avoid a negative outcome.  A lack of self-control tends to lead one into destructive behaviors and making avoidable, costly mistakes (like say cutting off the roof of one’s car on a whim, or refusing to engage in safe sex after knocking up and running out on two different women).

So that is my hypothesis, and if you think you can add to it or come up with a better one, go ahead and chime in!  And if you have any (preferably humorous) examples of stupidity as defined here, send them to me and I will post them (suitable-for-work versions please….)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Link of the Week

Just because it is so timely considering the subject and tenor of my last post, this link of the week is about another disaffected citizen’s opinion on why he despises the current state of American elections and voting.  Nice to see more people thinking for themselves and breaking away from the herd.


by the Dissident Dad

“This year, my wife and I will – for the second time in our adult lives – not vote. Previously, I would have seen this stance as many people do: as an irresponsible act. The ritual of voting is very much like taking communion in church for half of this country.

As a father, I want to raise responsible adults, which is why my wife and I will not be heading to the polls this election.

I want to always help my children understand that they are sovereign men and women, and have no obligation to any government.

When it comes to voting, my wife and I are personally opting out of the system. There are a lot of reasons for us not to vote, but at the core it comes down to not wanting to enforce our will on others. I’m fine with making our voices heard, but when the vote has a direct impact on how much money is stolen from another family, I want nothing to do with it.

Both Democrats and Republicans support militarism, taxation, spying on us, inflation, redistribution of wealth, Keynesian economics and corporatism once they get in office.

My children need not to identify with this group of sociopaths, so to vote would be a bad example for them. Plus, as my friend Doug Casey has noted, voting just encourages them – the politicians, that is. Whether you’re voting for or against someone, winning an election gives the politician a sense of a mandate that they are obligated to create new rules, taxes and redistribution of wealth schemes to satisfy their voting bloc. That somehow they are in the right, because no matter how sick their political philosophy is, the majority has demanded they implement it into the minority’s lives.

You can read the full article here.

Monday, November 3, 2014

In Our Broken System, Voting Has Largely Devolved Into a Means of Distracting the Masses

“If exercising the right to vote were truly effective, the government would not be so eager to promote it.”  ― Andrew P. Napolitano, Lies the Government Told You: Myth, Power, and Deception in American History

The above quote says it all in my opinion, and it’s something I always try to keep in mind during these times of year when we’re inundated with all this crap from candidates and all their various sponsors and interest groups.  Doing so helps put all the ads into proper perspective; they are less about informing or convincing voters on issues and candidates and more about getting people distracted and wasting their energy and focus on what is devolved into a lame sort of popularity contest and third-rate form of entertainment.  

During this period of time where I’ve been temporarily working in Colorado, I have been subjected to the nastiest, emotionally-charged political drivel I’ve experienced to date in any election year thus far.  Seeing as my work here is temporary and I retain my permanent residency and voting registration in Alaska, I have no stake in the elections and initiatives here in Colorado.  In a way this is nice since I’m able to observe the situation in Colorado without being emotionally invested in it, and at the same time being outside of Alaska I’m not exposed to the constant political advertising going on over there.  It really helps expose the political circus for what it really is… distraction… and allows one to see how hollow the exercise has become.  But if someone out there really thinks they can make a difference by voting I will respect that decision even if I don’t believe it myself.  I just hope they’re operating from a place of logic and making efforts to not get emotionally twisted up by the non-stop ads and propaganda.  I’ve seen some of the smartest people I know get wrapped up in the emotionally-charged rhetoric and talking points that rears its ugly head every election season.  Being smart doesn't make one immune to manipulation.

Now while I don’t believe voting at this point is sufficient on its own to bring about the massive systemic changes necessary for the good of the nation, I think there can be times where certain small positive outcomes can be brought about by voting.  In that spirit I did request and fill out a mail-in ballot, but I did so without any expectation that my vote will help bring about any serious change, and at best there's only the possibility of making a small positive difference.  In fact the only reasons I bothered at all were 1) the mail-in ballot is convenient and takes relatively little time, and 2) there are a few ballot initiatives that may make small differences on the local level.  I could care less about the candidates, even the local ones this time around, as I know all of the candidates with any realistic chances of winning this time around are all ‘lesser of two evils’ decisions.  Some of them might be good people personally, but they either are or ultimately will be fully co-opted into the corrupt political system and in the end will work towards keeping it in power.  It's not the people themselves that start out as bad (well at least SOME of them), it's the system that molds and shapes them over time into the tools and douchebags that they ultimately become.  

So whatever choice you make if you vote, make sure it's a choice you REALLY want as opposed to voting for one guy just because some people are saying "the other guy must not be allowed to win!" or "you're throwing your vote away by voting 3rd party or independent or write-in!".  Settling is what got us to this stage in the first place, and the same attitude that got us into the mess we're in won't get us out.  Vote your conscience and make your own decisions.  For me personally, one nice thing about Alaska is there are a fair variety of 3rd party and independent candidates available that are useful as a protest vote against the two-party system if nothing else.  And of course as I mentioned some weeks back, there’s always the write-in box too….  ;-)

(From the last election...)

(FYI, just behind “Burning Bag of Dog S**t”, my favorite write-ins were “The Great Pumpkin” and “Lurr, Ruler of the Planet Omicron Persei 8”)

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Has the American Dream Moved Offshore?

"To me, the American Dream is being able to follow your own personal calling. To be able to do what you want to do is incredible freedom."   - Maya Lin

For a while now many financial experts, analysts, and commentators have been fawning over China, building and repeating the meme that it will be the new world financial superpower.  I personally don't buy it and expect that while China will be one of several major, significant powers in a multi-polar world, it isn't likely to dominate the way the US had since the fall of the Soviet Union.  However one trend I AM fairly certain of is that people in much of Asia will experience rising prosperity over the next couple decades whereas much of the populations of the Western powers such as Europe and the US will generally experience decreasing prosperity.

Interesting to see that I'm not the only one.... below is an excerpt from a recent Zerohedge article (click the title for the full link)


"Nowhere is The American Dream more prevalent than... In Asia?"


Now this is not to say that the US 'economy' as it's currently measured will necessarily turn into a nightmare (I suspect it will suffer some but not so much as Europe and Japan), only that the prosperity of the average citizen will suffer.  Some might think that doesn't make sense, but I would point out that in the past 5 years of Quantitative Easing the US economy has improved by many measures yet it has been primarily the wealthier echelons of society that have seen their fortunes improve.  Money printing benefits those closest to the printing press (banks, large financial institutions, and the wealthiest 0.1%), whereas the rest either get no benefit or get robbed through increased inflation.  So if we carry this trend forward, it's easy to imagine how the country's economy can stay afloat for many years while at the same time the majority of citizens experience a large decline in prosperity.  Ultimately it is that impoverishment of the majority that most of us are interested in, and it appears that most people are not fully buying what the politicians, mainstream media, and the stock market is telling us.

As for Asia, many of the nations there are starting from such a basic level of economic activity and complexity that economic growth is almost a given considering all the available technologies, business ideas, and services that have yet to be fully introduced.  I've been able to see this first hand in Mongolia where I've spent a great deal of time in recent years.  While there is still a fair amount of poverty and social issues in Mongolia, I find it's telling that the political and social disputes are not on whether the economy is failing or how to turn it around, but rather are largely centered on how best to manage the growing economy and keeping corrupt politicians from stealing too much of the wealth.  Most people I've talked to there do have a general optimism that they and their children and grandchildren will generally prosper, and their primary concerns are political selfishness & idiocy driving away outside investment and the corruption & theft in some areas of government that threaten to direct too much of the economic gains away from the growing middle class.  Even in China where much of the economic gains have already been reaped and economic growth is slowing, the people I've talked to are (perhaps cautiously?) optimistic that they will be more prosperous in the future.  Contrast that with the US and much of Europe, where a lot of people are focused on merely keeping hold of what little they have in the face of declining prospects while at the same time various local, state, and federal governments pick their pockets via higher taxes and increasingly absurd fees and fines. 

Now is the American Dream as it's often defined, i.e. the idea that through hard work and some smarts you and your children can succeed and prosper, really dead in America?  I don't think so, at least not yet.  However it is at least safe to say that the American Dream has taken a rather big beating and is a much harder thing to achieve than it used to be, and that there are some countries where that 'dream' may be more attainable for any variety of reasons.  It's rather tragic, because America really has a great deal of competitive advantages.  Unfortunately, it is being led and micro-managed in such a way that we are making extremely short-sighted and stupid decisions and squandering our country's potential.  And sad to say most Americans are in support of the policies, decisions, and excessive bureaucracy that is killing this potential.  If this country was a person, it would be a gifted prodigy with a major drinking problem and an over-sized ego outmatched only by its proclivity for starting fights and bullying weaker people.  Imagine Sheldon Cooper combined with Biff Tannen and a healthy dose of Rick James, Lindsey Lohan, and Amy Winehouse, and there you have a spot-on personification of the US.

That being said, is it better to pursue the 'American Dream' somewhere in Asia?  Well I'd say it depends.  I'd say if you're the type who just wants a decent job and aren't interested in running your own business, the odds probably tend to favor America.  Sure there are some job opportunities in some Asian countries that pay an equivalent or somewhat better salary that one might get in America, but you'd better be a proven professional and very adaptable in your mindset to enjoy yourself there for the long term.  Having an idea of what most working professionals make in Mongolia and China, more often than not though you will probably have to accept a substantial salary cut even if you do get hired.  For example in Mongolia, a salary of $410 per month is the current average salary, and degree-holding professionals often don't make a whole lot more than that.  Expats in certain fields often get paid more, but it still would be difficult to get a wage equivalent to America.  And the wage difference is especially notable when you're talking about semi-skilled or blue-collar trades.  But if you are motivated and inclined towards in entrepreneurship and have at least a little capital at your disposal, then I see the opportunities being much more favorable in Asia.  Lower taxes, more open business niches & opportunities, and in many cases less bureaucratic hurdles and obstacles to overcome make Asia an attractive place for entrepreneurs who are willing to step out of their comfort zone.  In our recent trips to Mongolia, it's interesting to see how many Mongolians we met who studied and worked in the US, Canada, and parts of Europe have gone back to Mongolia, more often than not to take advantage of entrepreneurial business opportunities.  

I will say that opportunities vary greatly throughout Asia.  Mongolia seems to be one of the better long-term opportunities in Asia (despite their recent slowdown), though some nations like Cambodia and Myanmar (Burma) appear to be even more promising given they've only recently started opening their economies and societies in a big way to the world.  On the other hand, I would personally avoid China like the plague.  There may still be opportunities there, but the high degree of political corruption, difficulty in moving money earned in China out of the country, and their police state society doesn't seem to me the best environment for a foreign entrepreneur.  Their leaders are even bigger thieves than ours, and that's saying a lot.  I admit there are things to like about China such as the food (at least some of it), the sights, and many of the people, but I think there are much better places to build a business.  The US for example, despite its faults and crony-capitalist system, is still better than China.

It's not really my intent to encourage people to move out of the country, only to open peoples' eyes that there are other options.  Most Americans seem to not give much consideration to the idea of making a living outside of the US... perhaps due to fear of taking a risk for some, perhaps due to a misplaced sense of nationalism for others.  In my humble opinion, it's no less patriotic to consider making your life and/or fortune in another country than it is to consider moving to a different state because their taxes and business climate is more favorable...