History and Repetition

I just got done watching In the Name of the Father. Yes, it took me a while to get around to watching this one, which was nominated for seven Academy Awards. You'd think with the number of close Irish friends I have, I'd have seen it before now.

What struck me most about the film (based on a true story), wasn't what bastards the English were to the Irish (see The Wind That Shakes the Barley for that), but rather how a mob mentality reacts to acts of terrorism, and how America has followed in their footsteps despite history vindicating the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven.

Isn't it painfully obvious that the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1974 passed in Great Briton was a precursor the the more modern acts passed there and the Patriot Act of this country? Why do we insist on repeating past mistakes?

As an aside, it seems we learned nothing from 1929 which sent us into a worldwide depression. We created all kinds of banking laws and restrictions to prevent it from ever happening again, and we spent the past 10-15 years repealing all of those restrictions, only to be on the cusp of another 1929-ish depression event. But I digress.

Well, I'll get off my soap box. I'm just tired of seeing mistakes made again and again without learning from those mistakes. I will note the odd irony, that I had the movie on my Netflix list for ages, and it happened to arrive at my house the day after Sarah Conlon died, who missed the opportunity to spend the last 4+ years of her husband's life with him, because he was wrongfully imprisoned largely due to the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1974.

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No, You Can't Ask

Twice in the past month or two, I've received calls for other individuals (ie. wrong number), and when I inform the person on the other end that they dialed the wrong number, they ask, "May I ask who I'm speaking with?"

Ummmm. NO! Is it just me, or is that a weird question to ask? How is it possibly relevant who I am? I informed them that the party they are trying to reach is not reachable at the number they dialed... that should be the end of the conversation, albeit for some sort of "I'm sorry to have bothered you. / No problem, goodbye" kind of exchange.

What's up people?

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Surprising? I Think Not

While riding metro yesterday, I flipped through the Express, and stumbled on an article titled Officials Say $4 Gas Is Here to Stay (oddly enough, the article isn't on Express's website, but I link to a more verbose version of the same story). What a news flash. A google search shows that papers all over the country are running with that story. Are people really shocked by this? I'm only shocked that it is happening now, instead of 3-4 years ago.

Later, while sitting flipping through an automotive magazine (I didn't pay attention to which one, nor can I find the article online), which featured an article titled something like "The Cars of the Future: A Sneak Peak at 2009 and Beyond". I couldn't wait to see all the cool new technologies, the hybrids, the all electrics, etc. Wrong. The article featured V8 sports cars, the Hummer H4, etc. Was the Tesla mentioned? The Aptera? No.

I find this a bit weird. And worrisome. Finally, the government is starting to chime in on the things many of us have been talking about for years now, but there still seems to be an attitude that this is a temporary blip. Why else would manufacturers continue to slate future vehicles to guzzle petrol? There are signs of hope though. The very fact that the government has perked its ears, and started backing the stories of the looming oil/fuel crisis, lends more credibility to the forecasts. And, I've personally noticed more pedestrians, more metro commuters, more bikers, and more motorcyclists the past few months. Last month a guy wanted to buy something I listed on Craigslist, but decided I lived too far to justify the cost in fuel to come get it.

So maybe our behavior will change. Is it in time? Who knows. I've read a fairly convincing argument that we will face a pretty severe recession or depression due to the prices of oil we've already seen. The theory goes something like this... When oil prices are up 80% or more from the previous year, the following 18 months the S&P 500's average maximum declines match average maximum gains. When Oil prices are up 100% or more, the following 18 months the S&P 500's average maximum decline is -27%, while the average maximum gain is only 4%.

So where do we stand now? We've gone over the 100% mark several times recently (see Chart). It doesn't look like prosperous times are ahead, that seems for certain.


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The Cure Rocks, I Age

I've been meaning to write about my experience at The Cure concert last Friday. (I wonder if this is a better start to a blog post than "I was recently at a dinner party", which I was told sounds kinda wanky). Anyway, I went to see The Cure at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, VA last Friday. It was either the 4th or 5th time I'd seen them live, and I have to admit after having seen them RES-2008-0509-004.jpg on their 2004 Curiosa Festival Tour, I had pretty low expectations. In fact, I was very much bummed that I was missing Flight of the Conchords the same night.

In all fairness, the 2004 show was ok, but it was mostly boring. This could have been partly due to the fact that the number and quality of bands playing before The Cure dwarfed what I considered a very uninspired rendition of their classic tunes.

Scott, my brother and I arrived at the Patriot Center, and while scouting for food, I immediately noticed the demographic for the show was a bit wonky. There were people my age (which suddenly means, well, um, adults I guess), which wasn't really the case when I'd seen them in the past. Sure there were twenty-somethings a plenty at past shows, but mid to late thirties was an exception, not the rule. There were also some youngsters there (which suddenly means, well, um, teenagers and early twenties). It was pretty cool to see such a wide demographic, but I couldn't help thinking that the youngsters were there to "appreciate history" or to see the band that their real favorites call an influence. Kind of like me watching The Who at Virgin Fest a couple years ago, or watching Iggy Pop at Vegoose this year (ok, I'm lying, I skipped Iggy Pop, but felt I should have seen him to "appreciate history"). Oh, and I can't forget to mention that some of the youngsters were accompanied by their parents who are my age!

So, yes, this show was RES-2008-0509-009.jpg part nostalgia (ah, I remember when I was into nostalgia), part glaring reminder that I'm not a kid anymore. We watched the opener, 65 Days of Static, which was like Mogwai without the dynamics, which makes them interesting, but less so than Mogwai.

The Cure came on pretty much on time, and started with Plainsong, which to my recollection, they've started every performance I've seen with that song. It's ok though, it is a good song, and a great song to start a show with. I don't blame them for doing that repeatedly. All told, a quarter of the songs they played in their first set was from Disintegration. Which is cool as it is my favorite album of theirs. Other highlights from their first set include Push, In Between Days, Just Like Heaven, and Primary. The closed out their first set with the song Disintigration, which I've always loved live.

Throughout the first set (and the encores), they showed an energy I hadn't seen since the first time I saw them in 1989. Maybe it is just because it was the first night of the tour, and they hadn't grown tired of touring yet. They seemed like performers, who were enjoying performing, and determined to deliver an enjoyable performance. When I saw them in 2004, they seemed disinterested in being there. I felt like we were inconveniencing them by expecting them to play.

Their first encore began with At Night. Not a bad song, but very out of place given the energy in the arena at this point. I was disappointed they chose to play this, especially given some of the songs we didn't hear (Three Imaginary Boys and A Night Like This). RES-2008-0509-011.jpg But it did provide an opportunity to stand in the queue to the men's room! I did appreciate that the entire first encore was from Seventeen Seconds, closing it out with my all time favorite Cure song, A Forest.

Their second encore was good. It was their more pop material. Mostly stuff I'm less interested in, but stuff they would have been remiss to skip. For me, the highlights were Close to Me and Why Can't I Be You.

Their last set was pretty predictable, but well executed. Robert came back on stage and mumbled something about there being a curfew, and they launched into a five song trip down memory lane, all from their U.S. debut album. Boys Don't Cry, Jumping Someone Else's Train, Grinding Halt, 10:15 Saturday Night, and finally Killing an Arab. Ah, every time I've seen them, they open with Plainsong, and finish with Killing an Arab. I take a bit of comfort in things that don't change. Killing an Arab was a total rock out, which I'd seen before, but has been since 1989 since it blew me away.

In the end, they played for over 3 hours, nearly 40 songs, spanning a career of over 30 years. Given my horrible memory, I was shocked how well I not only remembered the songs, but remembered the names of the songs and which albums they were from. It was a pretty good show, and I'm glad I missed the Conchords!

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Phantom Loads: Picking Your Battles

I was recently at a dinner party where the conversation turned to ways each of us could better the environment. Of course energy conservation is always an interest of mine, but I was surprised how many people talked about phantom loads. I knew what they were already, and I agree that efforts should be made by both manufacturers and consumers to reduce phantom loads, but I was shocked with what I consider the disproportionate amount of emphasis that was being placed on it. Especially the focus on unplugging your mobile phone charger when not in use.

Some sources claim that phantom loads draw between 1 - 10 watts. This may be true of some devices (perhaps computers and televisions), but I recently left my mobile phone charger plugged into a plug load analyzer for over 24 hours, and it did not even register a single watt-hour. It is possible that the quality of the standard Nokia charger is better than other mobile chargers.

But lets assume that it did draw a 5 watt phantom load. If you left it plugged in 24 hours a day for a year (and never used it to charge your phone), you'd use about 44 kWh of energy. That is significant considering you didn't even use it to charge your phone. But what about that 75 watt incandescent light bulb that is on an average of two hours a day every day of the year? It uses about 55 kWh of energy. If you replaced it with a 15 watt compact fluorescent (CFL), it would only use about 11 kWh of energy, a savings of 44 kWh (the same amount as that hypothetical phantom load). Depending on the size of your house, you probably have significantly more than 1 bulb that is on 2 hours a day.

Again, I'm not saying we shouldn't worry about phantom loads, but replacing your bulbs is a sure thing. Unplugging devices that may be drawing phantom loads might be misdirected time/energyeffort if the device is as efficient as my Nokia charger. I suggest attacking your energy use first with the biggest culprits. Set your air conditioning a degree or two (or more) warmer than you used to. If your water heater is electric, try setting it a few degrees cooler than you used to. Set your refrigerator one setting warmer. Turn off lights when they aren't being used. Use compact CFL's or LED's rather than incandescents (start with the bulbs used the most often). Once you've taken all of those steps, then start zeroing in on phantom loads.

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