Byrd's Brain

Saturday, January 1
does this still work?
Friday, November 14
This site has moved. For current content please go to the new Byrd's Brain.

Wednesday, November 12
This Byrd has flown
The boxes are unpacked. The furniture has been arranged. All is ready for guests to arrive. This blog has moved.

The time in the Blogger nest has been delightful, but change is good. Byrd's Brain has just relocated to the Typepad neighborhood.

If you have a link to this site please update your links. If you don't have a link to this site, consider linking to the new site.

Do you like the new logo? My wife drew it! Come visit the new Byrd's Brain.

Monday, November 10
I couldn't wait, they got my money
I know, I know. The Matrix Reloaded wasn't very good. It certainly wasn't as good as The Matrix. But that didn't mean that I wasn't hooked. I liked the original movie and I had high hopes for the entire trilogy. I saw Matrix Revolutions over the weekend. I couldn't wait for the DVD. It was better than Reloaded -- which only served to reload the pockets of the Wachowski brothers (Andy and Larry) and the principal actors -- but it wasn't The Matrix.

Unlike Reloaded, Revolutions had substance and not too much flash. If Revolutions hadn't been part of a trilogy. If it had just been another movie, then I would say it was very good. But it wasn't. It had expectations to fulfill. It had questions to answer. It had people to save. Revolutions didn't do these things. If you haven't seen the movie you may not want to read any further....Neo ends the war between man and machines. He saves Zion, but mankind is not freed from the Matrix. Most of humanity is still just batteries for the machines.

In The Matrix we learn that Neo is "the one". He is "the one" who will free everyone from the Matrix. The lives of humans are illusory. Existence as people know it is virtual. In reality, mankind is trapped in pods and people serve as batteries for the machines. Neo is the one who will free mankind from the Matrix. At least that is what we are led to believe in the first movie. In Reloaded we learn that there have been countless Neos in the past and that they have all failed to save humanity. Instead, Zion has been repeatedly destroyed and those previous Neos were used to repopulate the battery pods. In "Reloaded" Neo chooses to save mankind rather than create new fuel for the Matrix.

In Revolutions Neo saves Zion and ends the physical war with the machines. But most of mankind is still trapped in the Matrix. Did the Wachowski brothers forget what the story was about? Did they forget the ending that we were promised? What kind of movie ends with most of mankind still living in illusion and serving only to feed the needs of the machines, of those in charge? We want resolution. We want happy endings. The war was over, that is a happy ending right? Maybe Neo wasn't the one. Maybe Neo wasn't the one who could free mankind. Maybe Neo could only help those who had already helped themselves. Maybe he could only help those who were already aware of the illusory nature of life. Those in Zion were out of their pods, they knew of the illusory life that the Matrix created. People in Zion had chosen the harsh physical realities of life in Zion over the comfortable existence provided by the Matrix.

Maybe each person has to wake up for themselves. Maybe no one can make anyone enlightened. Maybe all that anyone can do is show the way, but each of us must walk the path ourselves. Maybe if you are enlightened, if you are aware of the illusory nature of life, then you will be saved.

Or maybe the Matrix trilogy is just good movie making, is nothing more than entertainment and the Wachowski brothers had no idea about how to free anyone from the Matrix.

(P.S. What was with those giant walking things that the Zionists used to fight off the machines? They made me laugh, which probably wasn't the intended effect. And how were they supposed to have built Zion and all of that machinery?)

Friday, November 7
It's second nature to me
All my life I have been aware of the trash that we generate. As a family in the Midwest we recycled newspaper, bottles, cans and glass. I have childhood memories of going to the recycling drop-off place with my dad. We would dump the newspapers and cans into their respective "bins" (these were open at the top semi truck trailers). But the glass bottles were special. First they had to be sorted by color (brown, green and clear) then we would toss them one at a time into the air. The higher the better. These bottles once aloft would them come crashing down onto the bottles already in the bin. A lot of glass would break. We loved hearing the bottles break. This controlled mayhem was repeated about twice a month. We also had a large compost pile in our backyard. One of the my duties was to periodically turn over the compost with a pitchfork. We used the compost to fertilize our grass and shrubs.

My parents were conservative, but they were born of the depression and they were adults during WWII. They had known scarcity much of their lives. To them reducing the amount of trash, reusing everything possible and recylcling what they could, was a way of life. It had nothing to do with politics. It was just what people did. Squander nothing. (We even reused paper towels. At any given time you could find a rinsed out towel hanging over the kitchen faucet to dry.) Our family simply didn't throw something in the trash if we didn't have to. I am my conservative parents' child. At home my wife and I try to reduce the amount of stuff that we throw away and we try to reuse what might otherwise be thrown away. This is second nature to us.

I was reminded yesterday that this is not the case for everyone. In fact, for some this "reduce, reuse and recycle" concept seems never to have crossed their minds. We were celebrating a colleague's birthday in the office when a woman asked me if we had an artificial Christmas tree. We do. She is thinking of getting one instead of a real tree every year. I told her that artificial trees have come a long way. Some are very nice and look quite real. We have an inexpensive tree that we put on a table top so that the kids won't pull it over. But next year we might get a bigger one to put on the floor. She was concerned about the price for these trees. I suggested that, if she could, she might wait on the aritifial tree until after Christmas. At that time she can get a tree for half price. Other colleagues were listening to our conversation. The talk in the room changed to the tallest tree that each person bought, how expensive real trees were and the merits of flocking. (What is flocking made of anyway?) No one else even considered the possibility of getting an artificial tree. With some coaxing one person mentioned the possibility of getting a live tree and planting it after Christmas, but that seemed like a lot of work to them. Besides the live trees aren't very tall.

The normal office chit chat followed. As the celebration wound up it was pointed out that we needed more plastic forks. A volunteer offered to get a pack of 500 at CostCo. I chimed in that we had enough forks. If we all washed our forks and kept them in our desk drawers then we would never need to buy more forks. I think that everyone scoffed at that idea. My fork, along with a few others from past events, is in my desk drawer.

Wednesday, November 5
No Shame?
Are the playground brats and nerds in charge of this planet? Reality television has taken an ugly turn. We have Joe Millionaire where "Joe" isn't really a millionaire. Then there was the gay reality show on Bravo (I can't remember the name) where one guy got to pick from a group of male suitors -- but ahem, not all of the suitors were gay. Would his "gaydar" work? Would he know who was gay and who wasn't? Recently, there was Joe Schmo where the joke was on 'Joe". He was the only "real" person on the reality show. The rest of the cast were actors and the show was all about Joe and his reactions to the staged situations.

Earlier this week I learned of a new show, "Average Joe". (Has "Joe" replaced "Bob" as the moniker for the common man? Fine with me!) The premise of "Average Joe" is that common (read: nerdy, overweight, very tall, balding, or otherwise different) men compete for the affection of a pretty woman. The twist is that the woman was led to believe that her suitors would be in the expected Hollywood mold. I guess that she is expected to either make fun of or just not be attracted to the men. The fun then will be to see who she settles for. That being the case, this show will be making a statement in a rather mean manner as to what is supposed to be attractive and good looking. It will be quite mean for the male suitors to watch the shows when it airs and learn what she thought about them. It quite blatantly furthers the popular culture that beauty (that -- remember -- is just skin deep) is all that matters. But then who cares about them. They agreed to do it, even if they were misled right? Besides it is good television.

A Rupert Murdoch station -- Sky One -- has been sued and has cancelled its plans to air a new reality show next month. The premise of the show, Find Me A Man was that six male contestants were set up with someone who appeared to be a gorgeous woman, but was actually a transsexual. Very funny right? The six contestants have alleged conspiracy to commit a sexual assault, defamation, personal injury and breach of contract in their lawsuit. Apparently for now, that has been enough to delay airing the show.

These shows are getting close to the Jerry Springer talk show of same years back where the male guest thought that he was going to meet a female secret admirer. Instead the secret admirer was male. If my memory serves me, the guest later shot the male. Raw human emotion at its worst, but great television. Respect for others means nothing where ratings are king.

On an equally base note, but in a different way. There is another new show: Can You Be A Porn Star? . On the show, to be aired on pay for view, 28 women will compete (the show promises "uninhibited nudity and sizzling sexuality")for a one-year contract with a major adult video distributor and a cash prize of $100,000. Will people really have sex on this show in order to win the contract and the money? This show is hosted by, among others, Mary Carey, a porn actress who recently ran for California governor.

Is it just me? Haven't we evolved? Are no better than Romans at the Coliseum. Let's all watch another Christian get fed to the lions. And then let's get some chips and another beer.

Monday, November 3
Last Week
Blogging was light last week because I was in four cities in 5 days. I realized on reflection that I didn't even have time to read a newspaper during most of the week. However, I did get the opportunity to attend a small rally and get close to (2 feet), but not meet, Howard Dean. He gave a rousing, even though it was canned, speech. He says all of the right things on labor, environmental and health care issues and he has always been opposed to the Iraqi invasion. But I had never seen him in person. Now that have I was impressed. I try to meet all candidates that I support or might support. For instance, I was on the fence during Clinton's first presidential campaign. Then I had the opportunity to meet him. He shook my hand and spoke to me as if he had nothing else to do. His charisma was amazing. As a result of that 2 minute encounter he had my vote. No wonder the GOP despised and feared him.

Back to Dean. I didn't get to meet him, but I did stand near him (sorry, no goose bumps or anything) and heard him talk, pose for pictures and joke around. He seemed genuine in his interactions with people on the stage and in the audience. That is important. He continues to impress me and remains, in my mind, the best hope for the country in 2004.

Although, if Dean has ever been a supporter of the NRA or its positions then I may have to reevaluate my opinion of him.

My last purchase from Lands End
Every two years or so for the past decade I have purchased my dress shirts from Lands' End. Lands' End's shirts fit me the best of any brand of men's shirt that I have tried and the prices are good too. The shirts have been made in the U.S.A., often of imported fabric, but still made in the U.S.A. No sweatshop labor for the shirts that was important. As you may know, my wife and I have each lost 20 pounds (while on the South Beach diet) so most of our clothes don't fit as well as they did two months ago. Also, it is time for me to get new dress shirts. Two weeks ago I purchased four shirts from Lands End. The shirts are fine. They are of the quality that I expected and they fit well. However, I have now noticed that they don't state that they were made/assembled in the U.S. Instead, each shirt was made in Honduras!

Instead of supporting U.S. workers I have inadvertently purchased shirts that were likely made in the sweatshops of Honduras. Lands End was purchased by Sears in May of 2002. I wonder if the overseas manufacturing began as part of the new Sears ownership or if this began earlier and I had failed to notice.

I now will look for dress shirts -- made in the U.S. -- from somewhere else. If you have any suggestions let me know.

Tuesday, October 28
The fires this time
Today I am travelling by train for work. Yesterday, I flew into Burbank in order to attend a few meetings. We live in California so we know about fires and we have read about the current Southern California firestorm, but you can’t really appreciate the intensity and the devastation until you see it. On the flight into Burbank we flew past a few of the fires. Flames were reaching high into the sky. The fire were intense and at times seemed so close that one could easily imagine the heat from the flames. The sky above the Los Angeles basin is normally a thick brown pall. Now with the fires, a new shade of gray has been added to the polluted shroud ,along with the added element of falling ash.

After a day of meetings I was ready to fly home, but with the smoke filled skies I realized that planes might be grounded. (Burbank airport had been closed for two hours on Sunday.) At the airport although I learned that my flight was delayed for an hour and half, I was one of the lucky ones. Half of the flights out of L.A. were cancelled yesterday due to the fires. It didn’t help either that the primary air traffic tower for Southern California was threatened by a fire and evacuated. At this point 900 homes have been lost in these fires and more than a dozen people have perished. These fires have devastated thousands of lives.

If you don’t live in California you may not realize that there is a “fire season” here. Fires are typical in the dry forested and brush areas of Southern California. This year though they are unusually severe. I am often involved in planning issues professionally, so I can’t help but think that man has caused much of this devastation. Zoning agencies, city councils and county governments permitted residential construction in areas prone to fires. That was such a bad idea. Where was the common sense? Where was the service to the public good? People will buy homes if they are built. There is a certain sense of trust – and suspended disbelief -- that those in the know, or those who should have known, did their jobs and that the homes are safe. I have to believe that no one would buy a house if they knew with some certainty that it would burn down. To top it off, if these SoCal residences are like those that burned in the Oakland Hills fire, then they were on hillsides, off of winding roads and nestled among trees. It is difficult to get fire trucks into areas like that and it is difficult to fight fires and protect homes when dry brush and trees are immediately adjacent. They make great fuel.

Private insures have woken up to the risk involved in insuring homes in fire prone areas. Insurers are risk adverse so their response is to not write these risks or at least to not write many of them. Insurers like to collect premiums, they don’t like to pay claims. If you insure a house in a fire zone and the premium isn’t astronomical then you will pay a fire claim and you will lose money on the risk. Not something insurers like to do. At some point private insurers will say enough is enough and they will write fewer or no brush fire risks. If every insurer writes fewer of these risks then some people will go without insurance. Real estate sales would plummet. But in time, after much pain and economic loss, market forces would correct these planning mistakes, property values would decline and people would move to safer and more stable communities. Without insurance, people would not be able to get home loans. No lender will extend credit if it is almost a certainty that they will lose the collateral, the property.

However, all states have a Fair Access to Insurance Requirements Association (FAIR Plan). These FAIR Plans are comprised of all property insurers in a state. They are designed to provide insurance for those properties that are the least insurable. All property insurers – in a given state -- are members of that state’s Plan. In this way the market is able to spread the risk on these properties across the entire market and (theoretically) viably underwrite these risks. In most states the FAIR Plan insures properties in the inner city. The idea is that it is good public policy to have and maintain viable properties in the inner cities. These FAIR Plans help to promote inner city property ownership. In California the FAIR Plan was established after the 1960’s riots in Watts. Like those in other states, it was created to provide insurance coverage for those difficult to insure inner city properties. However, in California there was a twist. The California FAIR Plan also insures homes in brush fire areas. That means that if a home is on a hillside, off of a dirt road and in a forest it is unlikely that a private insure will extend coverage, but the FAIR Plan must. That’s right, it must insure these otherwise uninsurable properties.

To me this means that it is the stated policy of California that no matter where you live, no matter how foolish the local government may have been and no matter how greedy the developers may have been, or how blind you may have been to the hazards, you can get insurance. The result is that homes are built in the desert (much of Southern California was desert, its water comes from the north and the Colorado river) and amidst dry brush. Your house may burn down, but the views are fantastic. Who wouldn’t want to live there? On a rational level one might understand the risk, but the views and the trees are magnificent, so on an emotional level the risk is minimal. Besides we can get insurance and if the risk really were so great how could “they” have built here anyway?

Insuring difficult to insure properties is a very noble goal, but the result of that mission may have led to untold devastation, personal tragedies, the consumption of millions of dollars in fire rescue resources and manpower and uncontrolled sprawl. Do people really have to live or somehow develop every square inch of this planet?

Have we wrought what we have sown?