Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Automaker Bailout Failed. Who's To Blame?

With story after story coming out pointing fingers about the Senate failure of the Automotive Bailout Bill, it's time to look at who is really responsible for the failure of the bill and the automakers themselves.

UAW (United Auto Workers) is pointing their fingers at Southern Republicans for lobbying against the bill. Automakers are pointing fingers at a slowing economy and Japanese competition. Nobody is pointing fingers at the one group that is really responsible for the failure of two of the American Big Three automakers - the automakers themselves.

The fact is, the Big Three are failing because they could never adapt to the desires of the consumers. While additional financial burdens from the UAW may have some bearing on the failure of these companies, its effect is minor. The Big Three have enough market share to be quite profitable, even in this economy, if they would just build what the people want.

American auto manufacturers have never been particularly adaptable. They started nearly a century ago, building big cars with big engines. Their heyday was during the 1960s muscle car era, when a big-block Ford or Chevy V8 was the thing to have.

Then, we enter into the fuel crisis of the early-mid 1970s. The Big Three were still producing their gas-guzzlers, but people weren't buying them. It was about that time that Toyota, Honda, and Datsun (now Nissan) put themselves on the map in the American market. They were building reliable, fuel-efficient vehicles. The Big Three tried to keep up. What did they offer? Such jokes on wheels as the Escort, the Pinto, the Gremlin, the Chevette. I still hear jokes about the Pintos and their exploding fuel tanks, and that car was discontinued before many of you were born.

During the 1980s and 1990s the Big Three were back in their heyday again, when fuel was cheap, and big cars were again in fashion. They sold hundreds of thousands of cars a year, and many of them came with big V6 and V8 engines.

Then, after 9/11, the world changed. Fuel prices started going up as tensions increased between the OPEC nations and the US. Never again would we see fuel under a dollar a gallon. While most people could still afford the higher fuel prices and continued to buy gas-guzzling American cars, a segment of the population turned towards the more fuel efficient and higher performing Japanese auto market. Fuel prices continued to rise, and large American vehicles were becoming less and less popular. Nobody seemed to want Hummers, Suburbans, or Excursions anymore. More and more people were looking into buying cars with smaller engines, realizing that they could have both fuel efficiency and high performance, all in the same package. Japanese market share went through the roof. The Big Three tried to remain competitive by partnering with smaller Asian automakers - Ford with Mazda (that occurred in the early 1990s) and GM with Daewoo - in order to try and produce smaller cars with higher performance that could remain competitive with the wildly popular Japanese manufacturers. Ford was the only company to experience some success with that strategy, as Mazda was already a known manufacturer, and already had some prestige in the market. Ford's economy and compact cars actually did provide similar styling, performance, and reliability to the Hondas and Toyotas it wanted to compete against. This is why Ford is still staying afloat. GM introduced some top notch cars like the Chevy Aveo, which is built in South Korea by Daewoo, and is roughly equivalent in quality to the often joked about Yugo.

Add to this that the overall quality of American vehicles was falling short of the Japanese quality. As fuel prices rose and the economy slowed down, people wanted to buy a car that would last for a long time and provide high fuel efficiency, but didn't want to give up the comfort of their larger cars. The Japanese manufacturers heard that plea, and gave the consumer exactly what they wanted, particularly in their Lexus, Acura, and Infinity lines, as well as vast improvements of standard equipment in their traditional best sellers. The Big Three didn't.

Now we have them whining about impending collapse and failure. Now they're pissed that the Government didn't hand them the bailout. Sorry guys, you fucked up. You failed. You had plenty of opportunity to improve your products and adapt them to the needs of the consumers. You didn't. You failed. That's nobody's fault but your own. The market has spoken, now either liquidate or improve.

The bailout bill failed because people, even in the government, are starting to realize just how mismanaged the financial bailout package was, and they're also realizing that it's not costing taxpayers only the initial $700 billion as advertised, but nearly $4 trillion, once you figure in all of the extra pork barrel spending, other bailouts not included in the main package, and the ways that large companies are abusing the provisions in the package. The United States has gotten tired of bailouts, and are apparently starting to see the error in their ways, now that it's too late.

The economy is still tanking. Wall Street execs are still getting all of the extras that they don't deserve. Two of the three big American auto manufacturers are about to go bankrupt. Really, it's not rocket science. If the average Joe continually makes bad decisions at work, he gets fired and has to deal with the consequences. The failure of the automakers and Wall Street are no different, except in the terms of amounts of money involved.

I welcome the failure of bad businesses, particularly if they're big ones. Perhaps we might finally be able to hit the reset button that Dr. Ron Paul and several other realists have been talking about for ages. Sure, it'll be tough for everyone, but in the end, it'll lead to a far more solid and stable economy, and plenty of wealth for anyone that cares to work for it.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Obama Is Not The Messiah. Please Stop Worshipping Him As Such.

I've recently (over the past couple months since Obama won the Presidency), read more than a few blogs that have touted Obama as capable of superhuman and nearly god-like things. I'm, personally, sick of hearing this crap.

Obama is not some sort of superhero that will right all of the world's problems. He's just an intelligent man that can formulate a coherent sentence. He will likely improve a few things, worsen a few other things, and generally do the job a President is supposed to do - likely much better than his predecessor did.

The way I see it, the only reason Obama has become viewed as some sort of superhuman entity is because, for the past eight years, we've been subjected to a President that is a completely new caliber of idiot - to the point that even the common idiot thinks he's an idiot. Because of this, a simple education seems to have been elevated to an almost godlike status. I have news for you. Intelligence is not a superhuman power. It is simply the result of hard work and a desire to gain such an educational level.

Obama will not end the wars on terror and drugs. He might get us out of Iraq, but that's been in the works for at least a year now. He will not single-handedly end the financial crisis. If we see an end to the recession during his term, it'll be because of the work of the nation as a whole, not solely of Obama. He will not switch us to the metric system - I think he has far more important things to worry about. He may improve foreign relations - the rest of the world seems optimistic on this point.

I did not vote for him, nor do I support many of his proposed policies (or announced cabinet choices). He will become the President on January 20. I will give him the same chance I give any President. I will not make wild or impractical expectations of him. I will simply expect him to do his job to the best of his abilities.

Just keep in mind, Obama is not a deity. One would be a fool to think him such.

My contempt for certain other atheists...

Atheism is a belief that no god exists (in singularity or plurality), and that all that exists on Earth and in the universe at large can be explained by science, even if it's a science/technology that we do not yet possess. This is a definition widely accepted by all atheists. Does it make us somehow superior? No.

I am sickened every time another atheist thinks (s)he is superior over our religious brothers and sisters, just because they believe that no deity exists. By touting the superiority of science and logic over the heartfelt beliefs of religious people, does that not make us as bad as their extremists?

The fact is, nobody, whether through science or theology, can prove or disprove the existence of a higher power. Because of this, we are all, regardless of spiritual belief or lack thereof, equally as clueless about the imperceptible universe.

One would think that atheists, who value science, logic, and reason above all else would be quite tolerant of other systems of belief, largely because science, reason, and logic, as we know it, states that we are not capable of knowing, one way or the other, if a deity exists or not.

Most atheists are quite tolerant, mostly because of the above stated reasons. There are a few, however, that are not. These are the ones that I don't wish to be associated with. They are to atheists what Al Qaeda are to Muslims; what Westboro Baptist Church (the group that protests soldiers' funerals) are to Christians; what the Jewish Defense League is to Jews.

When an atheist proclaims his/her superiority over all religious practitioners, I get sick to my stomach. We are no better or worse than any religious group. At times, I even see my last religious affiliation (with the Celtic pagans) as a more tolerant group. I'll tell you, even for all of their illogical beliefs, they are likely to be one of the most religiously tolerant groups I've ever known (most of my friends still fall into one of the various pagan religious groups - Wiccans, Celts, Norse, Roman, or Greek). Religious tolerance was certainly not one of the reasons I left my former religion. Even after leaving my last religion, I still cherished the tolerance I learned.

I am the type of person that is willing to simply ignore religious displays. As an atheist, I am in the minority here in America. Religious displays are common, even where I live, which tends to be a more secular/religiously downplayed area. I tolerate the crosses all over the place. I tolerate the nativity scenes during the holidays. I tolerate the greetings of "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Hanukkah", which I most often return in kind. At any holiday gatherings I attend, I politely refrain from participating in any sort of religious prayer or offering, and those I know accept that I don't believe the same as them.

As an atheist and a believer in the power of science, logic, and reason, I am what I am. That does not make me superior to anyone. My fellow atheists would likely do well to remember that. We deserve an equal voice, not a superior voice.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The motto on the first US penny

The first US penny was minted the same year that the US Constitution was ratified, 1787. It was minted by a private mint under contract by the newly formed United States Government. The motto is something that stands out for me.

According to Snapple "Real Fact" #163, the motto printed on it was "Mind your own business." This is not exactly true - though close. The actual motto printed on the 1787-1789 "Fugio" penny was "Mind your business." The face of the coin contained 13 linked rings, the phrase "We are one," and the words "United States". The reverse contained a graphic depicting the sun shining down on a sundial, with the word "Fugio" printed next to it. Fugio is Latin for "I fly." Combined, the image and the word mean "Time flies." The motto of "Mind your business" is still up for debate, though it has been suggested that it could mean 'business' literally, as the coin was reportedly designed by Benjamin Franklin, who was a rather successful businessman in his own right. It has also been suggested that it may have meant, "time is short, do your work." I'm sure any number of other historians may have any number of other possible meanings for the motto.

Anyway, I just found that to be a rather interesting, little known piece of U.S. history. Here are a few photos of the coin:

A line drawing showing the original detail of the coin.

The face of the coin.

The back of the coin.


The Fugio Coin, from
The Fugio Cent, from Wikipedia
1787 Fugio Coins, from

Monday, December 1, 2008

And now for something completely different.

Many of you reading this know that I am an Atheist. I am also a frequent reader of the Reddit community. Earlier today, I commented on a post in the Atheism forum. That comment sparked quite a discussion, as you can see from the comments that followed it.

I feel that I should take this time to explain why I am an Atheist.

I was born into a Catholic household (well, my mother was a Protestant, but my father ruled the roost, so we all played by his rules). I attended Catholic school from preschool through first grade (about three years). At the end of my first grade year, we moved and my parents could no longer afford private schooling for me. I did continue to attend CCD classes (basically, Sunday bible study) as a child. I attended those classes until my Confirmation into the Catholic Church at age 14.

Religion, while present at home, was never of extreme importance in my family. With my mother being a computer programmer and my father being an architect, education, logic, arts, and science were important in my family. While most kids my age were playing with G.I. Joes and Transformers, I busied myself with chemistry sets, an electronics education toy (it was a board, about 8" x 12" with various electrical components set on its surface that could be wired together in a variety of ways to create a variety of gadgets), and other toys that promoted science and creativity.

Because of my interests as a child, I was never one to accept the validity of blind faith. As a child, and indeed to this day, I will only believe something to be true once I have proven it to myself to be true, to the best of my ability. This made me a ton of fun in the bible study classes. I was always the first one to question seemingly impossible events held as truths by the Bible. I was often ostracized in elementary school for questioning the existence of God. After all, if He couldn't present himself to me and prove His existence, why should I blindly believe in Him? Early in my years, however, I wasn't willing to abandon religion altogether. Catholicism was important enough in my household to make me believe that some sort of faith or spirituality had to be true. Around age fourteen, just about the time of my Confirmation, I picked up the hobby of studying world religion, in hopes that I might find my path.

At age sixteen, I realized that it certainly wasn't Catholicism that was the true faith, as I was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. After getting into a religious debate with the local Cardinal, a man in his early 40s, who had devoted his life to religion, I actually caused him to question his own faith, simply by playing "devil's advocate" and using a bit of logic and what little I had learned so far about other religions. As he was always a man of conviction, particularly when it came to his faith, he couldn't handle the doubt I had caused him, and arranged to have me thrown out of the Church, calling me an unrepentant heathen. Any faith that had high-ranking clergy being such sore losers certainly couldn't have been a true faith - particularly when a man's lifelong devout faith was called into doubt by a stupid, bratty sixteen year old kid using elementary logic and a brief understanding of world religion.

It was at that time that I started studying world religion in earnest. I started following the faith of the ancient Celts (one of several faiths that modern Wicca is based on), a polytheistic, matriarchal faith, based soundly in nature and ritual. At a time that I was not willing to give up on religion altogether, it made the most sense to me, particularly that the core belief was basically to accept all and harm none. A religion that truly strove for peace? I was all for it! On top of that, I liked the core philosophies, identified with many of the deities, and liked the loose practices of worship of the religion - no set times to worship, no real structure to the religion outside of a small group of like-minded followers, if one even chose to worship in a group - solitary practitioners were just as accepted, holidays were basically the same as I had been raised with in Catholicism, so sacred days were not too much different. All in all, for my late teenage years up through my mid-twenties, it was the perfect religious path for me.

Around age 20, the small group I practiced with felt that I had learned enough to allow me to lead. As a recognized priest in the group, I made my ordainment legal by registering with the Universal Life Church. By getting an easy ordainment with the ULC, suddenly any rites and rituals I performed were legal under law. I often chose to perform marriages for friends, and because of the open nature of the Celtic belief system, I could perform a marriage rite in any manner that was requested by the bride and groom, though it was most often performed in accordance with the Celtic, Norse, or Wiccan faiths. My ordainment with the ULC is still legal today, though if I choose to perform a marriage ceremony, it's most often a secular one.

My adherence to the Celtic belief system found me with my "imaginary friends". I fully believed that I had spirits that walked with me, guiding me through life. While they were not real, I believed they were, and that belief got me through some of the toughest times in my life. In my late teens and early twenties, I was plagued with severe depression, often borderline suicidal. My faith in these imaginary friends and the Celtic belief system is one of the only reasons I still draw breath today.

As I got older, my faith began to wane. The imaginary friends didn't seem to be around as often, and the spiritual tenets of the religion didn't seem to hold so much truth. My secular life was what was important to me. My career, my scientific and artistic pursuits, my need to just get by, from day to day, in a rough job market - these are the things that I really focused on.

It's difficult for me to mark one single event that really caused me to give up my faith. Perhaps it was the frequent meditations that failed to contact the imaginary friends. Perhaps it was the increasing number of papers and articles I read about Atheism. Perhaps it was a result of getting more interested in politics and world events, and realizing that no God could exist, and allow the world to get into the sorry state it's in. Perhaps it's just the increased logic that comes with greater experience, and the thought that an invisible omniscient or omnipotent entity is more of a fantasy than a reality.

After my mid twenties, I identified as an Agnostic, still hesitant to give up on faith altogether. As recently as a year ago, I still identified as an Agnostic. Even though my religious faith had dropped to virtually nothing, I still wanted so dearly to be proven wrong that I wasn't willing to give up on the possibility of knowing something greater than this secular world.

It's only in the past year, as I enter my mid-thirties, that I've really identified as an Atheist. I'm fairly certain, as best as I can prove, that there is nothing beyond this secular world. In saying that, however, I do still believe in ghosts, though not in the traditional sense. I believe, through the nature of quantum theory, that there are likely to be dimensions of existence that cannot be observed by humans with our current technologies. As our knowledge of string theory and the nature of sub-atomic particles develop, I cannot help but to wonder what exists that we cannot yet observe. I call myself an Atheist because science cannot prove the existence of something intangible to human observation. Human scientific knowledge is also but a thimble full of the waters of a vast ocean of potential knowledge.

I am an Atheist. Prove me wrong. I want you to.