Guns

December 4, 2015 1:03am
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I don’t know the answer to our ridiculous mass shootings record here in America, but I don’t think I’m the only one who’s uncomfortable with just how ingrained guns have become in American culture.

It really is a cultural thing for us at this point because if you even mention talking about gun control, people go nuts about their 2nd amendment rights being infringed and how we’ve currently got 75,000 gun control laws already on the books and those ones never seem to work … people who love guns are convinced that anything but guns must be the problem, and yet the rest of us who aren’t gun nuts – and even some who are – still beg to ask the question…

…why do we have to have all of these GUNS lying around the country?!

I mean, I thought the statistic of more guns than people that I read last night was pretty alarming, but then to compound that by considering that only 40% of Americans own guns … that means that here in the United States of America, roughly 140 million people own roughly 350 million guns.

I’d love to dig even deeper into that statistic because I think it would be real telling to pull out how many of those 140 million own only one gun vs. how many of them own lots and lots of guns because just like the extremists that we observe in politics and religion and everywhere else, I’ve got a feeling there are probably a few backwoods militias jacking those numbers up quite a bit to get to the full 350 million guns owned.

And I guess the reason I say that I don’t even know the answer anymore is because although I don’t want to ban guns entirely, it frankly makes me very uncomfortable that we have almost half our population that’s this emphatic about owning these tools whose primary motive is for killing. We don’t see knife enthusiasm to this extent, and cars at least have a primary focus of transportation despite being responsible for a lot of deaths as well.

What is it about guns that so many Americans seem to fetishize to the point where we can’t even talk about them after shootings have become literally a daily headline in our nation???

I read a rather scary notion earlier today where somebody roughly said that “the war on gun control was lost after Sandy Hook” because when we weren’t able to make a dent even after a classroom of school kids got murdered in cold blood, it was already clear that America at large simply wasn’t interested in talking about its gun problem because if you ask the people carrying the guns, they’re all convinced that we don’t have one … or that it would somehow be solved if we were all carrying even more guns.

And that makes me sad because even if it was the right answer, you’ll never pull 350 million guns back off the streets of America – Donald Trump has a better chance of rounding up all of the illegal immigrants and showing them the door … all by himself.

Are the people who are pro-gun simply too in love with their weapons for America to ever shake its mass shooting stats?

It’s one of those questions that I’m not sure if we’ll ever answer until the whole thing just implodes, and yet, just under three years ago you could argue that it already did implode when 20 first graders lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.

Since that tragedy at Sandy Hook, over 1,300 more people have been killed in over 1,000 individual shootings in the United States in the last 3 years.

That’s almost as many American soldiers who died during the war in Afghanistan, except these all happened on U.S. soil.

If another country had been responsible for so many American lives lost within our own borders, we’d have declared war three years ago, but because it’s in our own fault, and it’s about guns, instead we do nothing.

A Verizon FiOS Upgrade Update … of Sorts

November 18, 2015 2:36pm
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So here we are, 10 days after my rant about issues with getting my FiOS Internet speed upgrade.

The good news is, I’m officially running at the 150 Mbps that I originally wanted … sometimes.

The bad news is, I’m not super crazy about what I had to go through to get it.

Here’s a quick timeline…

  • 10/23 – Found upgrade options missing online; no luck with support via phone or Twitter.
  • 10/29 – Sent an e-mail pressing further, response back that it was a mgt. decision.
  • 11/12 – Sent an e-mail to Verizon’s head over FiOS, got a response from his office in a matter of hours
  • 11/13 – Spoke on phone with exec. customer support who overrode issue and scheduled my upgrade
  • 11/16 – Tech came out, did install

It turns out that the final version of the story that I was given is that Verizon ran out of equipment nationwide, so in the meantime they decided to limit this particular upgrade to new customers until they were able to get their hardware issue under control. I didn’t ask if it was related to next year’s sale to Frontier because I wouldn’t blow a lot of money on equipment if I was selling the business soon, but it frankly wouldn’t surprise me…

Anyways, the gentleman from the VP’s office was very polite and offered to honor my upgrade by first submitting an order to upgrade me to 300 Mbps to get my order through the system, then coming in afterwards to back it down to the 150 Mbps that I actually wanted. And I did get my router included, though there was a one-time $150 install fee which I was honestly fine with at this point.

The install itself went super smooth – better than most, in fact – because instead of running a new ethernet line through the attic from the ONT to my router, he was able to make use of an existing line that ran to a smart panel in my closet where the router now resides anyways, so all in all we were probably done in about two hours. Speed tests were a little bit of a pain just because only my server is currently hardwired and it doesn’t have Flash installed which 99% of the speed tests require, but we worked it out nonetheless…

speedtest300 speedtest150

It was definitely hard to say goodbye to that 300 Mbps, though in no way can I justify another $90 on top of what I’m paying already, plus in reality I did find that the places I normally download from couldn’t push more than about 200 Mbps at me at a given time anyways … which was kind of expected. So it’s certainly worth noting that as sexy as the prospect of gigabit ethernet is, it’s really only useful for multiple devices pulling at the same time at least for the time being.

Still, this effectively doubled the speed in which I can download movies and TV shows, so that’s cool!

Also, my ping time is roughly 1/4 of what I was used to seeing, so also cool.

That said, even in just a day I’ve noticed my speed wobbling a bit – sometimes I can get the full 150 Mbps, sometimes it clocks in less than the 75 Mbps that I had before … not sure if that’s just standard Internet congestion (though I didn’t see it much before) or if moving me over to GPON puts me on a busier node where I’m competing for bandwidth more than I did when I was on BPON. Will have to keep an eye on that…

Anywho, at the end of the day my only real complaint is simply that I had to jump through so many hoops to get where I am today. One typically shouldn’t have to complain to a VP in order to get their service upgraded, and better communication at any step in the chain would’ve at least calmed me down and made me a little more understanding. I guess the moral is if you’re not getting anywhere with customer service, just go straight to the top and try there instead … which is terrible advice, really, but it seemed to work here.

I made the link above to said VP’s reference clickable just in case anyone else has the same problem… 😉

I’m really frustrated with Verizon right now, which is tough because I’m absolutely a huge fan of my FiOS Internet service.

We’ve been customers since 2012 and without a doubt they provide the best Internet service available in the Tampa Bay area. I’ve done the research, I’ve priced out the competition, but between their pricing and the symmetrical download & upload speeds that are pretty much unheard of elsewhere, Verizon FiOS is the best.

So why have I spent the last couple of weeks feeling like an inferior customer over one that they could have sometime in the future???

I’ve talked a lot about upgrading my Internet speed lately – right now I’m at 75 Mbps, but I’ve really been eyeing their 150 Mbps package … it’s just that until recently, it was a bit out of my reach at an extra $50/month. So needless to say, I was really excited when I noticed one day when browsing my upgrade options and saw that they had a new promotion where I could not only go from 75 to 150 Mbps for only an extra $20/month, but they’d also throw in the $200 router upgrade for free!!!

It sounds too good to be true, and apparently it was because a couple of weeks ago when I was finally ready to pull the trigger, the 150 Mbps tier was mysteriously nowhere to be found…

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 7.47.38 PM

My first instinct was understanding enough – there must just be something wrong with Verizon’s website, so I got on the phone and called to place the order manually instead, but the rep who answered my call saw the same thing and was pretty clueless as to why there was a hole in my tiers where the missing 150 Mbps option used to be! It was frustrating to hear her shrug it off, not even giving me an option to escalate the issue for someone else to take another look.

It just wasn’t there, and she was ready to move on to her next call, but that’s not even where the story takes a dark turn.

So I hung up and instead tried reaching out via Twitter, where I got a slightly different, but equally misleading explanation…

This time they told me it was a “technical limitation” and that the tier must simply be “filled up,” so it was no longer available. Here I started to call bullshit because things really weren’t adding up … namely, they had the capacity to upgrade me to 4x or 6.5x my 75 Mbps speed, but not to only 2x my speed! 

And granted, I’m not a fiber technician, but I know a little about how math works – I even gave them the benefit of the doubt here and asked if it was really a technical limitation or if Verizon was artificially limiting availability of certain tiers to encourage the higher sales, but from there the tech just doubled down on that speed is popular, so it fills up and isn’t available anymore.

That didn’t make any sense, but in between waiting for responses I did a little more research and found what I thought was the missing key that would finally make somebody say, “Crap – that’s not right! We need to look into that!!!”

Opening up a separate browser and going to getfios.com, I was able to bring up a brand new order – even at this same address – for a new bundle including 150 Mbps Internet service…

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 11.18.37 PM

Huh???

So clearly there must be something wrong with their ordering system if a new order will offer me that tier, but when logged into my Verizon account it was nowhere to be found!

Well, after waiting a couple of days for a response from the social media team that never came, I decided to send an email to customer service to see what answer they’d be able to come up with for my issue. And at first it seemed promising because I was told that they needed to research it more before they could respond, but eventually they sent me this…

Thank you for choosing Verizon. I have received your email dated 10/29/2015 regarding that  want to know why a new customer would be able to get Fios Internet speeds of 100 and/or 150 Mbps while existing customers can not. I apologize for any frustration or inconvenience this has caused. My name is Karen, and I will be happy to assist you. I will also review the account to make sure you are getting the best value.

Thank ou [sic] for your interest in our products and service.

We apologize for the delay in our response and regret any inconvenience to you.

Unfortunately the connection speeds of 100 and 150 Mbps are not availble [sic] to you.

The decision to only offer the connection speeds of 100 and 150 Mbps was made at corporate management level. Unfortunately it has not been advised to us of why the decision was made to only offer the 100/150 Mbps to new customers and not to existing customers other than that there is technical limitation of upgrading the equipment for existing customers who already have Fios working at their location.

I’m very sorry for the inconvenience and frustration this will cause you and your family.

This after Verizon “added more versatility to its industry-leading service” by apparently adding a 100 Mbps tier in between 75 and 150 Mbps, according to this swell press release boasting about their latest promotions in my specific market a month before I was unable to order them myself!

According to this release, “Verizon is the only communications provider to offer a symmetrical speed tier of 100/100 Mbps, or any Internet services offering the same fast download and upload speeds, in the Florida market” … but only if you’re a brand new customer for them because if you’ve already got an account, your business isn’t worth the effort.

Seriously, how insulting is that?!

Here I am, a long-standing customer and very much a fan of the service, and I want to give Verizon more money, and if I had submitted my order two weeks earlier before this asinine decision was made, I could’ve! But now my extra $20/month isn’t good enough for Verizon. They’d be happy to sell me 300 Mbps service at an additional $110/month, but sorry, the next logical upgrade that makes sense for my account isn’t available because they’ve arbitrarily dog-eared that speed for new customers only.

What sense does that make? My next door neighbor could call and get 150 Mbps service installed tomorrow, or hell, my wife could call and apparently get it installed at our same address … as long as she sets up a new account because this account – the one that’s 3 years old and has earned Verizon upwards of $7,000 over the life of our service – isn’t eligible for an upgrade.

Sorry / not sorry.

You wouldn’t do that with HBO or Cinemax – “I’m sorry, I know that you’ve had an account for 3 years, but we’ve reserved those premium movie channels to entice potential sales from our new customers only. We regret any inconvenience that this causes you…”

Traditionally it’s a poor business practice when one of your loyal customers wants to give you more money and you arbitrarily refuse to take it, but apparently a fiber customer in the hand isn’t worth two in the bush when you’re Verizon.

But it’s not too hard to fix this! We schedule an appointment, you send out the technician who makes my dog bark for hours on end while he tinkers around outside, he installs a new ONT on the side of my house and gives me my sweet, new Quantum router, I start paying you an extra $20/month for the service I’ve quite literally been salivating for all summer long, and in the end we all win!

You get some extra money without having to sell me on the upgrade I already want and I get an even faster Internet speed to rub in the faces of everyone I know who isn’t lucky enough to live in a FiOS market … which admittedly is almost everybody I know.

Verizon, I love FiOS and I don’t want to fight with you. I just think it’s bullshit that you’re offering better deals to the new customers you don’t even have yet than you’ll give me who’s been here this whole time. I’ve come to accept that your best promotional pricing is for new customers and my bill jumped up a ways after my contract renewed, but this is service – to tell me that I can have one Internet speed but not another is just cruel. 

We can get through this, you and me, but honey, right now you’re being kind of an asshole. Please call me when you’re ready to grow up.

recycle1

Recycling has always been something that I’ve felt is pretty important, and it frustrates me how inconsistent we are about it as a society across the board.

People who are the most adamant about recycling like to make you think that it’s this simple thing that everyone can do to help the environment, but the truth is for a lot of people it’s actually anything but. Take my community, for example, which has a recycling program sponsored by our county. They just recently made a change to how they’re going to pick up – we used to just leave everything out in blue plastic bags and that was that, but now they’ve decided that the bags are too much of a hassle so we have to use a separate trash can specifically for recycling.

Many places, such as where I grew up in Michigan, give you a bin to leave out by the curb with your garbage each week, but here you’re required to buy your own as part of their new Choose and Use Your Own Container program.

Except for blue bags, if those were you’re particular container of choice… 😛

But I think what frustrates me more about our local program is when you peel back the layers and see just what they actually do and don’t take. I’ll even admit that I knew they wouldn’t take certain items for a while, but I’ve always snuck them in the bags anyways … hopefully as a gentle reminder that we’d like our local recycling program to be all inclusive! Now with the bags gone and my goods just loose in the container, however, I’ve taken to sorting everything out just to ensure that I don’t look out to see a pile of stuff that they won’t take laying in my yard after the garbage people come by… 🙁

Here’s what they won’t take:

  • newspapers (who doesn’t recycle newspapers?!)
  • paper or cardboard
  • styrofoam (see bullet #1 – isn’t this like one of the most common things to recycling?!?!)
  • plastic film or bags of any kind (including the 8 billion shopping bags you leave Walmart with every visit)
  • plastic utensils, plastic toys

Admittedly I don’t really care about the newspapers for me personally because we haven’t gotten a physical newspaper in ages, but cardboard … we get a ton of stuff from Amazon, so I’m always leaving out piles of broken down boxes for the trash – it would be nice. And styrofoam I just think is ridiculous … I’ve never heard of a recycling program not taking egg cartons, for god’s sake!

As for what they do take:

  • aluminum and metal food cans
  • glass containers
  • plastic containers (#1 – 5, #7)

And frankly, the last one is a perfect example of what I’m talking about when I say that it’s not easy enough because never before have I had to sort through my recycling to look for the little stamps on each plastic container – which aren’t always uniform and sometimes don’t exist altogether – to figure out which ones go in the trash and which ones are ok to recycle. It’s crazy! Mind you, I spent a few minutes and did it anyways because it’s personally important to me, but there are a lot of people out there who really don’t care one way or the other, and yet the only way that a recycling program is effective is if the vast majority of the population participates in it.

I know it may seem petty, but expecting people to sort out their plastics is an extra barrier to entry. Expecting them to take their newspapers and styrofoam somewhere else because curbside pickup won’t take them is an extra barrier. Hell, to an extent even requiring a separate garbage can is an extra step that I’m sure some people are just going to say, “Screw it – all this does is cost me time and money. Why should I bother?”

As it is, not everybody thinks kindly of recycling … as crazy of a notion as that might be to anyone who cares about our environment. Here’s an interesting set of five short interviews with people who don’t recycle and it’s mostly a mixture of not caring, not getting an incentive to care, or it seeming like too much of a hassle … these are the kind of people you’re up against when you add another rule or limitation to what your local recycling program will cover, and as you can see, it doesn’t take much to make somebody just throw in the towel and send it all to the dump when they’re not really invested in the cause to begin with…

For me, I think the most vivid justification for why I recycle is the memory of the couple of times that I’ve actually been to the dump myself. It’s always been to dispose of some bigger items that the garbage won’t pick up when we’re moving, and if driving up a giant pile of garbage to throw away your trash doesn’t make you see the need to recycle, I really don’t know what else will!

Just so much garbage – as far as the eye can see – with random bulldozers and heavy equipment trying to shuffle it around as best they can. I remember once being worried that my car was going to get stuck as I backed in to drop off an old table that Goodwill didn’t want, only to then watch a garbage truck buzz in and add another pile of junk to the sea of garbage like it was just another day’s work. Which it really was, because he’s a garbage man, and hauling away the crap we no longer want is what they do.

So I do like to pride myself for doing the best I can to recycle, and I’m happy to say that if you were to count the number of garbage vs. recycling bags that our household puts out each month, the recycling probably outnumbers the trash … which is a good start. And as much of a hassle as it is to sort my recycling and use a special bin and make special trips to recycle the stuff that I can’t get rid of at the curb, I’ll probably be one to take the extra time to do all of that, too, because environmental science and putting less into our local landfill is important to me.

That said, I don’t live in a bubble, so it’s really just as important to me that my neighbors recycle, too, and if right now it seems like it’s too difficult or complicated or time consuming to make it worth the hassle for them, then recycling needs to be made easier so that they’ll want to care more about it, too.

The next generation of recyclers - playing in our new recycling bin...

The next generation of recyclers – playing in our new recycling bin…

I hate customer service.

September 28, 2015 3:14pm
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Sometimes I feel like dealing with customer service departments makes me out to just be another grumbling asshole when in reality I just want an answer that makes sense.

Not the copy & paste response that isn’t even relevant to my problem.

Not one that is just blatantly guessing on your part.

I just want a legitimate answer that justifies the problem that I’m experiencing, and bonus points if you can actually help me to solve my problem, too!

I think part of my issue comes from having a developer’s mindset because when I see an issue with a company’s website that I have to interact with, I don’t simply want an apology for the inconvenience … I want to know what’s wrong so that other people don’t have the same problem in the future, too!

In a way, systems are easy because they’re consistent, or at least they should be. If designed properly, a website should look the same to me as it does to you … the 1,000th text message that you send should be delivered just as the first 999 were … when banking transactions don’t all post to your account in a consistent manner, that should be a red flag for anyone concerned about how the online banking system is working.

In my scenario, I scheduled five transfers from my checking account on Friday – when I woke up and looked in my account, four of the transactions were pending, but one was missing.

This seemed odd to me because when I do regular, unscheduled transfers, every transaction always shows as pending immediately regardless of where the transfer is going to.

…and mind you, these are all transfers within the same bank…

All in all, I talked with six representatives across different customer service departments – some had different explanations than others, some clearly didn’t want to be talking to me at all, and even the final supervisor that I spoke with couldn’t really say why it was happening but at least offered an alternative to what I was having an issue with.

I mean, I get that most customer service reps don’t understand their company’s systems well enough to identify where a process is failing. Hell, I’ve had issues where I’ve had to talk to multiple developers to get to the one who could speak accurately to their own application for building new ones! But regardless of your knowledge of a given system, I think it’s a fair suggestion that anyone should be able to recognize one of these things is not like the others to help identify when the system might be behaving incorrectly so that those with more know-how can investigate those types of scenarios in more detail.

And don’t get me wrong – I’ve worked in a call center myself so I totally get that a lot of people just don’t care because as soon as my call disconnects, they’ll have another pissed off customer in their ear to deal with next … but that shouldn’t be the gold standard because you can’t improve customer service through apathetic customer service representatives. Good customer service starts with identifying that a customer is upset and then dissecting their issue into something you can work with, whether it’s through education or process improvement or even a bug fix.

It doesn’t neither of us any good for you to just say, “I don’t know what else to say – that’s just how it works…” unless you’re looking to keep your complaint level high.

It reminds me of another situation that I had earlier this year – I was driving home one day and noticed that one of the signs leading onto the interstate was wrong.

Huh?!

I even drove back that way a second time to double-check myself before saying anything. They were doing a lot of construction around a new interchange, and the arrow definitely indicated that one lane was split for both north and south … even though it really only went south.

So after mulling over who to even report that kind of thing to, I found a contact on the Florida DOT website for our area and explained the situation … to which I got a fairly curt reply stating that I was incorrect because the guy’s field engineers said that it was fine.

The next day I drove down and took pictures.

A few more days passed before he finally replied again that the road had just been reconfigured and now matched the sign overhead, so everything was ok. I drove through one more time, and he was correct.

But how hard would it have been to just say that they were in the middle of changing things over and the sign had gotten updated before the lines were repainted on the road???

I know that customer service is often depicted as a shit job that nobody likes because it’s nothing but people complaining at you all day long, but what if you were to take a step back and put yourself in the shoes of the person on the other end of the line?

Be the guy who got on the interstate going the wrong way because the sign was wrong.

Be the guy who wondered all weekend if his mortgage payment got pulled from somebody else’s account by mistake.

And then don’t just gloss over this issues with an “Oops!” – actually take the next step towards solving them so that they don’t have to happen all over again.

It’s the difference between “Give us a break – the sign’s fixed now!” and “Sorry about that – we’ll make sure our contractors know to cover up those parts of the signs that aren’t correct until the new lanes are opened to prevent that in the future…”

Or “Yeah, I can see why you would expect all of your online transfers to appear the same. This is how our system behaves today, but let me open a ticket with our development team so they can look into changing that.”

The more you act like you actually want to fix my issue from happening again, the less I’ll sound like just another grumbling asshole when I’m explaining it to you.

mainly because hopefully it won’t be the sixth time I’ve had to explain the same issue over and over again to apathetic ears that are just counting down the time until their next break… 😛

Fighting the Counterfeit Lego Fight on eBay

August 3, 2015 6:20pm
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This is a little frustrating because as I’m nearing the end of my Collectible Lego Minifig collection, the few minifigs that I still need (22 of 266 as of today) are all pretty rare and expensive, so I’ve been wandering the web searching for the most economical ways to help close the remaining gaps in my collection.

I picked up a few series 1 minifigs from an eBay auction last week, and also found myself irritatingly reminded about the joys of sniping as I watched three other auctions that I was in lost by pennies a piece, but I also came across a scary number of copycat minifigs from overseas sellers that makes me hesitant to order anything else Lego from eBay in the future.

Case in point #1 – I still need Bunny Suit Guy from series 7, which currently averages on Bricklink for about $35-45 … however I found a guy on eBay who’s selling lots of five of them starting at only $25…

fake_bunnyguy

Depending on the minifig, if you’re paying attention you might catch on via the posting – for example with this one, the carrot that the real Bunny Suit Guy comes with is actually orange and green in two separate pieces whereas the fake ones were made all as one orange piece…

col07-3

And of course, you should trigger your too good to be true flag for seeing a lot of one of the rarer minifigs for so cheap, but if you’re in a hurry trying to jump on cheap prices, it would be easy to see how you might not realize it until the package shows up and you’re able to take a closer look in person. The video above has some great examples to show how although they may look the same from a distance, disassembly shows that some are made exceedingly cheaply and sometimes in no way like actual Legos are made underneath the surface!

A lot of these guys get away with this stuff because although they’re directly copying popular Lego minifigs, they don’t specifically use the brand name “Lego” anywhere in their listings. A common term that I found was “custom,” but “toys” or “bricks” as the video explains are also popular keywords.

I think what makes me the most nervous though is that although it’s fairly easy to identify these lots of the same minifig … from Taiwan or China and simply overlook those, today I found “a complete set” of series 1 minifigs that’s entirely counterfeit selling for only $29.99 Buy It Now out of Hong Kong…

fake_series1

You’d be hard pressed to eyeball any errors out of that picture, which just makes it worse for genuine collectors and fans once these minifigs leak out through “custom auctions” and into the general population of things that look like Legos, but really aren’t.

It kind of makes me glad that I’m not even in the market for Mr. Gold right now because although I do eventually want one for completion’s sake, I’m honestly not sure where I’m going to find a $500+ minifig that I feel comfortable buying online! Right now Bricklink only has 5 sellers with them, all listed for at least $2,000 a piece, and maybe 4 out of 64 legit listings on eBay.

Thankfully it’ll be a while yet before I’m ready to figure that one out – maybe I can find a private seller and make arrangements to travel and meet in person for it – but as for those other 22 that I’m still after, I’d rather pay a little more for better vetted sales via Bricklink than risk getting a ripoff that’s masquerading as a bargain… 🙁

I’ve been wanting to write about my thoughts on this since I first heard about the ridiculous allegations and watched the edited video in question that depicted a Planned Parenthood executive discussing the sale of baby parts with an anonymous party.

I think this video pretty much sums up the sarcastic angle of my opinion here because if you listened to the outrage, you’d think they were literally selling baby hearts and baby lungs on the black market! I mean, seriously – I watched a clip of Sean Hannity asking whether these parts were being used for transplants…

Just to be clear – even when a fetus hits the 22nd week (roughly time when a fetus is considered viable outside of the womb), it’s about the size of a banana, making the lungs about the size of a quarter and the heart and everything else even smaller.

So what per se would we be transplanting these micro-sized organs into, anyways???

Anyways, the rational angle of my opinion comes from personal experience because my wife and I actually went through something similar two years ago with regards to the fertility treatments we went through that resulted in the birth of our son.

Our first IVF cycle produced 12 human embryos, of which only 3 ended up being viable at the 5-day mark.

2 were unsuccessful in our first attempt, and the third was frozen cryogenically for six months before being used successfully in our second attempt and eventually became our son, Christopher.

As for those other 9 embryos, however, we were given a choice.

They could either be discarded simply as medical waste, or we could donate them for scientific research.

It was one of the few decisions throughout the entire process that we didn’t even have to stop to think about because if research from our failed embryos could help in any way to make the process a little easier for people on down the road by learning more about fetal development or the effect of hormones on maternity or anything else, it was well worth it because otherwise they were just going in the trash anyways.

We had to sign special consent paperwork agreeing to this in advance, and I’m sure just like Planned Parenthood, our clinic collected a small fee for the care and transport of the fetal tissue being delivered to their research partners. It’s not like you can just take discarded embryos and throw them in a box for the UPS guy to pick up once a week! Anything under $100/specimen for professional scientific services once you factor in storage, courier services, etc… is comical to be considered “profit.”

If you want a look at what actual profiting from the illegal sale of human tissue looks like, check out this undercover investigation that VICE did over in Bangladesh about the black market trade of kidneys. Selling an adult kidney for the price of a used car is very different from selling unborn fetal tissue for medical research that was otherwise headed for the garbage…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eny6D-7f_rc

Of course, it was abundantly clear to me from the moment I heard about this controversy that the stink about Planned Parenthood isn’t really about what they do with their medical waste, it ultimately just ties back to people believing that abortion shouldn’t be legal as a medical procedure at all. Even though it’s this type of research that ultimately serves to make pregnancy safer and more viable for women around the world, and even if abortion only accounts for 3% of Planned Parenthood’s business, who also happens to provide its variety of services to 1 in 5 women in America.

If something’s too ridiculous to be true, it probably is.

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for this former banner of the south, first brought into the news by a single flag flying over the South Carolina capitol to be followed by some of the biggest retailers in the country following suit to remove merchandise bearing the symbol from their shelves as well.

And a lot of folks who’ve always been fans of the flag have been particularly pissed, citing everything from censorship to heritage and southern pride…

So I wanted to vent a few thoughts about this because I passed a couple of huge trucks on the road today – one with the Stars & Stripes hanging from the back and the other with the Confederate flag, and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes because while the last couple of weeks have caused a lot of us to rethink how tolerant we are of seeing this emblem around us, there are clearly still others – and there will always be others – who only see what they want to see.

First of all, the easy part of the equation – the flag flying above the state capitol in SC … it doesn’t belong there. The south lost the Civil War over 150 years ago and represents, if nothing else, a subset of the union that tried to secede from the United States of America. A state can’t claim to be united when it still flies a symbol of treason over its capital.

Now as for the private sector’s perspective on the Confederate flag, that’s where it gets interesting because sure, freedom of speech protects anyone who wants to fly or sell the flag even if it may be dated and controversial, yet here we see the free market at work where major players like Amazon and Walmart have also made the decision where it might not pay – this time with their own bottom line – to sell these types of products.

And I know that a lot of people like to write things like this off as our society simply being too politically correct, but I think there’s more to it than that because our history is littered with changes in public perception as society has evolved to rule out things that it no longer deems acceptable – be it prohibition, slavery, women’s suffrage, etc… What some are calling politically correct equates to others saying, “You know what? We used to turn a blind eye to that in the past, but it’s not cool and we shouldn’t be doing that anymore.”

We’re seeing it very much forming a critical mass with gay marriage right now. There were still gay people who wanted equal rights decades earlier, however at the time society was more willing to look the other way while those individuals were treated as second class citizens in many respects by their fellow citizens. And while we’re certainly not there yet, the tides have at least turned enough on that front where majorities are speaking up and denouncing the treatment of their gay friends and family members as something that isn’t right and needs to change.

Waving the Confederate flag around really isn’t any different, and so while a bunch of people still somehow see that flag as the banner of the rebel and tattoo it on their skin as a symbol of pride, another subset is willing to consider the entire story and admit that maybe it’s not something to be as proud about as others would like to think, especially considering racial tensions that still bleed strong throughout our country.

So personally I think that anyone who chooses has every right to fly the Confederate flag should they like, with the exception of government buildings where its tainted history simply has no place, but that doesn’t mean I’m still disposed to turning a blind eye to seeing it on pick-up trucks and t-shirts and every other redneck icon that they carry so proudly. That flag has a lot more to do with than just Lynyrd Skynyrd and Budweiser and the Dukes of Hazzard just like gay marriage is a lot more than just a couple of queers flaunting their sexuality, and in the last couple of weeks I think more than anything we’ve heard segments of the public starting to call bullshit on all of that.

Because the thing is, eventually we’re going to have to shed those losing anthems of a period long behind us if we truly want to move forward as a society – a society that can honestly say that racism no longer divides us as it once did. Coming from a time when it was literally cool to keep other people as slaves, I would like to think that this would be a little more obvious than it’s proving to be, but what can I say?

Getting 350 million people all on the same page is tough and collectively as a country we’re still pretty young, but at least we’re learning … albeit slowly.

Louis CK on Gay People

March 30, 2015 4:46pm
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I think this glorious video sums up everything that I could ever possibly say about gay people.

I think “How am I supposed to explain to my kid?” is my all-time favorite Louis CK quote. 😉

Religious Freedom and Indiana…

March 30, 2015 3:58pm
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So I’ve been pretty engaged about this one over the last couple of days.

I’ve run two different humor pieces about it on Just Laugh:

I was proud to see that fellow humorist and writer friend Erik Deckers took a personal stand and backed down from a writing gig that he had held for the last six years promoting tourism around Indiana, as well as some companies like SalesForce.com and organizations like GenCon that are willing to move their financial influences elsewhere in response to the new law.

I’m also currently in a heated and increasingly bizarre argument with one of my uncles on Facebook that seems to imply that he himself personally gets inundated with lots and lots of gay sex because he’s quite adamant that “he doesn’t care – just keep it out of his face” … so there’s that! 😕

And I know that there’s a lot of confusion and misinformation floating around, particularly many that claim that the same laws exist already in another 19 states and was also introduced federally by Bill Clinton in 1993 … except that neither of these is actually true when you consider the political makeup and other laws on the books in those other scenarios. It gets ugly and complicated and much more than anyone could fit into a single soundbite when we factor in protected discrimination classes and rights of persons vs businesses and even simply the starkly different landscape that existed some 20 years ago when Bill Clinton was president.

At the end of the day, the spirit is still undeniably ugly and it continuously shocks me that we’re still having to fight and debate over something as clear cut as discrimination like this over and over again. It’s like the right attempting to defend religion doesn’t even acknowledge that another side exists – that for the baker to deny a cake to a gay couple also means that on the other side of the counter was a couple discriminated against due to their sexual preference.

As the old saying goes, I can explain it for you, but I can’t understand it for you.

The tricky part is, I’m sure there are some religious minorities that aren’t feeling the protection that they deserve for their beliefs as well, but we have to be honest here when we’re talking about this bill because with so many supporters of the new law being quite specifically anti-gay marriage, it should be a surprise to no one that the intent of this bill – as much as Gov. Pence wants to shake his head no – is directly in response to all of the progress that has been made with gay marriage across the landscape in recent years.

It’s funny because I watched the ABC News interview with George Stephanopoulus in which he was asked no less than five times and wouldn’t answer the specific question, “If a florist in Indiana refuses to serve a gay couple, is that now legal in Indiana?” and his awkward defiance makes it clear as day what his opinion on this is, even if he dares not to speak the words into a microphone.

With all sincerity, I hope that this one burns on and continues to spark the debate because we’ve still got a long ways to go. People need to learn that their freedom of religion doesn’t give them the right to discriminate against others and that these types of practices are not what our founding fathers intended when these United States were formed. The USA isn’t a country where you should be judged walking into a store and we’ve supported that missive many times before. There’s no logical reason why the same shouldn’t extend to gay men and women just the same, and the fact that the religious right is now playing the victim card that they’re somehow being marginalized by the minority speaks volumes to which way the war is trending.

Like I’ve said a thousand times before, I think one day equal rights for gay people will just be another ugly scar in history that we reflect on and look past – I just wish for everyone who’s affected by it more than I am that it would all happen sooner rather than later because if we’re not fair and equal with how we treat one another, what’s the sense of all the rest that we strive for as Americans, really???

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