Thursday, June 6, 2013

Review of EPUB to PDF Converter.

Well, I am trying out a new piece of software to help get access to epubs that require color.  By converting them with "Epub to PDF Convert" (found on, I can use EPUB files meant for color readers on my Nook Glowlight.

After using it to convert several books, I love the speed of the conversion (less than 30 seconds per book) and the text is clear.  What makes this a good product though is that the same package apparently can convert PDF to EPUB, PDF to Kindle, and EPUB to Kindle.  Now, I have not used all of these functions as yet, especially since I do not use Kindle, but if I can move items from PDF to EPUB, then some of my knitting patterns and cookbooks can be changed in this way.

Genuinely, I think the product is pretty danged good.  But no review is complete without a suggestion:  When translating formats, it would be fantastic if the coverpage would translate as well.  As it is now, when I converted the books, they all appear in my Nook as "Cover" with no title.  This is minor though since I can just move them one at a time onto my reader.

Monday, October 24, 2011

An Atheist Views Madea

Its been a LONG time since I had an entry.  Life and all....but I recently, with my girlfriend and my daughters, have been watching the Madea movies, based on the Tyler Perry plays.  Specifically, we have watched "Madea's Family Reunion" and "Madea's Big Happy Family."  Let state from the outset that if you are expecting a specific reaction based on the title of my entry, you might be slightly disappointed.  But if you are willing to go along for the ride, even if you are a Christian, you might be surprised by how an absolutely avowed and vocal atheist views these movies with their often-aggressive religiosity.

Warning:  if you want to watch the movies unaware, there are spoilers interspersed

For those unfamiliar, Madea is an amalgamation by Tyler Perry of the many older black women with which he grew up.  He makes it clear many times in interviews that Madea is not *a* person but an archetype.  In the plays/movies, Madea dispenses advice on child-rearing, often consisting of "whoopins'" and tough love, as well as sage advice to adult children and even older relatives about life as she sees it.  Madea's appeal as far as I can tell is in the vaudevillian extremity of her reactions, sometimes done in the movies purely to break the incredible tension.  But under Madea's comedy, Tyler Perry addresses some vicious and disturbing subjects:  child rape, incest, death, drug addiction, prostitution, drug dealing and spousal abuse, just to name a few.  These are handled with absolute frankness, without hesitation or the camera panning from scenes that *will* disturb you.  When one of Madea's nieces is being abused by her fiance, the camera never leaves her as she is hit, threatened and tortured.  This often earns these movies minimally PG-13 ratings, and in at least two cases, an R rating.  So if you are of a gentle sensibility and cannot handle these disturbing issues, Tyler Perry movies might be too intense for you.

But with these terrible issues, these movies have the spiritual aspects.  Let me be honest:  my girlfriend is a Christian and she felt it necessary to "warn" me about it, but I trust her and I watched the movies without concern.  Yes, the "thank you, Jesus" got tiresome, do not misunderstand.  But these are "real" people and the message Perry seeks to dispense is about the value of faith.  Now, we can argue about whether faith is as necessary, either to Madea herself or to the others in the stories, to redeem them of their problems.  In what I see as perhaps the most redeeming thing about these movies, even as Madea is talking in "praise Jesus" messages, she is dispensing "pull yourself up by the bootstrap" messages.  When her above-mentioned niece is given advice by Madea, it is not "pray about it," but rather very earthy advice about dealing with an abusive spouse.  My 12 year old daughter loves the scene because it reflects a realty that she understands.  When her sister learned of her abuse, her exact words were, "Oh hell no!  Madea!"  After telling Madea of the abuse in vague terms and asking what to do, Madea says, "Before or after his funeral?" and then offers some very (pardon my expression) BLACK WOMAN ADVICE.  As I tell my children, I grew up around women like Madea, women who would no sooner let a man hit them then they would feed their children poison.  So, again, regardless of the "praise Jesus" tones, Madea is very sagacious and earthy.

Under the religious tones are other messages, ones that an atheist can agree are important.  Some of them are:

  • Family should be central
  • What happened in the past cannot be changed, deal with it and move forward
  • Forgiving someone takes away their power to control your life
  • You are only as strong as you tell yourself you are
  • There are times when even the strongest needs a friend
  • Don't let hatred consume you
Strange, none of those are necessarily religious messages.  Sure, religions may or may not teach them, but these are human values that most of us share.  So, if you are one of my atheist friends, you might actually find Madea uplifting in a human sense.

Now allow me to address what I am certain are going to be objections to Madea/Tyler Perry.

1.  Madea engages in corporal punishment.  An important thing to know is that this issue is addressed head-on in "Madea's Big Happy Family" and in actuality, the very religious family member comes out on the losing side of this.  She believed prayer would remedy her children and their failings, not believing in the Madea brand of tough love.  It is Madea's aggressive and not-unwarranted use of force that corrects a VERY foul-mouthed child who had been raised by "negotiating" and "reasoning" parents.  It is Madea's unfiltered truth-telling that makes the adult children snap out of their hatred of their dying mother and of each other.  I am sure there are people who will criticize the movies and my endorsement of them.  I am not unaware of how "incorrect" these movies are to people who *know* that all children will respond to rational discourse.  So be it.  It does not, regardless, take away from the message that parents must PARENT their children.  Madea delivers lines of advice to parents in the movie which amount to, "you are their parents, not their friends or equals."

2.  The apparent lack of real justice in these movies leaves me wishing for better resolution.  Madea's niece's abusive fiance gets personal comeuppance but these is no mention of legal consequences, and the underlying reason why he felt he could do these things (her mother had been raiding her trust fund with the fiance's help) are never really addressed.  Worse, the rapes of two different children in two movies, while occurring before the action of the films, seem to have gone unpunished.  Incest and rape are, to me, worse than many of the other themes in these films and yet are the ones that seem to go escape consequence beyond the victims themselves.  This is a legitimate issue to me and I will not defend it except to say that we should look at the world in which these stories take place and realize that reality DOES often show us people escape real justice for their crimes.  So maybe, this should anger the audience enough to start demanding justice for these victims.

3.  Stereotypes of black people do not elevate the community.  I am almost loathe to say this but these stereotypes exist because they reflect the reality Perry seeks to illuminate.  If you have a problem with portraying drug dealers/addicts, prostitutes, abusive partners, teen pregnancy or a myriad of other societal ills, then look out of your window and see what is real.  I do not live in the black community so I cannot say Perry's reality reflects authentically, but I will accept that he does and therefore he knows from whence he speaks.

What do I want you, the reader, to take away from this?  I want my atheist friends to not shy away from these movies.  Even if you disagree with aspects, even if you HATE some of the messages, I think it is important to reflect on how other's view the world and social ills, as well as the solutions they offer.  To my Christian/religious friends, I would like for you to consider Madea's actions as opposed to her words.  She may "praise Jesus" but she never relies on him to solve her problems or those in her family.  She takes the bull by the horns, or by the balls in a few cases, and she says what has to be said, does what has to be done and, when the dust settles, a family is better than it was before and maybe we the audience have been elevated in our awareness of our responsibilities to each other.  No need for a higher power....because we are our own higher power; we have the power to fix many of the things wrong in our own lives and those of our neighbors.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Plan....

Keep in mind I am not exactly saying as much as it appears, but I distrust the State enough to actually put this theory out there because, if I am wrong, no big deal...but if I am correct and we do nothing, can you IMAGINE.....

Many on the Left have raised a lot of noise about the Iraq War being about oil, not WMD, and the current president promised to get our troops out of there....and still has not.  Was he lying about his promise, or did he learn about The Plan after he was elected?  Think on the following:

1.  Because of the Iraq War, the United States now has tens of thousands of "citizen-soldiers" also known as the National Guard who are skilled in urban warfare and have been battle-hardened to killing people.

2.  These same people now have skills in such "useful" tasks as setting up militarized roadblocks and have demonstrated a willingness to shoot when their orders are violated.

3.  There is a strong push for a "National ID card" which would be used to carry your personal information on the embedded microchip, meaning any police officer or agent of the State would be able, with the swipe of a wand, to know all about you.

4.  Through regulation, the government of the United States now has virtual control over the means of production and distribution of all the material and fuel.

5.  While the Individual Mandate in the health care law seems innocuous to some and tyrannical to others, what is this but a backdoor on the National ID....everyone will have to have a card, right?  So what if they are not YET uniform?

Should the people realize the usurpation of their rights (see Patriot Act, see Rendition, see warrantless wiretaps, see....the list goes on) and they rise up, the United States government has created for itself the means to quell any rebellion, quash any resistance, and to track/control anyone they so desire.  We have a ready-to-roll collection of what could easily be seen as "sleeper cells," people who have shown they are willing to surrender their own morality/ethics on orders from their government.  What if President Obama learned that there was a Plan in place that would secure America for the ruling elites, and the current stage was building an army of "citizen soldiers" who would, at the word of a "threat," be armed and ready to the defend the State from "terrorists?"  Remember, the DHS has already attempted to sell the people on the image of "militias" as terrorist cells in the country.  Would the Plan be the reason why we are STILL training these citizen-soldiers in foreign ensure there are enough people to defend the State when the People realize what is happening?

Jefferson said that, when the government becomes oppressive, it is the duty of the people to rise up and seize back control over their own lives.  We are losing the ability to do so.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

On Zombie Worship Day....

I bet people think I am going to make some blasphemous post about religion....nope.  Instead, I am just going to post a quote.  What scares me is how long ago this was and yet how it describes the current political class in the U.S.

"The really dangerous American fascist... is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way. The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power... They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective, toward which all their deceit is directed, is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection."
-- U.S. Vice President Henry A. Wallace, quoted in the New York Times, April 9, 1944

On how many levels can we say this is the extreme Right?  But you know, this also describes the current president.  Speaking to the American people as though they are on our side, then spending our tax dollars to prop up huge corporations, which then use that money to take MORE of our money....

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Political Pet Peeve

The title is not ACTUALLY what I would choose because, to quote the immortal George Carlin, "some people have pet peeves.  I have psychotic fucking hatreds!"  So, let' call this a "pet peeve tending toward a Carlin-esque rant."

I was reading poll numbers on 2012, fully aware that at this point in 2007 the polls had Hillary Clinton in a virtual landslide, and I noticed how the Republicans are doing PRECISELY what they accused the Democrats of doing all through 2007 and 2008:  talking down issues.  Case in point:  Obama's negatives are running about 50-56% in a lot of the South, and the GOP is attempting to translate that ito "56% of people will not vote for him" or "Obama loses to Republican field, except Palin."  I will deal with Palin in a sec, because I have a SPECIAL treat on Mama Grizzly.

What the GOP ignores, what anyone who is more than 25 years old already knows, is that Americans' negative perceptions do not translate well at the ballot box.  Congress had a rating in the teens before the 2010 elections, yet all of the anti-incumbent sentiment, while sweeping the House to the Republicans dramatically, did not remove the Senate from Democrat hands and many anti-incumbent candidates lost (see the Nevada and California races for examples).  Americans have a long history of holding their noses in presidential elections.  We vote for the lesser of two evils....see 2004....see 1996....see 1976....  We will vote for the one least likely to screw it up worse than it already is.  That is at least part of why Obama was able to utterly crush McCain.  That is why Clinton was able to destroy Dole in 1996.  Sure, we knew they were lying....they are politicians, you know?  But Obama had promise....he said the things people wanted to hear.  Now, let's not get into specifics because he looks terrible on the micro-level.  Hope and Change, folks....stick with it!!!

My rant has a point, and its simply this:  the next time you hear a Republican talking down the economy (the continuing recession) or talking up a candidate who got crushed by his own party in the last cycle (Huckabee, Romney), ask for facts...and offer them if they do not have them.  By the same token, the next time you hear a Democrat talk about Republicans starving children and turning out the elderly, ask for facts or offer them if they are in short supply.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rush Limbaugh is either a fool or a liar

Rush Limbaugh is either a fool or a liar

© 2011, The Badger’s Den

On Wednesdays, when I am not working usually, I make a mental sacrifice.  I listen to as much Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh as I can stand.  In all honesty, I end up turning off Glenn Beck after no more than fifteen minutes because I am yelling at the radio.  The net result is that I really have no interest in Beck more than as a mouthpiece of certain interests.  But Rush, I do make a more valiant effort to listen.  Today, I seethed as I listened, more than usual actually, because he made the following statement:  “The Democratic Party is like the plantation owners of old.  They seek to enslave….”  He went on to say that “the Republican Party is the party of smaller government and liberty.”

I thought about this and remembered an essay I began months ago called “Imagine Revisited.”  It was not (and is not) as uplifting as John Lennon’s song, but it asks the reader to think on the world in which we live.  What follows is the revision and completion of that essay, though I think I will stick to the new title above, as it might get people’s attention and inspire someone else to “riff” on my themes.  After the original essay is completed, I will return to the question of whether Rush is a fool or a liar.

While the Republican Party calls itself the “party of smaller government,” and the essential corollary that they espouse is “small government equals greater freedom.”  This is not necessarily true however.  I want you, my reader, to follow me down a dark path, the path of “smaller government” and tell me…are we freer in the world of this imagining.

Imagine you are born into a middle class family in Middle America.  You are not rich but you are not poor.  Wally and the Beaver are your neighbors; that is your middle class neighborhood.  You grow up not needing for much and maybe you want a bit, but you are secure.  Now, you enter high school and are informed that, if you want to make a good living, you must attend college.  So you start looking around at schools and discover that the costs are fierce even for an in-state public university.  Mom and Dad cannot pay for your college, and the costs have become such that you cannot “work your way through college” as perhaps your father did, assuming he was not on the G.I. Bill.  So you do what every other middle class kid does:  you take out student loans, maybe accept Pell Grants, and get a few scholarships as well as take a menial work-study job in the dining hall of your university.

Now, flash forward four years (assuming you finished in four, which less than half of students now do).  You are 21 years old, bachelor’s degree in hand, looking at a job market.  Even in a good economy, you have only your work-study experience and maybe some summer jobs, but you also have $25,000 or more in student loan debts.  Put another way, your debts at the beginning of your adult life are likely to be somewhere in the neighborhood of your annual income.  You have to meet this obligation or else your “credit score” will suffer, but you have not even found a decent job yet.  You are now in the “debt cycle.”  But you get a job and start paying your student loans.  Are you free to work a job you enjoy?  NO!  You must work at whatever you can find because your debts exceed your assets (translation:  you cannot sell something to pay your debts).  When you have to work in this manner, is this not a form of slavery?

But let us not get ahead of ourselves.  Someone is reading this and saying, “Then get a better education so you can get a higher-paying job.”  So instead of finishing in four years with $25,000 in debts, you go on to graduate school, you become a pharmacist or a lawyer.  You are smart; you know pharmacists earn approximately $100,000 annually.  Ah, the good life, right?  Oops, did someone forget to tell you that pharmacy school tuition is approximately $25,000 per year?  Four years of pharmacy school times $25,000 per year, and now you are in debt to the tune of $125,000, give or take a few thousand.  Oh, never mind, you went to law school, and its only three years.  Ah, except law schools are between $22,000 and $30,000 per year, with no assured income levels.  So again, you are in the debt cycle.

Let’s talk about student loans for a moment.  $25,000 of debt at 8% interest if you are lucky is a low-ball number.  Assuming you can meet your obligations the day you graduate, you are still in debt for a decade, minimum.  With that interest rate, you are paying back more than twice your debt over the life of the loan.  What are you buying with your money?  You are paying for the bank to loan more money to the next generation in addition to paying back the money they lent you, thereby trapping them in another generation of debt and fueling nothing more than paper moving across desks.  That money produces nothing, it makes no product and it cures no disease.  At best, it can be said that it increases the knowledge base, but that assumes every student who takes a loan adds to the world’s collective knowledge.  So student loans are easily seen as monetary enslavement by those with money of those without.

We now move to the next stage of our imagined life.  Out of college, in a job, and wanting more out of life…the American Dream we were all taught.  But remember, we are paying our student loans and have very little disposable income after debts and obligations.  So we take a credit card.  Now we can accrue some serious monetized debt.  Even a good credit rating gives you a 10% interest rate.  Imagine you are the struggling graduate, what is your credit rating as a 30 year old with $100,000 of outstanding debt and very few assets.  More like 15% interest, would you say?  So now, you are in debt to multiple banks for more money and have to work to pay these debts.  Are you free?

This brings us back to Rush Limbaugh now.  He claims “smaller government equals more freedom.”  But does it?  What keeps the interest rate on student loans capped at 10%?  What prevents credit card companies from charging greater than 22% interest?  What prevents banks from changing rules, moving billing dates without notice, or any number of other potential abuses?  The answer, which to this Libertarian is a painful reality, is government oversight.  Imagine now the Rush Limbaugh version of the world, where regulation is reduced, or in some cases eliminated.  Free markets allow banks to charge whatever interest rates the “market” will bear.  Student loans are issued with whatever interest rates the banks wish to charge.  Sure, you do not have to take out a loan for schooling, but you do not have to go to school either, right?  Oh wait, you want to make money and have a good life.

Republicans like Limbaugh want to lay all of the blame on the Democrats.  But who was the president that proposed and pushed the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), passed in October 2008?  It would seem that a Republican president proposed, and many Republicans supported, using taxpayer dollars to literally prop up multi-billion dollar banks, some of which were quite solvent by their own admission.  In effect, the Republican president with support from both parties gave citizens’ money to businesses in order to assure their success.  Those businesses then took the people’s own money and lent it back to them at interest.  Imagine again, your neighbor borrows your car because his is broken down, and then tries to charge you money to use your own car again because he still needs it.  This is what TARP did, and Limbaugh proposes that the party which supports this is a party of greater freedom. 

Perhaps I hear Republicans screaming at me that Bush was not a “conservative” and that “conservatives” opposed TARP.  Did they?  Examine the spending of Congress, using the people’s money through the entire Bush era.  House Majority Leader Eric Cantor [full disclosure, he is my Congressman] voted for nearly everything Bush proposed, and he ran in 2010 as a “Tea Party Conservative.”  So, is he lying or are “conservatives” merely “conservative” when a Democrat is in the White House?  How many “conservatives” spent, to borrow a phrase, like drunken sailors on shore leave during the Bush years and suddenly, when a Democrat is in the White House “rediscover” their “conservative principles?”

But now, back to the central point:  the enslavement of the American people is not the result merely of “Big Government” as people such as Limbaugh state.  The people of the nation are enslaved by the debt they carry, slavery to corporations and banks which take money but provide no product.  Health insurance, life insurance, home owners insurance, car insurance, credit cards, student loans and mortgages are all “paper industries,” wherein the “consumer” pays money for paper, which has no absolute value (both in the mathematical and the economic meanings).  What prevents these “paper industries” from taking more to give less?  Government.

As anyone reading this who knows me will understand, I am first and foremost a Libertarian, an opponent of government intervention into the private sector, the private lives of citizens.  But I am also a realist and a cynical one at that.  But that does not mean I am blind to the necessity of government.  The collective effort of society, as represented in our government absent “interests,” is essential to build roads, provide services.  As the Preamble states (with emphasis my own):  WE THE PEOPLE, in order to form a more perfect UNION, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the COMMON DEFENSE, promote the GENERAL welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to OURSELVES and OUR posterity, do ordain and establish the Constitution for the United States of America.  It seems that, when read with my emphases, the Constitutional Convention was not about merely individualism, but also about the need for the people to come together, to do what was necessary for the WHOLE.  Think back too to the ending of the Declaration of Independence, to Jefferson’s closing.  “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, WE MUTUALLY PLEDGE TO EACH OTHER OUR LIVES, OUR FORTUNES AND OUR SACRED HONOR.” (emphasis my own).  These men of the Enlightenment, founding a nation on liberty, did so with a strong sense of collective effort, shared risk and mutual support.

I bet Rush Limbaugh would never consider that the Founders shared common cause with people who support “collectivism” even if they believed in every person being able to rise or fall by his or her own efforts.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

I hate Valentine's Day

Not my usually well-considered post, but one that has to be made.

I absolutely positively and without a doubt hate the bullshit holiday that is yet ANOTHER excuse for horny people to parade their lust around and pretend like they are SOOOO in love, all the while people around them know that someone is a drunk or a drug addict, someone is abusive or multiple-divorced,  someone likes porn more than their partner, and yet, on this one day, they like to pretend they *retch* love each other so much.

Some people are suicidal on Jewish Zombie's fake birthday....but me, I wish for death on this holiest of women's holidays.  Buy her chocolate, buy her jewelry.  Buy her flowers and cards and candy.  If you do, you will get laid.  Don't do it and you are a scumbag.  So, let's be clear:  treat her like a whore (we buy you dinner, candy or flowers and you give it up) and you are a good guy.  Don't treat her like one and you are a loser.  We understand...but don't bitch at us when, next month, we buy you a box of chocolates and then expect you to spread 'em like butter.

Bitter?  Yes.  But I figure a lot of HONEST men share my sentiment.  Sure, there are whipped little wuss-boys who will obey and pretend.  But honesty is the best policy, guys.  Tell her to go fuck herself, because you don't do whores!