Can You Be A Good Person And Do Bad Things?

Escape Graffiti - Lisbon, PortugalFor a while now, Scott Adam’s The Dilbert Blog has been in my list of blogs tagged “favorite” in Google Reader. (Which means I view these blogs in expanded view, because I know I will want to read each post.) While I can’t claim to share his point of view on a number of issues, I find his assertions both entertaining and often well argued. But enough buttering up Scott Adams.

In the past couple of days he put up a post on “Cognitive Dissonance” (definition here), which followed a post on whether or not it copright violation is stealing. It was a classic bait and switch; he was trolling for people who would inevitably go to great lengths to argue that copyrights aren’t the same as property, and therefore violating a copyright isn’t stealing. Or that the benefits gained by exposure of stolen property makes the theft not only OK, but desirable. And in the following post, he handily spanked said rationalizers by poking holes in their logic, which served nicely to illustrate the dissonance between who they think are (good, honest people) and their inconsistent behavior (MP3 Kleptomaniacs).

So what’s my point? Is this just a Scott Adams love-fest? Nope. While I really enjoyed both of the posts, there is a flaw to his assumption. And that is the assumption that everybody works from the same morality play book. There are clearly similarities between moral codes between people in a society, but it’s clear that some people genuinely believe that violation of copyright is not a crime. Heck, there are hippies (not necessarily dirty, but probably needing a quick shower) out there that don’t believe in property ownership in any sense (which might be why your MP3 player went missing after that party a couple of weeks ago). Because cognitive dissonance is defined as a condition of conflict or anxiety due to inconsistency with your actions and beliefs, the odds are that Mr. Adams is incorrect about a percentage of these people when he calls them out. For some of these people, theft is not inconsistent with their beliefs, and causes them no anxiety. (Take professional pick pockets, for example.) Their actions my be inconsistent with your notions of morality, but according to the definition of the term, that doesn’t count. Their idea of being “good” means a hard day in the train station, lifting wallets and later buying a round for the boys at the pub.

But if we assume matching moralities, the question becomes can you be a good person and do bad things. If a persons goodness is based on their behavior, the answer seems to be no. Unless you embrace the evil that is averages. If on average, your good deeds outweigh your bad, it would be reasonable to say you’re a good person.

But have you ever tried to quantify it? In our daily lives, I’d say a lot of the things we do are neutral. Drinking a cup of coffee. Listening to the news. Watching some TV. Sending email. Arguably these are neither good nor bad actions. Then think, how often do you leave the office a bit early? Or send a nasty email? Or spread a harmful rumor around the water cooler? Or cut someone off in traffic? Do you do enough good things on a daily basis to balance these things so you meet or beat the magical standard of “average” and qualify as a good person? Thanks to the wonders of statistics, your bad behavior may actually outweigh your good behavior and you could still be considered good if enough people have similar ratios.

I think in reality a person’s “goodness” is determined by a highly subject, incredibly complicated system of weighted activities, wherein lack of extremely bad deeds (murder, rape, etc.) is counted as a large good deed credit, which can, and is, often used to offset lesser bad deeds (stealing office supplies, lying your way out of a speeding ticket, etc.). As proof of this, I point to a number of minor crimes that happen in the Atlanta area. One such incident involved a young man, who caught stealing a car and joyriding. I don’t know what eventually happened to the young man, but I do remember his mother (or maybe his sister) saying to reporters that he was basically a good kid. He just got mixed up in the wrong crowd. In my ethical goodness calculating system, stealing a car puts you solidly in the bad category. However, I don’t think I can confidently point to the young man’s cognitive dissonance. His value system is likely to be similar to his mothers.

Well, I’ve strayed a bit further than I planned, but after some thought, I’m not sure why you’d use a phrase like “cognitive dissonance” when the word hypocrisy seems to cover the bases adequately. Unless the goal is to address the issue using unfamiliar terms that don’t carry with them the negative connotation. But I’ll leave that tangent up to you to follow if you choose. 🙂

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Atlanta’s 7 Year Explosion & The Hip Hop Oasis

Apparently my adopted home town leads the nation in population growth, going back as far as 2000. And I can believe it, I’m part of that statistic. And I’ve driven in the rush hour traffic.

I never planned to make Atlanta my home when I first arrived on a contract job in 2003. I thought I’d be here for my 6 month contract, and would return Portland, Oregon in a better job market than when I left. My plan was detoured slightly when that contract was lucratively extended by 3 months. And finally plans to return were put on hold as contract after contract held me in town with rates of pay far superior to that of Oregon. Even now, nearly 4 years later, with job market picking up in Oregon, I still find the offerings inferior to what’s available locally.

Another interesting fact that is relevant to this discussion is my neighborhood of Buckhead is home to the “the highest concentration of high end stores in the United States” according to wikipedia and bears the title of “Shopping Mecca of the Southeast“. Unsurprisingly, it’s also one of the centers of night life for Atlanta.

So why is Atlanta doing so well and attracting so many people? I have a theory that’s been rattling around in my head for a while. My theory is Atlanta is the city sheltered in a hip-hop/sports economic oasis. Oh sure, favorable conditions for business, proximity to Coke, Delta Airlines, CNN and a ton of major financial institutions has its influence too, I’m sure. But anybody can tell you that.

What not everybody will tell you is that the eternal exuberance of the local music industry and sporting events keeps everybody out late, living it up and spending money. People spending money keeps non-essential businesses open, creates new business opportunity and keeps people working even if they can’t dunk, pass or spit out clever rhyming phrases over old funk and disco hooks. (I’ve tried, I can’t. I do a comical beatbox, but I won’t prove it.)

In an effort to be thorough and back up my crackpot theory (do note, it is tagged “crackpot theory”), I did a quick Google search on the economics of hip hop. (The sports part is sort of a no-brainer.) There’s not much out there. I only found an article that mentions in passing that hip hop had the possibility to help rebuild urban areas in Detroit, but that doesn’t help me prove it has had anything to do with the good times here in Hotlanta, the city of Bling.

So I’ll leave it up to you. I welcome all attempts to shoot holes in my theory. Just make sure it’s my theory you’re aiming at. 🙂 Oh yeah, and if anybody goes on to get a plush grant to study the impacts of Hip Hop on the economy of Atlanta, I want an honorable mention. Or a really well paid spot on the research team.

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Heat, Humidity and Marriage


With a title like that you probably expect this post to deal with the topic of maintaining your dating passion in your married life. Well, close, but no cigar. 🙂 This post is about maintaining the passion in your cigars! Specifically while they lay waiting for you inside your humidor.

It occurred to me today that I still didn’t understand the intricacies of proper cigar storage as well as I’d like to. I know that the humidor sweet spot seems to be 70 degrees (Fahrenheit, 21 Celsius) at 70% relative humidity, but it wasn’t fully clear to me why that’s where I want to be. And based on my previous experience with cigar related advice, it seemed likely that there were other view points on the matter. As it turns out, I’m right. There are differing (but overlapping) ideas on the ideal cigar environment. For the purposes of this post, I’ve compared the information from 4 sources: humidor-guide.com, the FAQ on cigargroup.com, shortcut-cigars.com and the advice of “the respected local tobacconist” who was introduced in my last cigar-themed post.

Temperature

The concensus on temperature appears to actually be 68 degrees, not 70 as I had previously thought. (The CigarGroup website maintains that 70 degrees is ideal, but states that slightly lower temperatures are fine so long as humidity is maintained.) The reason you want to avoid higher temperatures (between 75 and 80 degrees and higher) is to avoid the hatching of bugs or infestation of worms in the tobacco in your cigars. One website notes that the presence of pest eggs in cigar tobacco is actually more widespread than most believe. Higher temperatures also are favorable to some molds and fungi.

Lower storage temperatures are less dangerous to your cigars than higher temperatures. The only problem with lower temperatures it can slow or halt the benefits of aging, and prevent the “marrying” of cigars (more on cigar marriage later). But you have a lot of room on this side of the thermometer. Cigar aging is severely impaired only after you cool to somewhere in the range of 61 to 54 degrees or cooler. These extremely low temperatures are generally only a problem if your humidor is located in your wine cellar. Cellars are not the best idea for long term storage.

Humidity

The humidity consensus seems to be closer to the 70% mark, but with a bias toward a degree or two lower. If your humidity bounces around a bit (as it will for up to 3 weeks you first purchase your humidor) there’s nothing to worry about. You just need to keep it in the 68 to 74% range. At 75% relative humidity and higher, your start to run the risk of mold (almost guaranteed above 85%), and you may find that your cigars go out too easily. Also you cigars may swell which may result in a tighter smoke and possibly even damage to the cigar’s wrapper.

Unlike temperature, you don’t have as much play in lower readings. At humidity levels below 65% your cigars will begin to dry, and the wrappers may crack. Dryer cigars may also burn too quickly and be bitter. Important oils in the tobacco may evaporate, which will cause an irretrievable loss in fullness and flavor.

Also, and interesting tidbit I picked up while reading the CigarGroup website was that new analog hygrometers can be as much as 20% out of calibration! Fortunately, mine is digital, but if yours isn’t, you might want to visit their site and try out one of their hygrometer tests. Shortcut-cigars.com has a few easy tests also.

Marrying Cigars

I’ll be honest. I didn’t know anything about “marrying” cigars before I started reading up on the consequences of straying from the 70/70 cigar utopia. But when I started reading about it, I wasn’t at all surprised. The basic concept of cigar marriage is well introduced in a brief article on humidor-guide.com:

“Cigars absorb aromas from their environment. That is, they not only absorb the aroma of the humidor’s interior wood lining but also aromas from other cigars stored in the same humidor.”

The idea of cigars being infused with their environment is not something that should surprise anybody. But its something you should keep in mind when you’re buying and organizing your cigars. If you mix your mild cigars with bolder or spicier cigars, you’ll discover that your mild cigars are not so mild after a while. And that may work ok in some cases, but in most cases what you’ll have is a bunch of ruined cigars. However, if you store a bunch of similar cigars together, over the long term (3 months or more, with improvements up to 2 to 3 years) the results will be a pleasant batch of cigars that smoke very consistently and with better flavor than if they had been kept apart.

The key to cigar marriage is the cellophane wrapping (or other sleeve). If you want your cigars to marry, you need to remove the tube, cellophane or sleeve the cigars came in to reap the benefits. On the other hand, if you have a medley of different strengths and flavors of cigars, you want to make sure that you leave these covering in place! The cellophane wrapping will do a good job of preventing a bad marriage. (I won’t explore the possibility of innuendo at this time, but yes, it crossed my mind. 🙂 )

The Importance of Position

I came across on more thing that hadn’t occurred to me while I was reading up on the merits of different levels of humidity- the importance of direct you place your cigars in your humidor. Generally when you see pictures of humidors you see them with cigars laying horizontally (length-wise) inside. In many cases, the option of placing your cigars any other way isn’t available. The box just isn’t wide enough for your cigars to lay width-wise (one end pointing at you, the other away). And that’s a good thing.

Evidently, laying cigars width wise can cause an uneven, inconsistent smoking experience with a cigar. That’s due to the repeated exposure of one end of the cigar to the dryer outside air more than the other end when the humidor is opened. It may sound far-fetched, but over a long period of time, I can see this becoming a noticeable problem for your older cigars.

Wow, and to think this post started with the question “Hmm… my humidor’s at 75 degrees, I wonder what if anything would happen to my cigars if left it there?” Hopefully you have found this exploration as interesting as I have.

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Crazy Beards You Gotta See To Believe


Every now and then you come across a guy that waxes his mustaches into a little curl at the end and you immediately suspect him of having tied a gorgeous blonde to a railway track earlier that day.

Seriously, I can’t help but respect anybody who takes the time to both grow a healthy chin shrub and actually style it in an unusual way. Encountering these gentlemen always seems to lighten my mood, as well as break the monotony of the daily routine. You can image my pleasure at coming across the website of the World Beard and Moustache Championships (they have a “Team USA”!). These guys are serious about their facial hair, just check out the winners gallery! I dare you to check it out and not smile.

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The Mystery of Proper Humidor Seasoning


Recently I went on a quest to buy a cigar humidor. As I compared the offerings from a number of cigar merchants, I asked for advice on the proper way to prepare a new humidor before loading it with my small collection of dry and drying cigars. I think even seasoned cigar aficionados will be surprised at how much the advice varied from one merchant to another. For your reading pleasure, here are the highlights.

Mall tobacco & wine shop
“I just fill up the humidifier unit, leave it overnight and put cigars in the next day.” And that’s almost an exact quote.

Strip mall cigar shop
The gentleman here offered a two day treatment process that involved a special seasoning fluid and/or distilled water, applied thoroughly each evening. He didn’t say, but there may have been a charge for this service.

Respected community tobacconist
The older gentleman’s advice at this establishment was to wipe down the cedar lining with tap water and a cloth or paper towel (absolutely no chemicals) 2 or 3 times over 3 or 4 hour time frame and it’d be ready. He also made a point to caution me against using tap water in the humidifier. The gentleman I spoke to at this shop was the owner and operator of one of the oldest tobacco shops in the area and the advice he offered seemed to be a good balance of practicality and thoroughness. And he offered me a great deal on a Diamond Crown Wellington Cigar Humidor. (To be honest, it’s probably more humidor than I absolutely need, but I’m really enjoying filling it up.)

Now just for fun, I checked out a number of websites offering a manner of tips on cigars and humidors after I purchased the humidor. About.com’s cigar pages advises a process very similar to the Strip mall cigar shop, with the addition of a damp sponge left over the first night (one other merchant advised a small bowl or cup of water). Another article at BlogCritics agrees, leading me to think that the 2-day sponge seasoning process is prevailing wisdom on the internet. (Note: I am specifically not linking to several pages who have listed advice with the intent on selling you expensive special chemical treatment fluids. It’s clear to me that this is not only not necessary, but eventually harmful to your cigars and humidifiers.)

Also noteworthy about the BlogCritics article is the explanation as to why you’re sponging down the lining: “This is how a desktop humidor that contains a passive humidification device works: the Spanish cedar, or (mahogany) retains the humidity, and the humidification device replenishes the moisture in the wood.” I think people selling humidors assume this is understood by the customer (this was never mentioned to me anywhere), but I don’t think this is a safe assumption to make.

So the question now is, which method did I choose? Well, I started out with the Respected Tobacconist’s approach, which morphed into the 2 day sponge/paper towel treatment. I found that several quick treatments spaced several hours apart simply wasn’t enough to maintain a stable humidity.

I think the reason there is so much variety in seasoning process has to do with there being so much variety in humidors. My advice to anybody buying a humidor is to play it by ear, but expect it’ll take a couple of days to be ready. And just maybe this post will help you get it done with confidence. 🙂

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Google’s Toilet Internet Service Provider (Beta, of course)

This just reminds me why I love Google.

“Want WiFi around? Just flush it down!”