January 31, 2007

Home Tech Bridges

They’re trying something new this year with the 6th grade class at my daughter’s school. In the home tech class, they’ve split the year up into “typing” and “bridge-building.” They told us this at parent’s night.

“Bridge-building?”

“Yes” they told us. Bridge-building questions are on the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) test, so we’ve included it in the curriculum.

Really? This struck me as odd. But, there are questions on the MCAS test that deal with bridges and engineering.

It hit me on the drive home today, maybe it’s not so odd considering…

Date is set to open bids for final phase of Brightman Street Bridge project

Work on the new phase is still slated to begin in the spring.
Construction is expected to take five years. Even if that holds, it would mean the bridge would be opening a decade later than officials originally expected when work on the project began.

Maybe there’s a reason the Brightman Street Bridge replacement is taking so long. Figuring in one or two more delays on the new bridge, my daughter and her classmates will be out of school and ready to help complete the bridge. It sounds like a joke, but what isn’t a joke about a bridge that was originally supposed to be open before the century was over?

So, citizens of Fall River and Somerset, don’t despair. Help is on the way for the bridge. A custom-made workforce ready in about 8 years - earlier if you have them on work-study.

Posted by James at 7:07 PM

Quick Tour of the News

Obama Freezes out Fox News

Obama’s Grudge Factor - Washington Post

Since the madrassah incident, Obama has given interviews to ABC, CNN, CBS and NBC — pretty much every other network except Fox. Sources close to Obama acknowledged that they’re not thrilled to play ball with Fox journalists, but they stopped short of saying they are freezing the network out.

No doubt, Obama will not actually freeze out Fox officially or for very long. However, when a major network basically makes up news and runs with it without research, why do they need actual access to the candidate? Can’t they actually just make up whatever story they want to report?

In other, actual news, Obama wants a bill to give the president a May, 2008 deadline in Iraq. He’s just emboldening the Democrats!

Joe Biden - Candidate

Joe Biden: Hillary Clinton’s Plan for Iraq a ‘Disaster’ - ABC News

Biden has announced his interest in being a candidate for president (that whole “exploratory committee” thing) and has come out swinging at Hillary’s plan. Does Biden actually think he can get some traction? I guess we’ll see. Personally, I think he’s superfluous at this point.

Raped, Jailed, Denied Medical Treatment

College Student Jailed For Two Days After Reporting Rape

Why? She reported the rape and while they were trying to locate the crime scene, they found an outstanding warrant on her from when she was 17. They stopped the investigation, threw her in jail and then…

A jail worker later refused to give her a second dose of a morning-after pill to prevent pregnancy because of religious convictions, said Vic Moore, the college student’s attorney. She was released from jail Monday only after Moore reported her plight to the local media.

Oh, to have the power to impose your religion on the weak and in need.

It’s a Woot-off today.

Visit woot. or
Read about what a woot-off is.

I’m using this woot tracker.

Bush: Bad for Science

They figured that their opinions were more important than the science on global warming.

Welch said he had read about scientists being muzzled, but, “It’s a stunning personal experience to hear directly from scientists whose life work has been compromised, who live in fear of retaliation or compromised careers if they adhere to their code of ethics as scientists.”

Birth Control After Bush

Anti-Contraception Advocate Reaches Out to Presidential Candidates.

There are folks that don’t just want you to carry to term if you get pregnant. They want women to get pregnant every time they have sex.

Babies everywhere! (reminds me of this commercial)

Update:

T’s searches turn up only false alarms

Story at Boston.com

In the first 2 1/2 months of random bag searches on the MBTA, police found no weapons, made no arrests, but had nearly two-dozen false alarms for explosives.

I love the phrase - “turn up only false alarms.”

Hey, if they didn’t turn up those false alarms, who would have? (Hat tip to BobMcC)

Posted by James at 12:46 PM | Comments (5)

January 30, 2007

Ben Stein and Trust

I don’t think Ben Stein thinks it’s a good idea to have a huge wage gap.

I was surprised to read his comments in the NYT on Sunday, because I am used to hearing him espouse very conservative views. But this is what he’s saying about the state of our capitalist economic system:

The system of capitalism is wide open. If you have an idea, you can turn it into capital.

But, as I swam and watched the private jets’ lights as they glided right above my head into Palm Springs International Airport, I had a chilling thought: in capitalism, the most fundamental building block is trust. […]

When I see what the top dogs at all too many corporations are now doing to that trust, I feel queasy. Outrageous — yes, obscene — pay. Greedy backdating of stock options, which in my opinion is straight-up theft. Managers buying assets from their trustors, the stockholders, at pennies on the dollar, then forestalling competing bids with lockups and insane breakup fees.

As Isaiah Poole states, Stein could have commented on the current efforts of congressional Republicans to poison the minimum wage bill with huge corporate handouts.

What Stein is saying is what my father always taught me. But this is the first time in a long time I’ve heard this from a conservative.

Posted by James at 3:58 PM | Comments (4)

To Fall River on Defeatism

I posted a long comment on Keri’s blog in response to comments on her post about the sheriff’s deputies running their own law enforcement operations in Fall River independent of the Fall River Police Department. It was long enough that I felt it should be a post here. But for those with less interest in local issues, only the beginning of this post appears on my blog’s front page.

Drug dealers, junkies, prostitutes and most of your common criminals do not particularly care if the car stationed in a high crime area has FRPD, State Police or Sheriff decals on it.

Ok, if training and who is in charge doesn’t matter, let’s just give a decal to anyone who requests one for their car. That’ll scare the dealers!

Come on, this sheriff deputies plan completely ignores reality. Either you authorize the deputies to act as law enforcement, and have a clash of agencies, or you don’t authorize them and the drug dealers learn pretty quick that it’s just a decal on a car.

And still there’s the question of why we have deputies with too much time on their hands, and why such a high recidivism rate?

On the more general subject of Fall River’s woes:

Even if you think your leaders have failed you, it doesn’t mean that any idea is a good idea.

Fall River has some of the lowest taxes in the state and even modest tax increases are treated like a disaster. In FY 2006, the average single income family tax bill was cheapest of any Massachusetts city, and in the bottom 5% counting all cities and towns. Half of Massachusetts cities and towns had at least double the average tax bill.

http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2007/01/02/property_tax_chart_by_town/

Is your FRPD under-funded?

I’m not saying residents should be happy with the level of crime in their city, but maybe take a look at what goes into a system, not just what comes out.

Finger pointing is sometimes appropriate when there is a clear cause. Complaining and forecasting doom all the time like isn’t a particularly helpful or enlightening pastime. Defeatist attitudes are self-fulfilling.

The sort of defeatist political complaining I hear coming out of Fall River sometimes is not the constructive kind. It’s the kind that makes people feel the tiniest bit better about the state of the city because they have someone else to blame. Or they say it’ll never change - that’s just the way it is.

There is nothing magical about the Fall River area that keeps it in its current state. It’s all people policies and politics. And, underlying all three: money.

There’s room for improvement in all those areas, but no magic bullet.

Right now Fall River is seeing an opportunity to choose new leadership. Lambert’s opponents are disappointed they’ll not have their favorite excuse to kick around anymore. Now is the time to start demanding solutions from those who are running for the mayor’s office.

If they drag their feet bringing forth new ideas and solutions, I’d take that as an indication of how they’re going to run their campaign and ultimately their mayor’s office. Demand some suggestions now from them, because anyone who wants to run Fall River better have some substantive solutions; else they’re just selling you a continuation of the downward slide.

Start holding their feet to the fire now, or else once they get into office you’ll have elected a personality, not a person with ideas and drive. If you don’t elect someone on good ideas, you’re not going to get good ideas once they’re in office, because they’ll know they can ride out their term on what got them into office.

Lambert’s time left is short. Start looking at your candidates. Unless you’re just in it to complain.

Posted by James at 9:15 AM | Comments (1)

To Casino Opponents

In response to Lefty’s comment, I thought I’d post some data rather than just my feelings about the prospect of a casino.

A casino is not the same thing as a high stakes BINGO establishment. It’s hard for me to imagine high stakes BINGO being much of a draw off the highway. I was against that, too.

Money is already going out of the state to the tune of 890 million dollars a year. That amount grew over 6 percent between 2004 and 2005.

Very pointedly, economic theory and the preponderance of evidence indicates that the aggregate direct and indirect impacts of construction, operation, and taxation of casinos are significantly positive. Broader economic costs relating to factors such as the use of government services and changes in property values are not trivial, but they do not come close to canceling out the more conventional output, income, and employment gains. Moreover, these broader negative impacts might be offset by some longer-term positive impacts stemming from increased spending on education, infrastructure, and redevelopment. Social costs of gambling are beyond the scope of the study, but they warrant careful study. The preponderance of empirical studies indicate claims of the complete “cannibalization” of pre-existing local restaurants and entertainment facilities by a mere shift in resident spending is grossly exaggerated. The substitution effect is not insignificant, but it is offset somewhat by empirical verification of a recapture effect. These two effects vary on a case-by-case basis, but we have enough evidence to place bounds on their size if we know the proportion of casino patrons who are tourists and the distance of the casino to its nearest competitors elsewhere. Casino construction usually represents an infusion of capital to a region, though profits are not necessarily reinvested in it. However, taxation of casino revenues and profits are usually high, and their recirculation in the region is complete. - THE REGIONAL ECONOMIC IMPACTS OF CASINO GAMBLING: ASSESSMENT OF THE LITERATURE AND ESTABLISHMENT OF A RESEARCH AGENDA by Adam Rose and Associates

Last year, the CFPA did a study on all the money leaving MA and RI to go to CT casinos (that’s where I got the 890 million figure). That’s already money that isn’t being spent on local businesses. People who used to go out on weekends to local establishments are already taking their money elsewhere. I know many of these people. I know some would rather stay local.

I don’t have a reference, but I know that there were votes in the early 00’s in Iowa about whether to retain the gaming establishments there after having had them for 8 years. The measures to retain them overwhelmingly passed. That speaks to their perceptions of the impact after nearly a decade.

“What else comes along with a casino?” I say, ask these people in Iowa.

It seems to me like there is research and history to go by to make this decision.

On the site of a National Casino Impact Study Commission I found this table which lists 27 studies of overall economic impact of casino gambling. Out of the 27, only two reported an overall negative impact, and one of those was in Florida where the reason cited was that it was inconsistent with local tourism. 7 of the studies reported neutral to slightly positive impact. The 18 remaining ranged from significantly to highly positive overall impact.

Opponents to casino gambling can find supportive studies if they choose very carefully, but there is no shortage of reports showing benefits, nor of residents or officials saying they’re glad to have casinos in their areas.

As the CFPA report shows, our residents also want a casino. In Rhode Island there were a number of reasons it made less sense for them to build theirs. They already have a gaming industry would overlap with casino business, even though a lot of money leaves Rhode Island as well. And I sensed an element of opposition to the Native American ownership of the casino that was waiting on the heels of the amendment.

At this point in Massachusetts it makes more sense to build a casino. It may be only a matter of time whether it is the right thing or not, considering the way opinions are running. No doubt there will be more questions, more studies but I can’t say if opponents will change their minds.

Be that as it may, I have a wish for casino opponents. Instead of wasting their energy fighting one of the few and possibly only things that can stem the hemorrhaging of nearly 900 million dollars a year and rising, please adopt a new cause. Read the report recommendations of commissions that have studied casino gambling impact and urge legislators to legalize casino gambling with appropriate protective laws.

For instance:

3-5 The Commission recognizes the difficulty of campaign finance reform in general and an industry-specific contribution restriction in particular. Nonetheless, the Commission believes that there are sound reasons to recommend that states adopt tight restrictions on contributions to state and local campaigns by entities—corporate, private, or tribal—that have applied for or have been granted the privilege of operating gambling facilities.

No doubt we will soon be hearing opponents characterize casino supporters as believing that a casino is going to be the savior of the region. [Edited: What I mean is that a common argument against something like this is to overstate the predictions of supporters. Of course not all opponents will take this position. I’m merely anticipating its use by some people.] I will deny that strawman right off the bat; a casino is going to bring both benefits and new challenges. Now is the time to switch focus and start making sure that we are planning to do this right. Because if a casino is just a matter of time, it is in all of our interests to make sure the region is successful with it.

Posted by James at 12:43 AM | Comments (10)

January 29, 2007

A Taste of Tax

A tax question came up on Keri’s show today and I thought I would address it here, because when I first heard it I couldn’t remember the answer. This forced me to find the answer and remind myself. I’ll try to make this post clear, but you might want to save reading this for later if you get insomnia.

Disclaimer: I am not qualified to give tax advice, so before you take my word for anything, consult with an appropriately licensed accountant.

If I understood correctly, a fellow on the show said he was being charged back taxes because he had (year after year) failed to include his tax refund (he said “tax return” but he meant “refund”) as income on his tax forms.

In other words, he was saying that if you overpaid your taxes through payroll deductions in 2005, and you get a refund check for that over-payment in 2006, when you do your taxes in 2007 you must claim that refund check as income.

This rang a vague bell with me, because I do my own taxes and remember entering a refund check amount somewhere. However, that description as stated above is inaccurate although close to the truth. I called up my dad, who loves to read the tax rules, and he reminded me of the rule I was thinking of that sounds similar to the above situation.

Check out this stepwise explanation of situation the guy was probably really in - a common situation for people who itemize:

  1. In 2006, you itemized your federal taxes for 2005, and you deducted your state taxes from your federal income. You didn’t know exactly what you were paying in state taxes, because you hadn’t done your state taxes yet, so you put down your withholding from your W-2 and count that as your state taxes.
  2. Next you did your state taxes for 2005. You itemized them. Hey, you got a refund!
  3. Your refund check came in the mail later in 2006.
  4. In 2007 you now want to do your federal taxes. Last year you claimed all your state withholding as your state taxes. But wait! You didn’t really pay that whole amount to the state on your 2005 state taxes because when you itemized your state taxes you got a refund. You overstated your state tax payment when you reported it to the federal government. You had to because you didn’t know exactly what your state tax payment would be. But now you do know what it was; you’ve already gotten your refund. Your refund is the amount of overstatement. So you treat that refund as 2006 income, but really it was 2005 income that the government allows you to carry over a year.

So if the question is “why do I have to report my 2005 state refund on my 2006 state taxes” - you don’t. That doesn’t make sense. That refund is part of money that has already been taxed by the state.

If the question is “why do I have to report my 2005 federal refund on my 2006 federal taxes” - you don’t. That doesn’t make sense. That refund is part of money that has already been taxed by the federal government.

But if the question is “Why do I have to report my 2005 state refund on my 2006 federal taxes?” the simple answer is “because that’s income you had in 2005 that you mistakenly deducted from your federal income when you itemized.”

Why does the government allow this? Because you need to finish your federal taxes before you do your state taxes. If there were a line on your federal taxes that required you to know how your state taxes were going to come out after itemizations, you’d have a circular calculation. You couldn’t do it. So the feds allow you to use your state withholding as an estimate of your state taxes. Then they require you to make up for the difference next year. In fact, it’s likely that you’ll get a 1099G in the mail from your state reminding you of that refund amount. The 1099G also goes to the IRS… so beware. They have also been reminded by your state that you were issued a refund. (MA does this, I don’t know if other states do)

I have actually simplified the explanation here quite a bit. There are exceptions, and this only applies if you itemized your federal taxes in the previous year.

So, simplified: If you itemized federal last year and got a state refund, you’re most likely going to have to include that refund when you’re reporting your income when you do your taxes this year.

An exception to this is called the “Tax Benefit Rule” and you can read some of that in the following links:

This post brought to you by the numbers 10 and 40, the letters EZ and the disorder known as insomnia.

Posted by James at 7:04 PM | Comments (5)

Quick, Call the Sheriff!

If you have 2 people working for you and they keep complaining that they don’t have enough to do, the first thing you need to check

I keep hearing how local cities need to let the Bristol County sheriff come in and police the streets, to solve the drug, and gang-crime problems.

This is usually the way it’s phrased:

“If he wants to come in and help, why not let him in? It doesn’t cost us anything!” Then comes the complaint that it’s either an ego thing (the mayors’ egos are too big to allow themselves to be helped) or it’s a political thing (the sheriff is a Republican).

How about we approach the question in the positive, first:

Why should we let the sheriff in?

What is a sheriff in a Massachusetts county is supposed to do? As far as I can tell after some research, the sheriff is in charge of the county jails. His contribution to public safety is defined as being focused on keeping inmates in the jail and reducing the recidivism rate of offenders.

As far as I understand, the jails need to be managed, and the problem of recidivism hasn’t been solved. They are important responsibilities. Whatever their intentions, the sheriff’s department’s focus is already defined. If the sheriff’s department is looking for new work, why is that? Have they been given funds and manpower beyond what they need to fulfill their responsibilities? Either that is the case, or the sheriff is willing to divert resources away from their primary responsibility to the county. From what I’ve heard, the sheriff is a conscientious person when it comes to public safety, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that the issue is a surplus of funding and resources at the sheriff’s department (unless someone wants to correct me).

If there is a surplus or resources in one place, and a need in another, then perhaps some budget adjustment needs to happen. Perhaps that money is needed in the cities for law enforcement instead of jail management.

Why not have the sheriff send support into the city?

One reason why not would by the possible confusion over having multiple agencies acting independently within the city. I don’t think the logistical complexities are trivial. The sheriff’s men are not under the authority of either city’s police chief.

And while the deputy sheriffs are trained, they are not trained the same as the officers in the cities’ and state’s police departments.

On the subject of cost: the county sheriff doesn’t cost us anything in the same way that the Big Dig doesn’t cost us anything. Where do you think that money comes from, leprechauns? I’m hearing this “doesn’t cost us anything” claim from Republicans. They certainly should know better.

Sending the sheriff department in is a bad idea that doesn’t pass about 3 minutes of analysis. Yet you hear callers on the radio repeat it over and over, and it’s brought up constantly in the news (presumably fueled by the sheriff’s suggestion). I would recommend that callers who were previously fixated on sending sheriff’s agents into the city should consider instead sending the sheriff’s dollars to the city to fund the existing law enforcement infrastructure. That’s where help is needed.

Why does the sheriff want to expand into law enforcement? Does it make sense to have redundant and possibly conflicting organizations in the region? Does it make sense to fund a whole additional agency’s expansion into law enforcement? I don’t think so. We have state police and we have local police already. Let’s fund those endeavors. And let’s wonder why the deputy sheriffs aren’t more busy with their actual responsibilities.

Update:

This post occurred to me in the car this morning. Honest, I hadn’t read Keri’s blog about this very subject. Nor had we discussed it, although I’m sure she’s mentioned it before on air. But this is the first time I’d heard her suggest that the sheriff might be over-funded. I guess as my friend Chuck would say “GMTA.” I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks this.

Posted by James at 5:08 PM | Comments (1)

Casino Royale with Chrourico

The Center for Policy Analysis (the folks we currently share our office space with here at UMass Dartmouth) recently ran a casino study. They turn the office into a call center, and we got friendly with some of the temporary employees. After collecting the data, the callers are now gone and the CFPA has analyzed the data and released their report.

Bay Staters Overwhelmingly Approve of Casino

What does this mean for the SouthCoast? Well, for one thing it puts a finer point on something I think this area has needed for a long time. I’m no expert in economics, but this area has been in trouble for a long time. Ever since losing the textile industry, there has been a downward economic slide.

All the while, this area is between affluent areas, and sees a lot of traffic between those affluent areas; people travel to and from Cape Cod through this area. There is little that gets those people to stop and spend some of their money in the area. For about a decade now it’s been my opinion that a resort casino somewhere in the Fall River - New Bedford area would tap into that traffic.

Any plan for a local casino would have to include some sort of planned improvement for the area. Reportedly, the governor and out local State Senator are both for the idea of an area casino and are discussing the impact. Another benefit of Romney’s exit.

A casino won’t solve the area’s problems. But let’s be honest; an economic turnaround needs an engine. No new industries are appearing in this area and taking off. A casino could bring people in, people who might want to eat in decent restaurants, see decent performances, spend money. It could be yet another reason to extend that rail line. It could be a much-needed economic kick in the pants.

I’m sure there will be plenty more discussion about an area casino, and I’ll keep posting about it as things develop, and I explore opinions about the subject.

Posted by James at 11:22 AM | Comments (7)

Would You Rather?

Would you rather…

  • Win 20 Million dollars in the lottery or
  • Land your dream job (something you’re good at, that brings you respect and low stress) for $200K/year
Posted by James at 11:17 AM | Comments (13)

January 28, 2007

SouthCoast Massachusetts Residence Exam

What is P.S.D.S?

If you’re from the SouthCoast area, you probably know.

Post your guesses/answers to the comments.

Posted by James at 7:59 PM | Comments (10)

Unfortunate Name


Angel Dust?
Originally uploaded by Dr Momentum.
I don't think there's actually any PCP in it.

My daughter brought this to me because she thought it was funny. She got this makeup brush as part of some sort of set of "angel"-themed products for little girls - a gift from my mother. "Angel-lips" and "Angel-eyes" were some of the other components. I think they should have chosen another name for the powder makeup component. She proceeded to tell me the history of PCP's use as a horse tranquilizer, and all the different ways you can take it.

That's Health class for you.
Posted by James at 4:34 PM | Comments (1)

Things We Like: Asiana Market

Asiana Market

It’s where I go locally for my Asian ingredients.

After making a Pad Thai from a box earlier in the week and watching an Alton Brown “Good Eats” episode on Pad Thai and then encountering an “easy” Pad Thai recipe making the popular link rounds, I figured it was some sort of message.

Unfortunately, you need a number of things to make Pad Thai which I didn’t have. And some of them aren’t in the local supermarkets. Tamarind paste, dried shrimps, rice sticks, palm sugar, fish sauce, thai chilis…

Sounds like it’s time for a trip to the local Asian market.

I had trouble finding a local Asian market in the Fall River area. There is a neat noodle factory in Fall River which I will have to post about sometime soon, and the people there are very friendly and they do sell a few other Asian dish ingredients. But if you’re doing any serious Japanese or Thai cooking you need more variety.

For that, I need to go to East Providence (See the map) to the location of Asiana Food Market.

Ingredients

Click to see ingredient notes.

So, K and I set out and bought all sorts of fun ingredients. Asiana Food Market certainly has a variety. Many kinds of rice, noodles, dried ingredients, sauces, frozen roe and fish, fruits and exotic ingredients.

We can’t make it out of there without getting Pocky (for the girls) and fruit flavored gummies for me (I like the lychee and the kiwi best).

I always end up spending quite a bit when we make a trip. The prices seem fair, but I don’t know of another nearby Asian market, so it avoids a trip to Boston. And it’s especially economical to buy a 17 or 20 pound bag of rice if you’re getting the good stuff. Sushi rice is horribly overpriced in the supermarket.

And they’re helpful at Asiana. One of the men who works there saw the ingredients I was buying and asked me if I was looking for rice noodles. I told him I wanted tamarind paste, and he explained to me that I had put potato starch noodles into my basket (from the ingredients I was gathering he figured I was making Pad Thai). He showed me where the correct noodles were. Oops! And then he led me to the tamarind. I can’t read Korean, Thai, Japanese, Chinese or Tagalog. Most of the packages have English descriptions, but for some you’re relying on sight-identification.

The market is small. Maybe 20 feet by 20 feet or so, and chock-a-block with products. The aisles are narrow, but at least you don’t have to walk far to find everything.

I didn’t end up making Pad Thai because Maggie had had the previous leftovers for 3 meals. So that will wait for another day. Instead, we had a stir fry and spicy shrimp tekka maki. Pad Thai will wait for another day.

Dinner


Posted by James at 10:42 AM | Comments (10)

January 26, 2007

Friday Peashooter

It’s barely a shotgun post.

  • clonespy
    (tools,utilities,windows)
    • It’s a Windows utility to help you find and cleanup duplicate files on your hard drive. Get rid of photo dupes, and other types of files.
  • YouTube - The Ring Recut (video,movies,humor)
    • The Ring… as a heartwarming yet poignant film.
  • LEEKSPIN DOT COM
    (video,animation,japanese,wtf)
    • She’s spinning a leek, for goodness sake. Your Japanese weirdness for the day. Thanks to Karen.

People posted their own suggested links to the discussion group here.

You guys are pulling my bacon out of the fire!

Posted by James at 2:35 PM | Comments (2)

January 25, 2007

AcesChatter

Google Groups has come out of Beta, and it’s the best looking mailing list/discussion group support I’ve ever seen.

Long ago I created “AcesChatter” to serve as an off-blog discussion group for readers of this site. Right now it’s completely open, but I’m thinking of making it a members=only discussion for my regular readers. Feel free to sign up and join in. I see this as a place for you to mention news stories that I haven’t noticed or posted about, and other stuff that’s on your mind.

I love that you have discussions on my blog, but I know I’m sometimes a few steps behind the news. Feel free to post the latest outrageous news stories there. Or links. Or whatever.

Google Groups Beta
Subscribe to AcesChatter
Email:
Visit this group

Having the group won’t change the way I run the blog — this is in addition to the blog. If it turns out it’s an unnecessary addition, It’ll die out like the Yahoo gorup did. But, heck, no biggie. It’s free, after all. I’ve started out with a post on last year’s movies. I feel like nothing really grabbed my attention in 2006. How about you? Or, start your own topic. Or just bombard the list with news stories. Or not. Whatever.

Posted by James at 11:22 PM | Comments (3)

Random Drug Test Brouhaha

I hate being really busy. Sometimes I want to write about something but don’t really have the time. Dear reader, many of you may be able to write really quickly, clearly and succinctly, but I find it to be very hard work. So sometimes I have to skimp. Because sometimes I want to post something timely and i don’t have the time to do it justice.

That said, I really felt the need to post about Keri’s show on WSAR on Thursday. It was an interesting situation, with her regular callers calling in and disagreeing with her while longtime critics were phoning in their support.

Why? Because seemingly fed up with the the violent problems in Fall River’s housing projects, and triggered by the recent story about a successful multi-state drug trafficking bust (“Operation Ragdoll”) based in Fall River, Keri suggested that a possible solution might be to randomly test people in federally funded housing for illegal drug use. If you fail a drug test, you can’t live in the housing. You’ll be tested once a year, maybe twice. The time will be random.

I can’t fully cover the subject here briefly. First, my not-fully-formed opinion.

The problem with both drugs and violence in the projects and elsewhere in Fall River is a worsening one. It is in the news a lot lately, yet it is not new, nor should it be any surprise. Only the blind or ignorant could have not seen this coming. Fall River’s (and Bristol County’s) leadership has failed to stop this problem from worsening. Whatever has been tried has failed.

New suggestions are needed. And new discussions. Without ideas and discussion, we’re left with more of the same failure.

To the specific suggestion itself: I don’t know if it is a good idea or not. When I first heard Keri make the suggestion I thought “Interesting suggestion, but I don’t think I’m in favor of it.”

Then I listened to the callers who vehemently opposed the suggestion. I have to say, it’s been a long time since I’ve heard such horrible, horrible reasoning. It wasn’t until about 2.5 hours passed before I even heard anyone give her a halfway reasonably formed argument in opposition to this idea. I was completely appalled at the liberal callers who I usually agree with, and other voices that I did not recognize. I heard red herrings, changing the subject, irrelevant points, bad analogies… it was a complete mess. (And that’s ignoring the ad hominem attacks)

After about 10 minutes of listening to Keri’s show, I am now leaning towards agreeing with the idea. The arguments were embarrassingly bad. Keri didn’t break a sweat; nobody seemed able to respond to her challenges with a straight answer or ask her any stumper questions.

If I had time, I’d try to recount everything I heard. Instead, you’re going to get some cheap bullet-pointed commentary of my own (not what I heard on the radio) so I can pop this out and then get some sleep.

For The Random Drug Testing Idea

These are some things I might have said had I been sitting next to Keri and arguing for the idea. I thought of these while listening to the earlier part of the show, and i missed some of the later show, so excuse me if I am repeating what others already said.

  • If you were living in the projects and you had a choice between submitting to a drug test or living next to drug dealers and abusers, which would you choose? (To be fair, I am assuming this is not a false choice. But since none of her callers effectively attacked the practicality of the program, the success seemed to be assumed. Arguments all appeared to be on other grounds.) (A caller did call in later with this exact argument, and Keri actually alluded to this argument earlier in the show as well, but a caller was trying to talk over her.)
  • If the government is providing housing, doesn’t it become the government’s responsibility to go to extra measures to ensure that it is safe housing — that it is not creating a haven for criminal activity?
  • If it is cheaper to put housing like this into Fall River, as has been done on the past, and move people from out of town into this housing, increasing the burden on the city, doesn’t the government have some responsibility in ensuring that it is not importing customers for the drug trade; effectively transplanting crime into the city?
  • Responding to the bad analogy of profiling Muslims on an airplane: Everyone who chooses to get on an airplane chooses to submit to certain security rules. As long as those rules are applying to everyone (i.e. nobody can carry on a water bottle) there is no problem. It’s an equitable rule. The same applies to the housing. If you choose to live in federal housing, and the rules apply to everyone, then it is an equitable rule in that sense. (Keri may have actually said this)

Critical Of The Random Drug Testing Idea:

I didn’t actually hear much constructive criticism of the idea, just attacks. If its a bad idea, it won’t stand up to criticism, but good questions need to be asked and that’s where the arguments need to be. Maybe there are good answers to some of the questions, maybe not.

  • How can you practically make sure you’re testing the people who are actually living in the projects?
  • What do you do if a child in a family is found using. Do you test the children, or just the person whose name is on the papers? How young do you test?
  • If this program is successful, what are the practical consequences? An increase in homelessness? What do you do with the new population of homeless drug addicts?
  • Is the program at all politically viable?
  • Is this testing a sort of unreasonable search, and therefore unconstitutional because of the fourth amendment? Even if you agree to be in the housing, do people have a right to deny the government access to their body as some sort of human right?
  • To rebut the “I’m paying for it” taxpayer canard, tax money is not your money or my money once we give it to the government. You don’t pay taxes for services, you pay taxes because you want a stable society in which you can thrive. To provide that environment, the government has certain expenses. Because you enjoy the fruits of a stable society, you bear a burden of taxes. The conservative need to call tax money “my money” feeds the fiction that you are owed something. It’s a canard that leads to all sorts of bad arguments like “my tax money paid for this F-18, so I want a ride in it!”

Conclusion

I agree that the drug problem is a huge contributing factor to the area’s troubles. And I applaud Keri for a few hours of riveting radio (her phone lines were certainly on fire). I am hoping that your callers were merely caught off guard by the position you took and I hope they come back with some good arguments on Friday. I hope they regroup and we hear both Pro and Con with their thinking caps on. I’m still on the fence, because not only is the devil in the details of a plan like this, there are possible legal problems that would need to be explored by someone with far more knowledge than I have.

Maybe those who remain flabbergasted at the suggestion have their own radical ideas that they want to throw out there. Throw them out and shoot them down if necessary. I’m not the type of person who prefers hand wringing to a discussion with even the most wild and dangerous suggestions. We’re all adults, presumably. We can ruminate and then discard if necessary. Fear of tipping over the apple carts has kept the bad apples in with the good ones for far too long. Living away from the projects, I don’t pay the price. Those poor families in the line of fire are the ones who suffer, in a world of our own design.

Posted by James at 10:41 PM | Comments (37)

You've Been Un-Canada-ized, Eh?

“I’ve been living in Alaska, eh,

and I never signed the form.”

(photo by vigour)

Tens of thousands of people who thought they were Canadians could find out that they were Canadians, but now they aren’t.

If they lived outside of Canada on their 24th birthday and didn’t sign an obscure form, their citizenship ended. Even if they returned and lived the rest of their lives in Canada.

Hundreds of people are discovering this now, as they apply for newly-required passports. But there may be many thousands out there in a similar predicament.

The first clues came to the people who realized, on the day after their 24th birthday, that they no longer liked hockey.

PEOPLE: DON’T IGNORE THE WARNING SIGNS!!!!

Posted by James at 8:16 AM | Comments (1)

January 24, 2007

SotU Voce

I don’t have a detailed analysis of the State of the Union speech, but I do have a few of things to say:

Health

So, what did you all think about the president’s fancy tax-increase announcement? Oh, you didn’t hear it that way? That’s because when someone says “we’re going to give you a tax credit on the first $7,500 that your employer contributes to your health coverage” it sounds like a tax cut. What he’s really saying is “now we’re taxing your employer contribution as income, but we’ll give you a break on the first $7,500. It’s twice that for married couples.

People having trouble paying for health coverage don’t need a tax break, they need health coverage. The worst off don’t pay taxes anyhow.

The presidents plan is a tax increase. I wouldn’t complain if that money were going to something useful, like some more innovative plan that provided universal care.

What about uninsured children? What about the way this plan weakens states that already have a high level of consumer protection for the insured (so that businesses can band together across state lines for purchasing negotiations)? What about the money that it shifts away from public hospitals?

I find it odd that the president focuses his attention on the tax code as the thing we have to tackle to lick this problem, ignoring nearly everything I’ve ever heard experts worry aloud about. This amounts to a tax shuffling to hang on to the status quo. Truly, rearranging the deck chairs as the health care Titanic sinks even faster.

Such half-measures like this aren’t going to stop the looking health care crisis, they’re only going to delay serious discussion over real solutions that provide universal health coverage, and that’s the most irresponsible thing about the president’s proposal.

FU “Democrat” Majority

The written text of the president’s speech is the phrase “Democratic majority.” But the president actually used the political epithet “Democrat majority.” It’s a big “FU” to the Democrats, using the word “Democrat” as an adjective instead of a noun. The adjective is “Democratic.”

Since it’s not written that way in the transcript, you can pretty much assume this is just the president being a jerk. Not very presidential, if you ask me.

Yesterday, a radio talk guy was talking about the erosion of respect for the office of the president. When the president goes out of his way to show contempt like this, it is the president who lacks respect, and perhaps deserves less respect because of it. Respect is a two way street, and this sort of childish swerving is meant to run people off the road.

Rebuttal

A big thumbs up to Jim Webb who delivered the best Democratic rebuttal in Bush’s six plus years.

Posted by James at 10:51 AM | Comments (16)

January 23, 2007

Win-Win Hillary and Barak

If you can slam one enemy and make it look like another enemy did it, that’s a win-win for you, but the world of honest people loses.

Recently, right wing talk took off with the supposed information that Hillary Clinton’s campaign was releasing information about Barak Obama being educated in a “madrassa” - an extreme Muslim school.

It’s not true, something that took 2 seconds to check.

  • It’s a win to right-wing extremists if people associate Obama with Muslim extremism.
  • It’s a win if they buy into the idea that Clinton’s campaign started the rumor.

So far, there is as little evidence for the latter as there is for the former. That is to say, no evidence.

Right wing hit squads are starting early and hard-hitting with the lies. This “twofer” is clever enough that plenty of people are already falling for it.

This time, blame Fox News and the Moonies.

Pfth. Bereft of their war fever, is this what the right wing is going to run on?

Update:

Text of Obama’s office’s response.

To be clear, Senator Obama has never been a Muslim, was not raised a Muslim, and is a committed Christian who attends the United Church of Christ in Chicago. Furthermore, the Indonesian school Obama attended in Jakarta is a public school that is not and never has been a Madrassa.
Posted by James at 5:29 PM | Comments (3)

Fictional Relationship Results in Real Death

A fictional 18 year-old Marine is accused of killing his real 22 year-old coworker after becoming jealous of the attentions of a fictional 18 year-old girl.

I wish this were a humorous story with a funny ending, because the circumstances are so strange. Unfortunately, it’s not.

A man and a woman were corresponding online, both lying about who they were. Montgomery, the former Marine, was pushing 50, yet portraying himself as a teenager on the verge of an Iraq deployment. He’d captured the attention of a 40-something woman who also portrayed herself as 18.

When Montgomery’s wife found out, she intervened and wrote, ironically, back to the supposed 18-year-old:

“As you can see, Tom’s not 18,” Case said she wrote. “He’s married and he’s a father of two. He’s 47 and I’m his wife. […] You’ve obviously been fooled.”

Of course, Montgomery and his wife were fooled as well. And so was Montgomery’s coworker Brian Barrett. Unfortunately for him, when he struck up an online relationship with this so-far-unidentified woman Montgomery’s jealousy bubbled over.

Barrett was shot 3 times in the neck at close range in a parking lot by a camouflaged assailant.

Montgomery will have his day in court; he is innocent until proven guilty. On the face of it, there is some tragic cyber-hooking-up going on among this series of tubes and pipes that we call the Internets.

Remember when online identity issues were novel? Now they’re so banal that they figure into everyday people’s sad little tragedies. Expect more of this.

It’s tempting to throw out a moral to this tale, but I have no idea what that moral is. We can certainly take away one thing: lying often leads to worse.

Posted by James at 2:19 PM | Comments (5)

Highlights on the State of the Union

Tonight is the State of the Union address, and Democratic response delivered by Jim “The President and I Don’t Get Along” Webb.

How well does last year’s speech look in retrospect? You can decide for yourself by re-reading it here: State of the Union 2006 at C-SPAN

Some highlights:

We’re on the offensive in Iraq, with a clear plan for victory. First, we’re helping Iraqis build an inclusive government, so that old resentments will be eased and the insurgency will be marginalized.

Old resentments, not quite eased at the moment.

The road of victory is the road that will take our troops home. As we make progress on the ground, and Iraqi forces increasingly take the lead, we should be able to further decrease our troop levels — but those decisions will be made by our military commanders, not by politicians in Washington, D.C.

Emphasis mine. Response from the news:

“I met with every divisional commander, General Casey, the Corps commander, General Dempsey. We all talked together. And I said, in your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq? And they all said no. - Speaker Pelosi in a letter to President Bush, Jan 5, 2006
Along the way, we have benefitted from responsible criticism and counsel offered by members of Congress of both parties. In the coming year, I will continue to reach out and seek your good advice.

Do you feel the President has received responsible advice form the American people? I would say “Yes.” Do you feel that that advice was received and duly considered? I would say “No.” Do you feel that the people, upon feeling they were not heard, proceeded to make themselves heard through traditional democratic means last November? I would say “Yes.” Do you feel he’s been receptive to that restatement of our collective advice?

Yet, there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success, and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. (Applause.) Hindsight alone is not wisdom, and second-guessing is not a strategy.

This was the president’s neat snapping off of his critics. “Hindsight alone is not wisdom” sounds an awful lot like “I don’t want to learn from my mistakes. If you’re going to criticise me then you try to do a better job.” Mr. President, you ran for the office. Most of the rest of us didn’t. Your strategies have not been a success, so there’s really no point in your criticising your critics.

My point here is that when someone gets up in front of a podium to talk, we afford them some level of trust that they’re telling us the truth. Here, the president is chiding his critics because they’re telling him he’s screwing up, but not handing him a fully formed plan for Iraq. Imagine a college student who has spent all semester screwing around and has flunked his mid-term. When you tell him he’s on the wrong path he tells you not to criticise him unless you can give him all the answers to the final. It’s not that simple; you have to take the test, Mr. President. We can only tell you to study hard.

If you trust the president, perhaps “second-guessing is not a strategy” is an applause line. But we already know the above snippet is bullshit. Three words: Iraq Study Group. If he didn’t like his critics not being civil or thorough, he had a chance to prove it. Bush proved that his critic-silencing lines were all mouth and no money, akin to his “I’m a uniter, not a divider” promises.

The same is true of Iran, a nation now held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people. The regime in that country sponsors terrorists in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon — and that must come to an end. (Applause.) The Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions, and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons. (Applause.) America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats. Tonight, let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you, and we respect your country. We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom. And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran.

What we didn’t know last year:

Tehran proposed ending support for Lebanese and Palestinian militant groups and helping to stabilise Iraq following the US-led invasion. Offers, including making its nuclear programme more transparent, were conditional on the US ending hostility. - BBC.com

Most people hate hindsight criticism because it incorporates facts that could not have been known at the time of the decision. Bush hates hindsight because his speeches rely on what you don’t know about his administration, and hindsight happens after you find out what was really going on. Facts he kept from the nation in 2003 come to light after his 2006 speech. See WMDs for more details about hindsight.

If I had more time, I’d go through the whole speech, but feel free to go through it yourself in dreaded “hindsight.” I’m sure that, if you try, you can find more things the president said that make you wonder whether the speech is a report on the actual state of the country, or a PR speech to stem his flagging ratings.

The president addresses the nation tonight. You might want to consider the quality of the information we got last year while you’re evaluating the trustworthiness of what you hear this year.

Posted by James at 8:30 AM | Comments (5)

January 22, 2007

Would You Rather?

Would you rather see:

Situation 1 or 2?

1) Everybody who works on a reality show1 is temporarily suspended, and all such shows are put on 1-year hiatus. They are all now on a new show. In the new show they form teams. The teams will compete for a number of weeks to see who can come up with the best television show. It may be any sort of show. It must be feasible to produce the show, and part of the competition is that they must come up with a plan for producing the show. The contest will be ultimately judged by the American people a la American Idol.

The losers on this show have their reality shows suspended for an additional 2 years. The winner of the contest gets to keep their current show. The new show and the first runner up will get produced. Depending on how many teams are competing, there may be prizes for getting into the final round, like having your show unsuspended earlier or having some high-profile celebrity sign to be on your show for a season.

2) A new TV show where the board members and executive officers of fast food restaurant companies agree to eat only the food their restaurants produce for a whole TV season. They’ll be followed around with cameras to see how much they eat of what types of foods, how much they weigh, how much exercise they do… And then, the aftermath. No special treatment; the food is ordered from their restaurants by surrogates. This one’s not a contest, although they do form “teams” of a sort. At the end, each team’s total weight gain/loss is calculated as well as other interesting data.

Which would you rather see?

1 My definition of a reality show is any show, especially a competition of some sort, where the events covered are specifically contrived for the show itself. Survivor counts as do Big Brother type shows. Game shows count as well. “Expedition” documentaries don’t count because, even if they are funded in part by the documentary itself. Sports events don’t count because spectator sports are usually leagues that exists apart from the TV broadcast of the show. Yes, it’s a fine line, but this is how I’m drawing the line. Home makeover shows are reality shows.

Posted by James at 1:35 PM | Comments (15)

Back From Pensacola

I’m back from Pensacola, FL where I was visiting a paternal uncle to celebrate his 60th birthday over the weekend.

Originally, there was to be a big family party, but delays in getting his new house built turned it into a weekend with just my dad, me, my uncle and my aunt.

The Pensacola area is beautiful with its white sands and blue ocean. It was a quick trip, but I was able to get up really early on Saturday morning and briefly read my book on the balcony of our condo overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. We all stayed at The Pearl on Navarre Beach because of the house situation. You can see the big condo building in this satellite photo. A few pictures will be showing up in my Flickr photo stream in the next few days.

They’ve got great seafood there, and at times it seemed like we spent the whole trip eating. We visited McGuire’s Irish pub, Crabs, another seafood restaurant whose name escapes me, and Chateaubriand prepared by my uncle and aunt. Simply amazing food. The seafood is wonderful (we sampled grouper, catfish, flash-fried calamari, shrimp, fried oysters and crab while we were there) but the Chateaubriand was the highlight. I have to look into preparing this myself, but the aged cut of meat is not cheap!

We also took a quick trip to the impressive National Museum of Naval Aviation, a big building chock full of aircraft. Chock full. I’ve never seen so many jets, helicopters, planes, and parts of blimps before in my life.

It was a great visit, and my uncle’s hospitality took the edge right off my usual discomfort with traveling. Glad to be home! I missed Maggie and the kids.

Posted by James at 11:29 AM

January 19, 2007

On Your Own Shotgun

Here you go. Have at it!

I’ll start you off with one link:

  • Icy Road Accidents
    • I’ve experienced the same kind of condiitons depicted in this video, but not with this many cars in play! It’s like watching a pinball game.

I had to wake up at 4AM today, which is very unusual for me. I set my alarm for 4, and tried to go to sleep at midnight. I had a dream that I was near where I was supposed to be, but it was 6AM - I had missed the person I was supposed to meet! This upset me so much that I woke up and looked at the clock. It was 3:58 AM. Weird. And I hadn’t woken up before.

(I think I just naturally wake up now after about 4 hours.)

Posted by James at 4:20 AM | Comments (18)

January 17, 2007

No Diplomacy For You!

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

Better a failed war president

than a success at diplomacy?

According to the BBC, In 2003, Iran offered to deal with the United States. They offered to end support for Lebanese and Palestinian militant groups, and to add transparency to their nuclear program.

One of Colin Powell’s top aides says that the state department wanted to pursue the plan. The White House shut it down. I guess you kinda paint yourself into a corner with your supporters when you place someone on an axis of evil before you’re actually at war with them.

What has happened subsequently to the US rejection of the offer?

Since that time, Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah inflicted significant military losses on the major US ally in the region, Israel, in the 2006 conflict and is now claiming increased political power in Lebanon.
Palestinian militant group Hamas won power in parliamentary elections a year ago, opening a new chapter of conflict in Gaza and the West Bank.

Oh yeah, and Iraq has gone to hell, with Iran’s hand heavily in that.

Coincidentally:
Observers say the Iranian offer as outlined nearly four years ago corresponds pretty closely to what Washington is demanding from Tehran now.

You don’t say? Brilliant.

It’s difficult to know where we’d be now if we’d started diplomacy in 2003. If Iran had screwed us, Bush might actually have a stronger case for war with Iran. If Iran had played ball, perhaps Iraq would not be in quite as much of a mess (if Iran saw an interest in appearing more cooperative). The congress might still be in Republican hands, Iraq would not be such a disaster and John McCain might be imagining much clearer sailing to Campaign 2008.

Even if it meant keeping the Republican congress, I’d rather not be in the situation we face today.

If diplomacy fails, sometimes you get screwed.

Do any of you get the feeling Bush is afraid to both fail through diplomacy, but is also afraid to succeed?

Posted by James at 2:57 PM | Comments (4)

FYI - Friday

You will be on your own with this week’s shotgun post. I will post a mostly blank entry and you’ll be encouraged to put up your own interesting links in the comment section. So, if Friday’s shotgun post sucks, it’s going to be your fault. Har.

So, get your links ready.

Posted by James at 2:54 PM | Comments (7)

Bush Lawyer Switcheroo

When I started this blog, I used to do a lot of throwing links up here (thus the name). Lately I try not to blog unless I have something useful to add, either combining multiple stories or adding something I want to say. But in some cases, I just want you to see a story I think is ridiculous or outrageous.

Like this story on Talking Points Memo about what Bush is doing with U.S. Attorneys.

Sorry for the hyperblogging today (it’s the caffeine) but I thought I needed to mention that Bush has fired a bunch of US Attorneys, including some that were investigating the White House and high-profile Republican scandals (Duke Cunningham, anyone?). Then, using a provision of the much-loved Patriot Act, he’s replacing them with politically-friendly lawyers including a guy who worked for Karl Rove digging up dirt on Democrats.

This particular attorney will be in charge of Arkansas. Josh Marshall muses: “Now, why would Karl Rove want his top oppo researcher being the US Attorney in Arkansas for the next two years?”

Posted by James at 1:47 PM

Saving Babies

On EAForums and elsewhere I’ve seen and participated in discussions about Safe Harbor laws. I have always supported these laws, that create places that women who want to abandon their babies can abandon them (no questions asked) instead of leaving them in a trash can or dumpster.

Today I’m not convinced they work, mainly because I haven’t seen any statistics that encourage me to continue believing that they work. Some say women who dump their children often don’t seem them as children but as problems, and in those extreme cases, a safe harbor would not help. However, so many states have Safe Harbor laws now that we should be seeing statistics that tell us how well these laws work. Instead, I’ve seen suggestions that they result in an increase in abandonments without making much of a dent in the number of dead babies that are found in dumpsters and the like.

Leaving that question open, (and still hoping to see more statistics) there is also the issue of universal health care which is on many of our minds as a health care crisis looms in this country. Into the arguments for and against universal health care comes the increasingly apparent indication that universal health care closes the gap in infant mortality rates in rich vs. poor populations.

Genetically, Canadians and Americans are quite similar. Our health habits, too, are very much alike […] The only major difference between the two countries that could account for the remarkable disparity in their infant and adult mortality rates, as well as the amount they spend on health care, is how they manage their health care systems.

The facts are clear: Before 1971, when both countries had similar, largely privately funded health care systems, overall survival and mortality rates were almost identical. The divergence appeared with the introduction of the single-payer health system in Canada.

Single payer translates to better survival rates for children. In a very real sense, differences in the American system are killing babies. More babies than are found in dumpsters and trash cans, that’s for sure.

So, if we care about children dying, why are we passing Safe Haven laws when what re really need is a single payer health care system to make much more of an impact?

And if you want to say, “well, we don’t want to just save all those babies of poor families,” it turns out that a more healthy poor population benefits the rich as well.

It has become increasingly apparent, as data accumulate, that the overall improvement in health in a society with tax-supported health care translates to better health even for the rich, the group assumed to be the main beneficiaries of the American-style private system. If we look just at the 5.7 deaths per thousand among presumably richer, white babies in the United States, Canada still does better at 4.7, even though the Canadian figure includes all ethnic groups and all income levels.[…]

[…]

The solid statistics amassed since the 1970s point to only one conclusion: like it or not, believe it makes sense or not, publicly funded, universally available health care is simply the most powerful contributing factor to the overall health of the people who live in any country. And in the United States, we have got the bodies to prove it.

Emphasis mine.
Posted by James at 1:25 PM | Comments (9)

Iraq Hostage Crisis

In the New York Times the National Security Advisor describes the White House’s tactic against a congress that was put in office as a result of the people’s concern about the Iraq war:

Mr. Bush’s National Security Adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, said in an interview on “Meet the Press” on NBC that the White House has sufficient money under its control to deploy the troops as planned, and he suggested that once the troops are in place, Congress would be reluctant to cut off funding. “I think once they get in harm’s way, Congress’s tradition is to support those troops,” Mr. Hadley said.

Putting your loved ones in harm’s way and then asking for money for their safety.

Isn’t that called “holding for ransom?”

Posted by James at 12:59 PM

January 16, 2007

Vis-à-vis, Coincidentally

I can’t remember the last time I used the phrase “vis-à-vis.” The dictionary I’m using lists three definitions:

  1. Face to face with (or opposite to)
  2. Compared with
  3. In relation to

But I never feel the needs to use it. And I feel that if I start using it, I’ll sound weird or pretentious.

It’s the third definition that I’m most familiar with, so I’m surprised to see it in “last place.” I think my primary exposure to this phrase is from Britcom sketches, and in particular Monty Python.

The phrase appears in the lyrics to Monty Python’s “Eric the Half-a-Bee”:

“Half a bee, philosophically, must ipso facto half not be. But half the bee has got to be vis à vis his entity - d’you see?”

I guess that’s the third definition - He’s got to be, according to the fact that that it exists. Or something like that. Coincidentally, I use an HTML “entity” to get the blog to display the correct “à” character in the phrase “vis-à-vis.” Singing: “La dee dee, one, two three, Eric the half-a-bee.”

Also, in The Man With Three Buttocks sketch. The host is trying to discreetly engage the guest on the subject of his posterior abnormalities:

Host: Mr Frampton, er, vis a vis your… (pause) rump.

Frampton: I beg your pardon?

Host: Your rump.

Frampton: What?

Host: Er, your derriere. (Whispers) Posterior. Sit-upon.

Frampton: What’s that?

Host (whispers): Your buttocks.

Frampton: Oh, me bum!

Host (hurriedly): Sshhh!

Again, the third meaning. Regarding your rump.

Coincidentally, this is a great sketch which tackles the idea of extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary proof, something that skeptics like me are often complaining about.

Host: No, er look, er Mr Frampton. It’s quite easy for somebody just to come along here claiming… that they have a bit to spare in the botty department. The point is, our viewers need proof.

Luckily, the Randi Foundation can see there way clear to testing Mr. Frampton, (see previous post) because he’s already gotten media coverage:

Frampton: I been on Persian Radio, and the Forces’ Network!

Er, what was this post supposed to be about?

Posted by James at 12:01 PM | Comments (10)

The Room Is Spinning

Record-seeking spinner pedals to hospital stay

George Hood pedaled his way to a world record, dehydration, a hospital stay and nearly $30K for a charity which benefits the families of fallen police officers.

Kudos to him and and the people who donated to his cause.

However, I can’t let this pass without telling you I think “spinning” is a really stupid name for the activity.

I heard the term for the first time maybe six or seven years ago when someone I know was involved in a “spinning” class. I had no idea what they were talking about. Who needs a class for something every kid knows how to do? You just spin yourself around until you’re dizzy, then you fall down and throw up. Simple.

Of course, that’s not what “spinning” means. It means riding on a stationary bicycle for exercise. What you’re actually doing isn’t spinning at all, it’s pedaling.

So, what’s wrong with calling it “pedaling?” Or biking. When I run on the treadmill, I call that “running.” I don’t make up some new name for it — or worse, take a word that already means something and repurpose that word. If I need to make the distinction, I say “running on the treadmill” or “using the treadmill.” If I were really lazy, I guess I could call it “treadmill running.”

“Spinning” is stationary biking. Or pedaling.

Posted by James at 11:03 AM | Comments (10)

In A Case For War, Words Matter

Does this quibbling over phrases matter? Yes, of course. Within days of the Ahmadinejad speech the then Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, was calling for Iran to be expelled from the United Nations. Other foreign leaders have quoted the map phrase. The United States is piling pressure on its allies to be tough with Iran. Let me give the last word to Juan Cole, with whom I began. “I am entirely aware that Ahmadinejad is hostile to Israel. The question is whether his intentions and capabilities would lead to a military attack, and whether therefore pre-emptive warfare is prescribed. I am saying no, and the boring philology is part of the reason for the no.”

I’m quoting from “Lost in translation” by Jonathan Steele, an article discussing the misinterpretation of a recent speech by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

You almost certainly remember the Iranian president being quoted as saying he wanted to wipe Israel off the map. Obviously, very troubling talk from a regime seeking nuclear weapons.

However, Steele says that the Iranian, while clearly hostile to Israel, is not calling for the extermination of Jews. He compares his desire for the elimination of the “regime occupying Jerusalem” with the fall of the Shah in Iran. Regime change, not extermination, and not genocide. Is a call for regime change a reason for war?

We were rightly shocked when we thought we heard Ahmadinejad say he wanted to wipe the Jews off the map. And since that time, there’s been increased talk that either we or Israel ought to attack Iran. If there is a question about what Ahmadinejad is saying, it seems important to get it right, especially as the build up for the war on Iran already appears to have begun.

Posted by James at 10:08 AM | Comments (8)

January 15, 2007

Would You Rather?

Would you rather:

  • Be a pathological liar (you are compelled to tell lies)
  • Be unable to detect lies when they are told to you (you are gullible and sarcasm is also lost on you)
Posted by James at 11:39 AM | Comments (12)

January 14, 2007

Mostly MA

Dude! You're 99% from Massachusetts!

Dude! Me and Sully and Fitzie and Sean are gonna hit Landsdowne tonight after the game, hang out at the Beerworks. I'll pick you up at the Coop at 6.

How Massachusetts are you?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Posted by James at 5:31 PM | Comments (9)

January 13, 2007

Psychic Challenge

Along the lines of the previous post, I thought I’d note this:

James Randi is modifying the Psychic Challenge.

For those not in the know, the challenge is an offer of $1 million to people who can prove they have paranormal abilities. Over the years, Randi and his foundation have painstakingly reviewed, processed and moved along hundreds of psychic claims, graduating a number of them to the stage where they test the claims in person.

It takes a lot of time, and many of the claims are problematic. There aren’t just frauds out there. There are legitimately mentally ill people an people who just have themselves fooled.

So, starting in April, the foundation is going to start requiring that you already have gotten some press coverage, or convinced some third party. They’ll then skip the preliminaries and go straight to the final round of tests.

They’re hoping that, by using this media filter, and this speedier method, they can put their investigative muscle to the best use — going after high-profile psychics and revealing them for what they are.

Kudos to Randi and the James Randi Education Foundation.

Psychics: if you love money like you appear to, go for the challenge. If you don’t, then why not go for the challenge anyhow and then donate the money back to some desperate families. Maybe ones you’ve already taken advantage of. Or, hell, give it to Katrina victims.

Or is it that you know that it’s just not possible, what you claim you can do?

Posted by James at 2:19 PM | Comments (2)

Psychic Wankers Fail; Boys Returned

Psychics are frauds, and I feel bad for the people who are in such desperate situations that they finally turn to psychics for some hope.

On Monday, 13-year-old Ben Ownby stepped off his school bus and ran down the road to his house. He did not arrive home. Days later, some observant police officers noticed a van that was connected to the missing boy case while they were serving an unrelated warrant. This led police to the kidnapper, and to Ben, who was reunited with his parents.

However, they also found another boy, 15-year-old Shawn Hornbeck. Shawn had disappeared in 2002 when he was 11 and did not return home after a bike ride near his home in Richwoods, MO. Both boys appeared to be in good health.

Shawn’s parents, the Akers, have undoubtedly been through hell for the last 4 1/2 years.

Craig Akers, Shawn’s stepfather, quit his job as a software designer to devote his time to a foundation bearing his son’s name. They depleted their savings, borrowed against their retirement and talked to psychics. The financial strain forced both of them back to work.

It’s horrible what these people went through. I am so glad to hear that the boys will be back safe in the hands of their own family after their ordeals. But along the way, the Akers took a side trip, indicated in the above paragraph. They were determined to get their boy back, whatever the measures. And, at some point, there were psychics available to provide them fantastical garbage.

I don’t know the details of this case. For instance, I don’t know for sure how much these people ever paid a psychic; one reference to the story mentions that they’d spent over $40,000 on psychic investigators. There are a number of motives that psychics can have for wanting to talk to people like the Akers:

  1. Desperate people are willing to pay for a reading, or many readings. So there is a direct monetary incentive in some cases.
  2. It is a way for a psychic to make a contact with desperate (and therefore vulnerable) people. Vulnerable people can be manipulated in a number of ways, including other ways of handing over money not directly related to readings on their case. For instance, the psychic may do free readings, and then later when a loved one is presumed dead, the psychic can offer some sort of consoling ritual that involves money.
  3. It can be a way for the psychic to gain media exposure, if they are correct by chance. Media exposure means more people coming to them to be exploited.
  4. The psychic may actually be convinced he or she has powers, and may simply be seeking a way to feed their own ego. Some people are not mere frauds, but are deluded.

You already know that any psychics the Akers spoke to were wrong enough that they did not assist in finding Shawn. Psychics could not provide information that lead to the recovery of this boy. So, they used the Akers and the Akers got nothing in return.

A quick Google search turns up a little more detail.

Psychic Sylvia Brown gave the Akers a reading on the Montel Williams show. Apparently she was too busy to schedule them a $700 reading, so they encountered each other on TV at a later date. Can you imagine that? You’re so busy shovelling bullshit that you can’t schedule time to take $700 from yet another distraught family. Remarkable.

From that reading:

Browne told Pam and Craig Akers their son “is no longer with us” but she had the impression his body was in a wooded area about 20 miles southwest of Richwoods. She said it would be near two large, jagged boulders that seem out of place in that area. (source: stopsylviabrowne.com)

Most of these kidnap cases result in the death of the child, so that was a very smart guess on Sylvia’s part. But it was an incorrect guess. And she had promised supernatural information, not a crappy guess. But a guess is all she could possibly have offered, no matter what promise she was willing to make.

This episode also busts the idiotic excuse that some psychic proponents offer that psychics somehow help the grieving to get on with their lives. Bullshit (to borrow Penn and Teller’s TV show title). These people were told to basically give up the search for their living son, and they were told he was lying dead in the woods.

If you’re interested, she had other details completely off as well.

Browne told the Akers that it was her vision that Shawn was taken by a “dark-skinned man, he wasn’t black — more like hispanic.” She said he had long, black hair that he wore in dreadlocks and was “really tall.”

So much leeway there that this guy could have had a tan and this could be claimed as a hit. Or he could have been black, but fit the description and she would still consider it a hit. In any case, these details were also dead wrong. He’s super-white with really short hair.

Worse:

The Akers also did television segments with James Van Praagh, a psychic who has a television show called “Beyond.” He led the search in an entirely different direction, suggesting a person who worked in a railroad car plant was involved and the body might be concealed in a railway car. That information led to numerous searches, including the De Soto railroad yard and several others.

So searchers wasted time following up a psychic’s leads. The son was indeed alive, but with Devlin, not in a railroad car.

Psychics are sick bottom feeders on the scum of society’s anguish. These vampires flock to people once devastating circumstances have torn away their emotional self defence mechanisms. Then they begin to feed, sucking away money and attention and replacing truth with a lazily-concocted lies.

I can’t tell you how angry these people make me. And I have been lucky enough never to have fallen victim to them, or have a close family member fall victim to them.

Posted by James at 1:40 PM | Comments (2)

Bush Speech - Sign of the Times

“I am natural and lifelike.”

photo by Eric Draper, The White House

Breaking with long-standing tradition, the White House decided not to let photo journalists take pictures of the president behind the podium after the recent Iraq speech. Instead, they handed out a photo by the official White house photographer.

This forced the wire services to either run a low-quality (but accurate) screen grab of the president’s speech, or go with a promotional photo.

Dennis Brack, a longtime White House photographer and president of the White House News Photographers Association (WHNPA), summed it up thusly:

“The speech was a very historic speech of news value, and they elected to manage it as a public relations function.”

Bush kept looking over his shoulder for the “Mission Accomplished” banner.

Posted by James at 11:02 AM | Comments (3)

January 12, 2007

5 Years of Aces

photo by tracyhunter

My readership drops dramatically over the weekend, so I'm announcing this today.

Tomorrow, the 13th of January, marks the 5th Anniversary of the creation of this blog, Aces Full of Links.

I can't believe 5 years have gone by so quickly.

Today is also my wedding anniversary, so Happy Anniversary, Maggie!

And Happy Birthday to this blog.

Woo Hoo!

Posted by James at 11:50 AM | Comments (18)

Anniversary Shotgun

Posted by James at 11:04 AM | Comments (6)

January 11, 2007

Hucklebuck Outro

Funny little office thing: Ryan and I have taken to giving each other intro and outro music when the other arrives or leaves.

When it looks like you’re about to leave for the day (you’re putting your coat on) the correct music is cued up and suddenly you’re compelled to say:

“Hey, thanks for tuning in. We’ve got a great show planned for tomorrow, so be sure to check it out. There’s a progress meeting in the morning, and a special guest from another project will be stopping by. Also, we’re releasing a new testing version of the software. G’night everybody!”

You wave goodbye and then head for the door.

Also, it’s useful if someone is on the way out the door, but get stuck in your office and won’t commence leaving. The music is then more like the play-off music you hear at awards ceremonies. Although we might need to get a different musical piece for that purpose.

The official outro music right now is Charlie Hunter’s “Philadelphia Hucklebuck.”

You can hear it if you go to this website. The Mp3 link is called “Philadelphia Hucklebuck 12/30/00” — it’s from a performance at Yoshi’s in Oakland, CA. Nice, friendly, jazzy stuff.

Posted by James at 2:03 PM | Comments (3)

January 10, 2007

Baker's Dozen Brutally Attacked

A Yale choir group known as the "Baker's Dozen" was brutally attacked in San Francisco leaving a party which took place at the house of a police officer.

The trouble started at midnight after the Baker's Dozen sang the Star Spangled Banner. Witnesses say a few local young men didn't appreciate the attention the Yale students were getting, made fun of their conservative dress and began taunting them and making threats.

[...]

As the Baker's Dozen left the house they were ambushed. Five, six, seven assailants attacking each member. Their injuries ranged from scrapes, black eyes, a badly sprained ankle to concussions.

If you think that with so many witnesses, they must have caught the perpetrators, think again:

What especially concerns the Aziz family is that police detained four of the attackers but did not make an arrest, and a full week later they still haven't made an arrest.

More discussion on a local ABC affiliate's website.

Posted by James at 11:44 AM

Burst of Religious Liberalism

In Baltimore last week the grey hair of John J. Cornwell, general counsel for Baltimore & Ohio R. R. and onetime (1917-21) Governor of West Virginia, stood on end, as he and other conservative Marylanders were treated to the following outbursts of religious liberalism.

That is the lead-in paragraph from an article in Time Magazine from Mar. 09, 1936 referring to the actions of the Church League for Industrial Democracy (Episcopal) which, at the time, was headed by Maggie’s grandfather, Rev. William Owings Stone. He’s the fellow who married us at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Barrington, RI. But back then he was with St. Mary’s Church in Baltimore, MD.

What resolution set Mr. Cornwell on edge? Along with their decision to align with the American League Against War & Fascism, Rev. Stone’s group “resolved in favor of equality of Negroes and whites in official Episcopal positions, went on record against the antisedition and anti-disaffection bills now pending in Congress.”

“My hair stood on end when I read those resolutions. I drew the line when I saw they advocated social equality with Negroes in church offices and they wanted to stop those who would penalize overthrow of our government by force. … If that’s going to be the doctrine of the Protestant Episcopal Church, I’m going to do what Al Smith said he’d do — I’ll take a walk.”

Maggie’s liberal roots go way back.

Posted by James at 9:44 AM | Comments (1)

January 9, 2007

Safe To Blog About the Weather

This weather is really strange.

People go about their daily lives and joke “how about this global warming” but you don’t really hear the weatherfolk giving much explanation about why the weather today is so warm and non-wintery.

Still, education about global warming need not be an anomaly for a TV forecaster. It should become part of the routine, when the weather is strange, to remind us that our fragile planet is in peril.

“Global warming” is probably a fairly abstract subject for most people, which is why people joke about it. A particular heat wave isn’t caused by global warming, even though that’s when we tend to think about the phenomenon and joke about it with our friends.

But this latest spate of warmth seems like a strong reminder. If not specifically a global warming warning, it ought to tell you something about the nature of weather. Nature (and weather) doesn’t care what you think the temperature ought to be.

There are a number of sensitive systems that keep our weather relatively stable. But those systems can change. And their changes may not result in subtle differences in our weather. Instead, we could see a sudden shift in what is “normal.”

Should you be worried about climate change? I don’t know. Do you worry that the weather might be hostile in the future? Do you worry about anything? Do you feel we owe anything to future generations?

I guess you have to decide.

Posted by James at 1:04 PM | Comments (10)

January 8, 2007

Would You Rather?

Which genetic mutation would you rather have?

  • Perfect teeth that need absolutely no maintenance. Somehow they stay plaque, tartar and cavity free.
  • Double the muscle strength of an average healthy human male. (judging by the force you can exert)
Posted by James at 12:18 PM | Comments (28)

January 5, 2007

Trust Yourself?

Let’s say you meet up with someone who looks just like you, but older. And that this person convinces you that he/she is you, but from the future, come back to give you a warning.

Would you trust the future “you?”

Assuming you’re relatively confident this person is you (perhaps you think of a password that only you know, and you decide never to tell it to anyone, and this person knows the password somehow) how much do you trust the future you?

Does it depend on what he tells you to do? If he told you to do something innocuous, like “don’t take the bus to Ohio next week” or even less dramatic: “put two sugars in your coffee today instead of just one.” What if he told you to do something you would consider against your morals… like kill somebody.

Would you think “just because you’re from the future doesn’t make you perfect.” Or would you figure that you can’t trusty anyone if you can’t trust yourself?

Posted by James at 1:38 PM | Comments (14)

Blend Shotgun

Posted by James at 10:18 AM | Comments (1)

January 4, 2007

Homophobic Sheep Experiments?

I'm very concerned about the rights of humans. I think people's personal proclivities and choices should be their own business as long as they don't harm other people.

But I don't thin sheep have any right to be gay. Martina Navratilova disagrees with me. She, and other people, are campaigning to stop research into how hormones affect gay sheep. Apparently, researchers think that hormone levels can make a difference in a male sheep's tendency to mate with ewes.

The research, at Oregon State University in the city of Corvallis and at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, has caused an outcry. Martina Navratilova, the lesbian tennis player who won Wimbledon nine times, and scientists and gay rights campaigners in Britain have called for the project to be abandoned.

Navratilova defended the “right” of sheep to be gay. She said: “How can it be that in the year 2006 a major university would host such homophobic and cruel experiments?” She said gay men and lesbians would be “deeply offended” by the social implications of the tests.

But the researchers argue that the work is valid, shedding light on the “broad question” of what determines sexual orientation. They insist the work is not aimed at “curing” homosexuality.

[...]

Professor Charles Roselli, the Health and Science University biologist leading the research, defended the project.

He said: “In general, sexuality has been under-studied because of political concerns. People don’t want science looking into what determines sexuality.

“It’s a touchy issue. In fact, several studies have shown that people who believe homosexuality is biologically based are less homophobic than people who think that this orientation is acquired.”

Here's a handy guideline. If your agenda is served by ignorance, then it may be time to re-evaluate your agenda.

Everyone is frightened about this. Homophobes are afraid that science will show sexual orientation is not a choice. And the above gay activists seem to be afraid this will turn into an anti-gay treatment. But the answer is not to remain ignorant.

Navratilova and her friends are shooting themselves in the feet. The more we know about the science behind this, the better. The slippery slope argument is not compelling. Also, this is no less humane to sheep than many less controversial experiments, or than lamb chops.

Of course, PETA opposes the research as well. And that's rarely a good sign in my book.

Posted by James at 11:06 AM | Comments (1)

Petitions to Flickr -- Dangerous Users

I got an invitation to join the Flickr group “Petitions to Flickr.”

In response to people misusing photos of children, some Flickr members have gotten together in an attempt to motivate Flickr to do something about a number of problems.

Here is the list of complaints as I understand them:

  1. People can steal and repost your public pictures, represent them as their own, or misuse them in other ways — like circulating them to pedophiles.
  2. Pedophiles can make a list of “favorites” (their favorite pictures) and pick and choose nude photos of adults and children from other members to make this list. Thus, what might have been a cute photo of your kids in the bathtub is now sandwiched between someone doing a striptease and someone else at a nude beach.
  3. Free accounts can be had without providing much information — so when a pedophile is suspected, there is little confidence in the community that the police will be able to track that person down.

I strongly sympathize with the problem of protecting children, I am fiercely protective of my two daughters physical safety and privacy. Even though I have a blog, I try to have a certain respect for their privacy, for safety reasons and because they are their own people and their privacy is their own personal matter.

When I was asked to join this Petitions group, there were a couple of implications. The main one was that I ought to sign the petition.

Here are the petition suggestions boiled down:

  1. Flickr needs to collect credit card information for all accounts, including free ones. This is for the purpose of “verifying name and address.”
  2. Flickr needs to insure some sort of accountability (Unclear what sort of accountability of whom or to whom)

I could not sign this petition. But I understand the problem. People are colliding in cyberspace, and having trouble mitigating private lives with public lives.

Recently, John McCain announced that he will be seeking tougher laws he thinks will crack down on child predators online. His law would place a burden on every website that allows visitors to post, including this blog. If I suspected a poster of being a pedophile, I would be required by law to report that. If I did not notify authorities, I would face heavy penalties.

Yes, a problem exists, but these are overreactions. If that law were to pass, I would probably shut down this blog. I have no interest in becoming such an expert in that law that I would have to know exactly what constitutes suspicious behavior that would force me to call the tip line. I already know that if I really thought someone was a dangerous individual (in my own judgment) of course i would notify authorities.

And, if you had someone actually posting child porn to your site, wouldn’t you report them? I already have to delete a ton of spam from my moderated comments buffer. Should I now be forced to report all those posts as well? Should I be forced to investigate every spam link that is posted to my site to check it for child pornography? And, incidentally, expose myself to the increased possibility of encountering child pornography! It’s nuts. John McCain either doesn’t understand the Internet, or he has lost his marbles.

This movement which has started in Flickr is going to ripple through friend lists. Already, some members are saying that they will remove people from their contacts if they do not sign the petition. I understand the idea of a web of trust, but I think the suggestions in the petition are not going to help. I have re-posted my petition response here for you:

I sympathize with people who have had pictures stolen and misused. It’s horrible. But I don’t think credit card information will stop it, and I worry about the increased risk of abuse if every member of Flickr, most of whom are not pedophiles, were forced to hand over personal and financial information.

The simple and extremely sad fact seems to be that if a person posts a photo that improperly excites others, you will attract those others to your photos. If you force people to hand over more information in exchange for a Flickr account, the pedophiles will simply operate without accounts. In other words, they’ll still collect the pictures, just not where you can see and identify them collected. It’s a band aid that hides the problem, not stops it.

The only power we have as individuals at the moment to stop the problem is to not publicly post pictures that we fear will be abused. To force friends and family to verify their relationship by using the “friends and family” option, or Flickr’s relatively new “guest pass” feature.

I am not making this suggestion to annoy people, to avoid more restrictive Flickr requirements, to protect pedophiles, or to shield Flickr from any responsibility. I’m making these suggestions because these are the best tools a Flickr user has to protect his or her pictures. Flickr has already taken some responsibility here by giving us these tools to protect ourselves.

Because, in truth, we all have to take a good deal of the responsibility for the pictures that we create. Responsibility is unpleasant, but inescapable.

More and more of my pictures have become viewable only to friends and family. There’s a good reason for that. I feel it would be a breach of trust to make all of those photos public. I feel I would be shirking my responsibility.

If i were to petition Flickr, I would ask a few things of them.

1) I would ask them to be public with the discussions they’ve had on the problem of people both posting and collecting explicit photos on the site.
2) I would like to hear if they are continuing to consider possible solutions to the problem. And I would like to hear what possible solutions are being considered.
3) I would like them to include some sort of more visible community policing, like the ability to “down mod” a user and for other users to see this rating (related to dangerous behavior).
4) I would like to see Flickr make use of some sort of “network of trust” in addition to Friends and Family. This trust network would exist for the purpose of allowing users to show that their presence on Flickr is a safe one, according to the people in their trust web. In other words, you are trustworthy if many trustworthy people also trust you.

Those suggestions do not mitigate the responsibility we individuals have to make sure that our own photos are not available for misuse — making the problem worse. Because there is very little we can do to prevent that once the photos are “out there.” If this is a shock to people, that’s only because this new world of open sharing is not all that it seems to be, and the sooner people understand the pitfalls and responsibilities, the better.

I’m not sure my suggestions are the best. Flickr employees have probably considered this longer than I have, which is why I think this needs to be a more public discussion. I’m almost as afraid of knee-jerk reactions as I am of child predators. You can lock up a child predator, but overreactions have a way of spreading.

I value the opinions of my readers. What do you think about the responsibility of members of an online community? What is the responsibility of the site-host?

Posted by James at 9:54 AM | Comments (6)

January 3, 2007

Amazing Subway Hero Guy

Patti sent me this story, and I just think it's amazing. A New York commuter who was traveling with his two young daughters saw a teenager fall onto the subway tracks after suffering a seizure. He took action in dramatic fashion.

Cameron Hollopeter, 19, of Littleton, Mass., had some kind of seizure Tuesday and fell onto the tracks, which are a few feet below platform level, a relative said. Wesley Autrey, of Manhattan, saw him fall, jumped down onto the tracks after him and rolled with him into the rut between the rails as a southbound train was coming in.

Unbelievable!

Stories like this can make your whole day.

Posted by James at 4:24 PM | Comments (2)

100 Hours

Democrats To Start Without GOP Input (Washington Post)

As they prepare to take control of Congress this week and face up to campaign pledges to restore bipartisanship and openness, Democrats are planning to largely sideline Republicans from the first burst of lawmaking.

[…] instead of allowing Republicans to fully participate in deliberations, as promised after the Democratic victory in the Nov. 7 midterm elections, Democrats now say they will use House rules to prevent the opposition from offering alternative measures, assuring speedy passage of the bills and allowing their party to trumpet early victories.

[…]Democratic leaders say they are torn between giving Republicans a say in legislation and shutting them out to prevent them from derailing Democratic bills.

I know congress is looking for my advice, so here it goes.

Republicans told me in 2000 and 2004 “To the victor go the spoils.” And then President Bush proceeded to show me how that worked.

With the Republicans in power, it didn’t work very well. Republicans reading this: if you thought that it did work well, then you have no cause to complain if the Democrats simply decide to run with the ball for the next 2 years. If you agree it didn’t work well (I guess hindsight is 20/20, especially after losing an election) you might think that now is the convenient time for “bipartisanship.” Which I take to mean, you don’t want to be treated like you treated the Democrats.

Luck is with us! I see a good compromise here, and it appears that the Democrats see one, too. And that would be: a burst of popular legislation in the first 100 hours driven by the majority. The president keeps his veto pen in his pants, the Republicans keep the whining in check. Republican congresscritters who find themselves with time on their hands can possibly turn their attention to the useful task of coming up with fun names for the foods in the House cafeteria. Then it can be said that the Republicans have put their money where their mouth is on bipartisanship.

By virtue of losing, you don’t earn the right to be treated better than you treated the minority. But you can mend fences and then expect better treatment. Here is a golden opportunity staring you in the face!

The future of the new bipartisanship is in the Republican’s hands. If the whining starts now, we’ll see that Republican calls for bipartisanship are worth just about as much as Nancy Reagan’s opinions on stem cell research are to Rick Santorum. I would subsequently invite the Grand Old Party to find the nearest lake — if one is not available, the Potomac will do — and jump in it.

What goes around comes around? No. It’s more like getting back to work after a long vacation.

Posted by James at 2:08 AM | Comments (7)

January 2, 2007

Understand Your Habits

It’s no secret how to improve your health. The simple advice “don’t smoke, eat right and exercise” is actually too simple.

People have known what is generally good for them for a long time. The trick is in the execution.

But if you can’t get your habits under control, are you simply a weak-willed person, doomed by your lack of backbone?

No, says this article in the Washington Post. The key is not “will power.” Rather, it’s gaining a better understanding of your habits, especially the triggers which lead you into behavior that defeats your goals.
“If you tend to struggle when you’re lonely, then creating some kind of social network [may help conquer bad habits]. If you struggle when you’re depressed, then getting help for depression makes sense,” Brownell says. Until people recognize the underlying triggers that led them to the unhealthy habits in the first place, all of the motivating messages in the world will fail, behavioral experts suggest. But getting in touch with the catalysts for their bad habits can unleash powerful forces for change.

Again, reflection is part of the solution!

For my own purposes, I’m trying to form a plan for how I will go about incrementally improving my own satisfaction with my life. This is what I’ve got so far:

  • Recognize you’ve got dissatisfaction
  • Identify where you are not satisfied
  • Consider a situation that would be more satisfactory
  • Identify how to get from here to there.
  • If it is a big jump, decide how to incrementally get there from here; what is the next step
  • Decide to modify your behavior to achieve that step

This article complicates the list somewhat, because if you do identify a behavior (like overeating) you really have to think about your triggers.

For me, overeating happens when I’m dissatisfied with other situations, especially when I’m not sufficiently mentally engaged. When I stop exercising I don’t feel like I have much invested in eating right. Also, when I’m feeling sorry for myself. And then, socially, when I think I can get away with it.

So, it looks like if I can stay mentally engaged, keep an exercise schedule, and find some other way to comfort myself when I’m feeling sorry for myself, I’ll be better off. The social aspect is easier to take care of; I am better at stopping myself from eating when I am around other people.

If that doesn’t work, I guess that will reveal some other triggers. And, of course, I’m going to have to figure out what I need to do to not trigger the cessation of my exercise behavior.

I like thinking about triggers better than accepting that some people are just weak-willed. Weak will is just another excuse; looking for triggers gives you a tool to control yourself.

Posted by James at 9:16 AM | Comments (11)

Frozen Paint Brushes

I saw this tip on Cool Tools:

In coats or paint, instead of washing your brushes, bag them and put them in the freezer.

Has anyone ever tried this? We’ve used plastic bags for brushes over short periods of time, but this fellow says that you can freeze a brush for months and it will remain soft.

Anything that makes painting less of a pain is a good tip in my book. I hate painting.

Posted by James at 9:13 AM | Comments (3)

January 1, 2007

Father, There Swims a Swan (Crooked Still)


Cover art: Shaken By A Low Sound

So, I was surfing Mike’s linkblog the other day as I often do when I came upon a comment he had about an album which he called “his favorite album of the year so far.” A link took me to the website of a Boston group called Crooked Still.

I think I mumbled something to Ryan as I looked at the page devoted to Crooked Still’s recordings. Seconds later I’d clicked one of the song samples and Ryan was over at my desk to find out who these people are. Mike’s got good taste in music!

The group is made up of a lead vocalist (female), a cello, a bass and a banjo. They play traditional music. I guess you’d call some of it bluegrass, but I’m no “musicalologist.” They’re from the Boston area, with an impressive resume. Berklee, New England Conservatory and… MIT.

The song samples for “Little Sadie,” “Ain’t No Grave” and “Wind and Rain” knocked me out of my seat. I had a Newbury Comics gift card that I’d been holding since my birthday (thanks Sara!) — I finally knew how I was going to use it. Out to Newbury Comics and back to the office to find out that those weren’t even going to be my favorite tracks on the CD. For me, the high point is their slow, rich version of a Robert Johnson song “Come On In My Kitchen.” As I told my daughters, if you close your eyes you can hear the rain plinking on the kitchen roof in this blues song.

It’s great when you can make a connection to music. I’ll let you judge for yourself. Mike also provided a link to this video of Crooked Still doing “Come On In My Kitchen” at the Somerville Theatre this fall. Mike was lucky enough to see them there. Tell me if you don’t feel the blues in this performance.

If you liked that, you’ll like this:

Listening to this album is leaving me anything but blue.

The title of this post comes from the lyrics of “Wind and Rain” and the traditional song “Dreadful Wind and Rain.” One sister murders another out of jealousy by pushing her into a river. The body floats away until…

Floated ‘till she came to a miller’s pond
Oh the wind and rain
oh father oh father there swims a swan
Cryin’ oh the dreadful wind and rain

Listen to the song to hear how it ends.

Posted by James at 9:39 PM | Comments (3)

Things We Love: Pizza Stone


Pizza Stone

A well-used pizza stone is a thing of beauty.

Many years back, I had a brief span between jobs. During that time I decided to learn to bake a pizza that I would be satisfied with.

I started baking, and would have friends over to try my creations. I’d like to think they enjoyed those early trials, but there were a number of places that gave a lot of room for improvement. One that was obvious was a brick pizza stone to improve my crust.

The brick is like a heat battery; it heats up and has enough mass to remain hot even after you’ve put the pizza on top of it. The high, dry heat keeps the crust from getting soggy when it cooks.

My good friends Chuck and Patty gave me my first pizza stone (which I still use every time I make pizza). I think the brand is “Old Stone” but I have long since lost the box, and the stone itself sits on my pantry shelf under my wok when it’s not in use. I’ve baked pizza on it, rolls, calzones and mnaeesh.

When I’m baking a lot of stuff, I use 2 stones at once. I was baking this mnaeesh on my larger stone, but if you look at the top of the photo you can see the round stone on a higher shelf. Just having the stone in the oven, once the stone has been heated, helps the oven deliver a nice even heat. Chuck and Patty also gave me my pizza peel (which you’ll see in baking photos now and again in my Flickr photostream) and a great pizza cutter (a +1 pizza cutter, in roleplaying parlance).

Julie saw the photo on my site yesterday and asked about the color of my round stone. It has become black from the ash that remains behind when baking is done. Sometimes corn meal remains on the stone and burns from residual heat. I don’t know if it helps cook better pizza, now that it is black. A new stone probably cooks just as well.

To clean the stone, I just scrape it off with my metal board scraper. I don’t remember ever having to scrub it, and I’m afraid soap will leave a residue, so I never clean it with soap or detergent. Some people use a stiff brush. Using the scraper seems to have contributed to the darkening of the stone, because I end up scraping the burnt residue over the stone, which seems to imbed it.

Perhaps having that blackened surface makes it less likely to have stuff stick to it.

My pizza stone is something I get consistent good use out of and is one of the best-used gifts I’ve ever gotten. Some people arrange bricks in a pan in their oven and use that, which is fine, I guess, but I have always appreciated having this great, smooth stone for baking with very little fuss.

Successful baking relies heavily on technique, but having the right equipment is also a good thing.

Posted by James at 2:29 PM | Comments (1)

Would You Rather? - Fame

Today’s would you rather:

If you could be famous for one thing, would you rather

  • Be known for learning something nobody else had ever learned before or
  • Building or making something nobody had ever made before?
Posted by James at 11:24 AM | Comments (1)