Saturday, July 30, 2005

Bad Things Come In Threes

And let's hope, for the Boy Scouts of America's sake, it's only in threes. In the past week, 300 boy scouts had to be treated for heat-related illnesses, four scoutmasters were electrocuted in a freak tent pole/power line accident, and a fifth scoutmaster and one scout were killed and five others injuried by a lightning strike. It's starting to look like the universe has something against males in tan shirts.

Friday, July 29, 2005

ICE-d up

This was on CNN this morning. Unlike the personal safety strategies espoused emails I occasionally get from well-meaning people who are concerned because they heard somewhere that rapists like to target long-haired women because a ponytail gives them something to pull a victim by (as if an arm were not a more effective handle), this seems to make a bit of sense and does not require any irrational paranoia, just good common sense.

Britain and Australian officials are encouraging their citizens to store an emergency contact's information in their cell phones, under the name ICE, for In Case of Emergency. While the campaign has gained traction since the London bombings, it is actually a response to a much more common problem facing first responders, who first respond to a lot of non-terrorist-related incidents. People worry about being caught in a terrorist attack, but one is far more likely to have an automobile accident or medical crisis render one unconscious, unable to communicate, or otherwise incapacitated. In those cases, emergency personnel may have your ID to figure out who you are, but that doesn't get them far in figuring out the person to call to notify of your condition. The ICE entry gives emergency personnel a uniform way to know who to call. Click here for the article by the East Anglian Ambulance service, where the idea originated.

There are, of course, certain drawbacks to this strategy. In an emergency, you may be separated from your cell phone, a stranger may not know how to access your address book on an unfamiliar phone, and of course this is all useless if you keep your phone in any kind of lockdown or password-protected status. That being said, carrying some form of emergency contact info is better than none. The urban legend site thoroughly debunks the idea that an ICE entry enables cell phone viruses or may cost you a small fortune on your cell phone bill, as has apparently been claimed in an email making the rounds.

Personally, I am putting an ICE entry in both my cell phone and PDA. Actually, I'm putting in a primary and a secondary ICE. It doesn't do the paramedic much good to call your ICE number only to get the cell phone of the unconscious person on the stretcher next to you.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Lightning strikes

I purchase much of my casual wardrobe at comic/sci-fi conventions, so several of my t-shirts have graphics or sayings that baffle people not up on the popular culture. While none are outright obscene--they don't contain explicit images or any of the 7 Words You Can't Say on TV or a .us Website--a couple might be mildly offensive to people who don't get the TV or movie reference. For instance, the one I wore today implies breaking at least one of the Ten Commandments. It's actually a line (fully attributed on the shirt) from Stargate SG-1. I don't wear this one around churches.

So there I was buying undergarments at JC Penney's this afternoon. The sales clerk, a girl probably no older than 18 or so, had been immersed in folding slacks until I sidled up to the counter. As I slid the merchandise toward her, she started looking up while she robotically said "Did you find everything al--" Midword, she froze with her eyes at bosom level and took a couple second pause before she managed to choke out the rest of the sentence. That was probably the most amusing transaction I have ever had at a department store, watching her try to smile and maintain eye contact, all the while staring at my chest like it was a 15-car pileup. I think she was set to dodge the lightning bolt at any moment.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

And I thought Nebraska was messed up when I lived there...

From the Associated Press comes the news that Nebraska's attorney general intends to prosecute a man for having sex with his wife, the woman to whom he is legally married by the power vested in Brown County District Judge James Patton by the state of Kansas. You see, in Kansas, a man can marry his 14-year-old girlfriend, and apparently this man did, after first getting the consent of the mother and a district court judge. The Nebraska AG has determined that, the legal marriage notwithstanding, the conjugal relationship is not quite kosher on his side of the state line.

Star Wars Meets Reality

Writing that last post, I was reminded of a line in Star Wars Episode I. The leader of the Naboo security forces tells the Queen, "This is a battle I do not think that we can win." Back out here in the real world, it seems that when faced with a battle that we cannot win, the administration simply makes the whole war go away.

A few lines later, when the Queen is warned of the consequences if her plan should fail, she replies, "That is why we must not fail." I know that, at this moment, I can't explain why it is we must not fail now.

At Least It's Not Another War on a Common Noun

From a New York Times article today:
The Bush administration is retooling its slogan for the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, pushing the idea that the long-term struggle is as much an ideological battle as a military mission, senior administration and military officials said Monday.

In recent speeches and news conferences, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the nation's senior military officer have spoken of "a global struggle against violent extremism" rather than "the global war on terror," which had been the catchphrase of choice. Administration officials say that phrase may have outlived its usefulness, because it focused attention solely, and incorrectly, on the military campaign.
Of all the things that those in charge could possibly "retool" to improve this situation, they went for the slogan. At first glance, that might seem like one of the more trivial moves they could make. After all, if they're retooling something, why not retool a Hummer factory to start cranking out armor-plated vehicles to protect our soldiers from the ravages of roadside bombs in Iraq instead of cranking out oversized SUVs to protect soccer moms from the ravages of my Toyota in the grocery store parking lot? Certainly that would make someone more safe than simply changing lexicon. But lest we forget, these are cunning people, or as Obi-Wan Kenobi said "He's a politician. They're not to be trusted." They wouldn't do this without reason.

At first glance "global struggle against violent extremism" has the decided disadvantage of being less catchy than "global war on terror" and is a little long for a news channel graphics package or photo op backdrop, which makes the choice all the more baffling on the surface. "Global struggle against violent extremism" doesn't strike the necessary chord of fear in our hearts, and it doesn't trip off the tongue as well as "War on Terror." Actually, that last part is only true as long as Rumsfeld and Co. keep using the full phrase. "Uniting and supporting America by providing appropriate tools required to intercept and obstruct terrorism" is quite a mouthful, too, until you shorten it to "USA PATRIOT [Act]." As Slate noted here, the retooling changes G-WOT (which is pronounced suspiciously like "Gee, What?") to G-SAVE. That gives us a touchy-feely, heroic acronym instead of one that makes us sound like clueless dolts. Logic point 1 to the retoolers.

Logic Point 2: By commandeering the lexicon, they've taken the wind from the sails of the opposition. More and more lately, we've heard variations on "they're fighting a war, but no one is asking us to sacrifice on the home front." Well, if it's no longer a war, they've got no reason to ask us to do anything uncomfortable like conserving energy or considering whether we have the military capability to do this at all. I believe a similar strategy was employed in the Korean It-Wasn't-Really-A-War. The switch also effectively pre-empts any uncomfortable conversations we may need to have about reinstituting a draft. Again, no war, ergo no draft.

Logic Point 3 is closely tied to Point 2. A war is something to be waged. Wars are between countries, or at least defined groups. Most important, though, a global war requires alliances, and diplomacy is not one of this administration's strong points. The World Wars may have been global in scope, but there were still only two sides to choose from. Certainly, this led to more than a few "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" alliances, but that's just how global war works. Struggles are a different matter entirely. In a struggle, the shared effort against a common enemy is implied. There's no need to formally have a treaty or a pact. Reasonably compatible goals are enough. Can't keep a coalition together? Make formal coalition partnerships irrelevant.

I'll reserve judgment on how Logic Point 4 is going to play out, or if anyone even decides to go there. If we're no longer fighting the Global War On Terror, we don't need to adhere to the pesky rules of war. The Geneva Conventions only apply to wars, not global struggles, ridding the administration of any of those irritating questions on whether and when to apply the Geneva Conventions and to defend the decision not to. However, and this is the part that becomes nebulous, the War On Terror has been invoked to justify actions we might not have undertaken or condoned outside of a state of war. Without a War on Terror, can we still justify actions like open-ended detentions of Enemy Combatants? I'm sure they'll find a way. Many of the powers of a War President spring organically from the state of war, and if we're no longer to be kept in a state of war, we may not be as willing to accept parts of the administrative agenda.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

It's the End of the World as We Know It...

Lewis Black has observed that the end of the universe is located at an intersection in Houston, Texas, where there is a Starbucks across the street from a Starbucks. I saw something even worse today. I passed a new Wal-Mart, built literally right behind a Wal-Mart. At least in Houston, they have a street separating the Starbuckses

Friday, July 22, 2005

Bye-Bye Ads

Since no one has clicked on any of the Google ads for going on two months now, I've dropped them entirely. I've been considering the move for a while, but Google finally changed its policy on payments so I could get paid. Until recently, Google would pay out on the ads after my account balance reached $100. Considering that I was averaging 4 cents a day, that was going to take a while. By the new policy, they'll pay any balance over $10 when the account is terminated, so I can cancel my participation and get the cool $10.85 I've earned since I started this back in October. It is nice to know, though, that I've been generating around 45 page views a day lately, and that's without having blogged about telemarketers in a while. Traffic always seems to spike whenever I post about how to get your credit card company to stop calling you to offer credit protection insurance.

However, now that we're on the subject, here's a few hints from someone on the other end of those annoying calls (though I would like to stress again that I don't sell anything):
1. It's OK to just interrupt the caller and say you're not interested. We don't take offense. As a rule, I don't get anything from someone who just calls me up, either.
2. If you're not interested, just say you're not interested. I don't believe the excuses anyway.
3. The people manning the phones probably don't have a clue where the company gets its lists from. My call lists literally just appear out of the ether. I can take you off mine, but unfortunately I can't do much to help you track down where the leak is from.
4. Saying you are dead doesn't get you any further removed from the list than a polite request to be removed.
5. Being hostile isn't any more effective, either. And whistles or air horns can cause permanent physical damage to the operator's ears. Is getting someone to hang up really worth maiming them?
6. We know you're not just sitting by the phone waiting for someone to call and pitch you something. I take it as a given that if I manage to get a human on the phone, I've interrupted something that is probably, at the moment, more important to you than a pitch for life insurance.
7. Getting a person who is downright nice to me on the phone actually makes my day, even if he doesn't want what I offer.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Better than Flying Toasters

Have you ever wanted to fundamentally change humanity's perception of its place in the universe? Are you bored with your current screen saver?

If you answered yes to one or more of those questions, here's a link to a screensaver you can get from SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. The name pretty much sums up what they do: look for signs of intelligent life off our little rock. Now, the universe is a big place, and sentient beings might be anywhere in it, so SETI's tactic is to use a really really big radio telescope at Arecibo to scan the entire sky three times over in the hopes of picking up a signal. Unfortunately, this leaves a (literally) astronomical pile of data to sift through looking for a blip. However, the SETI people, being the types who spend their professional lives looking for signs of sentience from outer space, are plucky, imaginative people. Their solution: harness the computing power wasted in home computers' down time and people's penchant for having pretty pictures float across their computer screens while they're not actively using them. Viola! The Seti@Home project.

We just joined. The full details of how it works can be found here, but basically, SETI sends your computer a little bit of the telescope data over the internet. After your computer has been idle for a couple minutes (you set the exact time), instead of the flying toasters or that aquarium scene turning on, the computer switches over to working on the data analysis. A transparent cube with flashy rainbow-colored spikes floats around your screen, so you don't miss out on the pretty pictures, and as a bonus, these pictures are an actual display of the data your computer is analyizing. Much better than the morphing blob. As soon as you need your computer again, the program switches off just like your old screen saver would. When your computer is done with a chunk, it sends the results back off to SETI and fetches you a new batch of raw data.

I find myself just watching the SETI display sometimes, reluctant to interrupt it. It's a good use for computer time that would otherwise go to a scrolling message or those meaningless rainbow-colored lines. Plus it's just darned fun, and there's always that tiny chance that I'll be the one who finds the signal from out there.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


I have the most wonderful husband. Last week was our fifth anniversary, and by way of an anniversary surprise, he took me to see March of the Penguins. It was very much a surprise because the nearest theater showing March of the Penguins is an hour and a half away. It's a documentary about emperor penguins--not the kind of film one would expect to play well in the area where we live. I was prepared to wait for the film to come out on DVD, but no, he wanted me to see penguins larger than life, and he drove me across a good chunk of the state to make sure I did. Come hell, high water, or a trip through one of the less savory portions of Cleveland (well, two of the three), I was going to see the big-screen incarnation of the penguin love and chick-rearing saga. He would see to it that I would, even if I would never dream of doing something like that myself.

The English language needs another, very special, word to describe the aftermath of the commercial I heard on CNN Headline News this afternoon, not four days after our own March to the Penguins: "March of the Penguins, now playing in select cities, opening everywhere July 22." Everywhere, including the theater five miles from our house.

Random Thoughts at Random Times

I hadn't noticed until today that the back of the exam room door at my doctor's office has the emergency exit route map. You'd think with the amount of time they leave you in there to disrobe (that time of year again), I would have noticed everything. Of course, after that, all I could think about as I lay there wearing naught but a glorified cocktail napkin and the Jaws of Life was, "This would be the worst time for the fire alarm to go off."


I myself have never learned to program computers. I can muddle through a few basic HTML tags, but that hardly counts. For those of you more inclined to programming, here are the instructions for teaching your spam filter to play chess.

Monday, July 18, 2005

How Geeky Are You, Really?

According to The True Geek Test, I out-geek 60% of the population, answering 81% of the questions as a true geek would. I must work on that.

Study Sez...

This year's State of Our Unions study out of Rutgers University was good news, bad news for DOMA fans.

The good news for fans of 2-parent households everywhere is that the divorce rate is down to its lowest point since 1980. The bad news is that this can be at least partially attributed to the fact that the marriage rate is down to its lowest point since 1960. In short, fewer people are getting divorced because fewer people are getting married. When the pool of potential divorcees shrinks, a corresponding reduction in the divorce rate is expected.

To what must be the chagrin of the moral values voters, the slack is not being taken up by people making virginity pledges. About 8% of households are what was, not so long ago, quaintly called POSSLQ's: Persons of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters. Less quaintly, shacking up. Seems that more than half of first marriages start out as cohabitations these days. Frankly, I can't think of anyone among my peers who married without first living together (though I'm sure you'll speak up if you did). Anecdotally, among my generation, getting married before combining households is more and more the anomaly. I'm not sure I could have handled getting used to being married on top of trying to sort out the details of whether to buy crunchy or creamy peanut butter and staking out territory on the bathroom counter, among the countless other adjustments to be made when moving in together.

By the way, if any of you single people out there feel pressure to pair off in some legally-binding partnership, you might be surprised at the study's findings that, in spite of how it may seem, only a little over half of the adults in the US are married.

One final plea for help here. The study says that 8% of adult men and 11% of adult women are divorced. That works out to, give or take, about 9.5% of the adult population as a whole. Seems to me it would take a lot of divorce and remarriage and divorcing and remarrying again to have that 9.5% of the population responsible for the 50% of marriages that allegedly end in divorce,with 55% of the adult population married. If someone can explain how we get so many divorces while simultaneously maintaining relatively few divorced people, I'd really like to know. My only solution, and I admit I'm bad at math, is that divorced people average around 3 marriages apiece. That would mean for everyone who is on a second marriage, someone is on a fourth. That seems a bit off.

What a Difference a Year Makes

A year ago, President Bush said he would fire anyone involved in the leak of the name of a CIA operative. Today, he's taken that up a notch to "If someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration."

At least he's raising the bar on something.

Correction to my previous post: Time reporter Matt Cooper has clarified that Karl Rove never said he was speaking on "Double super secret background." The phrase was Cooper's and is, as I noted, a reference to Animal House and not a technical journalism term. Between this and the exact legal name of Ambassador Wilson's wife, we're now up to two things Karl Rove has not said.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Someone Has to Say It

"Double super-secret background"!?!?

Is Karl Rove 9 years old, or are we now being governed by the Animal House administration?

CORRECTION (7/19): Matt Cooper has clarified that Karl Rove did not use the phrase "Double Super Secret Background." He also clarified that it is, in fact, a reference to the movie Animal House. This absolves Karl Rove of my above implication of juvenile behavior, and also means it cannot be used as evidence supporting the thesis that this is a government of the frat boys, by the frat boys.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Happy Bastille Day

...or anniversary, or birthday.

You know who you all are. What can I say? July 14th is a popular day among my relatives.

Homeland Security

There's an old joke about two hunters being chased by a bear. As they're running, one hunter says to the other, "Do you really think you can outrun than that bear?" To which the second hunter replies, "I don't need to outrun the bear; I just need to outrun you."

The moral of the story being that, when faced with a threat, one does not need impregnable defenses. It is enough that someone else--anyone else--has more pregnable defenses than yours. Threats most often follow the path of least resistance. We could build a moat around our home and fill it with ill-tempered sea bass and install blast doors around the perimeter and be totally secure, or we can just make sure the neighbors are more tempting targets than we are for the prowlers.

Which brings me to the current dust-up over the Homeland Security budget, specifically, how federal security funds are allocated. The 9-11 commission recommended that HS dollars be allocated strictly on the basis of "risk and need." The Senate has voted that 60% of the budget be allotted on the risk/need grounds, but that each state gets a minimum chunk of the remaining 40%. For some reason, Wyoming is cited most often as an egregious example of how out of whack the guaranteed-minimum concept is, as in "Wyoming gets more per capita than New York."* If I hear that one more time, I am liable to vomit in the metal detector. Put that through your residue checker.

Let me start by stating the obvious. Of course putting Homeland Security money on the table is going to invite a money-grab. Every community is strapped for cash. There is always something a state, county, town, or even household would do if only there was money there. It should come as no surprise to anyone that, when federal funds are on the table, no matter what the source, everyone is going to want to grab as much of that for his or her home community as possible. Pork is only pork to people who aren't benefitting from it. To people who are, it is necessary community improvements.

Furthermore, allow me to state another obvious fact: every community thinks there is something in their environs that would make a tempting terrorist target. On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was waiting tables in a reasonably crappy restaurant in a suburb of Toledo, Ohio. I have actually heard people use Toledo, Ohio in a sentence as a synonym for "The middle of nowhere." Nonetheless, as we listened to the radio reports that morning while the fourth plane was still unaccounted for, I was bringing coffee to people who honestly, seriously believed that fourth airplane was headed straight for Toledo, planning to crash into the BP oil refinery. That sentiment is silly to people in New York, but people in that diner that morning believed it in all earnest.

People in low-population, so-called "low-risk" areas do not like to believe that they are at any less risk than people in New York or LA. After all, one of the lessons shoved down our collective throats after September 11 was that it could happen here. That message has been getting to everyone, even in Wyoming. Sparsely populated areas took that to heart just as much as major metro areas. I don't think any of the talking heads in the big cities considered that, for people in Bat Guano, Nebraska, "it can happen here," meant here, in Bat Guano, Nebraska, not here in some big city that coincidentally shares a federal government. We've been told for going on four years now that we are not safe. We as in us, personally, ourselves, not Americans as a whole.

Back to the hunters running from the bear in the woods. When major metropolitan areas, having received the bulk of security funding, become too difficult to operate in, who know where the next target would be. Maybe someone will nuke Yellowstone or blast Washington's face right off Mount Rushmore. Maybe someone will taint our food supply through the farmlands of Kansas or the herds of cattle in Nebraska. Maybe they'll go for the farm country of Oregon and unleash some filbert-centric pathogen that will destroy our supply of Hazelnut lattes. There is a mindset among some in the Midwest that a terrorist strike in the heartland would be more effective at undermining our sense of homeland security than another attack on a big coastal metropolis.

The thing to remember about risk is that it is by nature relative. Eventually, we may make our big cities safer, but that doesn't make the bad guys go away. Low-risk areas are only low-risk now because there are higher-risk areas elsewhere. Sparsely populated areas are running from the bear faster than the densely-populated areas at the moment, but the bear gets one of them in the end. The arguments over Homeland Security allocation are just 50 states trying to make sure they're running faster than someone.

*-Wyoming also gets more Presidential votes per capita than New York, but that doesn't seem to inspire people to action the way doling out cash does.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Splitting Hairs

So the defense of Karl Rove, insofar as anyone is even trying to mount one instead of just sidestepping the whole issue, seems to be that he may have talked to a reporter about Valerie Plame's job in the CIA, but did not actually use the word "Valerie." Instead, he referred to her as "Wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on WMD issues," Wilson being Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV.

The key to so many good plots is to never actually lie about it. The present administration is great at that. Those famous 16 words in the State of the Union address that were at the bottom of this whole flap were not actually false, either (it was quite true that the British had the information--no one ever said the information was right). If everything that has been reported about Rove's involvement this far is true, he still was telling the truth when he said he did not leak her name. He left it to others to assume that meant he had not leaked her identity. All he revealed was to whom she was married. Would some of those Defense of Marriage advocates remind me again how many wives a man can legally have in the United States? Also, marriage licenses are one of those things that the administration hasn't quite gotten around to classifying yet, so the record of who Ambassador Wilson's wife is should be more or less a matter of public record, even if her job wasn't. Splitting that hair is for another time.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Guest Blog

Fellow blog-readers: Emperor Penguin here.....

After over a year of silence, I finally found something to rage about. I am angry; I am vexed; I am seething with rage (those of you who know me, know I am usually a pussycat).

Janet and I are trying to slowly change over our personal email addresses to reflect the changes in internet technology and ease of use -- plus AOL's software is buggy and inefficient. So, rather than get an email name from our ISP that will go away the moment we change providers (you know we will), we decide to register our names on the internet so we can have permenant addresses where anyone can find us. So we try to register harriett dot com and discover it has been registered. Now, normally this would not bother me, someone bought it fair and square and we came too late. So I check out the link on the web. Who owns the site? "Buy Domain" They said that I can buy the domain name for anywhere from $1,000 - $10,000! My own name! How terrible is that? I feel violated, like my identity has been stolen. These are considered "investments" by some people: they buy as many names as they can think of and then try to re-sell them to the legitimate owners of the name hoping to make a profit off these people. I hope eventually someone with more brains and resources than I will introduce laws making this sort of "cyber-squatting" illegal.

So, unfortunately, for the time being, I cannot have use of my own last name with a dot com extension for people to find me easily. Dot net and dot org were also registered, but they were taken by legitimate people actively using the name -- I don't mind that one bit. Once I set up our family email accounts, people will be able to find us at the best domain name left available to us: dot us!

And if anyone reading this has designs on taking our personal names, I also took the time to register:

The dot net, dot org, and all other dot extensions are available to anyone who wants them. However, most people's searches usually begin and end with a dot com entry.

And for all who listen, I implore you, register your names as soon as possible if they are still available. You never know if you will want it later. Trust me, it is downright humiliating seeing a stranger offering your own name out for $1,000+. My recommendation is They charge $8.95/year for a dot com address; most others are less. Even if you are like us and do not plan on putting up a website, it is a way of protecting your good names.

Good luck, all. I promise my next guest blog will reflect a kinder, nicer emperor penguin. I'm not really a raving lunatic (no, really, I'm not). This just really infuriated me. We now return you to your regular roving penguin reporter......

Jack Squat

Since someone is cybersquatting on (don't bother looking over there, and more later on that from your guest blogger), we're registering a few still-available permutations of our names. Not planning on putting anything up anytime soon, we're just staking out some web territory while it's still available. Part of the legal agreement to registering a .us domain name is agreeing not to post profanity as defined by a 1978 US Supreme Court case "as made famous by George Carlin." I kid you not. Registering a .us domain requires one to explicitly agree not to use any of the Seven Words You Can't Say on Television, and referencing the comedy bit of the same name. The soon-to-be-guest-blogger, reading over my shoulder, just pointed out that the same clause is not in the agreement for a .tv domain, so, you can say the Seven Words You Can't Say on Television on .tv, but not on actual TV, or the .us domains.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Now That's a Thumb Drive

Finally, someone is developing a manicure I might bother getting. Scientists in Japan have figured out how to write data to human fingernails. Using a laser system, they essentially turn fingernails into computer discs that store the info right on hand (or on left hand) for six months, or until the nail grows out. They say they can get 5 Mb per nail, which is about three times what your standard floppy holds, but it's still no replacement for my 256 Mb jump drive.

One potential application (besides giving us blossoming sci-fi writers more fodder) is combining the new nail data writing with finger biometrics for personal authentication. Which leads to one inescapable conclusion: we're going to have to start shredding our fingernail clippings for personal security reasons. At least it will get them off the bathroom floor.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

In the twelve years I've been driving, today was the first time I've ever actually renewed my driver's license. Until now, I've always moved to a new state before my license expires.

I think the clerk had a few reservations about handing over my new license. Here's a more or less accurate transcript of the conversation during my vision test:

CLERK: Let's try it without your glasses first. Step over there.
(I take a step to the left and put my face in the exam contraption)
CLERK: Read the center section, fourth line down.
(I pause for a moment, trying to make out rows at all in the center section)
ME: I don't think I can
CLERK: What's the lowest line you can read?
ME: Are those are supposed to be numbers?

I did manage to pass, though I now have the dreaded "Must Wear Corrective Lenses" endorsement. I've worn bifocals full time for the better part of two decades, so it doesn't change anything other than requiring me to do what I do anyway. However, I'd like to say in my defense that I could barely read the numbers with my glasses on and I know for certain my vision hasn't degraded that much since my last eye exam.

Irony Alert

Martha Stewart hates being confined to her own home.

That just blows me away. Of all the people who might enjoy staying at home, I'd think it would be the queen of the domestic divas.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

You Need A License to Sell Insurance...

Well, the Russian astrologer suing NASA on the grounds that their plan to smash a slug of copper into a comet "ruins the natural balance of forces in the universe" did not manage to prevent the mission. No word yet on how her claim of $300 million in "moral damages" is coming.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Stealth Chutzpah

A man who trademarked "Stealth" as a brand of sporting goods in 1985 gets a writeup in the New York Times for his pirahna-like efforts to protect his trademark from infringement by such things as an upcoming Columbia Pictures movie. He does in fact legitimately own the trademark for the word "Stealth" as a brand name for several uses including air conditioners, but he seems to have made a cottage industry out of firing off cease-and-desist letters to anyone he finds using the word for anything. The company that makes the B-2 Stealth bomber paid him off to the tune of $10--incidentally, the agreement is also why one cannot get model Stealth Bombers under that name.

Making it easier for headline writers everywhere, this man also claims ownership of the word "chutzpah." Sometimes the headlines just write themselves.

Happy Fourth

For the moment, let's leave aside any curiosity about what is in West Virginia that President Bush has spent three of the last four Independence Days there. Just take a look at the picture that accompanies the New York Times article, in which the camera angle and a huge wad of bunting unfortunately makes it appear at first glance that the President is wearing a very large, froofy skirt.

While we're on the subject of Independence Day, I would like to submit a modest proposal: anyone purchasing fireworks must first pass a brief exam (may be written or oral):

1. Twenty-seven allegations are made against the king of England within the body of the Declaration. Summarize three.
2. List the four specific declarations made in the final paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.

(Answers can be found here)

I don't think it is too much to ask people to have a glancing familiarity with the content of the document that formally announced American independence before they get explosives, since that is nominally what we are celebrating today with those explosives.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Retirement Party

Slate points out here and here that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was pretty much the polar opposite of the Activist Judge so reviled by the current administration. The point is buried, but allow me to excerpt
O'Connor didn't believe in putting the court's awesome authority behind hard-and-fast rules that would tie up a hugely complicated, divisive issue for generations... But the virtue of her one-at-a-time approach was that it left open issues that are better worked through on the floor of state legislatures and Congress, and in all of our kitchens and living rooms.

O'Connor writes narrowly because she doesn't want to reshape the whole legal world with the stroke of a pen (though this is naive at times—since her affirmative-action, religion, and gerrymandering decisions do just that, intent or no). Her impossibly narrow opinions may not represent her own pathology so much as the pathology of other court members—who seek to raze whole legal landscapes with a single opinion. She wants legislatures to do that. She wants state supreme courts to do that. She wants the president to do that. In her view the court has virtually limitless power to tell the other branches when they're being stupid. But she'd prefer that they not be stupid in the first place.
If the administration truly despises "legislating from the bench" as a whole and not just "legislating ideas we don't agree with from the bench," I look forward to seeing someone else of Justice O'Connor's stripe put up before the Senate. And in the battle that is pretty much guaranteed to come, remember that Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States states that the President nominates and appoints Supreme Court justices "by and with the advice and consent of the Senate." That's advice and consent--two separate nouns, neither of which is "automatic approval."