Archive for December, 2007

Peace parade

December 31, 2007

She’s baaaack!

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — There could be some discord during the Tournament of Roses Parade as demonstrators promise to raise issues during the holiday spectacle that has been going on for more than a century. Human rights advocates plan to protest a float honoring the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and anti-war activists, including “Peace Mom” Cindy Sheehan, intend to rally for peace.

Parades are basically pretty boring. I think, if I were in charge, I might invite the protesters to take a place in line. If nothing else, it would completely confuse the Peace Mom.

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Green new year

December 31, 2007

Regular readers will expect me to react to this with something like “sillier and sillier,” ridiculing the efforts of save-the-earthers to go to ever more extreme efforts to show how friendly to the environment they are:

The Times Square New Year’s Eve ball is celebrating its centennial by going green.

The star of the world-famous holiday extravaganza was revamped this year with 9,576 energy-efficient bulbs that use about the same amount of electricity as 10 toasters.

Philips Lighting, which created the light-emitting diodes, or LED bulbs, specifically for the event, says they are smaller but more than twice as bright as last year’s lights, which were a mix of more than 600 incandescent and halogen bulbs. And the new lights can create more than 16 million colors for a kaleidoscope of hues against the 672 Waterford Crystal triangles.

But I won’t. I’ll wait to see what it looks like, but if it really is as advertised — even brighter, more colors available, but less energy used — what’s to object to?

Would you miss Miss America?

December 31, 2007

Miss Indiana Nicole Rash hopes this year’s pageant can “restore Miss America’s luster”:

 “It’s really fun,” the 23-year-old Rash says. “We had a lot of fun with it. There’s some drama with it.”

For the series, she says, all state titleholders were housed in the Hollywood home where “The Biggest Loser” was filmed.

No TV, no music and no Internet.

“It’s a really, really gorgeous, huge property — a really nice house,” Rash says, “but for 52 girls, we had seven bathrooms.”

Contestants are presented with challenges, she says, and Hollywood icons show up with tips about how to be the next “It Girl.”

“We’re just trying to appeal to when Miss America was at its highest point,” Rash says. “When little girls wanted to be Miss America.”

Somehow, I don’t think turning Miss America into another reality show will return the pageant’s “luster.” And they’re keeping the bathing-suit competition. Time to let this anachronism go.

Word of mouth

December 31, 2007

If you need a lawyer, get a good one:

The Indiana Court of Appeals has overturned the conviction of a woman who was sentenced to eight years in prison in the 2004 dragging death of a Bloomington man.

The court ruled that 30-year-old Misty Evans’ attorney should have objected to improper instructions given to the jury.

[. . .]

Prosecutors say Evans had been drinking before she hit 21-year-old Jesse Reuben Jacobs with her car and dragged him to death. Evans says she wasn’t drinking and she thought she had hit a deer. She says she didn’t see Jacobs’ body under her car when she stopped to look for the animal.
Jury instructions at her trial told jurors to determine whether there was an accident that caused Jacobs’ death, and that Evans failed to remain on the scene. But the appeals court says the jury should have also considered whether Evans knew the accident hurt a person.

I took an advertising course at Ball State, and I remember exactly two things from it: 1) The best kind of guarantee is a money-back guarantee and, 2) Word-of-mouth is the best kind of advertising. The latter is best for the advertisers — it doesn’t cost anything, and it means they are doing well what they are seeking money from the public for.

But it’s usually better for consumers, too, especially when we have to entrust something important to people with a lot more specialized knowledge than we have — whether it’s an incompetent lawyer who can cost us our freedom or an unscrupulous electrician or plumber who can fleece us for home repairs. There haven’t been networks where we could find out who the good people and the bad ones were, although it seems that the Internet might be starting to fill that gap. So we rely on word of mouth. I used the roofer someone I knew had used and been happy with.

You know the old joke, right? What do you call someone who graduates last in the class in medical school? “Doctor.”

Green for green

December 28, 2007

Never fear, government will never run out of ways to intrude where it does not belong:

Free hybrid-car parking. Cash rebates for installing solar panels. Low-interest loans for energy-saving home renovations. Money to tear up desert lawns and replace them with drought-resistant landscaping.

Frustrated by what they see as insufficient action by state and federal government, municipalities around the country are offering financial incentives to get people to go green.

Fine. Knock $5 off my City Utilities bill, and I’ll start recycling instead of putting all my trash in the straight-to-the-landfill can. Oh, wait. Recycling is more expensive than landfilling, which is one reason my bill is as high as it is.  Forget it.

Brain death

December 28, 2007

Considering all the school and college shootings by people with diseased brains, many of us had hoped that the mental-health issues involved would finally be addressed. But this isn’t quite what we had in mind:

From large public institutions to small, private colleges, a growing number of schools are taking punitive action against students who display mental illness, ranging from bipolar disorder to eating disorders, experts say.

With better mental health services in younger grades, more youth with mental illness are arriving on college campuses than ever before. At the same time, courts have indicated that schools can be held legally responsible if students harm themselves or others.

Administrators, mindful of the safety of the larger community, say they need to be proactive.

But critics call it overreactive. They say schools are discriminating against those who have a medical condition, deterring students from seeking help and driving dangerous behavior underground.

Ignore, ignore, ignore, then overreact. That’s how “zero tolerance” works.

Rotate your stock

December 28, 2007

How safe is the food in your fridge?

You expect food in the supermarket to be fresh, that meats and dairy products are well within the date on the package. But what about that funky food in the back of your refrigerator? Is it safe to eat? Foodborne illness kills about 5,000 people a year, so you do want to be careful.

Consumer Reports ShopSmart has advice on what to keep and what to toss, like that meat that’s been in the back of the freezer for more than a year. Frozen food will be safe indefinitely in your freezer as long as it’s kept at 0° F. Fresh eggs that are federally graded are safe for up to five weeks after the expiration date on the carton.

What about hard cheese that’s gotten moldy? You just can’t cut off the visible mold. Spoilage and sometimes toxins can go deeper than what you see. Cut at least an inch around the mold spot.

My refrigerator is a cesspool of potentially toxic ingestibles, mostly for two reasons: 1) Supermarkets have a lot of family packs but not much stuff for singles, so I almost always have to buy more than I can use in a reasonable period of time and, 2) I always put leftovers and restaurant doggy bags in the fridge with the best intentions, seldom realized, of eventually eating them.

So I have come with with a refrigerator-management system I recommend for all. I put all the new stuff on the top shelf. Eventually, that gets moved to the second shelf, and what’s there goes down one shelf. You get the idea. When it comes time to clean out the refrigerator, the stuff on the bottom shelf — which has long since turned into squishy, smelly, brownish mush unrecognizable as former food — gets tossed, so that everything else can be moved to its proper place. When it’s time for a midnight snack — TOP SHELF ONLY!

You’re welcome. Glad I could help.

Warming trend

December 28, 2007

Some on the left lament the perceived mean-spiritedness of those of us on the right. Perhaps it is partly a reaction to guys like this, who says the silver lining in the “global warming crisis” is that there will be “poetic justice” in the wiping out of conservatives:

So again, we will see the decline and depopulation of the nation’s vast midsection—noted for its consistent conservatism. Only in the northernmost area, around the Great Lakes (which will be not so great anymore), and along the Canadian border, will there still be enough rain for farming and continued large population concentrations, but those regions, like Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, are also more liberal in their politics.

Finally, in the Southwest, already parched and stiflingly hot, the rise in energy costs and the soaring temperatures will put an end to right-wing retirement communities like Phoenix, Tucson and Palm Springs. Already the Salton Sea is fading away and putting Palm Springs on notice that the good times are coming to an end. Another right-wing haven soon to be gone.

So the future political map of America is likely to look as different as the much shrunken geographical map, with much of the so-called “red” state region either gone or depopulated.

There is always the chance that such writing is purposeful exaggeration for comic effect. But look at the guy’s photo and check out his resume. Die, dissenters, die!

Big, Bad John

December 28, 2007

I have gotten over the Indiana University baskeball games being snatched by the Big 10 Network. I find I don’t even miss them, so Comcast and the Big 10 can continue their power struggle without my anxiety. I am still distressed, however, that there are some NFL games I can’t see because Comcast, unlike Verizon and the satellite services, wants me to pay extra for the NFL Network. While I am deciding whether or not to drop Comcast, who should come to my rescue but John Kerry, the Vietnam “hero” and presidential candidate I have had so much pleasure disdaining:

Dear Commissioner Goodell,

As a Bostonian, I couldn’t be more pleased that in just five days, the New England Patriots will attempt to become the first NFL team in 35 years to finish the regular season with an undefeated record. But as someone who represents all of Massachusetts and not just those in the Boston media market, I remain deeply troubled that today as many as 250,000 Massachusetts households, and millions of Patriots fans nationwide, may be denied access to this historic sporting event.

[. . .]

Under the unfortunate circumstance that this matter remains unresolved, leaving 60 percent of households across the country – including thousands in Massachusetts – without access to Saturday’s game, I will ask the Senate Commerce Committee to hold hearings on how the emergence of premium sports channels are impacting the consumer, and I will consider what legislative measures may be necessary to ensure that consumers are more than bystanders in this process.

And the NFL gave in! Perhaps I have been wrong all these years, and the federal government can’t get too big. Power to the people!

Random madness

December 28, 2007

Am I wrong that random drug-testing in schools, 1) won’t solve the problem and, 2) will create an atmosphere of distrust by tossing out the presumption of innocence? The problem seems clear to me after reading about the students who will be subjected to the tests in the Rennselaer Central School Corporation:

Q: Who is to be included in the testing pool?

A: This policy applies to all Rensselaer School Corporation students in grades 6-12 who wish to participate in extra-curricular activities including, but not limited to athletics, driving to school, Driver’s Education Class, band, choir, FFA members, drama, Academic Teams and National Honor Society.

Maybe things have changed so much in high school that I don’t understand what’s going on there these days. But it seems to me they are punishing the good kids with drug tests — the ones who want to be involved in activities beyond the classroom — and giving a pass to the slackers who just show up and go home. Nothing demoralizing about that.

Oh, by the way, none of the kids who test positive will be turned over to the authorities or kicked out. They will have to leave the team or the extracurricular activity and submit to counseling and all that. But the schools will still be able to non-randomly have kids tested who exhibit “reasonable suspicion.” Any of those testing positive can be kicked out, turned over, etc.

Is this a lawsuit waiting to happen, or what?

Follow our lead

December 28, 2007

Some kind words for Indiana from a Michigan editorial page:

If Michigan wants an example of what a state can do to improve its overall situation, it need only look to its neighbor to the southwest – Indiana.

Indiana’s property and income taxes are lower than Michigan’s. Its business taxes are lower, and the governor there is talking about additional tax cuts.

Its unemployment rate is only 4.6 percent, near the national average, and Indiana’s “part-time Legislature” has lured a number of major businesses and thousands of jobs to that state.

Indiana has recently launched an advertising campaign to lure Michigan residents and businesses. Its pitch? You guessed it: Lower taxes.

By comparison, Michigan’s Legislature has done so much damage to an already ailing economy that most people here only hope that lawmakers won’t do anything more to make things worse when they come back into session after the holidays.

The editorial concludes by saying that the actions of the legislature — “calling it dysfunctional would be kind” — constitute the best argument for a part-time body. Maybe there should be a sort of “first, do no harm” Hippocratic oath for legislatures.

Brain boosters

December 27, 2007

So, in sports, which are merely for our amusement and don’t mean much in the overall scheme of things, performance-enhancing drugs are such an outrage that Congress has to take an interest. But in the real world, people are starting to take things like Ritalin and Adderall to enhance their cognitive ability, and no one really cares:

Despite the potential side effects, academics, classical musicians, corporate executives, students and even professional poker players have embraced the drugs to clarify their minds, improve their concentration or control their emotions.

[. . .]

Unlike the anabolic steroids, human growth hormone and blood-oxygen boosters that plague athletic competitions, the brain drugs haven’t provoked similar outrage. People who take them say the drugs aren’t giving them an unfair advantage but merely allow them to make the most of their hard-earned skills.

In the real world, there are no rules to prevent overachievers from using legally prescribed drugs to operate at peak mental performance. What patient wouldn’t want their surgeon to be completely focused during a life-or-death procedure?

“If there were drugs for investment bankers, journalists, teachers and scientists that made them more successful, they would use them too,” said Charles E. Yesalis, a doping researcher and emeritus professor at Pennsylvania State University. “Why does anyone think this would be limited to an athlete?”

These drugs, it is noted, are for people with specific health issues or mental problems. There has been little research done on their effects on healthy people. Of course, we aren’t as stupid as those dumb athlethes. We’d stop taking the drugs if there were dangerous side-effects, wouldn’t we?
 

Galluping changes

December 27, 2007

Remember when the men on the “most admired” by Americans list got 20 to 25 percent of the votes? One more sign of our fractured country is that the “winners” today get such a small percentage of the votes:

Both Bill and Hillary Clinton, the former president and the presidential candidate, are at the top of Americans’ most-admired list, Gallup reported today.

Bill Clinton was picked by 8 percent as the most admired man in the poll, just behind President Bush, who was chosen by 10 percent. Al Gore, Clinton’s vice president who lost to Bush in 2000, was ranked third with 6 percent after winning the Nobel Peace Prize this year for his advocacy on addressing global climate change.

There has always been more consensus on the female list than on the male side. This year is no exception — Hillary Clinton gets 18 percent, just ahead of Oprah Winfrey’s 16. Think Hillary will use that in her campaign? Nah. 

Here’s a nifty little Gallup pop quiz, by the way. (For the answers, don’t click on “Click here for answers.” Just go to Page 2.) If you think this country hasn’t changed, just consider this one:

4. What percent of Americans approved of women wearing slacks in public in 1948? In 1951, what percent approved of women wearing shorts on the street in hot weather?

Only 34% of the public approved of women wearing slacks in public in 1948. In 1951, just 21% of Americans approved of women wearing shorts on the street in hot weather.

Scary

December 27, 2007

This isn’t a breaking-news type of blog, but this is scary:

Pakistan Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has died after a suicide attack at a political rally.
“At 6.16 p.m. she expired,” said Wasif Ali Khan, a member of Bhutto’s party at Rawalpindi General Hospital.

Many had already been saying that Pakistan probably represented the biggestthreat to U.S. interests in the Mideast, and this will just make it more dangerous. CNN is running exclusive video from the immediate aftermath of the attack.

Buzzer beater

December 27, 2007

Need your Bobby fix?

IRVING, Texas, Dec. 26 (UPI) — Texas Tech Coach Bob Knight was reprimanded Wednesday by the Big 12 Conference for comments he made Dec. 15 about game officiating.Knight called a referees’ decision “horrendous” after game officials said a half-court shot by New Mexico’s Dairese Gary was taken before the halftime buzzer sounded.

Gee, sounds pretty tame to me, especially by the standards Knight has set.

Top of the list

December 27, 2007

We’re all suckers for Top 10 lists. I have just a few quibbles with our Top 10 local stories of the year.

1. I think the top story is really two separate stories. The indictment of candidate Matt Kelty certainly stands on its own, and the city election was significant not just for the election of Tom Henry as mayor but for the ouster of incumbents John Crawford and Don Schmidt as well.

2. I would move the property tax problem up higher than No. 5 since it is a statewide crisis still in search of a solution.

3. I think the February blizzard at No. 10 wasn’t all that much of a storm. I’d knock that one off the list and add the deaths of local TV pioneer Ann Colone and radio legend Bob Sievers. “End of an era” is an overworked phrase, but I think it applies here.

Any thoughts?

Stroke of genius

December 27, 2007

Further proof that newspapers probably shouldn’t be trusted with statistics:

Could where you live affect your risk of having a stroke? Yes, says the University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter in its December issue.

For years, the risk of having a stroke (and dying from one) has been higher in a swath that runs through Indiana and 10 Southern states: Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky. And in case your geography’s a little rusty, Kentucky and Indiana share a state line. The Stroke Belt just misses Texas.

No, no, no. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that distribution patterns don’t mean as much in disease as is usually made out to be the case. If you have certain risk factors — bad diet, lack of excercise, too much stress, bad luck of the genetic draw, etc. — you will be equally likely to have a stroke in Indiana or any of the other 49 states. What can be surmised from the data is that those risk factors are probably more prevalent in the named 11 states.

Back, clown!

December 26, 2007

If you like to learn a new word every day, this should take care of today for some of you: “coulrophobia,” the fear of clowns. It can cause panic attacks, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, sweating, nausea and feelings of dread. Apparently, even more people than we realized suffer from it:

Hospitals are being urged not to decorate children’s wards with paintings of clowns in case they upset young patients.

State-funded research has found that in a survey of more than 250 children aged four to 16, all disliked the use of clowns in hospital decor, with even the teenagers seeing them as “scary”.

“Given that children and young people do not find hospitals frightening per se – and only express fear about those spaces associated with needles – this finding is somewhat ironic,” said Dr Penny Curtis of Sheffield University.

Have to have it

December 26, 2007

charger.gifI got a lot of great gifts for Christmas. The most interesting is one you might want to think about getting for yourself; it’s one of those things you never thought of before that you can’t imagine not having. It costs only $10 and comes from Avon, of all places. It’s a portable cell-phone charger small enough to carry in purse or pocket. It operates on a single AA battery and can charge up to four hours of standby time and 30 minutes of talk time on one battery. (And, of course, you can carry other batteries around, too.) Never worry about being stuck somewhere with a dead cell phone again.

Ours is theirs

December 26, 2007

The war on private property continues:

The California Supreme Court has ruled that shopping malls can’t stop protesters from urging the boycott of stores while on mall property.

In a 4-3 decision Monday, the justices ruled that the Fashion Valley mall in San Diego violated California’s free speech laws when it kicked out demonstrators in 1998.

It can be satisfying to see the big, bad mall get its comeuppance, but private property is priavate property. By the logic of this decision, someone could go on somebody’s front porch with a picket sign protesting the color of the house. While we’re all arguing about the Second Amendment, government just gets sneakier.

Retirement plan

December 26, 2007

We will make property taxes so high that our senior citizens can’t afford them and will have to think about leaving their homes. But, not to worry, we have a plan:

Audrey Davison lives alone, gets a $620 Social Security check each month and worries about the sharply rising taxes on her four-bedroom house. Davison, 76, raised her family there and after 43 years, she really doesn’t want to leave Greenburgh.

Greenburgh doesn’t want her to leave, either.

The town is pushing a program that would let seniors work part-time, for $7 an hour, to help pay off some of their property taxes.

“People shouldn’t have to sell their house, move away to a place with less taxes, leave behind their family and friends,” said Town Supervisor Paul Feiner.

He envisions retired doctors mentoring schoolchildren, retired accountants helping with the town’s finances, retired lawyers offering their services for a discount. But there are plenty of less-skilled jobs that need doing, he said.

“It’s not like we’re going to see grandma running the snowplow,” he said. “There are lots of things people can do for the town and it wouldn’t cost us that much to pay them.”

A spokesman for the National Council on Aging actually thought this scheme of government to keep its hooks in people till the day they die “sounded interesting.” That’s not the word I would use.

Crack down

December 26, 2007

Don’t get me wrong — as I’ve written more than once, the “war on drugs” has been misguided, counterproductive and full of unintended consequences. Still, it’s interesting that the decision has been made to reconcile the disparity between crack and powdered cocaine sentencing by decreasing the punishment for crack instead of increasing it for powder:

Dr. Harolyn Belcher, an associate professor of pediatrics at John Hopkins University School of Medicine, said there is no evidence that crack is biologically more harmful than powdered cocaine to the fetus or developing child.

“If I had a well-to-do family whose wife was at home snorting coke versus someone who is a mother who is out on the street using crack, the babies would look very similar,” Belcher said.

Belcher said children who were exposed to crack or powdered cocaine in the uterus may be at slightly higher risks for language delays and attention deficits, but she said recent studies have shown that alcohol is far more devastating to the fetus.

This suggests that the designation of a substance as illegal and the punishment for using it or trafficking in it should be based on its destructive potential. Of course our drug laws are based on nothing or the kind. Tobacco or alcohol alone are more harmful than all the other drugs put together.

Why do we continue to resist the only answer that makes any sense? It is bad behavior that needs to be addressed, whatever the bad upbringing, genetic predisposition or ingested substance that caused it.

Have a merry Christmas

December 24, 2007

santa.jpg

The smoking holes

December 24, 2007

You thought the outdoor smoking patio, complete with heaters for the winter chill, was a creative approach to the smoking ban? Wait till this innovation comes to Fort Wayne:

aaaaasmoke1.jpgA German restaurateur has come up with a novel solution to a new ban on smoking in restaurants: He has made three holes in the wall of his restaurant so that customers can smoke “outside.”

[. . .]

With the “smoking point,” customers can put their heads through the large hole in the middle and one hand through each of the two smaller side-holes. The patrons can then legally enjoy a cigarette without having to leave the comfort of the inn.

The idea could well catch on across the country: Several of Germany’s 16 federal states are to introduce smoking bans on Jan. 1, 2008, including Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia and the city-states of Berlin and Hamburg.

You can probably think of another descriptive term that ends in “holes” to apply here. Go ahead, feel free.

Five for fighting

December 24, 2007

At one school system in Tennessee, you’re apparently supposed to just stand there and take it if you’re attacked:

According to the Williams County School System, self defense is no defense when it comes to getting suspended for fighting.

At Fairview High School, at least, it is an automatic five day suspension.

On December 7, Fairview High School junior Rachel Davis was suspended five days for fighting.

Her father, Gene Davis, a police, said the five day suspension is unwarranted.

Surveillance video from inside the school captured part of the confrontation.

In a video, a 17-year-old student is seen grabbing Rachel Davis from behind.  The video shows Davis turn and walk away.

The video shows the other student follow and confront her a second time.

Again, Rachel Davis turned and walked away.

The girl then followed her out of camera range.  That is when the incident reportedly escalates.

Davis said, “My daughter was struck in the face with either a back pack or a purse.  She got a laceration on her jaw required a trip to the ER and stitches.”

The school suspension notice indicates “punches were thrown from both parties”, which is why the school suspended both girls for five days.

Of course, if the attacked student were given a pass, that could encourage a whole wave of self-defence, and then who knows what kind of vigilantism might crop up?