Tuesday, December 30, 2008

More Chicago Scandals! More! Scandals! Bwa-ha-ha!!!

I am amused by the continuing attempts to link Obama to scandals in Illinois & Chicago. But there's plenty left to investigate:

The band Chicago: was Obama involved in this scandalous footage featuring a half-naked drummer?

Did Obama influence Michael Jordan (who left Chicago to play for Washington DC !!!) who was caught on tape involved in over ten personal fouls!:

Obama wears black socks and the Black Sox were from Chicago.

Need we say more?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Judge Mom and the Tabs

Today I went to court for my hearing on my car tabs ticket.

As I wrote before, I got ticketed while beershopping because I hadn't renewed my tabs. On the ticket., it mentioned the possibility of a mitigation hearing, which sounded good to me. First, anytime I can put off paying is a good time, and second, I really didn't get a notice of renewal, and third, talking to the judge on this would be a new and interesting experience. So I got an appointment: 8:30 Dec 29.

I figured I'd better prepare for the show. From community theater, I understand that I'm not good at memorizing precise lines, but I am pretty good at memorizing themes and extemporizing from that. I worked out three reasons for mitigation: I hadn't gotten the notice; while in theory I could've seen the tabs every time I got into my car, in practice people don't notice things like tabs since they don't change; and most of all, owing to the smallness of my present income, a reduced fine would be just as motivating as one that took a whole week's discretionary income. I pondered which would be best going first. The strongest first? in case the judge cut me off? or the most emotionally appealing?

I really over-thought the whole thing.

I got to court before the building actually opened; the helpful guard mentioned the coffee-and-bagel place in City Hall across the street. As I worked over the bagel, I realized that my reasons were bogus. I didn't think the law had a "no reminder" clause. Maybe I'd be better off just coming out and admitting it. Maybe I should just skip the hearing. But, no, the scheduling form said a missed hearing might get me socked with an additional fee.

I resigned myself to having nothing, and getting nothing, and went to Room 201 feeling free in an almost Zen-like way.

The waiting area was a plain room with two clerks with computers, lots of chairs, and art on the wall: two character photos and a mysterious yet boring abstract painting that was probably designed to lulled distressed persons into torpidity. Behind the counter, talking to the clerks, was the very image of a TV judge out of his robes: perfect white hate, sharp eyes, very neat goatee, a commanding presence. There would be a quick argument before the High Bench, to the point, and (I imagined) crisply decided, just in time for a commercial break.

A short, motherly woman in a suit emerged, called my name, and lead me down the hall to a plain office with a modern desk, plain, except for the cool double-flat-screen monitor. She wasn't Judge Goatee's clerk; she was the Judge herself. (Technically, a Magistrate but why quibble?) I wasn't going to be on Court TV; I was going to have a talk with Mom.

With mom, there's no arguing. Come right out and admit it when you got nuthin'

She took a form and, in a calm, friendly but serious voice, asked:"Are you here for a hearing about your car tabs, citation number *something*?" (I'm paraphrasing from memory)

I agreed.

"And what can you tell me"

"Your honor, I got nuthin'" (... that got me a small smile ... maybe it pays to be honest!) "I asked for this hearing because I hadn't gotten the reminder which is the only reason I hadn't renewed my tabs, but thinking it over, I know that doesn't really matter."

(Nodding in an understanding, Motherly-ly way): "You didn't get the reminder".

"Yes, although I know it's still my responsibility. I was also upset because the ticket is a lot for me right now, I'm out of work. But I know that's not really ..."

(Understandingly): "Yes. The amount of the ticket is set by the City Council. I can mitigate it to $124"

"Thank you." (I realized that she was stating the law)

"Do you have your proof of tabs?"

(I shuffle through papers.) "Here's the inspection, I had to get the oxygen sensor renedo."

"It would be a green form"

(Mentally cursing myself) "Oh, I don't have anything green. I did put the tabs on."

"I'll assume you did get your tabs." (Hey, it really does pay to be honest!)

"Now, I am authorized to arrange monthly payments."
(I can hardly believe this. The fine cut AND payments stretched out? But ... many of the people who come in here are really badly off. I am not badly off. I needed the reduction, but it's best not to take more than I need.

"No thank you, I'd like to take care of everything today and be all organized."

"Ok, take this to the counter."

"Thank you"

Lessons learned:
First, I noticed that when the judge wasn't asking questions, she was mostly just making a plain statement of the law ("The City Council sets...", "I can do this ..."). That's pretty interesting, because it really doesn't admit of much argument.

Second, I worried way too much. Once I accepted that I was probably going to get nuthin' cuz I really had nuthin', the process was enjoyable if only for the learning, and the meeting new people. Judge Mom was cook.

Finally, DO pay your tabs on time!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Klondike Ho!

The story of the Klondike Gold Rush is a natural for cartoon history, for mere words can scarcely convey its outsized and outlandish events and personalities. Props to author/illustrator Curtis Vos for Klondike Ho!, a lighthearted but educational work graphic novel-style history.
Children will enjoy this book's outrageous stories and amusing drawings of Soapy Smith, Klondike Kate, and so many more! Adults will enjoy the majesty and irony of the larger story embedded within the many anecdotes. Teachers should offer this book to pupils who aren't finding history interesting.
Did I mention the useful maps and Bibliography?
If you enjoyed (and learned from) Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe, then you will be sure to enjoy (and learn from) this work as well.
Klondike Ho! information:
  • Author: Curtis Vos
  • Format: Paperback, 72 pages
  • Published: Todd Publications (December 1997)
  • ISBN: 978-0969461241

Friday, December 26, 2008

Please Don't Divorce My Friends....

...LOOK at these happy couples. Help save their marriages from being destroyed by the government of California.

A Heathen's Guide to Church Choir Singing ....

... or “Good Lord, what are they doing now?”

My friend Jon the Hobbit, who has sung in church choirs for several decades, offers "The things that run through a visiting singer’s mind when he attends an unfamiliar church’s services":
A few observations from my biannual (Easter & Christmas) sojourns with the Catholics:

Overall, since there isn’t really a sermon, the extra time is filled with music, so you sing at least twice as much as in an average Protestant service.

Catholic music tends to be gloomier than Protestant music, especially the week before Easter, so you’re going to want to do something to lighten your mood. I suggest gathering a group of your favorite children and dying eggs. Get silly, please!

Catholic Communion is “members only”.

The choir loft is at the back of the Catholic church, where the priest can keep an eye on us. Does this indicate a basic distrust of musicians?

The grander the church, the more tortuous the climb to the loft.

It's probably wrong to refer to Processing as "walkies".

I thought that it was unnecessarily cruel to chant "Stay With Us" as the congregation was leaving Maundy Thursday.

They've turned out the lights. Are they going to tell "Holy Ghost" stories?

The priest has started going about the church, sprinkling everyone with something. NOW I'm glad I climbed all the way up to this loft.

Whatever you do, don’t laugh if the visiting priest accidentally steps into the Baptismal pool.

At least this year the priest didn't almost set himself on fire when he lit the barbie.

The Priest said something about the Israelites being made to drink bitter waters. Is that how they invented having coffee after church?

Other observations:

The Presbyterians prize Order above all else. The Presbyterians have assigned seats. They like it that way. Their “Passing the Peace” lasts exactly 1.5 minutes.

The Presbyterian Pastor called a meeting of the Congregation right after the Service. That means I get first crack at the cookies!

It’s probably wrong to argue “Predestination” with the church secretary when you’re trying to book their church for a concert.

The Episcopalians love to parade even more than the Catholics. Everyone processes in, everyone processes out, & in the middle of the service they line everyone up & process to communion, so there’s no avoiding it.

The Episcopalians seem to have their services conducted by committee. By this I mean that there is more than one person up front & I’m not sure who is in charge.

Never ask the Adventists about the “Great Disappointment”.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Compassion is Good for You

In the spirit of the holiday, let me point out that my previous post in no way reduces the compassion I feel for Dick Cheney.

Compassion is good for you. Anyone can feel compassionate for good people; it's feeling compassion for evil bastards that's really hard.

So let's have compassion, in this holy season, for every lying turd that betrayed our great nation, sending thousands to their deaths so he and his buddies could profit. It'll give your soul a workout!

But compassion doesn't mean being stupid; do not buy land downstream from his grave.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Regulations for Pissing on Cheney's Grave Announced

DC - The National Park Service announced today that, responding to popular demand, it is preparing rules and regulations for pissing on the grave of Dick Cheney.

"It's important to remember," said a spokesman, "That Cheney does not have an actual grave at this time, since he is not dead. However, public interest in pissing on his grave makes it increasingly urgent to have plans in place."

"Ordinarily, we do not encourage urinating in public places. However, Cheney is so universally hated that we see no practical way of keeping it from happening, and have decided instead to regulate it as any other recreational activity."

Once the final resting place of Dick Cheney is determined, NPS will conduct hydrogeological studies to determine the likely drainage. "This is an important health measure," said the spokesman, "Remember, the grave will house the rotting remains of Dick Cheney, a heavy load on the wellbeing of whatever community it curses. We may have to install a large septic field as it is. Charging a small fee for pissing on Cheney's grave may be the only way to recoup those costs."

Sceptics claim that NPS is simply seizing an opportunity to profit from the burgeoning piss-on-Cheney's-grave industry. "The first day my webstore was up," said one young entrepreneur, "I sold over 1,000 bumperstickers saying 'Piss on Cheney's grave? Hell yeah!". Now the government wants in on this? As Dick says, "F*** You"!"

Others cautioned NPS against excessive regulation. "We're talking about an expressive activity," said a First Amendment expert. "Our forefathers, were they alive today, would be lining up to piss on Cheney's grave."

Current plans call for limiting pissers to a few hundred a day, charging a small fee for maintenance and upkeep. Children under 12 will be free, but dogs and other urinating animals will count as an adult. "Will someone brings in an elephant to piss on his grave?" chuckled an NPS employee. "I hope so. Ever see one of those cut loose? We may have to close the place for the rest of the day!"

digg story

Snowplow Spotted On 3rd Avenue!

The rare Seattle Snowplow was sighted today on 3rd Avenue, between Wall and Vine, by a few sharp-eyed and very surprised Seattlites.

"We all thought they were extinct," said David Swinson Maynard, "Certainly there has been little evidence of their existence this winter. So to see one, bold as brass, actually plowing snow was, well, it was like the old days again."

Newcomers to the Seattle area may not realize that snow comes so rarely to Seattle that it is treated like an endangered species. "Snow's natural enemies," explained Seattle mayor Nickles, "such as salt and snowplows, can drive it from its natural habitat in our streets. This can have serious consequences, such as a reduction in minor accidents and the reduced burning of gasoline as vehicle take efficient routes to their destinations. Our streets serve four-wheel-drive vehicles and front-wheel drive vehicles with chains; everyone else can just stay home."

Compounding the problem is the fact that runoff from Seattle goes into Puget Sound, which the city considers a fresh-water arm of the Pacific Ocean. "If salt from Seattle goes into Puget Sound, it may change from fresh to salt water," explained Nickles. "We prefer to use sand, because it is not only protective of the snow, but also clogs sewers and damages wildlife."

As a consequence, snowplows and salt are used rarely in Seattle. The sighting of a snowplow on a downtown street in Seattle was therefore a cause for celebration.

"Seattle's police and emergency vehicles are all rear-wheel drive," explained one EMT. It was pretty tough responding to emergencies by taking public transit."

But some have doubts even now. "Many streets are closed due to snow, and you say there's a snowplow out there?" scoffed an onlooker. "Yeah, sure ... and it's driven by a Sasquatch, right?"

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Top 7 Fictional Video Game Holidays

My favorite fictional holiday is "We Love The King Day" from the original version of Sid Meiers' great Civilization game. It turns out there are lots of fictional holidays in video games, from Star Festival to Life Day!

Any Excuse For A Party Is A Good Excuse! and here's seven more excuses! | digg story

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Top 3 Change Sites!

Match them up, boys and girls:

A. Change Dot Com?
B. Change Dot Gov?
C. Change Dot Org?

1. An official website for communicating to the incoming Obama Administration your ideas on how our government and nation could change?

2. A social network site for developing, discussing and promoting ideas on how our nation should change?

3. A site promoting underwear, which can be a useful thing to change?

Non-Indentical Twins: Change Dot Gov & Change Dot Com

Dot Gov and Dot Org address a common problem: how can citizens make our government work?

Voting alone is not enough; participation in elections is only a start. The actual act of governance is key, but it's hard to participate. Letters, phonecalls and emails can get lost in the flood of millions of one-way messages, from us to the political leaders we hire on our behalf. Few of us can afford the time away from work and/or family to knock on the White House door.

The web can change that process by radically dropping the transaction cost of citizen involvement in government decisionmaking. How this works in practice remains to be seen, but it costs very little to try to influence our government on important issues. It is to the credit of the Obama Administration that it is trying to increase citizen involvement, and it is not surprising that a private effort is being a bit more nimble in actually getting discussion going.

Change Dot Gov

The incoming Obama Administration has an innovative website which (in theory) makes it easier for individuals and small groups. How this works in practice remains to be seen but it costs nothing to try to influence our government on important issues.

Go to http://www.change.gov; within that site are various topics. You can click around to the ones that interest you, use the search feature, or go directly to a few that I've listed below.

Then ... and this is the IMPORTANT part ... click on the "Submit Your Ideas" box to share your ideas. And get your friends & family to do the same.

Don't be shy. Working with our fellow citizens to tell our government what to do is what our nation's Founders envisioned!

Topics I suggest you try

Please note I am NOT telling you HOW you should think on these issues; it's just my opinion that you SHOULD think on them.

Change Dot Org

Change.gov has some great features, but it's not as terribly interactive. It's like a very efficient email system, that let's you read the Obama team's position on various issues and submit your commits & ideas.

Another approach is the privately-developed http://www.change.org. This is FAR more interactive, in that it lets you suggest issues and then promote them with other people anywhere in America.

For instance, check out the Issues Page. You can suggest a cause, but more likely, any cause you're interested in is already listed by some like-minded person who just got here first. You can join the cause, use a variety of facilities to discuss a cause, share information with a variety of tools, organize activities in support of (or in opposition to) the cause, and so forth. No doubt one of the activities might be to petition the incoming Obama Administration on your cause ... making change.gov's functionality a subset of that of change.org!

Change Dot Com

Underwear! On models!

What's not to like?

I applaud the site owner's cleverness in jumping on the "Change" bandwagon, using scantily clad supermodels; as the Romans never said: "Semper ubi sub ubi!"

Let me close this discussion of the top 3 change sites with my favorite videos on change:

spread the news at digg.com

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Snowlots in Seattle

Yes, we're getting pounded. But it's not so bad, if you don't have to drive anywhere:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

American Veterans and Servicemembers Survival Guide: free!

The American Veterans and Servicemembers Survival Guide is a web-based book, available free for download at VeteransForAmerica.org.

This book will help you survive in the world of the veteran. This world, like the world at large, is not a fair world; you have to know what you’re doing...

read more
digg story

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cap and Dividend: a market-based solution to CO2

Cap and Dividend is a simple, market-based way to reduce CO2 emissions without reducing household incomes. It caps fossil fuel supplies, makes polluters pay, and returns the revenue to everyone equally, thus offsetting the cost to consumers.

Think about it as an expansion of the Alaskan system, in which the state government gives about $2000 a year to each citizen from the carbon energy industry. Under Cap & Dividend, carbon licenses would be auctioned to carbon users at whatever price the market sets; the profits would be distributed to all citizens (...as in Alaska...) to offset energy price increases.

read more | digg story

Monday, December 15, 2008

Donate Your Shoes in the President's Name....

...in memory of President George W Bush's most memorable moment
... I offer a COMPLETELY UNRELATED charity ... seriously, this looks like a good charity and it doesn't have to cost you much to help out. In fact, it gives you something to do with shoes that just didn't fit right ... better than chucking them out! From http://www.soles4souls.org
" Soles4Souls has a simple mission: To impact as many lives as possible with the gift of shoes.

Soles4Souls facilitates the donations of shoes, which are used to aid the hurting worldwide. Shoe companies, retailers, and individuals can donate footwear (both new and used). Soles4Souls is a 501(c)(3) recognized by the IRS, and donating parties are eligible for tax advantages.

The idea behind gifts of shoes is nothing new to the Soles4Souls team, as they coordinated relief efforts for the Asian Tsunami and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, netting over 1 Million pairs donated for these disasters. The team originally operated as www.katrinashoes.org with several churches partnering in the collection and distribution of footwear. We need the 'gently worn' shoes taking up space in your closet. It is estimated that Americans have 1.5 billion pairs of unworn shoes lying in their closets. We can use each and every one of these pairs to make a tangible difference in someone's life.

Round up shoes from your closets, bind each pair together with rubber bands and drop them at one of our participating locations or send them to one of our warehouse facilities. We will sort the shoes and categorize them based on gender, size, and type. Then when one of our relief partners expresses a need for the shoes, we will be able to fill that 'order' with your footwear!"
More info: http://www.soles4souls.org

Friday, December 12, 2008

Pension Math for the Compleat Idiot

Let's say you have an outstanding pension obligation to your former, retired workers, of $100 million/year, incurred over the past 50 years. This is a debt, just like any other debt, and must be paid.

You have 50,000 currently employed averaging workers about 2000 hrs/year for a total of 10 million worker hours/year.

$100 million/ 10 million hours = $10/hour.

Now let's say you cut your workforce in half.

You have 25,000 currently employed averaging workers about 2000 hrs/year for a total of 10 million worker hours/year.

$100 million/ 5 million hours = $20/hour.

Now let's say you cut your workforce in half again.

You have 12,500 currently employed averaging workers about 2000 hrs/year for a total of 2.5 million worker hours/year.

$100 million/ 2.5 million hours = $40/hour.

See how it works?

The workers aren't getting any more money. You're just paying off a debt you already incurred, and putting the blame on fewer workers.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

An IKEA Moment

My mom needed her bedframe replaced and, being in her late 70s, needed help from her kids shopping and installing it. I'd really have preferred to Buy American, but there was really only one choice: IKEA.

Our family'd shopped around bargain furniture stores and hadn't found anything in our price range that was acceptable. It seems to me that the basic problem is that most stores pre-assemble their furniture, so the cost is very high and the selection limited. IKEA leaves final assembly to you so their warehouse & shipping costs are low. I don't mind saving a couple hundred dollars by doing the assembly myself; it's basically like working a puzzle only with a very clear cheat sheet, so another way of putting it is that I'm being paid to have fun. Why some domestic manufacturer doesn't copy this strategy, I don't know.

The other thing about IKEA is that they treat customer right when something goes wrong. Stuff happens. As I get older, I notice I make a lot more silly little mistakes. I don't know whether I'm just getting careless or, with the wisdom of age, am recognizing my errors more easily (rather than blaming them on ruthless fact or evil or callous opponents.) Perhaps, like an old cellphone, my mental speed-dial list is full so I don't hold on to new numbers. Anyway, I find it helpful to associate with entities that are fault-tolerant.

First, mom and I and my lovely wife Kris took a day trip to IKEA. Yes, it was the dread Shopping Trip, but a guy has to sacrifice once in a while.
After a leisurely survey of the available bedframes, mom picked out one that was comfortingly solid. We got the warehouse picklist, found the right stockkeeping location, and carefully loaded the 3 boxes onto our cart: headboard (queen size, correct color), footboard (correct color), side rails (correct color). It was on sale, and the savings paid for delivery (the headboard was way too big for our Saturn SL1; it's a great car but no moving van). All was cool; we had a nice lunch in IKEA's delightfully idiosyncratic cafe (lindenberry soda is actually quite tasty!) and it was a very pleasant day trip.

Thursday I drove up to mom's to assemble the bed. I'd allowed plenty of time since mom's apartment is, appropriately, rather compact and has a lot of stuff in it. After the first hour of chatting and re-arranging stuff to make room for assembly and so forth, mom mentioned it was time for her Tai Chi class
and would I like to try it? At first, I thought "I'm in a hurry!" but then I realized, "What for?". This was a chance to try something new and see what mom enjoyed about it. I did aikido for over a decade and now was trying yoga and pilates, so why not Tai Chi.

Did I mention this is a seated Tai Chi class? Most of the people at mom's home are a bit frail but there were nearly a dozen participants giving the moves a try. You'd recognize a lot of the moves either from your own martial arts practice or from the movies: "Tracing the Rainbow", "Golden Rooster Stands On One Leg", "Stroke the Wild Horse's Mane", and so on ... suitably modified for the individual's capability. It was really a nice workout and kinda inspiring!

Back to work. The directions were very clear, in IKEA's famous cartoon format (no words, just drawings) but unfortunately the VERY FIRST IMAGE indicated that this assembly was a two-person job. Oops! Luckily, my brother Dave had left some 2x4s at mom's place; I don't know why they were there, but they made very useful props. It REALLY is a two-person job joining the side rails to the head- and foot-board simultaneously but the 2x4s did their best. After an hour of jiggery, I almost had the thing put together.

"It's dinnertime, will you join us?" asked mom, and again I thought "No, I'm in a hurry" but again, "Why not?", so I put down the tools. The custom at mom's place is to eat in tables of four, with the same group of people (hopefully friends) eating together for years. Mom's table had a new addition last year, a 105-year-old lady named Geneva. This evening, the other two were out so it was just mom, Geneva and I. It was obvious from the start they were good friends; both had grown up on farms in the midwest (mom in the Canadian midwest) and took life pretty easy. We took our time over dinner telling stories.

Eventually it was time to finish the bedmaking job. I slide the boxspring onto the pedestal and: DISASTER! It was 3 inches too long!

I was completely stumped. The frame was a queen, the boxspring was a queen: are there different queen sizes? ?Had mom gotten an offbrand box spring or did IKEA use some strange Eurometric queen size?

I experimented with propping up the mattresses etc with the 2x4a. Alas, although they tried, it was beyond their capability to violate the basic laws of physics. We ended up with a mostly-stable assembly that was about a foot higher than the bed mom was used to; mom gamely insisted she could use it just fine and even struggled up to get on it. It took only about five minutes and she had to rest afterwards; clearly this wasn't going to work.

She noted that the IKEA comic directions included a drawing of a guy calling their help line. It was hard, but I finally admitted that was the only thing to do; unfortunately they comic didn't include a phone number. Fortunately my gPhone swiftly located customer service for the Renton IKEA. Unfortunately, the nice lady on the phone was as stumped as I was; how could a queen box spring not fit a queen frame? We puzzled over it for a while; the only thing she could think of was that maybe I'd been given a "single-double" by mistake but we agreed that didn't make sense.

Of course, no-one had given me the siderails for a single-double. I'd grabbed them by mistake on my own! Once I checked the packing box and noted the size discrepancy, I felt a huge sense of relief to discover it was just a screw-up, which we could now solve.

Mom was perfectly happy to sleep in her recliner just this one time. (In my bachelor days, I'd slept in a recliner many times and actually it's very comfortable.) The next days I drove back to mom's disassembled the bed, and took the rails back to IKEA. After work, Kris joined me going up to mom's and we put it all together pretty quickly. It really does work better to have a couple on the bed!

There was only one real hitch. There are some metal rails that attach to the solid wooden siderails with about 10 screws a side (Kris & made screwing jokes the whole time - Sotte voce so mom didn't hear - there are limits of course!) plus 4 diagonal metal braces. Once everything was together, we had an extra set of metal rails and struts. Of course! these should have gone back to IKEA when I made the swap!

The next day (Saturday) Kris went shopping & decorating with her mom; I was to join them that evening for her mother's birthday (my mom sent along a musical tree-and-snowglobe tschotcke that was kind of fun). On the way, I stopped at IKEA to drop off the extra metal parts.

Customer Service was, as usual, efficient but they seemed both surprised and happy to get the extra parts back; without any prompting, they gave me a coupon for an entree' and a coffee at the IKEA cafeteria. This really was not necessary, but I never turn down free coffee. I can't believe they were overwhelmingly happy to get the metal parts back, since the bother of restocking and all might seriously cut into the value of the returned item, but what the heck.

The point of all this: it was really extra nice customer service and prompted me to write down my experience. Also: don't be that guy!

Thanks IKEA. We'll be back - although hopefully not soon. There's only so much shopping a man can take!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

'How Will You Die" Humorous Quiz.

From the Department of Silly Quizzes: I took the 'How will you die?' at QuizGalaxy.com and got the following result:

You'll die from a Heart Attack during Sex.

You're a lover not a fighter but sadly, in the act of making love your heart will stop. But what a way to go.

Personally, I like it that my results were also borderline "Mysteriously". Try it: 'How will you die?' at QuizGalaxy.com

Friday, December 05, 2008

Supporting Our Troops: Pro Bono Legal Service to Nat'l Guard

"When a soldier came to my office with a problem, I was able to solicit a volunteer attorney to assist the soldier... ."

Here's an article describing Attorneys Assisting Citizen-Soldiers & Families (AACF), an innovative program in Washington State for getting volunteer lawyers to help troops deployed and their familiers: Supporting Our Troops: Providing Pro Bono Service to National Guard Members, Washington State Bar News, December 2008.

This was one of my most interesting project in 2008, and may be a pilot for bigger and better to come!
digg story

Monday, December 01, 2008

Operation Teapot Certificate

Perhaps the strangest thing I met today was an "Operation Teapot" certificate:

It looks kinda cute, until you look real close and figure out that it's an informal award given to troops who witnessed a series of atomic tests and (in some cases) marched around the dusty residue to prove troops could maneuver soon after a nuke attack. Orders are orders!

I learned about this while checking out a story about an atomic veteran getting his disability rating canceled because his cancer went into remission; this led to a rather informal but heartfelt posting on Lawyers4Warriors.

Moral: don't be that guy!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Secondhand is Sustainable Shopping

Everyone says "It's not the value of the gift but the thought that counts", yet somehow we feel that we have to pay full price for something shipped half-way around the world to make it a real gift.

Fiddlesticks! What is more thoughtful than saving money and the planet with sustainable shopping - buying items with minimal impact on our environment. Sometimes nothing will substitute for A Surprise In A Box, but who wants to be environmentally wasteful or pay top dollar?

A secondhand good has already had its environmental cost paid for by the first buyer. In giving it a second use, you are getting it for almost free from an environmental standpoint. The key point is the thought that went into the gift, and prowling secondhand stores takes extra thought, while giving extra benefits.

Types of Second Hand Stores

  • Thrift Stores typically sell goods donated from the local community, and therefore tend to reflect community tastes. Thus, for high-end product, go to thrift stores in high-end communities. However, it is a rare thrift store indeed that never produces a hidden treasure from time to time; much of the fun of a thrift store is the unexpected delight. Last year I found a 1960s-era golf-club cigarette lighter that delighted my father-in-law; for $2 it was the gift of the year!

    You don't have to sacrifice quality to shop thrift. I have many times bought thrift store items new, unused and in the original factory-sealed box.

    You may wish to pay attention to the thrift store's mission. Most, but not all are associated with a charity, whether public or private; you may wish to assist your preferred charity by shopping its thrift store, thus increasing the impact of your shopping.

  • Secondhand Books and More. There is a huge industry of secondhand book stores, ranging from small mom-and-pop storefront to large operations like Third Place Books to national chains such as Half Price Books. While they differ in size, ownership and the number of cats prowling the premise, they are very similar in economics, offering perfectly readable works at much lower prices than news. Often they offer out-of-print titles not available at your supermarket's book section. Many feature related items, such as music, games or model airplanes; whatever fits on a shelf and suits the owner's whim.
  • Consignment Stores & Pawnshops. A consignment store lets you display your "something" at a cut price; when it sells, you and the store owner split the proceeds. At a pawn shop, you get the money up front, using the goods as collateral; if you repay the loan, you get your stuff back; if you don't the shop sells the stuff.

    Either way, these shops tend to offer higher value items than thrift stores, because both the store owner and the goods owner must agree there's a chance they'll get enough money to make it worth their time and/or shelf space.


Move Your Stuff: You can double the value of your shopping trip by bringing along a few of your own items when you to consign, pawn and/or donate to a thrift. While it's unlikely you'll make a heck of a lot of money from your old bridesmaid's gowns or ABBA 8-tracks, you'll be giving yourself the gift of space at home ... effectively increasing your living area at ZERO environmental cost!

This is especially smart at 2nd-hand book stores. Don't expect to get anything near the face value of your book; instead, think of the best-seller you just finished as a 10%-off coupon for your next read. Some bookstores give you the choice of $X cash or double that in store credit; what is more fun than taking in a stack of books you don't want anymore and walking out with something effectively for free!

Schmooze! Thrift stores are often staffed with volunteers, who enjoy talking about the goods they put out, their community, or whatever. You have to be sensitive to their doing their jobs, but if you make friends, you'll make the entire experience worthwhile for both of you. They might alert you to upcoming sales (e.g. end-of-month clearance), or help you find a particular item shelved in a place you wouldn't expect.

Use The Internets: New venues come along frequently. You should google "your town" and "secondhand" at least quarterly to see if what new has popped up. Use customer recommendation facilities, such as Yelp to decide if the new spots are for you. Some communities have their own wiki, in which community members list useful things like thrift stores, e.g. SeattleWiki (... and don't forget to post your own reviews; this pays forward the benefit you got from past reviews, and encourages others to add reviews that you can use later.) Use mapping facilities like googlemaps or mapquest to plan your trip for maximum efficiency.

Secondhand is not the only form of sustainable shopping but it is a valuable addition to your toolbox. Let others pay full price!

digg story

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Moonviews.com: Recovering Lunar Orbiter Image

The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) is converting old Lunar Orbiter Images directly from the original analog video recordings of the spacecraft data to digital image format, a change which provided vastly improved resolution. This is a totally cool blend of old and new technology that started in a garage ... the results are inspiring!

Visit the Widget Gallery

read more | digg story

Monday, November 24, 2008

GOP Opens Bank, Demands Bailout

The Republican Party of the United States (R-PUS) is demanding a $50 Billion bailout from the United States Treasury, shortly after announcing it had opened a bank and was collapsing.

"Our market share has steadily declined for years," said spokesliar Newt Gingrich, "Our deep investments in Iraq, warrantless wiretapping and croneyism have lost consumer appeal. Our only hope is to open a bank - the Republican National Bank - and demand a bailout."

Corporate media cheerleaders agreed the GOP needed a swift infusion of taxpayer dollars: "If the Republican Party collapses, voters will no longer have access to such staples as flag pin scandals, talking points based on snipping a single phrase out of a speech, and the sort of "balance" that gives equal time to candidates who believe in science as to those who doubt evolution. This could destroy the pundit industry and threaten Democracy as we know it."

The Treasury Department issued a press release stating that it was carefully studying the situation, and would be sending the first 20 or 30 billion dollars to the Republican Party within a day. "This should reassure Party members that their investment in the party is safe," said an official, "When the party's fortunes collapsed on November 5, many stakeholders feared they'd no longer be able to get no-bid contracts, or a suspension of safety regulations in return for their political contributions. A swift infusion of federal funds will stabilize the Party's decline and make it profitable, once again, to bribe Republican officials."

The President, widely rumored still to be George W Bush, was unavailable for comment. "No-ones listening to him anymore," said spokesblonde Dana Perino, "So why bother?"

JWs In The Morning

Walking back from the gym this morning, I saw a couple of sweet young women coming the other direction on the sidewalk. I moved aside to pass, and they looked straight at me with a smile ... not a common occurrence I may assure you ... and offered me The Watchtower.

I don't subscribe to the factual assertions of the Jehovah's Witnesses and I'm not sure about some of their prescriptions for life. But they aren't jerks and they aren't asking me for money; they are just offering me something for free.

So I take it. I'm not a jerk either.

I smile. They smile. Everyone is happy; no-one is harmed.

That's my religion.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I Can Has Cheezberger Tips

I Can Has Cheezbergers has grown beyond a blog of funny lolCat photos into a utility for generating pictorial humor on any subject.

This is not just a matter of fun. If a picture is worth 1000 words, a cleverly captioned picture is worth an entire hour of arguing in plain text. Fair or unfair, that's how humans "reason" and those who master the visual reasoning style have an advantage.

You can start by captioning photos others have posted on a variety of subject matter areas (cats, dogs, news & politics, etc.) Alternatively, you can upload and caption your own photo on any subject in its lolBuilder.

Whatever your choice of materials, here are the Six Tips for building lols that rock!

1. Personalize

Don't be afraid to create specialized humor for a small audience. Why not? It's FREE!

For example, I quickly put together a joke for our Pilates instructor, and sent it to the entire class. They loved it - and (mistakenly) thought I'd worked hard to create it.

We may all want to create the Ultimate Joke that will start the whole world laughing, but lolBuilder makes more modest achievements easy.

2. Punchify!

Your captions must have PUNCH! Humor must be crisp; soggy, wordy, bloated humor is a bowl of cornflakes that sat too long in nonfat milk substitute.

1. Write your caption

2. Cut out the most useless word.

3. If it still makes sense, go to step 2.

4. Put back the last word you removed.

Now you might have shortened it enough ... but don't be shy about skipping step #4.

3. Punctuate

Don't limit yourself to the standard alphabet. Use special characters: @# and all the ASCII artwork you so love, e.g. a well-placed (*)(*) or *I* can be funny.

Sometimes the funniest caption is just "..."

4. Prioritize

This tip applies especially to the "advanced" builder - the one that lets you insert word balloons and thought balloons.

The lolBuilder titles your picture from the FIRST balloon you create, not necessarily the most prominent one. The title is important for attracting visitors, especially via search engine results. Therefore, you should think for a moment what you want the title to be, and ensure it's the content of the first balloon you build.

For example:
I first built this lol with the uppermost balloon first. It ended up with the decidedly unfunny title of "Billionaire Wall-Street Insider".

So I rebuilt it, with the punch line balloon (at the bottom) first.

The lol looks the same, but its page title is now: "Pyromaniac Firemen" - definitely funnier and more likely to stand out of a bunch of search results (...whether you think it's fair is beside the point.)

5. Preview

Always, always, always Preview before Saving.

What is more annoying that to discover misspellings, clever captions sliding off the edge of the photo, and so on? All your work becomes ridiculous.

The preview button lets you resize fonts, re-align and re-write before your boo-boo is immortalized.

(Note: this is for the basic builder only. The Advanced and Poster builders are WYSIWYG and have no preview.)

6. Plagiarize, Pirate and Play!

I cannot emphasize enough that this site is free to use, so you should play around! Think of all the hours or days you might spend on a good game; think of Cheezburger as a game! The reward is the fun you get from crafting humor; as with any game, you have to practice to improve, and make a lot of mistakes before you slay the bosses.

One training tip: Each existing lol has a small link below it: "View All Captions". See what others have done; often they will have had good ideas, but you see how you can improve them with a small change. It's totally o.k. to create a new lol based on previous work (...just don't copy exactly: have some pride!)

I Can Has Cheezburger has the potential to make everyone able to communicate graphically, almost in the same way that the invention of movable type made it possible for everyone to become an author. Where it will lead, who knows?

And who cares? It's fun. Play with it!

digg story

Bush Does a 'Terrorist Fist Jab' [PIC]

Obama's fist jabbery seems to be catching on!

| digg story

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Smarter, Faster, Stronger: the Democratization of Information

I just finished reading the hilarious "An Interview with John Ziegler on the Zogby "Push Poll"". Nate Silver, of the amazingly accurate http://www.fivethirtyeight.com, had been called out by reichwing John Ziegler, who was flogging a video "proving" that Obama supporters were stupid. Per Silver:
"Ziegler was responsible for commissioning a Zogby International survey of Barack Obama supporters, which took the form of a multiple choice political knowledge test, stating a "fact" to the respondent and asking them which of the four major candidates (Obama, McCain, Biden, Palin) the statement applied to. Because I believe that many of the statements on the survey are questionable or false but are misleadingly presented as factual to the respondent, I characterized the survey as a "push poll" in an article posted early this morning.

Ziegler had contacted me by e-mail, asking if I'd like to interview him; the interview itself was conducted by telephone. Ziegler asked, among other conditions, that I post a full transcript of the interview, which I have...."
The transcript is wonderfully funny, as an angry Ziegler curses Silver, shows basic ignorance of math, and is generally an asshat; but the best part is that he demands Silver published the transcript! Read and Enjoy!

The funny thing is, he keeps daring Silver to print the transcript. Why are reichwingers such dolts, to think that their words won't get around?

It seems to me that this interview shows the crazy right wing has a basic problem: they haven't adapted to the internet's democratization of information.

In the "old days" they could spew their venom, feel good, and control its distribution. There was no penalty for being a jackass; in fact it was a virtue since you could selectively release material to fire up your base.

Today: the target of their idiocy simply posts the transcript (or, even better, YouTubes the interaction), the entire world sees who's the fool.

(It's sort of like Gutenberg's invention of movable type: information is a lot harder to lock down, thus the Protestant Reformation.)

The "Macaca" incident should've been a warning, but the reichwing's a fundamental opposition to democracy makes it hard them to accept the warning. I'm sure they'll eventually come up with something (internet astroturfing?) but for the meantime We, as a society, are getting smarter, faster, stronger.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sinfest: Web Comic


I completely enjoy and recommend Sinfest, a nicely drawn, but even better written, webcomic by Tatsuya Ishida.

Think of Calvin of "Calvin And Hobbes" growing up, trading the tiger for a girlfriend, and keeping his innate honesty while addressing an unsentimental adult world.

The first strip (January 2000) pretty much defines the concept:

I also like Tatsuyo's sardonic blogging on webcomics:

"... Here survive the lost, unsung warriors of comic strip art, the Not-Ready-For- Syndication misfits and rejects, broke but not yet broken, peddling their labor of love like cheap whores (or, to use more delicate parlance, discount whores), in a grungy, backwoods subculture of freelance burnouts and dreamers.

Sounds like my kind of place...

...Web comics is grass-roots, word-of-mouth, guerrilla-style 'tooning, where audience participation is key. Fans support sites by clicking ads, even if they haven't the slightest inclination to check out Whatevertheshit Online Enterprises. Still others stuff the ballot boxes at Top Site lists, or spam chatrooms with URLs.

The Sinfest readership has been exorbitantly generous in this regard, and I just wanted to let you know it hasn't gone unnoticed. It's damn cool to have that kind of support. Mad love and big thanks for all the pimpwork, you bunch of loony fanboys and girls!..."
Best of all has been his commentary of the Obama campaign, featuring the fabulous Samtron Imperius 200ZX

Sinfest gets on my daily-read list not only for its fun (...comics must be fun! otherwise they're mere Soviet Politikal Art...), but as an example of today's broad democratization of the art and science of political reasoning. Visual reasoning in particular is becoming available to the masses as the transaction costs of developing and promulgating visual reading falls. Formerly, a small number of postermakers and editorial cartoonists defined the visual thoughts of an era; naturally they were limited to the range of acceptable thought that could be financed. Webcomics opens the enterprise up to all by radically dropping the cost of publishing! The only limitation now is the content! Whoo-hoo!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Love the Haters; Hate the Hate.

What's the best way to respond to those who hate gays?

Love them.

It's good for you, and it either cures the haters .... or it annoys them ... a win either way!

digg image

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Zero Tolerance as a club....

Randy Cassingham's delightful "This Is True" includes frequent discussions of the Zero Tolerance insanity. His most recent posting along these lines is Zero Tolerance Trick, No Treat about:
"An art class at Pooler Elementary School in Savannah, Ga., was assigned to draw a "scary" Halloween mask. Fifth- grader Jordan Hood drew a bloody vampire with the caption, "I Kill For Blood"
. ... when Melissa Pevey, the boy's home-room teacher, saw the drawing, she found it "disturbing" and called in the assistant principal -- and a school police officer. Pevey claimed the caption "could" be a reference to the street gang "The Bloods", and the drops of blood "looked a lot like" gang tattoos ... Jordan was required to pass a psychological evaluation before he could return to class."
Naturally, I had to learn more.
The original Savannah morning news report and publicly available information about Pooler Elementary draw a scary picture indeed:
  • It seems that the teachers had received "gang-identification training"; this may be where she got the idea a bloody teardrop was a gang symbol instead of standard Halloween issue. I would suggest this "training" was, to say the least, not very effective.
  • It also seems that Jordan was a new student from out of town. "We moved to Pooler thinking he'd be in a more diverse school with better opportunities," [his mother] told the newspaper. The mother's name, LaKisha, is used almost exclusively by African-Americans; we can assume the boy is mixed-race or black.
  • The racial makeup of Poller Elementary's student population is posted on the greatschools.net as 74% white (state average 48%), 15% black (state average 38%).
  • Can it be that no other student drew a mask with something that could be interpreted as a "gang symbol"? No blood? No flames? No skulls?

Put it together, folks.

It is comforting to think that Zero Tolerance is merely Being Stupid. We can mock the foolish and hope to cure ZT with education ...and of course more mockery!

But ZT is not merely stupidity. It is a convenient tool for pushing out an unwelcome student, or at least making life troublesome for him and his family.

We have little knowledge of Jordan himself, other than his ability and willingness to follow the direction of his art teacher (Clearly he deserves high marks for his artwork, since it satisfied the express requirements of being "scary" ... it scared the bejesus out of his home room teacher!)

Be he and his family must have learned something from this. Will Jordan spend the rest of his school career editing his work to avoid run-ins with authority? Or has he learned that he can get out of schoolwork by freaking out teachers?

Which would be worse?

Border Patrol Can Roadbload Your Neighborhood

... if you, like most Americans, live within 100 miles of the border. And remember, the coasts are a border.

Our Founding Fathers wrote into the Bill of Rights a prohibition against unreasonable search and seizures. This means that if you're just driving around, minding your own business, the police can't pull you over without some suspicion of wrongdoing. And THAT means they can't block a road and search the car of anyone who happens along.

Until the USA/PATRIOT act allowed the Border Patrol to do just that ... within 100 miles of a border.

Most American citizens live within 100 miles of the coast or some other border. This is because most of our large metropolitan areas are ports. The ENTIRE STATE OF Michigan, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Florida and Hawaii are within 100 miles of a border - see the map here.

The USA/PATRIOT Act effectively suspended part of our Constitution for most Americans. It's probably unConstitutional, but finding a citizen willing to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court is difficult.

Recently a guy I know, Paul Richmond, helped a client roadblocked by the Border Patrol near the Hood Canal Bridge. No-one who knows the area would think it's an international border, but we're talking the Border Patrol here ... an out-of-control organization apparently looking to boost its arrest statistics. According to a recent article in the Seattle P-I, So far, it's stopped 24,524 vehicles and taken 81 illegal immigrants into custody, for a success rate of 0.0033. This makes it by far one of the least effectual crime-prevention efforts ever; they'd be better off buying lottery tickets.

It's worth noting, from the article, that Border Patrol roadblocks claim the ability to go all through your car because they're, you know, Border Patrol. Every other law-enforcement officer has to have a reason to search your car, but the B.P. does it because they can.

Of course, the ineffectuality of the Border Patrol is not the real issue; the real issue is the suspension of our Constitution. Allowing the police to search you any time they want may make us safer from druggies and terrorists, but it doesn't make us safer from our government.

John Bates, Border Patrol chief in charge of the Northwest, has announce his firm commitment to continue violating our Constitution.
"These are immigration checkpoints. However, if we encounter other violations of law, we are not going to turn our back on them."
It makes you wonder: if these really are immigration checkpoints, why do they need to search the interior of an ordinary car? Can't you tell if there's an immigrant hiding in the car by shining your flashlight around? How tiny are the immigrants they're looking for?

BTW good luck fighting the Border Patrol in court; they have professional staff paid for with your tax dollars; you have to hire a lawyer on your own dime. And you're most unlikely to get your costs paid for even if you win. Richmond's client was lucky to find a representative with the time and resources to help out; if the economy continues to sicken, don't expect there to be more legal professionals with the time and money to come to your aid.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Meat Space Flight: Does It Pencil Out?

I love SF: Science Fiction, Scientifiction, Space Flight.

Luna City, Barsoom, the Belter Civilization, Star Fleet Command. Wow! I still have a battered magazine with the first publication of The Cold Equations and Agent of Vega and some Viagens adventure by L. Sprague de Camp. Wow! And it just keeps getting better: Startide Rising and A Deepness In The Sky are different from, but probably better than, Foundation and Starship Troopers. Wowser!

And I sincerely hope someone develops the McGuffin Drive that makes it all possible, just as I hope a genii grants me three wishes or a pack of angels tells me God is paying our little planet a friendly visit to freshen her up.

Until then, you can drop on-the-order-of-magnitude-of 100 'bots on Mars for the cost of the first human expedition. This is mostly because we don't care about getting the bots back; also they can be built not to need oxygen or water.

Humans, on the other hand, are delicate. We are made of meat, and meat goes bad if you don't take are of it. The human brain is an extremely flexible controller, capable of rapidly adapting to situational change, but so what? Bots may be slower and stupider but, you know, it's not as if Mars is going anywhere. If bot #7 gets stuck on task 7.10a, just wait for bot #8.

Why not develop a bot factory to drop on Mars, just smart enough to build a more bots per instructions beamed from earth.

Lego Marstorms anyone?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lawyers for Warriors: Year Zero

Memorial Day seems like a good time to mention Lawyers for Warriors.

I have effectively zero experience with military affairs save that which I acquired through books and movies, but that has never stopped a great many neoconservatives from pontificating on whom we should invade when to achieve a fantastic visions of a world in which we are loved by all who do not fear us (apathy being, it seems, the one emotion neoconservatives fear...). Therefore I with great confidence or perhaps arrogance planted the seed of "Lawyers for Warriors" to address a general problem broadly overlooked: that uniformed service to our great nation frequently results in legal problems not easily addressed on an E-4's salary.

Servicemembers, veterans and their families have the same legal problems as everyone else: divorce, landlords, mortgages, creditors and debtors, and so on. These problems can be exacerbated by some of the realities of military life, notably deployments and their aftermaths.

I ran into these problems head on as chair of the Washington State Bar Association's Section on World Peace Through Law. I had originally joined the Section post-9/11 because I figured we were headed into a period of lawlessness, in which practical study of how law and peace can create and reinforce each other was more important than ever. Leading up to Bush's invasion of Iraq, it was patently clear that he was simply making stuff up both on the facts and on the law, and it might be worth pointing that out. Surely, Perry-Mason-like, all we had to do was point this out and lawfulness would be restore.

I was wrong. Invented facts and fabricated legal justifications worked just fine when it comes to stirring up war fever, and no mere appeal to reality stood against them. (Humankind is a feeling animal, not a thinking one, or to be more precise, feeling is the primary component of the way we think. But the political mind is another topic.)

This experience motivated me to work harder on the subject. Toward the end of 2006, the subject of the law of military orders came up, probably inspired by Lieutenant Watada. Regardless of the details of his case, this brave officer had raised an important point: the law says an officer must refuse an illegal order, but how does this work in practice?

I put together a panel (or, more accurately, I found some great panelists and Jay Hastings, a great guy, organized the show) and in January 2007 "What Is An Illegal Order?" was presented, featuring several veterans explaining the blackletter law and how, in practice, it rarely matters. But again, that's another issue.

In developing this panel, it became clear to me that there were a host of issues addressing our military community, and to solve these problems in a comprehensive way was the responsibility of no-one. The community is large and inchaote: there are five uniformed services, each with its own structure; there are Regular, Reserve and Guard components; there are actively serving and veterans; there are the servicemembers and their families of all the above. Have I left anyone out? I apologize if so, but by my count we could have 5x3x2x2 = 60 population segments, and I haven't even addressed geographic (50+ Guard organizations), unit (how many divisions?), and economic (e.g. officer vs enlisted) issues. Truly this is a complex matter even before we consider distinctions written into law (Blue Water Navy vs. Brown Water, pre- vs. post-9/11 servicemembers, citizen vs. non-citizen).

It's no surprise that there are gaps in legal coverage. I never disparage the JAG Corps; those I've met are uniformly cool, competent and good to have on your side. But their mission is not to address those 60+ segments and they tend to be fully involved as is. So whose gig is it to fill the gaps? Nobody's.

Heck, whose job is it to IDENTIFY the gaps? (No intelligence means no solution.)

Nobody's. Or, as Bill Keane would say, "It's Not Me!"

Hence, Lawyers for Warriors. The first move was a training program called "Lawyers for Warriors", develop through WPTL jointly with the WSBA's Section on Legal Assistance to Military Personnel (LAMP). The former section supported the program on the grounds that servicemembers & families are a population heavily affected by our efforts and, too often, failures to maintain peace through law. The latter was already actively promoting CLEs on the subject, and happy to access a different set of lawyers. In four hours we learned enough to figure out that there was a lot to do, and merely running a few CLEs wasn't going to solve the problem.

Lawyers for Warriors is still a voluntary program and, like so many voluntary efforts, limps along because it's no-one's primary focus. I have a day job, after all: if a man can't feed himself, he can't help anyone else.

I hope, however, that by keeping on slogging through, doggedly, I can contribute in a small way to solving the problem. I've found some good buddies and helped develop partial solutions, such as Attorneys Assisting Citizen-Soldiers & Families. I'll record what I find here in my scrapbook or on the Lawyers for Warriors blog and see what happens.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Operation Love Reunited

Operation Love Reunited is a photography organization offering free photography sessions to deploying, deployed, and reuniting military families.

Each family gets 2 free sessions, whether it be one before deployment with their military member, during deployment of homefront spouse and children, and a homecoming session or post-deployment session. The photographers have agreed to send albums to deployed military members at no cost. The photographers have to meet strict requirements to be accepted.

Their website, www.Oplove.org, is designed to help families find photographers using the military member's zip code.

Are you a professional photographer? Here is a wonderful opportunity to volunteer!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Minimum Wages for the Complete Idiot

The math is easy: raising the minimum wage leaves minimum wage workers better off than before, although with slightly different work patterns and higher quality of work.

Let's work through the math.

We're gonna use some numbers which you may or may not agree with, but it doesn't matter. Change the numbers to anything you want; it works the same unless you use really strange numbers (like $0/hour or $100/hour).

ASSUME: an increase in minimum wage means employers will cut back somewhat on the amount of minimum wage hours employed. (The actual cut is typically small since the labor cost of most goods is only a fraction of the total cost of goods produced.)

An economy with one million hours of minimum wage work at $5/hour.

An 10% increase in minimum wage means a 5% cut in minimum wage hours worked.

The pool of minimum wage workers get $5 million and work 1 million hours.

* Minimum wage goes up 10% to $5.50/her
* Employers cut hours employed 5%, to 950,000 hrs
* The pool of minimum wage workers get $5 225 000 and work 950,000 hours.

The workers have more money
The workers have a little more free time

NOTE ALSO: since the workers are paid higher wages, it is more economical for the employer to use technology to improve their productivity.

Everyone wins!

EDITTED: for support, see http://www.uvm.edu/~vlrs/doc/min_wage.htm

Thursday, November 06, 2008

McCain-Obama Bill Would Be Cool

Senators McCain and Obama will, for the next two months, be in the Senate together. What could better bind up the wounds of this campaign than a "McCain-Obama" Bill?

It might be "only a symbol" but symbols are important. The Senators have expressed a lot of ideas in common, the most important of which is that we all must work together, now that the campaign is over. McCain's concession speech is a classic of graciousness and patriotism, for which I salute him. If you haven't seen it, take a moment - it's worth your time: A McCain-Obama Bill could show the way.

The possible subject matter is broad, since the two agree on many things. Energy independence would be a good, easy but important target. Mandate that 50% of all federal, non-military vehicles purchased use alternative fuels; this would give Detroit a big kickstart into an important technology. A better move would be to renew the tax credit on wind and solar projects.

Or the subject matter might address both the housing crisis and veterans issues, by directing that some of the already appropriated bailout money be used to put the homes of veterans facing foreclosure into a Veterans' Housing Trust, which would continue to make mortgage payments (probably at a rate reset to reflect market conditions), while the veteran rents the home from the trust at a do-able rate, paid if necessary out of the veterans equity share or, if absolutely necessary, by drawing on the resources of the Trust. It's doable if you think about it.

There are plenty of other possibilities. What the subject matter turns out to be is not so important as that there be a start. The bill should be short, simple and to the point, since the goal is to get started rebuilding our great nation.

What'd'ya say? Can we start with "McCain-Obama" Bill?
digg this idea!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Voters Just Kept Coming....

...yesterday was the most remarkable day of my time as a polling inspector. The first voter came at 6:31. I welcomed him and said we weren't open for voting until seven. He just silently pointed to his book, which he patiently stood and read until 7. I guess he really wanted to be first to vote.

More voter came as we set up. It was raining and other than the bookman patiently standing, they were waiting outside. In the rain. I waved them inside. By 7, the atrium was full; voters lined up from the polling judges' stations to the doors.

At seven, we began and we never stopped. At 7:22 we had 25 paper ballots cast, and I don't know how many absentee or AVU. No time to check. Keep things moving. There is a line of people waiting for the voting stations; we got some more tables and chairs for people just to sit in the open and mark there ballots.

Every couple hours there would be a slack time with only 3 or 4 people voting. We had a long ballot, with a lot of initiatives, and people took their time.

Around 7:00, the tide went out. There still was always someone voting at all times, but when the polls closed a 8, there was only one.


A delightful way to end in-person voting.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Look in the Mirror, Red Light was Blinking ....

...them cops was after my hot rod Saturn?

No, that's just a fun rockabilly song by Charlie Ryan. The reality just a couple of hours ago was less fun but more instructive:

Lights Flashing! Signal lane change and pull over. He's not going by! Argh! Pull to curb. Stop. Engine off. Dome light on. Let the nice policeman see everything's cool. Just like the book says ("How to Avoid Speeding Tickets!" by Matt Reynolds ... a useful guide for dealing with police who are, after all, just doing a job). Seattle's not a dangerous place but why be a jerk?

"I pulled you over because your tabs are expired. We are being videotaped. License, Registration and Proof of Insurance".

My first impulse: My goodness, he's so young! He must be a kid, more 20 years younger than me. Wait, that puts him in his early 30s. How could that happen? Thfont-style:italic;">Let my pain save you future pains!

Or: you know that guy who didn't renew his tabs? Don't be that guy!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Oath of Inspector: The Final Chapter

Tuesday, for the last time, I take the Oath as Voting Inspector at Mercer Island High School. It's been many years of long days, but definitely something I'm proud of.

Oath of Inspector

"I, the undersigned, do swear (or affirm) that I will duly attend to the ensuing election, during the continuance thereof, as an inspector, and that I will not receive any ballot or vote from any person other than such as I firmly believe to be entitled to vote at such election, without requiring such evidence of the right to vote as is directd by law; nor will I vexatiously delay the vote of, or refuse to receive, a ballot from any person whom I believe to be entitled to vote; but that I will in all thinkgs truly, impartially, and faithfully perform my duty therein to the best of my judgment and abilities; and that I am not, directly nor indirectly, intrested in any bet or wager on the result of this election.

Printed Name Signature Date"
I don't remember when I started doing this; it must've been when I was still living on the Island, and I'm glad I could see this through to the end. We're changing over to all mail-in balloting after this election, which makes a lot of sense, but I'll mess the community feel. The High School staff were GREAT - always helpful and often they plied us with coffee & doughnuts. I enjoyed watching the hurry-blurry of the kids rushing by too; they were polite and curious and full of energy!

The Marginal Profit Red herring

When I read that America's GDP has fallen ( meaning we're producing less and selling less ) while ExxonMobil announces the highest corporate profits in history - any place, any time, throughout all history - the reichwing reaction is to reply that Big Oil's "margins" are really, really low.

As if that matters. It doesn't.

By "margin" they mean either the percentage of profits over sales, or the percentage profits over assets, or some combination thereof. Their exact definition varies, but it doesn't detract from the simple fact that Big Oil makes so much money that it threatens our democracy's survival. The "marginal profit" argument is nonsense, but it has the function of distracting from that reality.

The nonsense of the technical argument is clear when you compare Big Oil to the canonical penniless boy selling apples on the streetcorner. He buys apples on credit at a penny each and sells them for an nickel.

Thus his "margin" is gigantic: sales of 5cents on costs of 1cent is a margin of several hundred percent.

Or let's figure it on the basis of assets. He is by definition penniless; he has no assets. His profit margin, therefore, is infinite.

Thus the penniless appleseller on the streetcorner have a vastly higher margin (however you calculate it) than Big Oil. By reichwing logic, he is more successful than Big Oil!

P.S. the canonical streetcorner appleseller is a thing of the past but a very creative and useful replacement is Real Change, a newspaper that helps the homeless set up their own small business. The key (to me) is that this is not charity: the newspaper is a real paper, with real value. I buy it every week not out of charity (...although I do feel good about it...) but because it covers different stuff than the regular news. Look at their archives: http://www.realchangenews.org//pastissuesupgrade/archive.html It delivers good value for the money, which is smart and, I hope, a source of price. I highly recommend it: