Archive for April, 2005

Going to the dogs…

April 30, 2005 1 comment

Spotted in the parking lot of the restaurant where MrsDoF and I go for breakfast every Saturday morning:

He seems to be paying a lot better attention than some human drivers I’ve seen.

Categories: Humor

What’s a filibuster good for?

April 28, 2005 1 comment

Senate Republicans are bent out of shape at the Democrats’ use of a filibuster to block the worst of Bush’s judicial nominees.  They actually want to change the rules of Senate debate to get their way.

I remember similar blockage on Clinton’s nominees, but never mind that.  The important thing is, they could stop this filibuster with only a three-fifths majority.  Any nominee capable of bipartisan support could sail right on to a vote, and probably pass.  But these nominees are so obviously partisan they can’t get a single Democrat’s nod.

I’d feel pretty good about a judge who got votes from both sides of the aisle.

Same thing with line-item veto.  Everyone knows that spending lines are tacked onto “must-pass” legislation that have nothing to do with the primary purpose of the bill.  Fine; I have no problem with that.  A presidential line-item-veto holds those dubious items up to a higher standard that requires a supermajority (enough to strike down a presidential veto) to pass.

There’s the principle: dubious things should require a higher standard. 

Now on to the campaign to break the filibuster.  The Republicans claim that the Democrats are “trying to keep people of faith out of the judiciary.”  This is nonsense of course but it makes good press.  There are lots of people of faith in the judiciary, nominated by Democrats and passed with bipartisan support.

The Republicans appear to want “people-of-faith- who-agree-with-us- on-every-hot-button-issue.”  Well that’s a very different goal, and quite unhealthy from a constitutional perspective.

It doesn’t speak well for the credulity of religious voters that they don’t see how shamelessly they’re being maniupulated for political gain.  The bible has something like a dozen verses about homosexuality, and over two thousand about helping the poor.  Drunkenness is clearly condemned in the Bible, yet no one proposes making alcohol illegal because we dun’ tried that and it worked about as well as the war on marijuana.  The first four commandments are clearly sectarian and have no place in American law.  Abortion was common during biblical times, yet is never directly mentioned in the Bible.  There are even fake quotes from Thomas Jefferson and George Washington floating around that try to make them look like they wanted a Christian government.  It should raise serious concern when someone tries to (literally!) re-write history.

What’s an activist judge?  Pretty much any judge who does something you don’t like.  But often the judges (who are in a more secure position that any politician and thus more independent) are our only hope of anchor against the winds of political fashion.

Categories: Issues

Stretching the imagination

April 27, 2005 4 comments

Cajun tagged me to take part in this writing exercise, where you write about what you’d do if you could be any of several things – a pirate, a musician, a proctologist, or several others.  There are about 20 to choose from, and you pick any five.  The list is at the end of this entry.

Then you tag three other bloggers to try it. My three victims candidates will be listed at the end.

It looked like fun, but when I started hitting keys, it turned out to be a lot harder than Cajun (who is a fine writer in his off-hours from taming high-voltage dragons) makes it look.  It seems my imagination is not so flexible as I’d hoped, so I started with the most bizarre one, in hopes no one would take them seriously…

If I could be a proctologist, I’d invent more compact and sophisticated equipment to make examinations cheaper, less painful, and therefore more routine and life-saving.  Then I’d joke around with the press and earn a reputation as a buffoon, but write papers for journals on reducing patients’ anxiety. Royalties on my inventions would be donated to the American Cancer Society and people would think I was some kind of guy, but really I’d figure heck, I’m a proctologist and can only drive one Mercedes at a time. My waiting room would be full of video carolls where patients could see actual examinations with Penn & Teller-style voice-over explanations as to what it all meant.  (I bet not many other people chose this one!)

If I could be a musician, I’d haunt the streets and coffee shops with my guitar, wearing a white shirt with a black trench coat and hat, singing melancholy and sweet ballads to yuppies, street people, hookers and cab drivers, reminding them of the happiness of gentle reverie and simple pleasures. Success would come when a tear and a smile came to the faces of two people who left holding hands. My home would be a corner of the storage room in a pawn shop, where my cot and nightstand would host impromptu guitar lessons for hopeful customers intent on discovering music.  Lost in a timeless reverie, I’d need no luxuries other than time to practice; and when the end was near, I’d pass on the mantle of troubadour to someone who seemed to want it.  That person would be a disaffected aluminum-siding salesman who would pick up my guitar and feel within the sounds it made a home for which he’d been searching all his life.

If I could be a TV chat-show host, my studio would look like a corner of a coffee shop.  I’d bring in obscure but brilliant people with unexpected gifts for comedy and satire, and let them lampoon the culture of dullness that passes for civic boosterism.  My studio audience would be chosen by essay contests and demo tapes, and some repeat members would become guests in future broadcasts.  When celebrities came in, I’d pair them with experts in their fields and see if their egos could stand not being the bright spot under the lights.  When I got cancelled for being such an egotistical tyrant, I’d teach journalism at a community college, running another show with my students as technical and editorial staff, on community-access cable with a focus on local officials, educators, artists, and just generally odd characters. 

If I could be a judge, I’d offer carry permits to women instead of restraining orders.  I’d make prosecuters honor defendents’ rights so they wouldn’t develop lazy habits that could undermine really important cases.  Defense lawyers would learn that a defendent’s unhappy childhood and a buck would buy them a cup of coffee in my courtroom but not much else.  I’d ask them to explain why Twinkies and violent video games sell by the trainload but only their defendent felt it necessary to shoot up the mini-mart. I’d visit grade schools and tell stories to kids that would terrify their teachers and parents, reminding them that criminal acts always violate the victim’s constitutional rights.  The book I’d write after retiring would be denounced by politicians and given as gifts by grandparents.

If I could be a backup dancer, I’d live for the days when the primary star was sick and needed me to go onstage for him, so I could show off to the disappointed audience.  My days would be spent in disguise, dancing on wooden boardwalks by the waterfront inviting bystanders to try simple steps appropriate to their physical condition, and success would come when I could get twenty tourists to swirl around the tables of an outdoor cafe owned by my younger brother, who also wanted to be a dancer but was injured when a jar of pennies fell on his foot from a third-story window one day, and who asked me to carry on his life’s ambition (which had always really been mine too but I had been too afraid to tell him.) 

Now it’s the other guys’ turn.  I thought about passing it on to MrsDoF, who would be terrific at it but is currently in the throes of a college writing assignment (I’m sleeping with a college chick!  Heh.)  So I think I’ll try Les over at SEB, John Hoke at the Asylum, and Socialist Swine.  I don’t think they’ve done this one but if they have, they can make rude noises in my general direction.

Here’s the original list for the passing-on to others.  I have added three more occupations to the list from when I received it.  Can you guess which three? (Hint – it wasn’t any of the five I wrote about.)

“Following there is a list of different occupations. You must select at least five of them. You may add more if you like to your list before you pass it on (after you select five of the items as it was passed to you).

Of the five you selected, you are to finish each phrase with what you would do as a member of that profession. Then pass it on to three other bloggers.

Here’s the list:

  * If I could be a scientist
  * If I could be a farmer
  * If I could be a musician
  * If I could be a doctor
  * If I could be a painter
  * If I could be a bureaucrat
  * If I could be a gardener
  * If I could be a missionary
  * If I could be a chef
  * If I could be an architect
  * If I could be a linguist
  * If I could be a psychologist
  * If I could be a librarian
  * If I could be an athlete
  * If I could be a lawyer
  * If I could be a garbage collector
  * If I could be an innkeeper
  * If I could be a professor
  * If I could be a writer
  * If I could be a backup dancer
  * If I could be a llama-rider
  * If I could be a bonnie pirate
  * If I could be a circus-director
  * If I could be a midget stripper
  * If I could be a proctologist
  * If I could be a TV-Chat show host
  * If I could be an actor
  * If I could be a judge
Hey, even if you’re not one of the three, try it on your own blog too!


Categories: Blogging, Geeky

Lost instruction day

April 24, 2005 8 comments

(Skip to the end to find out what it took for me to remove my kids from school for a day…)

The Chicago Tribune reports in Schools would prefer ‘keep your children in class’ day that many school districts will charge students with an unexcused absence if their parents participate in the yearly “Take your sons and daughters to work day.”  The districts are calling it a “lost instruction day.”

The idea behind the event is for kids to see what work is really like.  Since public schools subject kids to twelve years of fake work, resulting in extremely unrealistic expectations, this is a worthy goal.  But the administrators don’t see it that way:

“The concept of having kids shadow and have kids learn what is happening in the workforce is a great idea, but we have to balance that with protecting educational time,” said Lenore Johnson, associate superintendent for instruction in Naperville School District 203. “I think the same things could be accomplished on a non-school day.”

Arizona’s Supt. Tom Horne was more blunt.

“Employers want employees who are conscientious and have good attendance,” he said. “Playing hooky from school is not a good thing and doesn’t prepare you for work.”

Apparently public schools have a monoploy on “educational time.”

Public schools are a study in pedagogical failure.  Will one day either way make a difference?  I mean, a negative difference.  A day outside of public schools, especially learning something about the real world (not filtered by politically correct curriculum committees) could make a world of positive difference.

But I especially like the second one from Tom Horne about playing hooky and proper attendance preparing kids for work.  “Hey kids, someday you’ll have a job that sucks, that you can’t skip a single day of, even for good reason!  You should start getting used to it now!”

I have no doubt the “educators” have talked themselves into believing that what they do every day is the only good thing in their students’ lives, but it just isn’t so.  Parents willing to give more of themselves to their kids can make a bigger difference than all the room-temperature, pureed semi-correct school curriculum in the world.  Maybe there’s another influence behind the admin’s’ reasoning…

School officials say classroom time has become more precious with the passage of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which holds schools more accountable for student performance on annual achievement tests. Others note that state aid tied to daily attendance figures also is at stake.

Ahh – I get it now.  Not enough kids in class? You take a ding in the budget from state and federal aid.  So the short-sightedness extends to state and federal legislators.  There’s a shocker.

The whole thing started as “take your daughter to work day” to create teachable moments for parents and kids. And while not all workplaces can use it in a positive way, it can be used positively:

The Ms. Foundation estimates that nationwide some 10 million girls and 6 million boys will participate in the event Thursday. The event has moved beyond introducing children to careers, said foundation spokeswoman Cheryl McCants, and now aims to promote family-friendly work environments.

The foundation does not like the idea of moving the day to the summer, McCants said.

“It’s done during the school year because it is an educational program,” McCants said. “The premise behind the program is that the children who participate can go back and share the experience and make the connection between what takes place in school and what takes place in the workplace. That works best during the school year.”

But many school officials believe kids are better off in the classroom. Last year, the Minneapolis Public School system warned parents that absences would not be excused. The policy was reversed this year when a new superintendent took office, said district spokesman Josh Collins.

“We are still encouraging our parents to keep their children in school,” Collins said …

“It was a lost instruction day,” said school board President Kathleen Baldwin. “I really have a problem with the fact that this is something that could be done during the summer months instead of taking them out of their education setting.”

Hey, there it was again: the “education setting” is the school.  Education can’t take place anywhere else.  Parents certainly can’t educate their kids – that requires professional “educators.”

What did it take for me to haul my kids out of school for a day?

Many years ago there was a total eclipse of the sun in our own county.  My 3 kids were in grade school at the time, and the school district, instead of using this once-in-a-lifetime event for instruction, decided to keep everyone indoors with the blinds down.  Really.

I bought the correct grade of welding-mask filter for safely viewing the sun, and also built a solar-eclipse projector for safely viewing projected images of the event.  On the day of the eclipse, I took my kids out of school and drove them 50 miles south to the center of the event.

It was a strange and wonderful thing to see.  The sun was nibbled away, became a dark-centered ring, and then opened back up to its own brilliant self.  At the height of the eclipse, thousands of eclipse-images were projected on the ground through every little hole in tree leaves.  No wonder ancient people were so awed by eclipses.

I couldn’t say if it made an impression on my kids or not – they may not even remember it but I tried, damn it.  Parents are willing to try to do something beyond daily input+output=production for their kids.

Kim Stanley, 39, of Naperville, a former account manager for AT&T who is now a stay-at-home mother of two girls, called her school district’s non-support of the day “astonishing.”

“This is about progress,” she said. “It’s about exposing your kids to as much opportunity as you can.”

For many kids, school is nothing more than a grinding endurance test. For one day, let’s at least try something different.

Categories: Education

Why I cannot mow the lawn

April 23, 2005 3 comments

You are looking at two reasons why I cannot mow the lawn.  There are others, but these are the most formidable.

In the upper part of the picture is MrsDoF, whose significance will be explained in a moment.

In the lower part of the picture are some little flowers that grow in our mostly chemical-free lawn (I draw the line at insects that physically damage wood-frame houses).  I think the little flowers are called violets.  They’re less than an inch across, and are a pretty purple color.  There are – shoot, I don’t know – millions of ‘em.

For several weeks every spring they blossom and during that time, MrsDoF does not wish any mower to harm them.  When the blossoms go away (round about the time the grass is knee-high and my realtor neighbor is ready to have a heart-attack) then mowing is OK.

I like these little plants a lot.  They’re short, and if I could get them to take over the yard entirely, I’d never have to mow because they only get a couple inches high. Unfortunately the grass just won’t die.

Unlike some people (you know who you are) I do not have a love affair with my lawn.  I do not water it, for instance, because that would only encourage it.  Fertilizer?  Get serious – I’d like to kill it and replace it with little flowers.

Other reasons why I do not mow early in the year include: my lawnmower is a piece of junk and I am too cheap to buy another, and I just don’t have energy to spare beheading helpless plants anyway.

To see a close up picture of the little flowers, click the “Read more” link.

Categories: Personal

Nerd Score

April 23, 2005 1 comment

Because Cajun did it:

I am nerdier than 94% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

I thought my score was a little unrealistically high – at the end where they say, “For statistical purposes, how nerdy do you think you will score?” I answered “Slightly nerdy.”

Guess my secret identity as an action-hero is safe.

UPDATE: Prompted by Socialist Swine’s adventure, I checked to see what kind of geek I am…

I’m A 1950s Geek
You’re smart… and also slightly maniacal. There’s just no hiding plots for world domination, sorry.
find your geek decade at

Yep, it’s Saturday and other than a little yardwork, I’m not doing anything worthwhile.



Categories: Geeky

Noticed on campus this morning

April 20, 2005 Comments off

Categories: Geeky, observations

Meeting God

April 19, 2005 Comments off

OK, here’s the setup: you’re a really smart guy, you’re laid off from work, you’re a popular blogger, it’s the middle of the night, and you sit down to write a short story about meeting God…

Tom was confused. He had expected to feel a massive impact along with the horrible screeching of twisted metal as the SUV plowed into the driver’s door of his smaller car. He had clenched his jaw and shut his eyes at the last second when he realized what was about to happen and it was as if he had squeezed the whole of reality out of existence in doing so. No lurching feeling as the car was shoved sideways by the truck. No pelting of his face and hands by small bits of safety glass from the side window. No blaring of horns.


Just an unnerving silence and…

Plan on twenty minutes to read the whole thing, which I really recommend.  It’s good stuff:  “Meeting God,” by Les jenkins

By the way, money’s getting pretty tight for Les, being out of work and all.  If you appreciate the great content he creates for all of us to ponder, click here to read how you can help.  Think of it as tossing a buck in the hat.

Categories: Reviews

The unexpected result

April 17, 2005 9 comments

I trust insurance company studies for one reason: they have a financial incentive to tell the exact truth.  The bottom line motivates them to put their prejudices aside and go for the right answer.

So I was surprised by a link one of my sons sent to me, about an insurance company study which found: “High-powered cars less likely to crash.”

Say, what?  Wouldn’t it make sense that muscle cars get in more accidents?  Well, sure it makes sense, but it also made sense to Aristotle that heavier objects would fall faster than light objects.  It just didn’t turn out to be true.

The way science works is; you have an hypothesis, which is basically just a well-formed guess.  You collect data and see how well it fits the hypothesis.  If there’s a good fit, you perform analysis and peer review, and then you have a theory, which is a strong predictive model.  If contrary data comes up, you need to figure out why it is different and possibly alter your theory or even create a new hypothesis. 

That is why unexpected results are so interesting.  They lead to stronger theories.

…Progressive, the third-largest auto insurer in the United States… found cars with more than 200 horsepower actually generate 17 per cent fewer claims than those propelled by less than 200 horsepower.  However, when the more powerful vehicles are involved in accidents, the dollar value of claims averages 22 per cent higher.  Progressive said the effect is consistent: the more powerful a car model, the fewer but more costly its claims.

The insurer’s news release made no mention of factors that might skew the statistical correlation, such as the tendency of high-powered cars to be newer, more expensive and driven by more affluent owners.

I could pose an hypothesis that the reason for this correlation is that owners of more powerful cars are richer, which means they tend to be better-educated, which has been correlated with lower accident rates.  To turn that hypothesis into a predictive model (a theory) would require more study.

Here are some other contrary results I find interesting:

  • Giving stimulants to some children calms them down

  • When bicycle helmets were made mandatory in Britain and Australia, head injuries went up while bicycle ridership went down
  • Air bags kill some people
  • Only a few models of SUV’s are really safer than normal cars
  • Civil-service tests in Boston were found to have an inverse correlation to on-the-job performance in the Boston police department
  • Speeding in town is likely to make little difference in your arrival time and may (if a lot of people do it) actually result in overall average slower traffic
  • Recycling (except for aluminum) isn’t necessarily a direct benefit to the environment.  The recovery process is often toxic and very, very expensive.

Does anyone have other examples to add to the list?

Categories: Uncategorized

‘Cause I’m The Tax Man…

April 15, 2005 3 comments

Let me tell you how it will be
There�s one for you, nin’teen for me

  Cause I’m the tax man
  Yea I’m the tax man

Should five percent appear too small
Be thankful I don’t take it all

  Cause I’m the tax man
  Yea I’m the tax man…
- The Beatles, Tax Man

I remember being astounded to learn that “one for you, nineteen for me” wasn’t poetic license… it was an actual tax rate in England before Margaret Thatcher came along and set everyone straight. 

NO MORE subsidies for uneconomic coal mines because “it was a way of life” that had to be preserved for some reason.  Programs had to start pulling their weight. Entire government bureaucracies were wiped out and what do you know?  Merry Ol’ England went right on as before.  Well, not exactly as before; the economy started to grow like crazy. Cheerio, I say, old chap!

Makes you wonder what we could do without here.  Lots of well-intentioned flabby bureaucracy on this side of the pond, too.  Luckily not as bad as pre-Thatcher England, but still…

Categories: News, Politics