Archive for November 2008

Attention, Wal-Mart Shoppers   4 comments

“This is the store manager speaking.  In your crazy, materially-obsessed mob rush into the store, you trampled and killed one of my employees.  This store is now closed, we will not sell you incredibly self-absorbed people any merchandise today.  Happy Holidays! Go home and tell your kids that you killed a man today because you couldn’t act like adults.”

No, that’s not what the manager said… but by God, that’s what he should have done.

Before police shut down the store, eager shoppers streamed past
emergency crews as they worked furiously to save the store clerk’s life.

Posted November 28, 2008 by padraic2112 in news

Another One For Vinnie   2 comments

Posted November 25, 2008 by padraic2112 in noise

Muggsy, Where’s The Nitro?   Leave a comment

Found on Slippery Brick, via Bruce: the LEGO safe.

I don’t know what would be cooler… building this and keeping your special toys in it (“Mom, Tom keeps playing with my Boba Fett!”) or having a sibling build this and keep their special toys in it… and getting to crack it without getting caught!

Posted November 22, 2008 by padraic2112 in noise, security, tech

Judging Intent   3 comments

Minnesota Public Radio has up an interesting article (with viewer voting) showing some of the contested ballots in the Franken-Coleman race.

It’s illustrative.  When people complained about the last two elections, there were a lot of “how HARD IS IT to fill out your ballot properly?!??!” comments on all sides.  This article shows some pretty interesting examples of how (in a sufficiently large number of ballots) some of the contested ballots get mis-marked in a way that brings some measure of doubt into their intent.  Of course, some of them are blindingly obvious and are challenged as a matter of form, but it’s an interesting article.  Go vote on which way you think the ballots should go, and see how you match up with everyone’s opinion…

[edited to add: Ed Felten posted about this as well]

seems pretty obvious on this one, right?

On the other hand, there’s a reason why you should take voting seriously…

Does writing in a candidate but not bubbling the selection indicate anything?

Does writing in a "candidate" but not bubbling the selection indicate anything? Does the previous section matter?

Posted November 22, 2008 by padraic2112 in news, politics

Joke. Really, It’s Funny!   9 comments

From Hot Soup, Anyone?

An infinite number of mathematicians walk into a bar. The first one orders a beer. The second orders half a beer. The third, a quarter of a beer. The bartender says “You’re all idiots”, and pours two beers.

Posted November 19, 2008 by padraic2112 in noise

I Just Slept For Four Hours   7 comments

I don’t feel nearly as cranky as I’ve felt all this week.  Thanks to Hannah for sleeping the entire time Mommy and Jack were gone!

Posted November 15, 2008 by padraic2112 in noise

Freedom From Harm, Gay Marriage, and Smoking Bans   2 comments

I got into a bit of a debate last week with some friends when I tried to draw a comparison between “voting for proposition 8” and “voting to ban public outdoor smoking”.  We went back and forth on a few issues, but the essence of the argument, from my standpoint, goes something like this:

  • In this country, one ought to consider individual liberty as a major good, and infringing upon that good requires substantive harm before it is justified.
  • “Cap-C” conservatives (in the case of proposition eight) are not examining this trade-off.
  • “Cap-L” liberals often also fail to examine this trade-off (in the case of public outdoor smoking bans).
  • Ergo, the only real difference between bad trade-off analysis between the left and the right is what people find annoying or unacceptable, and the “harm” argument is usually a bunch of B.S.
  • People on the left who don’t actually examine these trade-offs therefore ought not to complain about people on the right not doing it either.

Of course, the other side was arguing that secondhand smoke is a quantifiable bad thing, as it causes physical harm.  Their argument went something like this:

  • Conservatives, by banning gay marriage, are infringing upon the rights of gay people (infringing upon individual liberty).  This isn’t okay, because allowing gay people to get married doesn’t really harm the conservatives.
  • Liberals, by banning public smoking, are infringing upon the rights of smokers, but this isn’t equivalent because (a) secondhand smoke causes actual damage (b) smokers infringe upon the rights of non-smokers when they light up where those non-smokers can be impacted by their smoke, and (c) people shouldn’t smoke anyway.
  • Oh, and Pat, you’re being pendantic and unreasonable and kind of an ass because civil rights for gay people don’t even come close to inconveniencing smokers.

I’ll of course accept the charge of being pedantic… but the recent outdoor smoking ban in Pasadena effectively makes it illegal for smokers to smoke… anywhere… outdoors in public property.  That’s essentially saying, “We don’t want you in our city.”  Well, as much as I find some people disagreeable, in my opinion banning them from your city is just plain old tyrrany of the majority, and that’s just not okay.

Now, here’s my problems with the rest of the rebuttal.  Let’s take (a) first.  The fact that secondhand smoke causes actual damage should (in my opinion) be put in the proper context.  Certainly, secondhand smoke has been shown to be an actual health hazard.  But… how much of a health hazard is outdoor smoking and the resulting exposure to secondhand smoke, really?  Is it a meaningful health hazard?  If it is a meaningful health hazard… how much does it compare to other activities that people might participate in that are just as much (if not more) of a health hazard?  Most importantly -> Are you comfortable establishing this level of a health hazard as a baseline for “at this point, we get to infringe upon your liberty”? I did a bit of research over the last week and I found out some interesting notes.  Did you know that 3,812 people died in southern California last year due to particulate pollution?  That means that more people died in southern California due to smog than died in all of Germany (3,300) due to secondhand smoke (Germany’s population is about 82 million, they have a lot of smokers, and until recently as near as I can tell not much in the way of indoor bans and those have been overturned).

Now of course this lacks anything resembling rigor, because I don’t have the time to make a real study out of it, but it seems evident that (given the fact that a substantial portion of those secondhand smoke deaths are going to be due to repeated and constant exposure) the fact that you drive a car in Los Angeles is much, much more likely to contribute to someone’s death than if you occasionally light up a cigarette outdoors and someone gets a two minute exposure to your secondhand smoke.  Hell, people die from peanut allergies, but we don’t ban people from eating peanuts in public.  About 3,000 people die nationwide every year from drowning, but we don’t ban pools and lakes and swimming pools (although the last is ridiculously over-regulated).

Corey also pointed out, “Well, one certainly can’t compare *driving* to *smoking*, because there are benefits you get out of driving, but nobody can claim benefits from smoking.”  While in some sense I agree, the problem I have with this train of thought is that you’re getting down into things that are so subjective that it makes it nearly impossible to quantify.  You don’t actually *need* a car.  They’re convenient as hell, but even here in Los Angeles it’s certainly possible to take public transportation to work and back (it might take you a very long time, ’tis true).  You get benefits out of having access to a car, but some people get benefits out of smoking (the smokers get enjoyment, the tobacco growers get revenue, the convenience store owners get additional sales of soda pop and candy, etc.)  So while I personally get advantages from owning a car, and I don’t get advantages from smoking (not being a smoker anymore and not selling them or growing tobacco or whatnot)… that doesn’t mean that I should be examining “smoking” vs “driving” entirely through the lens of “me”.  Remember, we all agree that liberty is a big important thing here in the U.S., right?

The argument against (b) is pretty straightforward… you don’t have any more right to 10 square feet of pavement than anybody else does, and if someone standing in that square chooses to light up a cigarette, they have just as much of a right to do that as someone does to talk on a cell phone… given that the “harm” argument is not really valid.  Finally, of course, the argument against (c) is also pretty straightforward -> we’re talking about liberty here, and you don’t get to decide what is or isn’t good for somebody else.  Sure, they may be giving themselves cancer.  They might also really enjoy their cigarette, and if you figure you’re going to die eventually anyway from something, smoking isn’t any more irrational than extreme sports or doing anything else equally stupid that might kill you but you find fun.

“But Pat,” came in an additional point, “people who smoke leave cigarette butts everywhere, and littering is bad for the environment.”  Sure, this is true… and in some cases, I’ll even take it as an additional justification for banning outdoor smoking in some areas.  But you can make the same argument against soda cans and individual-sized bags of chips or candy bars.  Heck, there are people in my neighborhood that still won’t clean up after their dog, but that doesn’t mean that I’d agree to ban urban dog ownership.  Increase the fine on not cleaning up after your dog, or enforcing littering fines on people who toss their butts… I’m okay with that, absolutely.

My point is this: if you’re going to claim that people pass judgement based upon the fact that something offends them, don’t do it yourself… dressing up things that offend you as, “Well, this is actually dangerous” isn’t meaningful unless that danger is something that is reasonably comparative to other things you’re willing to ban.  Be honest about harm.  It’s tough; it’s easy for us to overplay things that annoy us as being harmful and things that don’t as being beneficial.  But that’s the price you need to be willing to pay if you want to consider living in a free society.

Posted November 14, 2008 by padraic2112 in politics

Leaves   7 comments

Megan and Ann always do Theme Thursdays, and I’m always a day late.  Usually because Thursdays are the busiest day of my week, due to meetings.

I read Wendy Harrison’s blog.  I don’t remember how I found it; I think it may have been one of those wordpress dashboard moments where she was one of the last “10 posters” or something, and the title (being about some sort of yummy food, a common topic) caught my eye.

There are four reasons to read her blog.  One, if you like food (and the preparation thereof) she posts lots of really cool recipies along with really salivation-inducing photos of the end product.  Two, she’s a really good photographer in general and visually speaking her blog is always fun to look at.  Three, she likes dogs.  Finally, she lives in Scotland and if you’ve never been the countryside photos often include shots like this one:

This is a picture that blows my mind.  I’ve never lived in a place where it snows.  I’ve been in the snow of course, but only in a few different places that have snow.. and they tend to be either high mountains with conifers, or urban areas like New York.  The thought of “leaves changing colors” intersecting with “snow on the ground” is just cool.

See, there’s disadvantages to living your entire life in California…

Posted November 14, 2008 by padraic2112 in Theme Thursday

We Meet Again, At Last. The Circle Is Now Complete.   8 comments

California’s budget, as any current resident is aware, is in deep trouble.

In a new report, Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor forecast that the state would need to close a $27.8-billion budget gap during the next 20 months. That projection is more than $3 billion higher than the Schwarzenegger administration has estimated.

That’s not chump change.  Arnold’s proposed solution is to raise the sales tax.  The response:

Though calling the governor’s proposal “credible,” the analyst said raising the sales tax would further hurt the economy by discouraging Californians from buying local products and instead send them to Internet purchases that escape the state sales tax.

Schwarzenegger’s proposed increase would make Californians’ average sales tax the highest in the nation, about 9.5%, the analyst said. Taylor recommended a smaller increase of 1 cent on the dollar.

The analyst favored increasing the annual vehicle license fee, from 0.65% of a car’s value to 1%. It is an idea that already has traction among Democratic lawmakers, but one that Schwarzenegger has resisted.

Ah, the vehicle license fee.  That fee that encourages people to only own the cars that they need.  That fee that cuts down on beaters being on the road.  That fee that… got… Davis… recalled.  Yes, there were some problems with it (its horribly regressive, even when applied to the car’s value), but I can’t help but wonder… how much more money the state would have in its coffers right now (not to mention fewer cars on the road) if that fee had been around since 2003…

Posted November 11, 2008 by padraic2112 in news

Imagine Waking Up To A Day With No Sun   3 comments

Every once in a while, something that you’ve always taken for granted in your life disappears.  Usually these are pretty small things, and you don’t notice them because they’re part of a particular phase of your life.  They stop showing your favorite cartoon on television… but you’re getting older and don’t watch that show any more anyway.  They stop making one of your favorite toys… but you’re now in college and you still have your old Go-Bot collection in a box at your parents’ house… and even if something happened to that box, you can always find it on eBay, right?  These little “social landmarks” can usually disappear and you just don’t quite notice them.

Sometimes, they are somewhat major things that you notice when you go back to the old neighborhood.  A church has been torn down, an iconic mural has been painted over.  Unlike social landmarks, actual physical landmarks are usually more jarring when they disappear, since their disappearance has an actual immediate impact on your perception of physical reality, as opposed to your social one.

Today I found out about a “social landmark” that has disappeared that seems utterly unbelievable.  The best way I can describe it would be if I visited San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge was just gone.

Mother’s Cookies has gone out of business.

The big bag of pink and white animal cookies has been erased from the world.  Once the current supply is gone (and believe you me, I’m going to be looking for them now)… there are no more.  Jack and Hannah will never experience that same ecstatic joy I had as a child when I reached into a bag and came up with three cookies fused together by that horribly unhealthy frosting… and I could actually say, “But Mom… it IS just one cookie!”

And there will likely never be another horrible, pretty low grade oatmeal cookie.  I’ve only bought them a few times myself, but every time I had one it made me think of my grandmother, because she always had some in the cupboard.

cookies

(image found here)

Posted November 10, 2008 by padraic2112 in family, noise, parenting