Seat Reclining

August 27th, 2014 3 comments

Remember when economy seats on international flights were spaced far enough apart that you could have a window seat and still leave without waking up the other two passengers between you and the aisle? That was actually how things were back in the 80′s when I began flying.

I recall things getting more an more cramped; soon, you had to squeeze past the other people’s knees, then you had to kind of step over them in a strange contortion. Finally, it got to the point where egressing from the row required everyone to spill out of their seats first.

That’s not too bad in itself—typically, such seat departures can be an opportunity to take care of business—a toilet trip, getting a drink or snack, getting something from the overhead bins, or even just a leg stretch, which you should do several times anyway on long flights.

However, the closer spaces created a much more annoying difficulty: when the person in front of you reclines their seat.

I hate that. It makes the already confined space you’re in even more claustrophobic, and as a person who prefers to use his laptop on the plane, that becomes almost impossible.

Worse, I have terrible luck when it comes to this. After many 9- to 13-hour international flights (I take one round trip a year on average), I got the feeling that I was almost always behind a recliner. Knowing that often it just seems that way because we remember the bad times and not the good, I started tracking it—and lo, I found that while about 1/3rd of people in my section of the plane reclined fully for most of the flight, I got recliners more than 2/3rds of the time.

I can usually predict it: the moment the seat belt sign goes off after takeoff, WHAM! The seat in front of me rocks back, while the three other seats adjacent to me don’t get that. (I always choose an aisle seat in the center group of seats—only one person to let out instead of two.) I don’t know, maybe people in aisle seats tend to recline more—it seems to make sense, they already arranged for a seat that gives them a bit more comfort.

Yes, I should probably try to sit in the emergency exit row. Except that, for one thing, it usually is filled up by the time I buy my tickets, and, for another thing, the airline I usually fly charges about a hundred dollars extra for these seats.

Now I hear about a product that in one sense sounds nice, but in another sense is totally dickish: gadgets that prevent the person in front of you from reclining. It would not be hard to predict that this would cause fights that could ground airlines, which it has.

The idea of these devices is that some people’s legs are so long that when the person in front of them reclines, it hits their knees, hard enough to cause pain. The person with the “Knee Defenders” will apply the gadgets before seats can be reclined at the start of the flight, deciding how much the person in front of them is allowed to recline.

Now, as you can tell from my previous writing, I would love to avoid recliners. However, I see this gadget as totally asinine.

First of all, imagine being in a seat when the person in front of you reclines. You have not reclined, so you feel squeezed. The only relief you have is to recline your own seat—but then you discover that they guy behind you has locked your seat frozen. For his comfort.

If reclining is such a problem for your knees, there are a few other solutions. If contacting the airline ahead of time and arranging for the problem won’t work, you can try to find an airline that has non-reclining seats. When I fly, ANA is the choice, versus United—ANA has seats which have solid backs. Instead, when you recline, your seat slides forward, sending your legs further under the seat in front of you, which was designed to have more space. It actually works pretty well, and wherever I can get such a seat, I try to. I wish United would change that way.

Alternately, you could just grumble and put down the extra money for their “economy plus” seats that are still smaller than 1980′s economy seats but are marginally bigger than regular economy. Yes, it’s unfair to have to pay a premium for body shape or size, and airlines should be the ones responsible for making it so no one has to suffer unduly. Until they can be forced to change that, though, it may be the price you pay.

One thing is for certain: you cannot just unilaterally decide what comfort the person in the seat in front of you enjoys.

Categories: Travel Tags: by

History Repeats

August 25th, 2014 1 comment

A week ago, I made the case that Republicans should not be rewarded for trying to turn the country to crap so people would be unhappy with Obama and vote Republican more:

When one party is merely lame and unwilling to act forcefully, but the other party is going batshit insane, you don’t vote for the batshit insane people! When a president has gone too far trying to accommodate diehard hacks bent on ruining the country to make that president look bad, you do not reward the ones who have driven us into the ground just because they can make you unhappy. …

Rewarding Republican politicians for any reason is the most disastrously insane solution anyone could possibly dream up. They are dying anyway; put them out of their misery now before they add to the astonishingly catastrophic devastation they have already wrought upon this nation. The sooner we stop their policy of ruin, the more we can salvage.

I just saw a post along almost exactly the same lines come up on my “This Day Past Years” list. Two years ago, I made effectively the same case:

The key point: Republicans have been far more destructive to the economy, even openly stating goals which work against economic recovery, again openly admitting their goals in this are to gain political power.

The answer to this is not to reward them with more power.

The answer is to give that power, definitively this time, to Democrats, even just for two years, so we can see what Democratic policies would reap without Republicans poisoning everything.

Unfortunately, the American people will probably wind up giving the GOP even more power.

At least, if they do, and if Republicans take control of the Senate, it won’t make too much difference. The Senate is hardly passing laws at all right now, and the president still has his veto power. Democrats would still have the filibuster, which Republicans will no doubt immediately vilify once again, as always completely unabashed in their barefaced hypocrisy.

So the Republicans will have a few more committees to investigate their fictional “scandals.” So they’ll have a few more podiums from which to rant. Otherwise, things will stay the same—and conservatives will continue to call it Obama’s fault.

At some point in the future, demographics will begin to undo what Republicans have done with gerrymandering and Jim Crow. The problem is, what will be left of the nation by then?

With all that we will have lost by then, at least we’ll have the comfort of knowing that conservatives are certain that it was all the Kenyan Socialist’s fault.

More on Why Conservatives Fail at Comedy

August 25th, 2014 No comments

A writer at Murdoch’s New York Post is really upset that comedians don’t make as much fun of Obama as they did of Bush, Cheney, or Palin:

We learn this from Jim Downey, the longtime “Saturday Night Live” specialist in political japery. “If I had to describe Obama as a comedy project, I would say, ‘Degree of difficulty, 10 point 10,’” the writer says in the expanded new edition of the “SNL” oral history book, “Live from New York.”

“It’s like being a rock climber looking up at a thousand-foot-high face of solid obsidian, polished and oiled,” Downey says. “There’s not a single thing to grab onto — certainly not a flaw or hook that you can caricature. [Al] Gore had these ‘handles,’ so did Bush, and Sarah Palin, and even Hillary had them. But with Obama, it was the phenomenon — less about him and more about the effect he had on other people and the way he changed their behavior. So that’s the way I wrote him.”

Therefore, the writer sees comedians as portraying Obama as “completely unmockable.” Despite, of course, the Downey quote being about how he mocked Obama. Talk about missing the point.

Not to mention that Obama has been the butt of his share of SNL skits and late-night comic’s barbs—just not nearly as often as many recent Republicans, and the jokes don’t sting as much. As if there could be no reason aside from bias as to why that’s true. The author of the NYP article makes the clear implication that it’s not because Obama is harder to make fun of, but simply that comedians give “Democrats like Obama a pass” because they’re biased—as if there is some equivalency of humor, that all subjects are equally susceptible to ridicule.

To prove his point, he reserves a whole paragraph for examples of how comics could easily mine a rich vein of humor that should make Obama just as ridiculous-looking as Bush or Palin:

Got that? The charter Choom Ganger, confessed eater of dog and snorter of coke. The doofus who thinks the language spoken by Austrians is “Austrian,” that you pronounce the p in “corpsman” and that ATMs are the reason why job growth is sluggish. The egomaniac who gave the queen of England an iPod loaded with his own speeches and said he was better at everything than the people who work for him. The empty suit with so little real-world knowledge that he referred to his brief stint working for an ordinary profit-seeking company as time “behind enemy lines.” The phony who tells everyone he’s from Chicago, though he didn’t live there until his 20s, and lets you know that he’s talking to people he believes to be stupid by droppin’ his g’s. The world-saving Kal-El from a distant solar system who told us he’d heal the planet and cause the oceans to stop rising. The guy who shared a middle name with one of the most hated dictators on earth.

Okay, let’s take a look at the list.

I had to look up what the hell a “Choom Ganger” was. Turns out it is, at least supposedly, the name chosen by kids at Obama’s high school to describe the kids who “choomed,” or smoked weed. Turns out I had not heard about it for the same reason I had to look up names like Frank Marshall Davis or Saul Alinsky—they are names that won’t roll off the tip of your tongue unless you watch shows like Sean Hannity all the time.

Here’s the thing, though: I do not recall anyone making fun of Bush being an alcoholic or a cocaine addict—which he was just as famous for as Obama was for his own past. Why? Because it’s not really funny to mock addictions people has earlier in life, partly because it comes across as caustic. Like making fun of someone who stuttered as a kid, or was overweight.

Did Obama eat dog meat? In his autobiography, he noted being “introduced to” several strange foods in Indonesia, which also included snake meat and grasshoppers. Obama was a child at that time. Not exactly super-funny stuff; this was more of a hardcore right-wing false-equivalency jab used to defend against the Romney story about driving with his dog on the roof of his car.

That Obama thought “Austrian” was a language: this actually did happen, in a passing remark, Obama noting that he didn’t know what a term was in “Austrian.” Turns out Austrians speak German.

Okay, you could maybe have fun with that—it is, in fact, possibly the only actual comic opportunity of the whole list—after a fashion. Maybe an SNL skit about Obama requiring translators for people who speak “Canadian” or “Australian,” and then asking for different interpreters for countries that all speak Spanish. If you had enough comedic flair, you could make that work.

The problem: as far as gaffes go, it’s pretty damned mild. Again, I had never heard of this one. I did hear about his “fifty-seven states” gaffe, but not many others—because, frankly, Obama doesn’t make very many gaffes.

Sure, he mispronounced “corpsman,” and you can find others. He misstated the number of dead from a tornado as “ten thousand” when it was actually twelve. He said that “Israel is a strong friend of Israel’s.” He once even slipped up and said that McCain talked about “my Muslim faith,” immediately correcting himself. He said, “The Middle East is obviously an issue that has plagued the region for centuries,” and “We’re the country that built the Intercontinental Railroad.”

The thing is, that’s a pretty exhaustive listing of his verbal gaffes—and that’s the point, that he’s not known for them. For every true Obama gaffe, you can find a dozen from Bush, most of them a hell of a lot funnier. Yes, he called Sunrise, Florida, “Sunshine,” referred to being in Asia while in Hawaii, and called Kansas City “St. Louis.” Which are pretty much par for the course, as anyone traveling so much will inevitably make mistakes about location. Probably any president, national politician, singer, comedian—you name it—will have a list of such errors as long, and probably most will have lists much longer.

If you look up lists of Obama gaffes beyond that, they are either about insensitivity (referring to Nancy Reagan’s seances, or his bowling belonging in the Special Olympics) or include a lot of statements which conservatives simply disagree with, and are not gaffes in their own right.

What it comes down to is that you’re not funny because you make the same number of gaffes as most people in your position, you’re funny because you make an unusually large number of gaffes. Which is why Dubya and Dan Quayle are ridiculed for gaffes, but not Reagan or H.W. Bush. Biden is commonly mocked for swearing and having poor impulse control in speaking. Why? Because comedians are biased right-wingers? No, it’s because he does it more.

About ATMs being “the reason why job growth is sluggish,” that’s not really true. He gave ATMs, along with automated airport kiosks, as being examples of automation, which was one way that businesses cut payroll costs—by being “much more efficient with a lot fewer workers.” Which, actually, is exactly true. It’s not a gaffe, it’s a political attack which takes something out of context. So, not so funny.

Was Obama an “egomaniac” because he gave the queen of England an iPod “loaded with his own speeches”? Actually, no, that was mostly made up also. The iPod was loaded with songs from Broadway musicals, which the queen is noted as being a fan of, and a number of videos of the queen herself. The only Obama speeches on the iPod were Obama’s 2004 convention speech and his inauguration speech. Obama was no more an “egomaniac” for adding a few of his speeches to the iPod than the queen was an egomaniac because her gift to Obama was an autographed photo of herself.

As for Obama saying that he was “better at everything than the people who work for him,” I couldn’t even find that one. Sounds like ironic self-deprecation, but I couldn’t say without the original quote.

He did write that he felt like “a spy behind enemy lines” when he worked as a research assistant at a multinational corporation, because he was used to working for civil rights causes—not big corporations, which do tend to occupy the other end of the spectrum from activism. Many young activists would see working for Wall Street as “selling out.” Which makes what Obama said not a gaffe, nor anything to make fun of, really. As a young man, he was idealistic. So?

You can see the list deteriorating around here, and from then on, straight through to the “punch line” that his middle name is Hussein, it’s just the same hateful, vindictive spew that you hear on any right-wing blog.

So, what do we have? Obama smoked weed as a young man, had a fewer-than-average number of verbal slip-ups, gave the queen of England an iPod which contained a few of his speeches along with lots of other music and videos, and said some things that rankled conservatives—and Obama is a fake Muslim tree-hugger who thinks you’re stupid!

That’s pretty much the case for how much fun we could have doing nothing but 24-7 comedic jabs at Obama. Yeah, that’s gonna sell a lot of tickets.

The thing is, it was tried—on Fox News, which should have been the perfect platform for such a show—and it failed, even with that audience. The NYP author’s list is really just another example of why conservatives have a hard time with humor—because their idea of a good guffaw is for an environmental activist to get set on fire, or someone making fun of Obama’s family, listing them as crack addicts, gay porn stars, and assorted criminals. It’s bully humor, and is mostly just funny to the bully.

The reason comedians made a lot of fun of Bush was because he was a non-stop gaffe machine who truly looked stupid and foolish a lot more than is usual for a president. Sarah Palin is an endless cornucopia or word salad, and says stuff like that she’s a foreign policy expert because you can see Russia from Alaska, and Putin flew over her head. And Cheney—jesus, Cheney shot his friend in the face.

You could write a book about how these people are far richer comedic fodder than Obama. It’s not bias. It’s how ridiculous you look. Criticize Obama all you like, you just won’t get many people agreeing that he’s particularly ridiculous.

Categories: Republican Stupidity Tags: by

Here We Go Again

August 23rd, 2014 1 comment

I am beginning to believe that with most articles written for the web, it’s not just the links which are shamelessly designed as click bait, but the articles themselves. And they work: if you say something stupid enough, people will come and gawk at your idiocy.

One example which brings up just enough topic matter which deserves discussion by way of thought-deprived commentary can be found in this article about why the iWatch is “never going to happen.”

While the idea of an iWatch is intriguing, especially for those of us in the tech world, this is a case where the idea of a device trumps the actuality of it. Sadly, we may never see an iWatch and here’s why.

Oooh, I just can hear the author thinking, “That’ll bring the flame wars!”

Seriously, though, the “reasoning” used to support this statement is very representative of the naysaying and lack of foresight displayed virtually every time a new category of Apple devices is introduced.

Vapid “Reason” #1: There Are No Add-on Sales.

Unlike Apple TV with it’s iTunes connection and iOS devices with the App Store, the iWatch would have very little add-on purchases that could be made after the device it bought.

Yes, because the iWatch will not run apps. Or, no, that’s stupid—of course it’ll run apps. And the platform brings the apps. I said it when I analyzed the iPad when it was announced in January 2010:

Apple’s mission was very simple: make a platform, and they will come. … Remember, ground-breaking innovations are not always appreciated or understood when they come out.

An Apple watch device could be home to a plethora of apps which will have special utility on a wrist-mounted platform. Communications, health, productivity, mapping—any number of categories come to mind. I imagine that app developers will find no end to mining all the possibilities.

And then there’s the fact that Apple does not need add-on sales. Apple does not make most of its money from App Store or iTunes Store revenue, these are well-known as draws for people to buy the devices. I know several people who would buy the iWatch just for the health monitoring features alone. But if it could also be a display for map information, calendar events, weather information, or updates on traffic or travel data?

And then there’s connectivity. The watch will obviously link to and interact with the iPhone, iPad, Macs—what about Apple TV? How will AirPlay figure in? And who believes that iBeacon technology was developed with only the iPhone in mind? I don’t think it’s at all a coincidence that iBeacon and the iWatch are being released at roughly the same time. How about the latest ability for an Apple device to handle iPhone calls remotely? Why couldn’t the iWatch do that?

Even if one could not run any apps on the device, the list I have just given would be more than enough to sell tens of millions of the devices.

Vapid “Reason” #2: Good Design & Functionality Are Not Possible.

The problem with smart watches hasn’t been their functionality, but instead their looks.

Yes, and Apple has a horrible record of entering markets famous for design shortfalls and making a breakthrough device. </eyeroll>

To add in all the features that would make a smart watch worth the purchase, it generally has to be large enough to house the components as well as a battery that will give the iWatch enough life to last more than a day. This size is a major turn off, and one of the reasons that smart watches haven’t caught on with the enormous iPhone market yet.

And that’s exactly why Google Glass weighs two and a half pounds and requires a backpack in order to… oh, no, wait, that’s incredibly stupid. So much of the iWatch will depend on connectivity that a great deal of the device’s components will be stored elsewhere. If the author’s point were applicable, then the iPhone would have to be the size of a laptop in order to store and run all that is needed for Siri, mapping apps—and hey, what about the Internet?! That won’t fit on an iPhone!

Sheesh.

Vapid “Reason” #3: People Won’t Buy Upgrades.

It’s all we can do to wait for our cell phone contracts to be up so we can get the new and substantially more powerful iPhone, but do we really want to trade watches in this quickly too?

Yes, because people don’t buy iPhones outright. OK, well, some do, but who would buy a device that costs $500 every 2-3 years? I mean, remember when the iPod came out and cost $500? Nobody ever bought a new-generation device after a few… um, no, wait, they did.

Seriously. People buy new laptops worth $2000 every 3 years. I’m one of them. If the device is useful and attractive enough, people will buy it. Nor would the life cycle have to be 2 years like an iPhone, or 3 years like a laptop. I could imagine buying a new watch every 5-6 years. I bet Apple could profit plenty from a cycle like that.

On top of this, the iWatch would ideally have an expensive price tag on it, making it fit more into the long-term purchase category instead of the short-term as other iPhone add-ons do. All this together means that the iWatch could actually hinder iPhone and iPad upgrades, further hurting Apple’s bottom line.

Huhwha? Aside from him likely being wrong about the “long-term purchase category,” how exactly would that affect iPhone and iPad upgrades? What, are people going to think, “Hmmm, I don’t need to buy a new iWatch, so despite longing for the latest iPhone, I’m gonna hold back”? Seriously? Do people hold back from refreshing their iPhones because their iMac has several more years of usefulness?

This also comes back to the interconnectivity point he missed: people are probably going to want to buy new iWatch iterations because of iPhone and iPad refreshes. If Apple comes out with a new iOS and iDevices which work well together (such as the connectivity features in iOS8 and Yosemite), there will be added impetus for consumers to buy the latest iWatch which will have the ability to use those new features best. In short, he’s got it ass-backwards.

And then there’s his “ideally” high price. I can easily imagine Apple having 2 or 3 models, the bottom-end device selling for $299, but lacking a camera and a larger array of health monitoring sensors, with maybe $399 and $499 versions adding more and more functionality. Say, you would get a camera and iPhone call answering at the $399 price, and stuff like blood glucose and other special health sensors at the $499 price point. I bet Apple could make that work with healthy enough profit margins. They probably would not lose too many sales at price points starting $100 higher.


Like I said, his analysis is pretty unimaginative; I have little doubt that he chose his topic first, before having any ideas or content, primarily because the troll-like fatuousness of the headline would attract people like me. (Mission accomplished! Except I use ad-blocking software! Sorry!)

However, like I also pointed out, there are a lot of people who really do miss rather important principles regarding the design and marketing of technology. Microsoft has never understood why people use tablets, for example; instead, like Samsung and so many others, they simply believe that if you make the specs robust and add a shiny plastic case, people will of course want to buy it—nary a thought to the user experience.

This is a big part of the secret to Apple’s success: they really do understand why people use the products that they make. That’s how they are able to make stuff that people didn’t even know they needed—or stuff which people don’t actually need, but would really love.

Categories: Gadgets & Toys Tags: by

Kajieme Powell and Police Responses

August 22nd, 2014 3 comments

Well, a new fact has come up that puts a new face on the situation: the police officers who shot Kajieme Powell had tasers.

To me, this makes a world of difference. One fact I had not been aware of was that these days, metropolitan police forces tend to make tasers standard issue. The St. Louis PD reported that the officers did indeed have the non-lethal weapons.

Looking at the video, the officers do not appear detailed enough to see if they were wearing them. If they were not, then they were derelict; if they were wearing them… that adds a whole new light to the situation.

When the police arrived, they could not know what situation faced them. As they got out of their vehicle, they saw a man who appeared to be the suspect, standing in front of them, approaching them with his right hand in his pocket. That is justification for drawing their weapons; they could not know if the man had a gun or not, and if he did, then he could begin firing very quickly.

Powell then took his hand out of his pocket, and held out a kitchen knife. That action should have had two effects: first, it should have heightened the tension with the officers, as he was armed; and second, it should have “lengthened the fuse,” meaning that the police should have given them several seconds more space to deal with the situation.

If a suspect, even with a knife, begins coming at you, you still have to make a decision. At first, I thought, shouldn’t the police have made allowances to back up to extend the space between them should he approach? It’s not as if Powell was running at them.

However, there’s a problem: if you back up, you could fall over something you don’t see. Not optimal.

Still, the officers should have known that, with the knife, they had those extra seconds. Without the tasers, it would have made no difference; with the tasers, it made all the difference in the world.

What the police chief said:

“So you’ve got an individual armed with a knife, who’s moving towards you, not listening to any verbal commands, continues, says ‘Shoot me now, kill me now.’ Tasers aren’t 100%. If that Taser misses, that subject continues on, and hurts an officer,” he said.

One of the officers should have drawn the non-lethal weapon. Once Powell started approaching, the one closest to him should have made a sign to the other that he was going non-lethal, which would have signaled to the other to keep his gun drawn and ready. If the taser didn’t work, lethal force would still have been an option from the second officer.

If this is not in their training, then the department is negligent. It should be obvious that if tasers don’t always work, a partner can provide backup.

The chief also said:

Sam Dotson, chief of the St Louis metropolitan police, said the officers may not have been able to Taser Powell because of his sweatshirt.

That’s bull. The sweatshirt was clearly open—and his partner was right there.

Had the officers been armed only with guns and batons, I would have given them the benefit of the doubt. But having tasers, and with ten seconds to draw them, a tactic which should have been in their training and well-practiced….

No.

This was not a necessity. This was not a situation where the officers had no choice. With the option of a non-lethal response with the ability to back up that response with lethal force if things went wrong, the officers clearly were not trained or not inclined to do the responsible thing.

If what happened is not murder, it is at the very least manslaughter.

Categories: Social Issues Tags: by

Charity: Not Doing It Right

August 22nd, 2014 2 comments

There are supposedly heart-warming stories going around about people at Starbucks starting “Pay It Forward” chains. One customer decides to pay for their drink, but then adds the payment for the next customer. That customer, hearing the story, figures, “Well, I was going to pay this much anyway,” and so “accepts” the gift and then pays for the next person in line. In the end, you get something like 378 people doing this, one after another, until someone eventually says “no” to the “free” drink and pays for their own and doesn’t pay anything forward.

I don’t find that inspiring at all.

Essentially, what you have here is 378 people who can afford to pay $5 for a cup of coffee playing tag with their bills. All but two of the people in the chain are just paying for their own drinks and then feeling cool about themselves because they theoretically engaged in an act of kindness.

Here’s the kicker: in the story linked to above, the first person in the chain paid double for their drink, and the last person, according to the report, did not accept the previous person’s drink, and instead paid for their own. There is nothing in the report about anybody accepting a drink for free without paying for the next drink. Which means that the story is really just about one person paying Starbucks double for their coffee, and nobody getting any actual favor from anyone else—save for the super-rich corporation.

Hard to get all weepy-eyed about that.

And even if Starbucks did eventually give one person a drink and they paid nothing, then the end result is one person paid for another person’s drink, and everyone else was just saying “me too!” without actually doing anything.

Another way of looking at it is that you have hundreds of consecutive people refusing to accept a gift from someone because their sense of self-sufficiency won’t allow them to. Sometimes it is just as good to accept a gift as it is to give one—but people too often have too great a sense of personal pride, seeing the gift as an insult rather than a kindness.

You know what would have been a lot more inspiring? If 378 consecutive people at a Starbucks paid for their drink and snack, and then paid for a homeless person to get the same order. That would be cool.

Because that’s what “Pay It Forward” is supposed to be about: you find a person who is in real need, and you just give them what they need. When they ask how they can repay you, you tell them that when they are back on their feet, the next time they encounter someone in need, you do the same for them.

And when you do so, you don’t brag about it on Facebook.


This is also a good time to bring up the whole ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge.” I guess it’s a good way to generate publicity for a cause, but the challenge is supposedly about making a donation… or pouring a bucket of ice water over your head. Which means that all those people pouring ice on themselves are essentially saying, “I’m so cheap that I’d rather do this than donate to a worthy cause.”

Now, probably many people who do this also donate. However, people started criticizing others for donating and not pouring ice-water over themselves, as if it meant they somehow were being wusses or something.

At that point, it’s just a kind of messed-up dare.

A much better idea would have been to have people promise to pour the ice water on themselves if “x” number of people promised to donate to the charity. Then you would generate a lot more donations—“Hey, if we can get six more people to donate $20 to ALS, Frank will douse himself!”

The ALS Association says they got an extra $40 million or so in donations, so OK—but I think it could have been more had it been done right.

Or, you know, people could just donate to worthy causes without having to be goaded or anything.

Categories: The Lighter Side Tags: by

Not All Situations Are Alike

August 21st, 2014 2 comments

On August 19, Kajieme Powell, a 25-year-old man, reportedly with a history of mental illness, walked into a convenience store armed with a knife and took two drinks without paying for them. After leaving the store, the owner followed him and asked him to pay for the drinks. Powell went back into the store, picked up a package of pastries, and came back out. When the owner asked him again to pay, Powell threw them into the street. The owner then called the police.

Powell did not try to go anywhere. He remained where he was, having put the two drinks down on the ground near the curb. It was at this point that someone started shooting a video of the event. Powell can be seen walking back and forth near the drinks. He is wearing a blue jacket, with his right hand in the pocket. A police cruiser arrives, and two officers step out of the vehicle. Powell approaches them and starts to yell, “Shoot me!” The officers tell him to take his hand out of his pocket; he does so. Although it cannot be seen clearly in the video, Powell is holding something, and the officers begin to shout, “Drop the knife!”

Powell approaches, then stops about 12 to 15 feet away, continuing to shout at the officers to shoot him. He then turns to his left and climbs up on an elevated parking space perhaps three feet above the sidewalk, describing an arc which leads him to walk towards the officer who exited the right-side door of the cruiser.

When Powell is about 8-10 feet away from the closer policeman, the officers begin firing. By the third shot, Powell is falling, by the fourth, he is down. The police continue firing, the first seven shots in quick succession. There is a moment’s pause as Powell rolls on the ground in front of the officer, then two more shots are fired—a total of nine shots. It is unclear from the video which officer fired how many shots.


One thing is clear: Powell was attempting to commit what is often described as “suicide by cop.” He was clearly not interested in consuming the food he took from the store, nor did he make any attempt to escape; he was, almost certainly, trying to cause the police to arrive, and was waiting for them. When they arrived, he did what he needed to do to get them to shoot him.

People are outraged at this video for a few very obvious reasons. Especially in the wake of the shooting in Ferguson, the shooting of a young black man by white police officers seems galling. The reports that Michael Brown was shot six times despite having his hands up in the air in a gesture of surrender brings to this event the idea that Powell was similarly helpless. The video itself, however, appears to be the most damning evidence: we see a man who appears to be unarmed walking to the police, and for this, he is shot nine times, more than half of the fusillade fired when Powell was falling or on the ground.

There are some exculpatory facts. Powell was in fact armed with a knife. He was trying to get the officers to shoot him. It seems clear that he was not going to stop where he was, and had he not been shot, he would have continued at the officer. Whether he would have used the knife at all, whether he would have done real harm to the officer he was approaching, is a question to which we will never know the answer.

There are objections raised:

Powell does not move like a man who poses a threat.

You mean, other than committing a crime and then coming at police officers armed with a knife?

There is no evidence that anyone felt threatened before the police arrived.

That has no relevance to the situation; the police act according to what they find, and not according to what they have not been told.

Even when he advances on police, he walks, rather than runs. He swings his arms normally, rather than entering into a fighting stance.

I do not find this a convincing argument; if a man with aggressive intent is walking towards you with a knife, and will be upon you in two or three seconds, I do not see this as being so less threatening that a defensive reaction is unwarranted. Similarly for the argument that he was not in a “fighting stance.” If a guy comes at me with a knife clearly intending to start an incident, I do not consider the fact that his hand with the knife is at his side a very comforting one.

Powell looks sick more than he looks dangerous.

What difference does that make? Is a mentally ill person armed with a knife less likely to commit an act of violence?

But the police draw their weapons as soon as they exit their car. They begin yelling at him to stop.

This is actually not surprising, as they are responding to an armed robbery and they find the suspect with his hand in his pocket.

There is no warning shot, even.

There has been discussion about warning shots, which many police departments have policies against; nonetheless, in other situations (this one in Missouri), it has worked.

On the other hand, by the time Powell was shot, it was clear to the police that he wanted them to shoot him, and was willing to endanger them to accomplish this. I doubt that a warning shot would have done much.

All in all, I find the objections less than compelling.


There is one rather simple yet significant fact: had the police waited a few more seconds until Powell was, in fact, just a foot away and (possibly) raising the knife, then our reaction to the video would be meaningfully different. Instead of seeing an apparently unarmed man being shot from a distance of 8-10 feet, we would see a man raising a knife a few feet away from officers shouting at him to stop. Self-defense would be arguably much easier to understand. Add to that the fact that these officers probably understood very well that this man wanted them to fire and therefore would probably do whatever it took to accomplish that, and it is somewhat more understandable.

And that is where the shooting becomes, if not less objectionable, then at least less incriminating in hindsight: there is almost no doubt that Powell would have continued to close the distance. Nor do I think that it would have made much difference had Powell never raised the knife. The fact that the officers shot from 8-10 feet instead of 2-3 feet is not meaningfully significant.

Despite my initial shock and horror of seeing the video, upon considering the situation, I do not see the officers’ actions as remarkably abhorrent. Disturbing, yes; tragic, yes. However, did the police act wrongly, when it is clear that two or three seconds more time would have made no difference in the outcome, except to make the officers’ actions appear more reasonable?

Below is the video in question. It is graphic in content (not bloodiness), and shows Powell being shot to death. At the key moment, if you play the video in full-screen 1080p resolution and zoom in on what happens, it is possible to see details that might be missed if you look less closely.


But then we have the firing itself. Powell is not just shot; he is shot nine times, in three seconds.

However, it seems that this is how officers are trained, and that “muscle memory” may be an issue. Police are trained to shoot several times, not just once. When they are trained, they may not practice shooting once or twice, evaluating, and then shooting again. They are likely trained to shoot many times, and this, in a panic situation with a live assailant walking towards you, could lead to the excessive firing.

Not knowing which officer fired how many bullets could be a factor; there is something called “contagious shooting,” where a gunman will fire on the signal of another firing. It is possible that the closer officer fired the first one or two shots, and then his partner, prompted by his partner’s shooting, fires his own gun several times, providing the latter shots.

We are also misinformed by television, where we most often see the “good guy” taking extra caution to avoid killing someone. How many times have you seen a video of a cop firing a bad guy in the arm or the shoulder, so as to remove the threat without deadly force? We see this and accept it as something that could happen in real life. However, if a man is coming at you with a knife with clear intent to do damage, and you have no idea what drugs he may be on, and he could be on top of you before you have time to evaluate after a single shot or two, and you know that a shot to the arm or shoulder could miss—do you really think you would try for just one or two shots to slow him down?

It’s easy for us to watch a video taken from afar and judge; it would be extraordinarily more difficult to actually be in that officer’s situation and have to make a split-second, adrenaline-fueled, life-or-death decision.

That is not to say that there was no wrongdoing by the police. I am not sure if the officer closest to Powell was right to remain between Powell and the vehicle, giving him no room to maneuver. I am not sure if the assailant having a knife and not a gun made the situation significantly different. I do not pretend to be knowledgable about any of this, so I could be very wrong in my assessment.

That said, before knowing more, I would tend to assume that, while appearing trigger-happy and excessive in shooting, the officers involved may actually have been justified in their actions.

It hurts to say that, considering the Powell deserved medical attention, and not to be shot to death. Most likely, this is much more about our failure to treat mental illness than it is about police procedures.

Not that police procedures should not be questioned. In fact, there was an incident in Toronto last year where a younger man was also shot by police nine times as he wielded a knife—this shooting appearing far, far less justifiable.

And then, of course, there is the shooting of Michael Brown, which also seems indefensible.


I know I will probably catch a lot of flak from people who have the same political beliefs and human sensibilities as I do; the same thing happened when I tried to understand Rodney Peairs’ actions when he shot Yoshihiro Hattori to death. Nevertheless, I believe it is necessary to come to as complete an understanding as possible, and then to judge reasonably, and not just in a way that justifies your sense of moral outrage.


There is still something else that disturbs me greatly about this incident. This is from one report:

When police arrived, they said Powell walked toward them clutching his waistband. They say he then pulled out a knife and held it up in what Dotson described as an “overhand grip.”

We see this again and again: police reports, filed after the fact, differ greatly from what we later find to be the facts of the case. In this case, the police reports make it sound like Powell was in fact right on top of the officer, with the knife raised over his head, ready to strike.

The video clearly belies this account.

We saw something similar in the arrest five years ago of Henry Louis Gates Jr. by a police officer whose official report was fairly clearly filled with inaccurate statements intended to justify the officer’s action.

This is what worries me as much as anything else: that police misconduct if much more common than we believe, and that much of it is covered up by police reporting which is to a great extent self-serving, and designed to the greatest extent possible to make the suspect appear guilty, and the officer completely justified. We saw this in Ferguson as well, when the police released a video intended clearly to justify the officer’s actions, despit that video having zero relevance to the misconduct in question.

But then there is the statement of the Saint Louis police chief describing the reaction to Powell’s killing. He stated that police officers have the right to defend themselves. This is true. But then he says something more:

“Officer safety is the number one issue.”

Which I find interesting. I thought public safety was the number one issue. And that may be part of the problem: the police do not see keeping the public safe as their main job—“to protect and to serve.” Instead, they appear to see it as a public management issue, with their own safety being paramount.

I do not begrudge the police the ability to defend themselves. However, when they view their safety as much more important than the safety of the public in general, that’s when things become worrisome.

Categories: Social Issues Tags: by

Nixon Sabotaged the End of the Vietnam War?

August 18th, 2014 2 comments

That’s the claim made in a new book by a historian working at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs:

In “Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair and the Origins of Watergate,” [historian Ken] Hughes recounts that Nixon ally Anna Chennault was suspected of having interceded with South Vietnamese leaders to keep them from attending the late 1968 Paris peace talks, with or without Nixon’s knowledge and approval. When President Lyndon Johnson confronted Nixon with the report, Nixon flatly denied having anything to do with any such sabotage.

But Johnson had the FBI put a tap on the South Vietnamese embassy that caught Chennault telling Ambassador Bui Diem that her “boss” wanted the nation’s leaders “to hold on, we’re gonna win” — implying they would get a better deal under a victorious Nixon.

Hughes heads up the Nixon team of the center’s Presidential Recordings Project; presumably, he knows what he is talking about, and this is not some questionable headline-grabbing half-invented folly.

It’s a pretty serious charge, given how long the war lasted afterwards, and how many people were killed. And it would kind of be a violation of U.S. Law, the Logan Act to be specific. To the level of treason.

Strangely, at least a few articles going around the web now are claiming that George Will “confirmed” the claim—however, a read of Will’s article seems to be nothing more than a retelling of the claim, and not a confirmation. Will just recounts what Hughes claims, and then ends up by making it seem like Obama’s now-completely-debunked IRS “scandal” is somehow analogous.

That seems to be in line with the reaction by many right wingers—even if it did happen, it didn’t go as high as Nixon, and it was justified because Johnson was the one perpetrating the dirty trick by trying to end the war in tim for an election.

I would not at all be surprised if Hughes’ claims are real. I would be just as unsurprised to hear in 20 or 30 years that Reagan did the exact same thing with Iran and the hostages, or that Bush’s team was involved in the use of Florida felon’s list to disenfranchise Gore voters.

On the other hand, I will be more surprised to hear any evidence of Reagan doing that, and shocked if I hear evidence about Bush—not because I don’t think they did these things, but because I am pretty sure they would not have left any evidence tying any of it to anyone near the presidents involved.

Categories: Right-Wing Slime Tags: by

Rick Perry Indicted for Abuse of Power, Threatens to Punish Those Involved

August 17th, 2014 1 comment

So a Democratic Texas D.A. did something stupid: got drunk, and then drove. She was arrested and served time, but refused to resign under pressure. She was within her rights under law: she is under no obligation to resign.

Rick Perry pressured her to do so anyway. His motives were not just for show; if the D.A. resigned, Perry would get to appoint a replacement.

That’s no small deal, as the D.A. in question, Rosemary Lehmberg, is the D.A. for Travis County, home to Austin, the state capital.

Why is that a big deal? First of all, Austin is one of the few counties in Texas with a Democratic majority. Second, the D.A. for Austin, it being the state capital, runs the state’s public integrity unit. The public integrity unit is kind of the like ethics committee: it investigates government corruption. And it’s run mostly by Democrats, in a state where most politicians are Republicans. And Texas Republicans have a long history of corruption.

Naturally, Republicans would like nothing more than for the public integrity unit to shut up and/or go away. They have tried to defund it in the past, but failed. Getting a Republican appointee in there could potentially throw off all current investigations and damage the unit, even if the appointee were replaced by a Democrat in the next election.

So, when D.A. Lehmberg was arrested, and, as a bonus, acted like a tool on camera in jail, Republicans saw this as a big political opportunity. Unfortunately, the position is locally elected, and so Republican politicians couldn’t touch her. A grand jury set on her by Republicans refused to indict her. Lehmberg refused to resign, but said she would not run for re-election in 2016.

Unwilling to accept that, Perry decided to play hardball: he demanded that Lehmberg resign, or else he’d cut the funding for the public integrity unit.

She refused, so Perry defunded the unit.

Normal hardball politics, right?

Except for one small detail: Perry, like so many Republicans, was so used to getting away with illegal crap that he forgot that he could still be prosecuted for it. And he had committed an abuse of power: he threatened to defund a legally operating government office if a legally elected public official who was not under his authority did not resign so he could appoint a political ally to that seat. What’s more, he didn’t try to hide it: he made it quite clear what he was doing.

Well, you’re not supposed to do that, it turns out. The governor is not supposed to get involved with county business, he’s not supposed to coerce public officials, and he’s not allowed to use his office or powers as governor to do so.

Think it’s no big deal? Well, imagine if Obama, citing Perry’s corruption, demanded that Perry resign, or else Obama would cut the $1 billion-plus federal Transportation Equity Bonus funds for Texas, citing a corrupt governor’s inability to disperse those funds honestly.

Do you believe that, if Perry refused and Obama actually cut those funds on the basis of his threat, that Republicans would not immediately impeach him?

Of course they would. They would call it the foulest, basest, most despicable act of illegal “Chicago politics” imaginable. And they would see no irony in defending what Perry did at the same time, claiming they were totally different.


Perry, predictably, is not taking this sitting down. He is, however, kind of going over the top.

“This indictment amounts to nothing more than an abuse of power and I cannot and I will not allow that to happen,” Perry charged. There’s your standard conservative move: accuse those you are against with exactly what you have done wrong.

However, he went much further:

I intend to fight against those who would erode our state’s constitution and laws purely for political purposes and I intend to win. I’ll explore every legal avenue to expedite this matter. I am confident that we will ultimately prevail, that this farce of a prosecution will be revealed for what it is. And those responsible will be held accountable.

So, what is his evidence that this is a political attack? Nothing, of course.

Michael McCrum, the special prosecutor appointed to the case, is a respected attorney from San Antonio, and was actually backed by both Republican Senators for the U.S. Attorney position in Texas. Hard to call him a flaming political hack.

The grand jury who indicted him, on the other hand, consisted of residents of Austin—a county with more Democrats than Republicans. While not his “political opponents,” they potentially could have bias. On the other hand, the grand jury was selected by Special State District Judge Bert Richardson—a San Antonio Republican, appointed by Bush.

So, all in all, it does not look especially like this is a political witch hunt; a Republican-backed prosecutor convinces a grand jury selected by a Republican judge from a county which is roughly 60% Democrat and 40% Republican.

What really sounds over-the-top in Perry’s response is that “those responsible will be held accountable.” Really? Will he be holding the Republican judge who seated the grand jury responsible? Or the highly-regarded prosecutor who received Republican backing, will he be “held responsible” for playing politics? Or maybe the governor intends to track down and punish the members of the grand jury who voted to indict?

And what will Perry do to them, exactly? He calls it an “abuse of power”—what, did any of those people threaten Perry with the indictment unless Perry resigned? Nope—nobody involved said or did anything remotely political—so exactly what will Perry do to “hold them accountable”?

Perry’s bluster is not just game-playing, however: he levied a rather serious charge and a threat of retaliation, in a case where he very clearly demonstrated that he does follow up on such threats.

I’m sure it will play well with the home crowd, but from a distance, Perry sounds even worse than he did when he started.

GOP Motto: Vote Against Democrats Because We Turned the Country to Crap

August 15th, 2014 2 comments

From a New York Times article:

Voters’ deep frustration with both sides explains why few election analysts, including people in both parties, predict a wave that would wipe out Democrats like in the 2010 midterms (or like 2006, when George W. Bush was president and Republicans lost their House and Senate majorities).

That’s not a good analogy: Republicans lost in 2006 because they had held almost total control for six years and had made a huge mess of things. Democrats were more or less bystanders there, and were the alternative. None of that applies to Republicans under the current situation: most of the bad stuff that has been happening has been their fault; all they can do is say, “Hey, look how much we were able to screw things up while Obama was in the White House!”

Look, I’m no huge fan of what Obama has been doing, and while Republicans are even more of an obstacle for Democrats in Congress, Congressional Democrats—especially those in the Senate—have not taken the drastic action made necessary by conservative intransigence.

So does that mean I’m going to refrain from voting in the upcoming elections, or that I’m going to vote for anyone opposing Democrats?

Hell, no!!

When one party is merely lame and unwilling to act forcefully, but the other party is going batshit insane, you don’t vote for the batshit insane people! When a president has gone too far trying to accommodate diehard hacks bent on ruining the country to make that president look bad, you do not reward the ones who have driven us into the ground just because they can make you unhappy.

Now is exactly the time for all Democrats or fellow travelers, anyone who feels that the past 6 years of gridlock and sabotage is a horrendously bad thing, to vote Democratic across the board.

Think that voter suppression and Jim Crow 2014 is bad? Then vote out the Republicans in state houses nationwide, who made all of this happen.

Think that gridlock in Congress is bad? Then vote out the Republicans who have made that obstruction and inaction their mainstay policy.

Think that Democrats are the ones who ran up the debt? Then get your head out of your ass and look at the facts and figures, and then vote out the lying blowhards who actually put us in this mess.

Think that Citizens United or Hobby Lobby are travesties of justice? Then don’t let the people who want that kind of crap expanded a hundred times win any more elections, or vote in the next Supreme Court justices.

I could go on and on, but it should be clear to anyone who sees and thinks.

But here’s the key: so many people don’t vote that a surge in Democratic turnout could win elections.

Rewarding Republican politicians for any reason is the most disastrously insane solution anyone could possibly dream up. They are dying anyway; put them out of their misery now before they add to the astonishingly catastrophic devastation they have already wrought upon this nation. The sooner we stop their policy of ruin, the more we can salvage.

Samsung and Wall-hugging

August 14th, 2014 No comments

Samsunggalaxys5AdIf you ask me, this new ad campaign by Samsung is not very well thought-through. I’ve done my share of “wall-hugging” (usually “pillar-hugging,” actually), and I can attest to the BS charge they are making.

First, my use of airport power outlets has chiefly been for my laptop, and unless Samsung has a laptop that can run for 10 hours in full use, then this looks kinda stupid.

While I do top off my iPhone and iPad while I’m charging my laptop, I have found it unnecessary for the past few years, as both devices’ batteries lasted quite nicely through the entire journey, even the 13-hours-plus trip back.

The people who usually use these outlets for smartphones nowadays tend to be people who forgot to charge their phones before leaving home, or wherever they came from—or are people who have been on the road for quite a while before getting to the airport. And that will include a fair number of Samsung users as well, long battery life or not.

Then there’s the alienation element; the ad is more or less mocking the viewer’s poor judgment, right in their face, in a publicly embarrassing fashion. You don’t win people over by ridiculing them. If I were sitting at a pillar like the one pictured with my iPhone, and a Samsung user saw me and smirked, I would not feel like switching to Samsung. I’d feel like they and their users were obnoxious assholes.

Not to mention the fact that this will be relevant for only a very short time, as airlines are installing power outlets in their fleets; this trip home, I am told that both my planes, outbound and inbound, will have them in economy. So, the whole airport power thing will be completely unnecessary.

And finally, let’s not forget that Samsung users will hardly be immune to low battery issues. When your battery runs longer, you tend to forego charging more often, and sometimes that leads to accidentally letting the charge run too low when you really need to use it.

And there is where Samsung has opened itself up to ridicule: all it will take is a photo of someone with a Samsung Galaxy S5 sitting at one of those outlets with the ad, and they’ll become a laughingstock. They could be mocked further by a caption that pointed out that the reason there was only one Samsung user there because so few people have Galaxy S5s…

Categories: Corporate World, Gadgets & Toys Tags: by

Oh, Steve…

August 13th, 2014 1 comment

Steve Ballmer, in 2007, when the iPhone was introduced:

There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It’s a $500 subsidized item. They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I’d prefer to have our software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them, than I would to have 2% or 3%, which is what Apple might get.

In a video interview, he said essentially the same thing, concluding, “Let’s see how the competition goes.” That seven years ago.

From a report on mobile devices released today:

net activation by platform: iOS=67&, Android=32%, Windows Phone=1%

And that’s for enterprise, traditionally a market dominated by Microsoft. In the video interview, Ballmer said it wouldn’t appeal to business customers “because it doesn’t have a keyboard, which makes it not a very good email machine.”

Poor Ballmer; you’ve got this other Steve, Steve Jobs, who now is secure in his reputation as a tech visionary, while Ballmer’s claim to fame will probably be as “Monkey Boy.”

Categories: Gadgets & Toys, Technology Tags: by

Who?

August 12th, 2014 No comments

I was going to write a post about Sarah Palin’s most recent cringe-inducing statement—and then I realized that, no, I shouldn’t. Because commenting on Sarah Palin is like commenting on Ann Coulter. Getting pissed off at their outrageous ejaculations is kinda what they want you to do. Insulting them feeds their egos. If one could identify a thesis statement representing everything they say, it could be expressed as, “Pay attention to me!”

So, no.

Categories: People Can Be Idiots Tags: by

Jesus Is to Save Christians, Not Guide Them

August 11th, 2014 1 comment

One element of Christianity that I have discovered over the years is that, for many Christians (in America, at least), Jesus is most emphatically not a role model. He is a savior, a rescuer, a hero image. Christians are to worship him as they would a hero—and like a hero, they leave the saving and rescuing to him, and otherwise adopt a “don’t try this at home” attitude.

Have you ever heard Christians say, “When it comes to turning the other cheek, I’m more of an old-testament kind of Christian”? Have you noted so many Americans who have plenty for themselves coldly shouting to turn refugee children away at the border? Have you noted a preponderance of Christian values claimed by people who clearly prefer money over morality?

It crystallized for me when I read about reactions from Christians in a neighborhood where a sculpture of Jesus as a homeless man on a bench had been placed:

Jesus is not a vagrant, Jesus is not a helpless person who needs our help. We need someone who is capable of meeting our needs, not someone who is also needy.

To this woman, Jesus was not someone who you emulate. You do not have to actually follow his teachings, because, I assume, they’re just evidence of how great Jesus was. It’s not like Christians are supposed to do those things.

No, Jesus is more like Superman: he flies around and rescues people, not you. You admire him, and depend on him to help you. But you don’t try to go around flying or stopping crime yourself.

For such people, Christianity is not about becoming a better person. Instead, it’s mostly about the perks.

This understanding clears up a lot.

Categories: Religion Tags: by

To Be Polarizing, You Have to Actually Do Something Polarizing

August 10th, 2014 1 comment

I am getting pretty tired of people referring to Obama as a “polarizer” or a “polarizing” figure. Sorry, but that’s complete bull.

Scenario A: you get a job in an office where there are desk workers and field people. As a person who works in the field, you start making all kinds of insinuations about the desk workers, calling them “desk jockeys,” “do-nothings,” and “lazy fatasses.” You begin to advocate for budget increases for field workers at the cost of the desk workers, and you spread rumors about the desk workers stealing supplies, taking too many days off, and spending most of their time playing games or surfing the web on their computers. Worse, you claim, the desk workers are spreading malicious rumors about the field workers, trying to get them fired so the rest will be disorganized and easy prey for office politics.

Pretty clearly, in this scenario, you are polarizing the office, trying to create a rift between the two groups.

Scenario B: you get a job in an office where there are desk workers and field people. You have a field work position. You do nothing untoward, just your job and not much else. Instantly, several of the desk workers arbitrarily decide that they hate your guts. They get most of the desk workers to agree with them, and begin a campaign to make your life miserable and get you fired. They start spreading lies about field workers, using you as a poster boy. They start sabotaging your work and the work of other field workers. They begin trying to cut every bit of the budget that might make field work easier, and every time you hand in work that they will later process, they “lose” parts of the work and blame you. You suddenly become the reason they cite for every bad thing that happens in the office, and some even claim that they will go on strike or up and quit unless “something is done” about you.

Are you a polarizer in this scenario? Pretty clearly no. Are you “polarizing”? Perhaps in a starkly technical sense—but not because of anything you did. Describing you as “polarizing” is patently misleading, as it implies that the polarizing is somehow your doing. Worse, if you object to this patently unfair treatment, you are even more strongly labeled a “polarizer”—“See? Look how he’s bashing the desk workers!”

To polarize is to “divide or cause to divide into two sharply contrasting groups or sets of opinions or beliefs.” The thing is, when you do nothing that could reasonably cause such division, but others overreact bizarrely because they decide they do not like you, then you’re not doing the polarizing. If you come to a group of people and say, “I’d like to do something about this issue, so let’s begin by using your plan with a couple of my ideas thrown in,” and they react by rejecting not only your ideas but their own plan, calling it the most drastically radical and disastrous idea ever, and instead spend all their time twisting and distorting the proposal and fighting against it only because you are proposing it—I’m sorry, but no way on Earth are you the one being “polarizing.”

And that’s the case with Obama. Despite constant references to Obama “polarizing” the country, he has done nothing of the sort. He has gone a great distance to give everyone what they want, to ameliorate the dissatisfaction of his political opponents. He has done pretty much what he promised when he campaigned in 2008: to try to bring everyone’s concerns to the table, address them, and find a solution that everyone can get behind.

I am not saying this out of admiration; I wish he wouldn’t do that, because it’s stupid. When your opposition is bent on making you fail, when they obviously will not cooperate no matter how much you give them, when you wind up giving them more than they originally asked for and still they vehemently oppose you—then you’re an idiot to keep on trying that strategy. When someone not only refuses to work with you but takes every opportunity to knock you down and crack your head open, you don’t keep on trying to shake their hand. You have to deal with the situation you’re confronted with.

The point, however, is that Obama is not the polarizer nor is he in truth polarizing. Republicans are clearly, undeniably responsible for the divisions we see today, taking extremist positions solely out of an unreasoning hatred for Obama—a hatred founded in the desire to crush the opposition for the sake of gaining power, money, popularity, and influence.

Going a Bit Too Low on the tech

July 21st, 2014 7 comments

Headline: Foreign Governments Consider Reverting To Typewriters To Thwart NSA Surveillance. From the story:

In a television broadcast, German politicians said members in the Bundestag — Germany’s parliament — are strongly considering dropping email altogether, opting for typewriters and penned notes to prevent the United States’ National Security Agency from eavesdropping, the Guardian reported Tuesday. Russian government officials also said last week they were reverting to paper communications. The FSO, an agency that protects the Kremlin government and other top officials, has already ordered nearly two dozen typewriters, according to USA Today.

“Any information can be taken from computers,” former head of Russia’s Federal Security Service, the domestic successor the KGB, Nikolai Kovalev, told Izvestia. “[F]rom the point of view of keeping secrets, the most primitive method is preferred: a human hand with a pen or a typewriter.”

Seriously? Nobody ever heard that computers and even entire LANs can be disconnected from the Internet?

Categories: Technology Tags: by

What Do You Think of These People?

July 17th, 2014 6 comments

There is a crisis going on in Northern Africa, one causing immeasurable violence in impoverished areas. The situation is intolerable even for the strongest of people, but the children are being hit the worst. If they stay, they face worse and worse fates, many likely to die. Thousands of children are forced to flee, and make their way across the Mediterranean to France, a nation with not just proximity but political investment in their home region. Boatloads of young children, wave after wave, wash up on the shore, hungry, desperate, frightened, and lost. It is a refugee crisis, but made up of the most innocent of the displaced.

The French, however, are pissed. Sure, they had a hand in what happened in that region, but these children are unwanted. They don’t give a crap about their plight, they don’t even care that they’re children. Thousands of French people, backed by millions throughout the country, mass at the shores and around the holding camps where the children are, yelling and screaming at the children. “Nobody wants you!” those in the crowd shout angrily at the kids. “Go back where you came from!” they spit. “They should come here legally,” protesters tell reporters. “These kids carry disease, and they expect us to pay for their needs,” one French patriotic group claims, distributing fliers vilifying the children. “They should go back to where they came from.” When reminded that such a return would likely result in their deaths, the protesters shrug. “Not our problem.” As buses filled with the young refugees drive out of holding centers, protesters surround the buses, beating on the side of the vehicle and shouting angrily. Some even go so far as to call it a literal “invasion” for which the military should be tasked to respond.


This, of course, is not happening in France. But reading the story, tell me: if it were, what would you think of these people?

More importantly, what would the people who are doing this now have thought if this were France doing it a year ago? Having helped create a crisis in a nearby developing country, to have waves of innocent children forced to flee for their lives… and then have the wealthy, comfortable first-world nation callously treat them like vermin and go ballistic at the thought that we might actually help them or something. No, let’s go out of our way and scream at them.

And send them back to the slaughter.

I think that even these wingnuts would have been taken aback at that—had another country done it. But us? No, that’s perfectly justified.


The idea of looking at things from a different perspective works with immigration in a more general sense as well:

Imagine you are married with two kids. The country hits really hard times, akin to the Great Depression of the 30′s (we almost went there a few years ago, remember). You lose your job, your house, almost all of your possessions. No work is available, though you would take any job and are constantly looking. You are reduced to living in a shack in a filthy part of town. Your kids frequently border on starvation, gravely need basic medical care. You are desperate.

Then a well-off family in a gated community tells you they will hire you to clean their house. It’s for way less than minimum wage, but you are way past that by now. Anything is better than going without food. But in that gated community, they voted in rules to disallow such hires—only approved cleaning services. The problem is, those services charge a lot, and this family would rather hire you for cheap—so they’ll bend the rules for their own sake.

However, because of these rules they passed and supported, they demand that you sneak through the hedges in the park near the creek in the back area of the community. If you’re caught, they’ll deny knowing you, and you could go to jail for trespassing. It’s degrading, not to mention a pain to do this at 5 a.m., but you have no choice. You do what they demand.

Later, reports come in that grungy-looking people have been spotted in the community. The neighborhood is outraged, fearing for their safety and worried about property values dropping. “These people just steal things, use drugs, and are violent,” the refrain goes—and the people who hired you echo these complaints. Worse, they scream at you because the landscaper is charging extra because of lawn damage in the private park—something you can’t help because the only way in is across that field right after it has been watered. But you employers blame you for it anyway.


What would you think of people like this? Because the gated community asshats are pretty much who we are.

We hear all the time about illegal aliens causing all these problems. How come we never hear about illegal employers? Because they’re far more at fault. You think the immigrants are the ones causing Americans not to be hired? You think the immigrants are the ones making off with the loot? You think they would not rather come into the country legally? No, they don’t want these things—but they have no choice. We have the choice—but instead of doing the right and responsible thing, we do it the screwed-up way.

You know how often illegal employers are caught or penalized? Almost never. And the “penalties” are a joke—usually a pittance, and then negotiated downward from there.

The immigrants are not the problem. Not by a long shot.

Categories: Social Issues Tags: by

What Stereotype Do You Fit?

July 15th, 2014 3 comments

Pew has a “Political Typology” quiz you can take, but fair warning: it’s a very blunt tool, and shouldn’t really surprise you much at all. Unsurprisingly, I was tagged as a “solid liberal,” but was very unhappy with a lot of the choices I was forced to make. You could very easily see where the questions were taking you to, and you will probably find yourself making statements you don’t agree with, being steered towards a group you don’t feel comfortable with.

The questions, mostly polar opposites, tend to be incredibly simplistic and often force you to extremes. For example, you either believe that you have to do “whatever it takes to protect the environment” or that we’ve “gone too far” already. Answer one way, you’re a tree-hugger; answer the other way, you’re a hard-nosed industrialist. In terms of U.S. international involvement, you have to decide if we usually make things worse or if things would be worse without us. Answer one way, and you’re an isolationist; answer the other way, you’re an adventurist. What if you believe in tempered involvement? Not major land wars, except in true emergencies (WWII was the last one to qualify), but definite strategic involvement with a military element. How is that factored in? The answer is that it isn’t—you’re forced to choose way too far in either direction.

In fact, I am not sure that you can test out as a moderate—the results do not even allow that. The categories in the center are called “hard-pressed skeptics” and “young outsiders,” but you get there by being polar on some issues that are left and some that are right. There is pretty much no allowing for people who want middle-of-the-road solutions.

Some questions are too politically vague for the spectrum they are laid upon. For example, is it best for our future to be active in world affairs, or should we concentrate on problems here at home? That supposedly falls along a spectrum from liberal to conservative—despite the fact that I have seen people on both extremes, and in the middle, voice that particular sentiment.

Finally, many of the questions and vague in a general sense; for example, “stricter” environmental laws are good or they are bad. Well, what does “stricter” mean? Stricter than we currently have? Stricter than is currently acted upon? How much more “strict”? Strict in a harsh, arbitrary way, or strict in terms of protecting the environment while maintaining the best future for business? Does this allow for or discount laws which encourage green technology which can be a significant economic benefit?

In order for this to be a meaningful quiz, it should be allowed more depth. For example, take this choice:

This country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment
This country has gone too far in its efforts to protect the environment

These should be changed to:

The country should do whatever is necessary to protect the environment
The country should focus all available resources to stem the damages
caused by global climate change
The country should use strong economic incentives to discourage
non-renewable energy sources and encourage renewables
The country should focus on using nuclear power to stem coal, oil,
and gas use until renewables become economically feasible
The country should allow market forces to determine the best use and
development of energy resources and technology
Renewables are a pipe dream and should be abandoned in favor of all that
can be done to make coal, oil, and gas resources more available

My list is probably incomplete or not properly balanced, but you see where I am going with this. The answers could then be sorted into more coherent political identities. Questions could be added which would determine specific tax policies; instead of “taxes are too high” or “corporations make too many profits,” we would be able to set what we believe would be proper fundamental tax types–e.g., income, capital gains, and corporate taxes.

Such a poll would be much more complex and would require quite a bit more work—but I would be really, really interested to see how that comes out.

Categories: Journalism, Social Issues Tags: by

What’s a Jobs Bill? Who Cares, SUE OBAMA!

July 13th, 2014 3 comments

Boehner’s petition to sue the president included this claim:

After years of slow economic growth and high unemployment under President Obama, they are still asking, ‘where are the jobs?’ The House has passed more than 40 jobs bills that would help. But Washington Democrats, led by the President, just ignore them.

Wow! More than 40 jobs bills! Why haven’t we heard of this before? Must be the Liberal Media just trying to make the Republicans look bad.

So, what were the bills he’s talking about? There’s a list of 46 “pro-growth jobs bills” on this page.

One thing you notice right away is that six of the bills listed here were either signed into law or are supported by Obama. We know that because Boehner’s list itself makes this clear. So, exactly how are “Washington Democrats, led by the President” just ignoring them?

But hey, that’s still 40 jobs bills that Democrats haven’t approved! They must be anti-jobs!

Let’s look at the list, starting at the top. Right there is the Keystone pipeline bill that Democrats refuse to pass in the Senate. They’re preventing oil from being more easily delivered from Canada!

Umm, wait. That’s a jobs bill?

Ah.

A piece of legislation called a “jobs” bill should be first and foremost focused on creating jobs. If it is focused on a very different task, even though it results in some jobs being created, then it’s not a “jobs” bill.

For example, let’s say I write a bill proposing that all businesses must submit 100 extra pages of forms every year for some purpose or another. Those businesses will obviously need to hire more people to collect that information, confirm it, and submit the forms. Arguably tens of thousands of new jobs must be created to accomplish this task.

Did I just write a “jobs” bill? No.

No, a “jobs” bill is one that is at the very least mostly about creating jobs, and should be directly about creating jobs. For example, in 2012, Obama was pushing strongly to pass a bill that would give tax incentives to companies which would bring jobs now outsourced overseas back to the United States. That’s clearly a “jobs” bill, as creating jobs in the United States is the primary objective. Republicans opposed it because it would make it less advantageous to hire cheap foreign labor.

Then there was the “American Jobs Act” in 2011, which Obama was also pushing, and Republicans also blocked; Obama split the bill up and got a few elements passed, but Republicans stopped most of it. The bill called for suspending some payroll taxes for employers and employees; unemployment benefits and jobs training; spending for creation of infrastructure, construction, teacher, firefighter, and police jobs; prohibiting discrimination against the unemployed; and loosening regulations on creating capital for new business projects. Again, the theme of all of this is clearly to create jobs, both directly and by economic stimulation.

So, how is the Keystone pipeline a “jobs” bill? The primary objective for the Keystone pipeline is to support the production and sale of controversial tar sands oil. It’s kind of hard to argue that approving an oil pipeline to profit oil companies—one of which is not a United States firm—is somehow primarily an American “jobs” bill. It is, however, part of a distinctly partisan pro-corporate agenda.

In fact, an estimate of the impact of the project says that the project would create only 2,000 short-term construction jobs over two years, with as many as 40,000 “indirect” jobs (providing food services for workers as one example) which are just as if not more temporary. That’s a job increase worth just 15% of last month’s job increases—and those are temporary jobs that would expire after two years, creating a jobs lurch whenever that happens.

Remember back in 2009 when Obama was really pushing the economic stimulus, and a big part of that was to create jobs on infrastructure projects? At the time, Michael Steele and the GOP claimed that these weren’t “jobs” because they were not permanent:

Steele: “You’ve got to look at what’s going to create sustainable jobs. What this administration is talking about is making work. It is creating work.”

Stephanopoulos: “But that’s a job.”

Steele: “No, it’s not a job. A job is something that a business owner creates. It’s going to be long term.”

Stephanopoulos: “So a job doesn’t count if it’s a government job?”

Steele: “Hold on. No, let me finish. That is a contract. It ends at a certain point, George. You know that. These road projects that we’re talking about have an end point. As a small-business owner, I’m looking to grow my business, expand my business. I want to reach further. I want to be international. I want to be national. It’s a whole different perspective on how you create a job versus how you create work.”

So, if Keystone passes, how many “actual,” that is to say, permanent, jobs would be created in America? About 50. More jobs that that would be created—but in Canada. The real profit from this would not be in jobs, it would be in the source of oil. This oil must be refined, but there is no new refining going on, we’re just using a different source. Which means no more new jobs on that end, not in the United States.

But wait a minute. The pipeline delivers oil, but is not the only delivery method. Is this oil that would never be delivered without the pipeline? No. It’s not like we’re not getting the oil—we’re just transporting it by less cost-effective measure, namely rail, truck, and/or barge. Which creates jobs for people running those lines of transportation. Which are currently well-paying, permanent, full-time jobs—which will be killed by the pipeline.

Then there is the fact that the pipeline will lead to higher fuel prices in the midwest, which will have a negative impact on jobs. Oil spills kill jobs over time. The costs for the pipeline will have an opportunity cost on investment in green energy, an industry which has been a true job creator and source of economic value for the United States.

According to various reports, Canadian oil companies would be the biggest winners for this project, with a few jobs spilling over to the American side, which will probably be offset by job losses created by the pipeline. Oh, and tar sands oil is incredibly polluting. In contrast, look at clean-energy car technology initiatives—which created 150,000 long-term manufacturing jobs in the United States. But that’s the kind of industry Republicans mock and deride.

So, no, Keystone is obviously not a “jobs” bill. It’s an oil-industry bill, aimed to mostly profit oil producers and refiners, mostly in Canada, with a minimal or negative jobs impact.


But hey, maybe they just really like the Keystone project, so they topped the list with it. Maybe the 39 other bills on the list are actually “jobs” bills.

How about the “Offshore Energy & Jobs Act” which will “revitalize manufacturing, create jobs, and restore our nation of builders”? That’s offshore drilling with the word “jobs” attached to it. There are other bills for “onshore drilling,” and for deregulating fracking, and other general “drill anywhere” and “get rid of all environmental protection regulations.” Essentially, most of the energy-related jobs bills are “drill & pollute as much as you like” legislature—which, like the Keystone project, is about energy interests making tons of money, and oh yeah, some jobs may be created in the process. Those are not jobs bills.

In fact, nearly half of the “jobs” bills are actually let’s-give-billions-to-morbidly-profit-rich-energy-corporation giveaways, mostly bills which attack Democratic policies to keep air & water clean and not completely wreck the environment.


But hey, maybe the other two dozen or so bills on the list are actually “jobs” bills.

The first non-energy bill listed: kill Obamacare. Which would result in millions losing the first affordable healthcare they have seen in a long time, and in many other greatly beneficial policies getting struck down. But hey, the CBO said 2 million jobs would be lost!

No, the CBO said that the equivalent of 2 million jobs in hours worked would be reduced, mostly from people working themselves half to death to pay for pre-ACA health care, which now they don’t need and so can work less but still get the same benefits. Overall, the ACA is probably more job-neutral than anything else—primarily because it’s not a jobs bill. Killing it will not create jobs, that’s GOP fantasy politicking.

So, what’s next on the list? Oh, the next three “jobs” bills are also about killing Obamacare. Go down the list, and you’ll see that they are mostly of this stripe: partisan laws trying to get Republican political agendas signed into law and Democratic political agendas repealed. Privatization of schools, half a dozen limits or prohibitions on government regulation, importing cheaper labor in high-tech industry, more attempts to get rid of the ACA, defunding welfare, spending cuts (which ironically fund jobs), cut food stamps (which are actually job-stimulative due to increase sales business), tax cuts & credits for corporations—stuff like that.

You can read it on the list. Once you get past the hyperbolic “jobs, jobs, jobs!!” titles & language adorning the proposals, you will see that none of these bills are in fact focused on creating jobs, but depend on side effects (many of them fictional) to create the jobs. But the bills themselves are all about something other than jobs.


So, essentially, John Boehner and the Republicans are complaining that Obama is not passing their partisan legislative agenda which is not about jobs, but instead is about rewarding Republican constituents and breaking down Democratic ones.

Of course, since then, the Republican “justification” behind the alleged lawsuit has been revealed as a delay in enforcement of the ACA for some businesses—a move which Republicans not only approved of at the time, but actually pressured the president to do in a different form—until they realized they could use it as a way to attack Obama, at which point they suddenly opposed such delays.

I can imagine that a lot of Americans who are not favorably inclined towards Obama will believe that there is something to the lawsuit, but only because they do not listen, think, or study the issue seriously. They will hear Boehner and other conservatives saying something like, “Obama blah blah blah failed blah blah blah killing jobs blah blah blah shameful blah blah blah destroying America blah blah blah gerbils blah blah blah fluoridation blah blah blah therefore we must [ sue / impeach ] him.”

Apparently, in conservative politics nowadays, this is what is referred to as “Thursday.”

iPhone 6

July 12th, 2014 1 comment

There has been an unprecedented amount of leakage concerning Apple’s iPhone 6, due to be released in 3 or so months. It seems all but certain that there will be two versions, both bigger than the current size, with 4.7“ and 5.5” screens. We know the phone will have more rounded edges, and will be around 6.7mm thick.

So what do we not know?

Premium Features

It has been rumored that there may be more than just a difference in screen sizes between the 4.7“ and 5.5” models. You might have to pay extra to get some of the fancy features this time, similar to what happened with the iPhone 5s compared to the 5c:

Sapphire Screen: Apple’s new sapphire glass technology, being produced in large quantity at their new plant, has long been rumored as a replacement for the surprisingly fragile Gorilla glass. (A key difference is scratch resistance, as a scratched screen is much likelier to break.) It is currently used only for the Touch ID sensor in the iPhone 5s home button. Apple has been ramping up production, and it looks like it is setting up to produce much more sapphire than could be used in an iWatch only. However, you may be only able to get it in the 5.5“ model, if certain rumors are to be believed. Not everyone is saying so; competing rumors hold that there will be enough sapphire to go around, allowing for both iPhones and the rumored iWatch to get the goodies.

Optical Image Stabilization: This should be coming also, but again, maybe only to the 5.5” model. Presumably this would allow users to take movies with a lot less hand-held jitter.

Standard Features

Several more features have been rumored, but nothing is set in stone. What should be included, from most likely to least:

Apple’s New A8 Chip: Apple has been designing its own mobile CPUs for a while now, and these chips have very good performance, at least since the A6, with the A7 showing very good numbers. The A8 will hopefully deliver even more power and speed. Th A8 may deliver better power consumption as well, so you should expect slightly improved battery life—unless the bigger screens take a bite out of that.

Better Camera: which might not mean a higher resolution camera. The built-in back-face camera might still have “only” 8 megapixels. However, the autofocus might be faster and better, and the camera app might have more features—the apparent time-lapse feature to match the previously-added slow-motion feature, for example.

NFC Chip: This would be a surprise, because Apple has said that it is not currently on their radar. However, several reports have come out saying that Apple is ready to deploy a mobile payment system, and that the iPhone 6 could be equipped with the ability to tap or swipe your phone over a sensor and then use Touch ID to clear the payment. Presumably, the charge would come out of your iTunes Store credit card account.

While NFC is still relatively underutilized in America, it is pretty widely used in Japan. I know that I would love it if the iPhone 6 could hold my train pass (I currently swipe my wallet), but in all likelihood, train lines will not let Apple carry their monthly passes, instead favoring their own system. The best that I would hope for would be to use the iPhone for straight purchasing of items or individual train fare payments.

Inductive Charging: We’d all like it if this were true, but it’s one of the rumors I’ve heard least about. This would allow you to charge your phone just by placing it on top of a pad. Apple presumably would supply that (at a higher-than-usual cost, natch; these cost from $20 to $25 and up, so expect Apple to start in the $40 to $50 range at least). It would go along with Apple’s new Cloud initiative, updating less through iTunes than from your iCloud account. This would be nice but far from a huge deal, which is why I am doubtful.

Haptic Screens: Haptic screens provide touch feedback by vibrating as your finger runs over the surface. Aside from the battery drain, this just sounds like to much trouble for too little return. It seems like a nice ornament but not much else—and Apple is trying to make these machines smaller, and not add anything instead, especially for a throwaway special effect. But who knows?

Categories: iPhone Tags: by