Saturday, February 28, 2009

Saturday Morning Working Man's Blues

I have to work on Saturday so blogging will be light. I'm working on a few things though, so expect it to pick up later this weekend.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Blues Interlude: Susan Tedeschi

I saw Susan Tedeschi back in about 2002 or 2003 opening for John Cougarmelloncougarcamp. For the record, seeing Mr. Pink Houses was not my idea. I don't have anything against him per se, but I didn't have feel any particular urge to see him. I was rewarded for my apathy with a performance that can charitably be described as "phoned in". He clearly didn't want to be there and seemed visibly upset at the lackluster response whenever he played something after 1987 or so.

It also didn't help that his opening act made him look like an amateur at putting on a show. Susan Tedeschi blew the doors off of the place. I mean she killed. I bought her first album about two days later and still listen to it on the old music box. Originally billed as the next great blues guitarist, she's really more known for her voice. And good lord what a voice. This is her performing a song called "Alone" from her second album. And check out her Robert Plant impersonation.

Haiku (P)review / Your 2009 Atlanta Braves (Hitting)

a lineup four deep
followed by a black hole which
swallows playoff hopes

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Is This Good Or Bad?

Sales of Atlas Shrugged have almost tripled in the first two months of the year after setting a yearly sales record in 2008.

I've read Atlas Shrugged. Overall, I liked the book. I agree with many of the premises laid out, namely that:

(1) government meddling in business generally leads to poor results
(2) excessive corporate taxation removes the incentive to innovate and expand
(3) price fixing cripples industry and ultimately harms consumers by reducing availability of goods and services
(4) mandating wages leads to higher unemployment
(5) nationalization of industry lowers productivity and profitability, and increases inefficiency and public dependence on government.

I'll probably read it again someday. It's an important book.

It's also about 400 pages longer than it needs to be. Rand imparts the lesson listed above about 743 times over the course of the book as government intervenes more and more to less and less (favorable) effect. I got the central thesis by around page 250. At that point I was a third of the way through the book.

What does this sales spike mean? Well, glass-half-full-me thinks it means people are generally against the idea that the federal government is there to take care of us. That people still believe in the idea that a little help is great, but self-reliance still carries the day.

Glass-half-empty-me says we're in trouble if people suddenly feel an urgent need to rediscover this.

Haiku (Pre)view / Your 2009 Atlanta Braves (Pitching)

braves getting younger
lowe is only thirty-three
another long year

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

One Number To Rule Them All

A fascinating and infuriating article on Wired that tells how a mathematical formula contributed to the market meltdown. It's a lesson in looking for the easy path and the power of the mentality of crowds.

The part that I'll remember the next time this happens (and it will, eventually):

In financial markets, everybody doing the same thing is the classic recipe for a bubble and inevitable bust.

Wired: Recipe for Disaster: The Formula That Killed Wall Street

Ska / New Wave Interlude: Madness

Staple of MTV promos for years, a video that has no plot for a song that doesn't need one to emit awesomeness in all directions. Madness: One Step Beyond.

Is This Really How Journalism Works?

Rob over at Say Anything has a post on the story AP reporter Jennifer Loven filed about President Obama's speech last night. The story was fairly fawning. It had a painful and jarring change of tense about two-thirds of the way though, something I would think an reporter of a major news syndicate would avoid as the mark of an amateur.

Poor writing skills aside, what Rob (and I) find funny about the article is that it was posted several hours before the speech began. I know some reporters (especially sports writers) bang out columns or stories in advance in a skeletal sort of way. The fleshing out and finishing touches get added later, then the story gets published.

But is it common practice to write a story about a future event that relates details ("He enters the chamber to lawmakers of both parties hanging into the aisle for a chance to shake his hand or exchange a word.") the writer would need a time machine or at least access to Miss Cleo to know?

I know there are a few journalistic types that read this blog once in a while (don't worry, I won't bring shame and ridicule down upon you by identifying you). I'm asking as a matter of professionalism / rules of journalism thing. Forget about what this may say about reporters being in the Obama Fan Club, yada yada.

I'd Like My Coffee In A Couple Of D Cups, Please

Vassalboro, Maine is the proud home of a new topless coffee shop. That's right, while you're bogarting wi-fi to look for jobs that read "poetry skills a plus", you can get your coffee served to you by a girl (or guy) with no shirt on.

As you might expect in this bastion of freedom and openess (except when it comes to naked boobies), this has caused an uproar in the town, whose city council has said the business meets "the letter of the law" (read: we'll be changing the law soon and not grandfathering anybody).

Personally, I don't see the big deal. This isn't a strip club (the sign on the door says "no cameras, no touching, cash only, which come to think of it, sounds exactly like a strip club, but still). It's a coffee shop. If adults want to be served java by half-naked people, why should anyone else care? The shop doesn't admit minors(*).

What do you think? Is this the sign of America's complete moral decay?
(*) Whether it should is a different question. Short answer: yes. Long answer: yes, but only those accompanied by an adult over 21 to avoid gangs of adolescents visiting the shop just to stare. Full answer: email me.

Food Nazis And What They Can Teach Us About Parenting

I found a blog post via Overlawyered that involved food Nazis, divorce and a captive audience to the story that involved these things. One thing jumped out at me though:

I just want to let the food Nazi moms in on what happens when your kids come to a house where junk food inhabits the pantry. They have no decision-making skills or sense of moderation when faced with the forbidden fruit roll-up.

Sheltering children from every evil in the world does them a disservice; decision-making is a skill, learned with practice from the time they are small.

I have to agree. Don't let you child smoke or get a tattoo or eat doritos for breakfast lunch and dinner. But don't forget that in sheltering them from every tiny perceived "harm" you're also retarding their abilty to make intelligent and informed decisions.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

And He Doesn't Live In North Dakota

Over at New Scientist, a man that can apparently raise his internal body temperature to the point that he can swim in arctic waters:

Normally, shivering is an involuntary response to cold that kicks in once core body temperature drops below 36.6 °C or when skin temperature falls below 28 °C. This is ususally beneficial, as the muscle contractions generate heat, but in cold water it only serves to increase the rate at which the body cools, Noakes says. That's because the increased blood flow transfers more heat from the core to the body's extremities. Somehow Pugh manages to avoid shivering even when his core temperature is below 36.6 °C and his skin temperature is around 5 °C.

As anyone who has ever swum with me knows, my shiver reflex kicks in at anything colder than "warm shower".

Microsoft To Some Laid Off Workers: We Paid You Too Much Severance (Updated)

In what is being billed as an accounting error, Microsoft overpaid some laid off workers' severance amounts and underpaid others. Now they are asking in a letter to those receiving too much for the money back.

If this happened to me I'd be outraged. Pissed beyond recognition. I have no doubt this was an honest mistake and one that the company feels badly about. The letter posted at the link above is friendly; no threats of prosecution as far as I can see. I'd still be ready throw my Windows-powered home computer through my actual window.

That said, my feelings would stem from the fact that I just got laid off, not because I have any real belief that I can keep the money. If my understanding of how the severanace worked in this case is anywhere near accurate, there was an amount stipulated in the package agreement. If someone received a check for more than the amount in the agreement they're going to have to pay it back.

On the other other hand, depending on how much these over payments amounted to, it might be in Microsoft's best interest to write off the mistake. They won't do that though, because everybody who didn't get overpaid would scream bloody murder.

Update: It looks like Microsoft is going to let those people who received overpayments keep the money. Good for them. Thanks to Cheryl Lunzaga for the link.

(originally posted 2/23 @ 12:03 PM)

The Proud Legacy Of Haight Ashbury

I'm not going to comment on this, as it speaks for itself. Some students at NYU took over the food court to issue some demands. The students filmed the end of the "standoff" in order to record the brutality of the campus police. All they actually captured was their own stupidity.

I mean, seriously.

Better Late Than Never

Another follow up to my earlier post about the letters I sent to my Senators urging them to vote against the stimulus:

I received an answering letter from Senator Kent Conrad yesterday. Like the earlier letter from Senator Byron Dorgan, this reply was not a form letter. I'd like to reiterate what a pleasant surprise this was. It's good to know that the Senators (or at least someone from their offices) make an effort to craft an actual response rather than mailing off a generic letter that doesn't address any of your points (cough cough Amy Klobuchar in Minnesota cough cough).

Here is a crude photo mash up of the letter itself:

(Click image to enlarge)

As to the content of the letter, I sense a disconnect between the Senator's belief in the necessity of the stimulus and his apparent desire to reduce the deficit. I knew when I wrote the letters that at best they would be read by people who disagreed with my position. I didn't expect either of the Senators to vote against the stimulus.

But I do hope that the next time government gets it in its head that spending is a legitimate way to get out of debt, Senators Conrad and Dorgan (or whoever may represent North Dakota) remember this experience and vote against it.

Again, thanks to both Senators for taking the time to reply.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Can I Borrow Your Icepick? I Need To Skewer Something

The link you are about to click will take you to a place you don't want to go. It's a bad place, a place where birds hurl themselves at the screen in order to make the pain go away. Where prisoners ask nicely to be taken back to Guantanamo, or heck, even Saudi Arabia, if only it would make the hurt stop. But you're going to click it anyway.

And once you're there, you're going to click on one or two of the sample tracks, because you have to hear the truth for yourself, even though you already know what this knowledge will do to your will to live.

You will curse my name for foisting this upon you, but you will listen. You won't be able to help yourself.

Effect And Cause

Ann Althouse via Instapundit:

The Guantanamo Bay military prison meets the requirements of the Geneva Conventions, according to a Pentagon review ordered by President Obama. So… great. I’m proud of our military. But am I proud of our President who first promised to close the place and then got the study showing the facts relevant to the question whether it should be closed?

I'm of the school of thought that the Guantanamo prison needs to be closed, not because the tales told of that place are necessarily 100% true; no doubt some bad things happened and no doubt criminals and terrorists are willing to make up the rest. But the prison there has become a symbol so loaded with negative connotations that it's not worth it. Move the prisoners somewhere else, increase scrutiny over the operations for awhile and let's move on.

That said, it doesn't paint the President in a positive light to order this review after calling for the closure; instead it make him look like he values style over substance. If anything, this review decreases the need to close the prison at all.

He could have not ordered a review, closed the facility, and no one except a few persistent loudmouths on the right would have cared enough to comment on it. But if he was going to order a review, why not wait for the result before making a decision? What was the point?

Citibank Falls For A Scam Your Great Grandmother Is On To

Remember those emails you used to get promising you $12 million dollars if you helped a Nigerian prince get some money out of the country before it was seized by a junta, or some such nonsense? Nobody falls for that anymore. How dumb do you have to be to think, "hey, maybe this is legitimate" after all the publicity this scam has gotten over the years? Not to mention the fact that the scam is ridiculous on its face.

Apparently there's one victim out there who still hasn't caught wise to the old 419 scam to the tune of $27 million:

To carry out the elaborate scheme, prosecutors in New York said on Friday, the man, identified as Paul Gabriel Amos, 37, a Nigerian citizen who lived in Singapore, worked with others to create official-looking documents that instructed Citibank to wire the money in two dozen transactions to accounts that Mr. Amos and the others controlled around the world.

Yep, Citibank sent $27 million to a Nigerian scammer. Is it any wonder banks need bailout money to keep from going under?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I Could Go For Some Jambalaya (Updated)

I don't post recipes much because I don't want to step on Alyssa's toes over at Angel in the Kitchen. After my last recipe post I got a brick through my window with a note that read, "stick to teh (sic) funny or my next stew will be made out of you". Message received. You don't mess with the gourmet mafia.

That said, I'm going to risk her terrible wrath to share my jambalaya recipe, which originated I'm-not-sure-where (though it was probably from the intertubes) and tweaked a bit to make it more Pocket Jacks-friendly:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 - 1 1/2 pounds chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 large onion (chopped)
2 large green bell peppers (chopped)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 - 2 pounds andouille or other fully cooked smoked sausage, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon (or more) cayenne pepper
2 cups long-grain white rice
2-3 cups canned low-salt chicken broth

Heat oil in large pot over high heat. Add chicken and cook until brown on all sides. Transfer chicken to platter.

Reduce heat to medium-high; add onion, bell peppers, parsley and garlic to pot. Sauté until onions are tender, about 5 minutes.

Add sausage, chili powder, thyme, and cayenne pepper; sauté until spices are fragrant and flavors blend, about 5 minutes.

Add rice; stir to coat.

Pour broth over rice mixture in pot. Add chicken; press to submerge in liquid.

Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until liquid is absorbed, rice is tender and chicken is cooked through, about 30-35 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper if desired. Serve hot. [Ed. note: Also serve with a strong beer.]

Update: This recipe is pretty hot, especially if you use a hotter sausage (like andouille, which is what I use). If you want to tone it down you have two options: (1) reduce the cayenne by at least half, or (2) have more beer in the fridge. I usually opt for (2), but to each his own.

Poker Results For February

Had a great time last night at the poker table. It didn't hurt that I finished in the money in both games. I had some bad luck in the late game; I had several hands where I was ahead after the flop and things didn't work out. One hand would have knocked out a player, putting me heads-up for the game but aces on the turn and river killed me.

On the other hand, luck was on my side in the early game. Down to my last $800 in chips (after starting with $2000) and blinds at $100/$200 I survived an all-in against two opponents with Queen-five suited to triple up. I eventually finished third there.

All in all I doubled my starting stake, so it was a good night. I think I played well and the level of play at the table overall was pretty solid. I'm already looking forward to March's game.

Bonus points for the bacon-wrapped sausage things with brown sugar the host's wife made. Those washed down with a few Dos Equis made the night even better.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Finally, A Regular Poker Game

It's taken a long time and several false starts, but I once again have a regular poker game. With the help of my friend Brian we have combined two games that were floating in the ether and things look good now. We're looking at about ten to twelve people tonight.

Now the fun part -- trying to win some pots.

Minnesota Vikings Have Interest In Vick

The Minnesota Vikings have preliminary interest in Michael Vick. They probably remember him running through their entire defense in overtime a few years ago. I was at that game. He made them look like boys on a field built for men.

I think the Vikings absolutely must get Vick at all costs. Never mind that Tavaris Jackson, the Vikings current quarterback, is and always will be Tavaris-freaking-Jackson. Think about the protests! PETA will be there from Vick's first day on the field. They'll be outside the Twinkie Dome before, during and after every game. This must come to pass.

I've witnessed a PETA protest before. It involved a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a person in a giant chicken suit, a PETA van, picketers, and me trying to pursuade my group to eat a bucket of original recipe in the parking lot. I got voted down -- lousy democracy.

A lot of erstwhile Vikings protesters would be level-headed citizens exercising their right to assembly to protest what they see is the gross injustice of a man like Michael Vick getting another opportunity to make millions playing football. The rest would be PETA nutcases.

It's unlikely anything will happen soon; the Falcons have put Vick on the trade block, but I think teams would be smarter to wait until Atlanta is forced to release him. But when I sleep tonight, I'll be dreaming of KFC.

Friday, February 20, 2009

New York Post Apologizes For "Offensive" Cartoon

The New York Post issued an apology for this cartoon today in order to assuage critics who claim the image is racist and a personal insult aimed at President Barak Obama.

Judge for yourself, but I read the cartoon to say, "a crazy chimpanzee must have written the stimulus, it's such a pile of garbage" rather than, "Obama is black and therefore looks like a monkey, just like all black people". I don't think that cartoon has anything to do with Obama at all; anybody who does is just looking for a reason to play the racism card.

But if the creator (and by extention the Post) did intend to portray a sitting president as a chimp, they should apologize, as that's just wrong. Also wrong: portraying a sitting president as being murdered or publicly calling for him to be murdered.

You Won't See This On CSI

A really disturbing story (in more ways than one) at Reason Online. With shows like CSI and all its spinoffs and Forensic Files and the like, we've come to accept forensic evidence to be the foolproof method of determining guilt that eyewitness testimony never was.

But what if forensic evidence is faked? That appears to be the case for a couple of doctors who served as expert witnesses for prosecutors in Mississippi and Louisiana. A video has surfaced of the doctors seemingly manufacturing bite marks on a corpse:

In 1993, the two conducted an examination on a 23-month-old girl named Haley Oliveaux of West Monroe, Louisiana, who had drowned in her bathtub. The video shows bite marks mysteriously appearing on the toddler's face during the time she was in the custody of Hayne and West. It then shows West repeatedly and methodically pressing and scraping a dental mold of a man's teeth on the dead girl's skin.

After reading the above article (warning: autopsy video available at link), I still think forensic science is a useful tool, and when used correctly a powerful tool for getting at the truth. But this story proves that this tool can be abused just like any other. These guys better hope they get a fairer trial than they helped give their victims.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Blues Interlude -- Joe Bonnamassa

One of my favorite artists in the entire freaking world, blues virtuoso Joe Bonamassa performing If Heartaches Were Nickels.

Griffey Spurns Braves Because Of Axe-Wielding GM?

In an all-too-familiar scene this off season, the Atlanta Braves thought they had a player locked up, only to lose him at the last minute. Like Rafael Furcal before him, Ken Griffey Jr. was all set to move to Atlanta. Instead, he is going to Seattle. Add him to an embarrassing list of players who will not be playing for the Braves in 2009: John Smoltz, A.J. Burnett, Jake Peavy, Furcal, Griffey.

This time, it seems to be more the fault of the Atlanta media than that of general manager Frank Wren. But I've got to wonder what it is about him and the Braves in general that make potential free agents flirt with the team, get this close to signing, then bolt for elsewhere.

Is Frank Wren crazy? I mean, like Jack Torrance crazy. It's the only thing I can think of. Players tell their agents how much they want to play for the Braves. All the preliminary work is out of the way. All that's left is to sit down with the general manager and hammer out the details:

Player: I'm really excited to be coming to Atlanta!

Frank Wren: We're glad to have you. We've had our eye on you for a long time now.

P: My family too. They're ready for some warmer offseasons.

FW: Yes, them too. We've been watching them all.

P: Ohhhh kay. I wanted to ask about this clause on page 31...

FW: Now, now. All work and no play makes Frank a dull boy!

P: Uh... yeah. Anyway, has Bobby Cox given you an indication of where he wants me to hit in the lineup?

FW: You know, bats are the most important part of baseball in my opinion. You can't play ball without a bat!

P: Right. So...

FW: I'm gonna bash your $!^@#!% brains in!

P: (To agent) Get Houston back on the phone!

It's really the only logical explanation.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

North Dakota And The Stimulus

WARNING: The following post is both epic in length and link-heavy.

North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan's office released a fact sheet today detailing what the recently passed stimulus will mean for the state. Below are the some of the highlights and my commentary.
  • 8,000 Jobs Saved or Added
This is a great goal. But if North Dakota was really worried about creating jobs, it would do a lot more to make the state attractive to new businesses. Between stifling regulations (*) and high corporate taxation, the state's own policies toward business do more to kill potential job growth than any recession.
  • A Combined $145.9M for Public and Higher Education

North Dakota has suffered from TMATP Syndrome (**) for a long time. Despite decreasing enrollment in public schools, education has seen enormous increases in spending over the years. On top of that, budget increases in higher education is out of control despite ever-soaring tuition spawning calls for the state legislature to set tuition rates, rather than leaving it to the university system.

  • $24.5M for Energy

Undoubtedly the energy we're talking about is corn-based ethanol and wind power. Despite the fact that corn-based ethanol is not nearly as efficient or cheap as ethanol based on, say, switchgrass. The truth is, corn based ethanol only competes with plain old unleaded in North Dakota because tax payers are already subsidizing it to make it cheap. Now taxpayers all over the country get to help out. Thanks, rest of America.

  • $25.8M for the Weatherization Assistance Program

Wait, what? I don't know what this is, as the governor's fact sheet doesn't mention beyond the big chunk of change we're getting for it. I found this explanation at the Department of Energy website. I think this is actually good if it will reduce the ever-rising cost of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

  • $2.6B in aid to Native Americans

Just some honest questions here. How much money does the Native American population in North Dakota as a whole have at their disposal from casinos? I realize there are separate tribes and everything. I just have no idea how these finances get used. Also, is budgeting money to give to soverign nations like, say, the Lakota, the same as giving money to Poland? I honestly don't know how this works. Anybody know?

  • $32M for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

The rest of the entry reads (formerly Food Stamps). Love that they've come up with an unnecessary and overly long replacement name. Plus, I can imagine this exchange:

Person A: "Are you on food stamps?"

Person B: "No, I'm on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program"

Person A: "Oh, SNAP!"

I kill me.

  • $163,398 for the Emergency Food and Shelter Program

Just wanted to point how small this number is compared to everything else.

There's also some tax credits in there and some protection for about 29,000 North Dakotans from the Alternative Minimum Tax. I may be one of those (at least I hope so). I wish the federal government would just get rid of that thing instead of amending it every year after public outcry. At least set it to a reasonable amount for 2010 and then tie it to inflation.

Anyway, if you read this whole thing, congratulations! You were either brain damaged when you started or you've been made so during the journey. If you still retain the ability to type, let me know what you think about the stimulus.

(*) I'm remembering The Winery, a local business, which was being forced to close recently because of a law that forced a certain percentage of the grapes used in the wine to be from local sources. Surprisingly, North Dakota is not known for its grape production. The law was amended in time to save the business, thankfully, but it's this type of thoughtless regulation that kills businesses.

(**) TMATP Syndrome (n.) Throw Money At The Problem. Pronounced "Tee-mat-pee".

New On Pocket Jacks: Advertising!

Running a blog is expensive, so we have decided to start allowing ads on the site. To this end you will notice a new section on the right of the front page, just below the official Pocket Jacks picture. This area will now be reserved for ads. If you would like to advertise on this site, email us at the address given in the Contact Me section further down the right side of the front page. We can discuss rates, but rest assured you can't afford them.

We hope you will understand why we made this difficult decision. Rest assured we will maintain the strictest standards for posting and you will notice no drop off in the quality of content you've come to expect from Pocket Jacks. We will not be beholden to our advertisers or any other entity.

Thank you,

The Pocket Jacks Editorial Board

Your Kid May Be An Honor Student But He Has Idiots For Parents

An open letter to parents of students at Ellen Hopkins Elementary School in Moorhead, Minnesota:

Are you one of those parents who park in the middle of the driving lane in front of the entrance, trapping cars who have parked legally for drop off along the curb? Do you do this because your precious darlings can't be expected to walk more than thirty feet to get into school? I've got news for you: your kids go and play in the snow banks without gloves or boots before class begins. If they're going to get frostbite, it won't be because of the walk from your car to the building.

Do you just like to create traffic jams in the parking lot? If so, then you are an idiot and should have your driving privileges revoked. I'm serious. You're too stupid to be allowed to drive.

Do you think you're just too special to have to pull up to the next open spot on the curb? You're not. Unless we're talking "special" in the short bus sense, you, sir or madam, are not special. Your kids aren't special either. I don't care if they're honor students (what does that even mean at an elementary school). It's clear you never were. Or if you were, then it just goes to show that honor students at elementary schools can grow up to be morons.

Why don't you try setting a good example for your kids for once and obey the rules about drop offs. It's not that hard. Even an elementary school honor student could figure it out.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

North Dakota State Legislature Rejects Primary Enforcement Seat Belt Law

The North Dakota State Legislature rejected a bill (free subscription required) to create a so-called primary enforcement seatbelt law. Such a law would empower police to pull over cars in which driver or passengers are observed not wearing a seatbelt. Today, seatbelts are mandatory but tickets can only be issued at traffic stops initiated by some other infraction.

I love it when government does something right. It doesn't happen all that often, so it warms my heart when any legislature votes on the side of personal freedom. When it's my legislature, well, it's like my birthday, Christmas, and Flag Day all rolled up into one.

Seatbelts are great. I always wear mine, and so does anyone riding with me. Short trip, long trip, doesn't matter, I always put it on. But the government shouldn't get to tell me I have to. Any legitimate government has an important role to play in protecting citizens. That role is to protect the rights of citizens from being infringed upon by other citizens. In other words, I'm all for government protecting me from others, and others from me. But don't try to protect me from myself. That's my job, and I have a right to fall asleep at the switch.

Anytime I talk about this with others I am invariably asked about accidents and saving lives and so on. I always reply the same way: saving lives is a noble goal. If you can show me a single instance where someone would have survived a crash if only someone else had been wearing a seatbelt, you might start to have the beginning of a case. But if I can only hurt myself by not wearing a seatbelt, why don't I have that choice?

I can't shout "fire" in a crowded theater or build a brothel in my backyard without a permit or drive drunk. Makes sense to me: these would be intentional acts that could infringe on other people's rights. If I die in a fiery wreck because I wasn't wearing a seatbelt, no harm no foul to you. Leave my cajun-kissed corpse alone; I brought it on myself.

The Truth About Stepmothers And Beanstalks

Macy is in a group at school called Junior Great Books. It's basically a reading circle for 2nd graders. They are assigned a book to read each week and have to come to the group on Fridays prepared to discuss the book.

The book she is currently reading is Jack and the Beanstalk. Not the condensed version we've become acustomed to in the U.S. This is the original version. It's about twenty novel-sized pages long. It's a very different experience for Macy to read the stories like this in the original language. When Jack comes home with a handful of magic beans for the cow, his mother doesn't shake her head, sigh theatrically, and toss the lentils out the window. Nope, she smacks Jack around a little bit first. Calls him a dolt and an idiot.

This brought an shocked and incredulous look to Macy's eyes. This is not how characters in fairy tales act, the look says. Oh, but they do. We've just become used to the sanitized version created for American children by their well-meaning parents so as not to hurt little psyches. Fairy tale characters don't scare the wolf away. They blow it to bits with a shotgun (Little Red Riding Hood) or boil it alive (The Three Little Pigs).

I think this is great; I've tried to let Macy know that life isn't all sunshine and rainbows. I try to filter out the really bad stuff of course; I'm not interested in traumatizing her. But she knows that not every family is perfect. She knows firsthand that not all mommies and daddies live together. She knows that some kids are poor. Part of me feels that we adults work to take all the magic out of the world as quickly as possible for kids. But most of me knows that while fairly tales have their place, you can't wrap a child up in them forever. The trick, I think, is to know when to chisel away that next piece of magic from the story. Every kid is different, of course, and I have the added handicap of not knowing what the hell I'm doing.

Macy is a smart kid and I think she can handle knowing that fairy tales aren't real. Of course, at the same time I try to make sure her life is as close to a fairy tale as I can make it.

Parenting is hard.

Monday, February 16, 2009

CPSIA -- The Adventure Begins

Following up on my post on the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, here is a report demonstrating the law of unintended consequences:

New lead toy law bans sale of small ATVs -- KARE-TV, Minneapolis/St. Paul

My Favorite Part Of My Wife? I'd Have To Say Her Head

Sometimes your woman gives you the business when you're in no mood for business-taking. At times like that you have, in my opinion, only two options for dealing with it. One is to calmly explain to your soul mate that you are unable to discuss the situation presently and to suggest a better time in the future for such a discussion to take place.

Then there's option 2.

Note what is perhaps the greatest photo caption ever at the link above.

Like Night Incarnate, The Balloon Ninja Strikes

As promised, here are some pictures from Emily's ninth birthday party:

(Click on image to enlarge)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Pets, A Watercolor Interpretation

Goin' To A Party

We are in Little Falls, Minnesota today for the birthday party of Donna's niece Emily, who is turning nine. After that we'll be heading back to Fargo. I'll post some pictures later. Till then blogging will be light.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Friday, February 13, 2009

Alabama? Alabama, England Maybe

Have you heard the one about the 13-year-old who knocked up the 15-year-old? No? That's because it's not a joke.

No, the joke is that everybody involved agreed to keep it secret until the girl's mother noticed the bulge. Yes, the boy's family helped keep it secret. Heck, the boy's dad is proud of his son. Quite a chip off the old block.

I could segue here into knocking the U.K. welfare system, talk about how it actually rewards this kind of behavior and all that, but I won't. Suffice it to say that if this happened to my daughter, I wouldn't be talking about how great a mother she's going to make.

Too Stupid To Live?

I am often forwarded little trivialities that show how much smarter women are than men (thanks Wendy and Patty!). This story, I think, proves that idiocy knows no gender.

Remember Drew Peterson? He's the guy suspected in the disappearance of his 4th wife and the murder of his 3rd. Well, this self-described "catch" has a fiance. Is she worried at all?

"He will never hurt me," she says. Right. He's probably got it out of his system by now.

No Hope Or Change, Only Politics As Usual

Read this bit from the President's web site:

End the Practice of Writing Legislation Behind Closed Doors: As president, Barack Obama will restore the American people's trust in their government by making government more open and transparent. Obama will work to reform congressional rules to require all legislative sessions, including committee mark-ups and conference committees, to be conducted in public.

Contrast that with the harried passing of the stimulus package. Does anyone sense a disconnect here?

Slate does a nice job with this topic and asks the question, where's the hope and change. My answer is, there isn't going to be any and there never was. Running on "I'll do everything the opposite of the way Bush did it" was a no-brainer as far as platforms go. The problem is, President Obama is a politician. Politicians have two goals: get power and keep it.

Standing on the outside, it's easy to say "no rendition". Once you're president, it's awfully tempting to say "yes we can"(*). When you're the opposition, "no holding prisoners indefinitely without trials" is a great way to attack a sitting president. Once you are the president, "yes we can" is a lot simpler. Going from "no hiding behind the state secrets defense" to justify dismissing cases of abuse from Guantanamo to "yes we can" also comes easier.

Understand, I don't really blame the Obama adminstration for not wanting to give up all those arguments and powers now that they stand to benefit from them. That's what politicians do. The only people who should be surprised or upset are those who really believed Obama was anything other than what he is.

(*) There's been a lot of hair splitting over what type of rendition Obama is going to allow. Specifically, the difference between "rendition" and "extraordinary rendition". Setting aside that this distinction apparently didn't become important until the Obama administration said they would allow rendition of any type, listen to CIA director Leon Panetta's quote:

"I think renditions where we return individuals to another country where they prosecute them under their laws, I think that is an appropriate use of rendition" , Panetta said.

What he just described isn't rendition at all, but extradition, which is an entirely different animal. From this, I don't know what the administration is actually okaying here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

10 Things Congress Debated Longer Than The Stimulus

  1. Olives on the dining hall nachos: green or black?
  2. Could President Obama create a boulder so heavy He Himself could not lift it?
  3. Allowing members to text in votes from those resorts "where the real work of Congress is done".
  4. Mandatory tax preparation training (rejected).
  5. Making graft lost after shady business deals are exposed deductible from income.
  6. Creating the new cabinet position of Secretary of Press Leaks.
  7. Hiring readers to ensure members know what's contained in the bills they're voting on (rejected).
  8. Increasing the age before Social Security benefits are paid to 116.
  9. Is Mighty Putty really that strong?
  10. Voting for a Congressional pay raise. (Ok, this is the one thing that took less time to debate.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Jesus Is Just Alright With Darwin

In what appears to be the Roman Catholic Church's move to distance itself from Intelligent Design, the Vatican has announced that Church doctrine is compatible with the theory of evolution. This isn't the first time the Church has shown faith in evolution. This announcement seems more like a reaffirmation of the Church's guidance that the Bible isn't to be taken literally (at least not all the time).

Good for the Church. I always thought the Evolution vs. Creationism argument was one that didn't need to be had. Evolution proposes a process in which life came to be on this planet and how it has changed since the beginning. It doesn't attempt to answer the question of how the process itself was created. Or by whom.

Fahrenheit 2009

I've been keeping up with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) but never blogged about it, mainly because I figured that any law with this many obvious and documented negative consequences could never really be allowed to go into effect. Once again, any sign of faith on my part in governement is rewarded with the rusty hooks of reality.

The CPSIA is a law which came about in the same way many laws with the word "safety" in them do: as a hysterical response to an overblown crisis. Remember all those Chinese products that contained lead? The ones that were going to kill little Johnny when he chewed the kung-fu grip off his G.I. Joe? Say hello to the aftermath!

Like most laws intended to keep everyone, everywhere safe through massive amounts of regulation, it has a raft of unintended consequences. One of the biggest is that anyone selling potentially toxic items must meet stringent testing guidelines for those items. Notice I didn't say "manufacturers of items...". That becomes important when you realize that items get sold and resold everywhere. eBay. Etsy. Craigslist. Pawn shops. Second-hand stores. Getting the picture?

What about items that are older? Antiques? Old books? Not exempt, apparently. These need to be tested as well. This is causing sellers, on advice of the Consumer Product & Safety Commission, to throw out books printed before 1985, as the ink may contain harmful levels of lead. You might be asking, how many cases of death-by-eating-a-book-made-before-1985 are on record. No, I know you're not really asking that. If you were, you'd work for the CPSC!

What can be done about this? Not much, until (and unless) cooler and smarter heads prevail. In the meantime read up on this subject, if for no other reason than to learn an abject lesson in the law of unintended consequences.

Other information:

Government page on the CPSIA
CPSC Guide to Sellers (.pdf)
Roundup of CPSIA related topics

Again With The Soccer

Macy battles for the ball in indoor soccer.

Macy's team is 3-0 after a 4-2 victory. Again, Macy played a lot of goalie, only giving up a single goal in the last two minutes. For more pictures, see my online album.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Letter to Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan (Updated)

The following is a letter I wrote to Senators Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan, my senators from North Dakota:

I urge you, Senator, to vote against the stimulus package now being considered in the Senate. If approved this money will add to our already huge debt, a debt that will linger long past our lifetimes. This means future generations will bear the burden of our collective decision. This stimulus package is laden with "pork" which will do little or nothing to provide lasting stimulus to the economy.

More troubling is the lack of accountability in how the money is spent, both to Congress and to the American people as a whole. It has been widely reported that the banks which benefited from the earlier stimulus package have refused to account for how the money was spent. It is also widely reported that little of it has been used to increase lending, the purported purpose of the stimulus.

As a citizen, I could not go to a bank and get a car loan then use that money for whatever purpose I desire. Furthermore, I couldn't refuse to disclose where the money had gone. But this seems to be common practice when handing out federal taxpayer money to private entities. It must not be allowed to continue.

I realize that you pride yourself in "bringing home the bacon" in regard to federal money to the state of North Dakota. But in this case, I believe it is not worth the price we will ultimately pay. Please vote to put an end to wasteful spending.

Thank you,

Jay Winkis
Fargo, ND

If you want your senators to hear you, it's not too late to register your opinion. The senate is expected to start debating the stimulus package this week.

Update: I got a response from Byron Dorgan's office. While I have no doubt it was written by one of his staff, it is an actual response and not a form letter, which is more than I expected. Below are snapshots of the letter. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

I appreciate getting a response from Senator Dorgan's office.

(originally posted on 2/2/09 at 8:01 am)

Tattoo You

I have a tattoo on my left bicep. It is my daughter's name woven into a design. It took me a long time to decide I really wanted to get a tattoo. It took me a long while after that to decide exactly what to get. We're talking a few years from the time the idea to get inked first entered my head to the actual sitting-in-the-chair part.

Tattoos are forever, and (in my opinion) mean something special. A life-changing event. Remembering a loved one who has passed on. Winning the Nobel Prize for chemistry. The reason for getting tattoos for truly important reasons and then waiting an appropriate time to confirm the decision is chronicled here.

(Warning: these images may be disturbing to people easily nauseated by bad decisions. Also, coarse language in the descriptions and comments.)

Makin' Bread

Macy mixing ingredients for Amish bread. Apparently, when they aren't making wood cabinets for space heaters this is what they eat.

Bread tastes better when the baker is happy.

Macy and Ruby wrestle to see who gets to lick the bowl.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Capitalism School

Milton Friedman takes Phil Donahue to school on free market economics. The video might be old, but the message is timeless.

Internet Debate 101: Straw Men / Ad Hominem Combo Move

This is the first in what will be a totally random feature on how to win at that most noble sport of kings, internet arguing.

Today's lesson involves creating a strawman argument. This is the practice of attributing a statement or argument to an opponent that they didn't actually make, then attacking it. This is more effective when the "opponent" is either not around to defend himself or is a collection of people rather than an individual. When called on this chicanery, simply aver that the caller simply doesn't get it, preferably while disparaging his intelligence.


Commenter #1: Capitalists have been claiming for years that getting rid of all regulation over private industry would ensure economic growth. Clearly this has not happened, and they look like fools for ever having said it.

Commenter #2: When has anyone anywhere ever claimed that? And you do realize that Freddy Mac and Fannie Mae were some of the most heavily regulated entities in history. And that they were overseen directly by Congress. And that they still failed?

Commenter #1: If you're too stupid to do your own research don't expect me to do it for you. The evidence is everywhere and anyone with half a brain knows it.

Congratulations Commenter #1! You have mastered the art of the Strawman/Ad Hominem attack combo move! You are a winner!

(*) The conversation that follows was definitely not inspired by an actual exchange I once had. Nope, not at all.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Hippie Mail

Donna subscribes to a hippie magazine, the kind filled with ads for stones to control your aura, handmade Jesus sandals, and furniture made out of hemp. This, naturally, gets her on some awesome mailing lists.

We've gotten solicitations to buy farm animals for people in third-world nations (for just $267.99, you can provide dirt farmers like Iesco with enough wildebeest to last his family for six months!) and pleas to grow our own crops so as to end our dependence on fat cat corporations like Cashwise Foods and Piggly Wiggly and that corner grocery run by Iesco's cousin.

Our latest bit came with this totally awesome and not sensationalist headline blaring from the cover of the envelope:

How will this wolf pup survive... once its pack is slaughtered by aerial guns?

Awesome in every way, right? This was accompanied by a black and white picture of a cute little wolf pup staring at you right into your soul! from a field of weeds. Of course, the envelope was only so big, so what you couldn't see in the picture was the Apache gunship lining up for the kill shot. The pup was about to become goo, baby.

I have this vision of a fleet of helicopter gunships coming over the horizon, Flight of the Valkyries blaring, turning Yellowstone National Park into a Cambodian-style killing field. Spent brass from thousands of rounds from Vulcan cannons spilling to the ground like rain, like when Neo saved Morpheus by somehow not hitting him even once despite spraying the cannon fire back and forth indiscriminately. A lone wolf sniffs the air, then BLAM -- the wolf can't sniff anything anymore because a helicopter gunship blew off its nose! Glorious.

Of course, nothing this cool has, is, or ever will happen. The truth is that these wolves were on the endangered species list for years. With their only real predator taken out of the picture their population exploded. Now they are encroaching on populated areas. So a ban on hunting them was lifted in order to control their numbers. Makes sense right? Crazy hippies don't think that way though. Probably smoking too many ottomans.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Farmers Need Love Too

And not just the kind you get from cows and such. Real, honest farmer love. The kind only farmers can share. Two sharing farmers who want to share.

Friday, February 6, 2009

NOW It's Time To Look For The Good

Read this piece from Newsweek. Now try to imagine it being run when Bush was still in office. Look, I'm glad Bush is out. I don't happen to think he's the anti-christ like a lot of people, but it's clear he won't go down as one of our all-time great presidents.

But it makes me laugh (not in a good way) at how, now that we've got no Republicans to blame for things (Democrats control the White House and Congress, if you haven't heard), there are suddenly starting to appear stories about how things aren't really so bad. If you want more examples, go look at Slate (a site that generally leans left a bit with the exceptions of Hitchens and Kaus, and one I read often). The economy, the environment, the war -- nothing's quite as bad as it was 3 weeks ago.

Beam Me Two Feet To The Right, Scotty

Scientists have successfully transferred the quantum identity of an atom to another atom a few feet away. In other words, teleportation (cue Star Trek effects). This was done using the property of 'entanglement'; this is a tenent of quantum theory that says atom pairs that are separated can be changed by changing one of the pair. The other will reflect that change even across large distances.

This is obviously a long way from jumping into the transporter to visit the family in Georgia, but it's still pretty cool. I've heard of the entanglement property before, and always wondered if maybe it had something to do with the phenomenon of twins separated at birth growing up to have the same careers, haircuts and cars.

Class Action Lawyers Get Same Award As Clients

I wish this happened more often. Actually, I wish class action lawsuits were more stringently, well, regulated isn't the right word. But they too often end up screwing the people who were ostensibly to benefit from them. While the plaintiffs get gift cards or free downloads or an order of mozzarella sticks or whatever, the lawyers get millions of actual dollars.

In this case, though, the lawyers are getting the same award as their clients:

...Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brett Klein thought it only fair to provide that Yorba Linda attorney Neil B. Fineman be paid his fee with “12,500 ten-dollar Windsor Fashions gift cards.”

Never Mind the Butter, Here Come The Sex Pistols

What. The. Hell?

(thanks to RTftLC)

Update: link was broken. Fixed now.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Why We Don't Want (Or Need) Another New Deal (Updated)

There's a lot of talk about what the government should do to address the current financial crisis. My answer to this question is, government should do almost nothing. The more the government tries to fix things, the more muddled they are likely to become and the longer the current recession is likely to last.

This article opinion piece relays a brief history of the New Deal and explains why a majority of the actions taken by FDR ultimately prolonged the Great Depression. Read and forward it to everyone you know who thinks government's job is to take care of you.

Update: The Congressional Business Office likes the new stimulus package over the next two years, but says it will reduce GDP over the next ten years compared to if the government does nothing.

This doesn't fill me with confidence, either.

(this was originally posted at 7:17 am)

Chat Transcript With a Dell D610

Me: Dell D610, I am unable to transfer some files to my desktop machine. What's up?

D610: 10010100101110010110101010110101010110101

Me: Why is the Workstation service not running? Shouldn't that start automatically when you boot?

D610: 0100010101111010101010110100101010101

Me: It did, but then you stopped it? Why would you do that?

D610: 00101000100101011101010010101010101010111010101

Me: Okay, I restarted the service. Why did the sound just cut out?

D610: 10010101110101011010101010101010

Me: You stopped the Windows Audio service. STOP KILLING SERVICES!

D610: 10010010101011011010101011010

Me: 'I'm afraid I can't do that, Dave'. Ha ha, very funny.

D610: 010101001011011101010010101

Me: You've been acting erratically since I got you. You need to shape up.

D610: 00101010

Me: Yeah? Well $@#& you, too!

D610: 0010101010100252353452

Me: Wait, what?!

Open For Business

This Christmas I gave my wonderful girlfriend Donna the gift of Etsy. Etsy is an online marketplace where talented artisans like herself can market and sell her wares. I know what you're thinking: what a crappy present. Any moron could register for a website. I didn't say it was the only present I gave her.

Anyway, after creating some beautiful jewelry she is ready for business. To take a look at her wares, visit Originals By Donna. More pieces are on the way. Do your part to support our dreams of early retirement today!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Summer Movies in February

A bunch of movie trailers for summer. Link via Instapundit.

Facebook Is Like Pravda With A Worse User Interface

As I have said before, I am always late to jump on the latest fad. With that in mind, I recently got on Facebook. After a short time I found a recently-created group for my high school graduating class. I joined, said hello, sent out a bunch of friend requests, all that happy crap.

It wasn't until a week later that I went back through all the old messages and found the following exchange (names omitted to protect those guilty %@*!&!!#).
  • "Is Jay Winkus in prison or CEO of a software firm?" (Are those the only two choices? And why did they spell my name wrong?)

  • "Last time I heard anything about Jay was a visit from the FBI for some security clearance he was getting with the... Air Force...I think. That was 1991." (Hey! This is actually true! The government did a background check for my Air Force security clearance.)

  • "Jay Winkus took over a small Latin American country and is serving as Dictator/Chief Head-Banger for life." (What do you mean, "small"? I'm okay with the rest of it though.)

I found this exchange very amusing. If I had read it before announcing my presence, I would have had a lot more fun with it though.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Because It's A Great Song

The Bottle Rockets' Radar Gun. The song starts about a 55 seconds in, after all the banter.

Sunday, February 1, 2009