Browse Month: April 2007

04/29/2007

Sadly, after all these years our little Sony Cybershot digital camera has given up the ghost. I seems to work some of the time, but the photos end up looking a little strange:

Notice the little dots of light raining from the ceiling. Unless our house is haunted by mischievous little dots of light, it’s an artifact of the camera.

Sometimes we get really amazing noise:

I guess you can’t go on vacation and come back with a hundred shots like that, so it’s time to retire this little guy.

04/27/2007

According to the latest Harris poll, George has fallen to a new low:

How would you rate the job President Bush is doing?

Excellent – 7%
Pretty Good – 22%
Only Fair – 23%
Poor – 48%

Only 29% of the people are in the positive camp; a whopping 71% are negative about his job performance.

The real question, in my mind, is who on earth is in that 7% group who think he’s doing an “excellent” job? Wow.

04/20/2007

The photo of the day, shot during Attorney General Gonzales’ testimony before a Senate committee.

04/19/2007

Yesterday I got after Kyra because she was cracking her (hard-boiled) egg by throwing it at the ceiling in the kitchen. A couple of hits on the ceiling took care of it, and then she could peel the egg. When I told her not to do that, her response was, “But mom does it!”

To that, I replied that apparently I needed to talk to mom, and possibly ground her for her bad behavior.

“But you can’t ground a mom,” protested Kyra.
“Why not?”
“Because moms have rights!”
“Really? Do kids have rights?”
“Not really.”

Then Zack joined in with, “Dads can do anything they want.”

Apparently that’s the real rub. Kids think their parents can do “anything they want” while they, of course, are stuck with far-too-early bedtimes and not enough play time and too many chores and on and on. My argument that I work eight to ten hours a day fell on deaf ears. In their perception, I have total freedom and they can’t wait until they become a mom or dad because then they’ll be able to eat all the candy they want and watch whatever movie they want and so forth.

And not get grounded.

04/16/2007

Desre’e Watson is a six-year-old girl who attends kindergarten in Avon Park, Florida. Apparently she was throwing a bit of a tantrum in class, so the teacher tried to calm her down, and when it didn’t work (and mom couldn’t be reached) she did what any teacher in Avon Park, Florida would do.

She called the cops.

But that’s not the weird part. The cops showed up and also attempted to calm down Desre’e, but she would have nothing of it. So, they did what any cops in Avon Park, Florida would do.

They slapped handcuffs on her.

Then they put her in their patrol car.

Then they took her to jail and locked her up.

And then they charged her– a six-year-old girl— with a felony and two misdemeanors.

That’s a serious tantrum. Here’s the actual police report:

(Notice her weight, listed here at a staggering 50 pounds, and her height at 4 1/2 feet. I can see why two full-grown adult policemen would need to put her in cuffs, then the car, and finally the slammer. Sheesh.)

04/16/2007

From an article on monkey business, in the Dominion Post:

In 2003 an experiment was started called The Monkey Shakespeare Simulator. The programme simulates a vast number of monkeys typing at random to see how long it will take them to produce a Shakespeare play.

To date, the cyber monkeys have not done very well. It has taken them the equivalent of 2,737,850 million billion billion billion years to produce a phrase from Henry IV, Part 2: “Open your ears…”

One mathematician calculates that if the universe contains 17 billion galaxies, each containing 17 billion stars, each containing 17 billion inhabitable planets, and each planet supported 17 billion monkeys all typing a random line of type per second for a billion years, their chances of producing “To be or not to be, that is the question” is almost but not completely zilch. You stand a much better chance of winning the lottery a hundred times in a row.

Despite this, probabilists figure that, given enough time, it is not only probable but inevitable that the monkeys will write Shakespeare. They also argue that if the monkeys had started their project far enough back in time, they would have written the plays before Shakespeare himself.

Who says math is boring?

04/14/2007

On April 16, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave a speech which has been increasingly quoted recently– probably because it has become increasingly relevant when examining the affairs of our President and our government.

The way chosen by the United States was plainly marked by a few clear precepts, which govern its conduct in world affairs.

First: No people on earth can be held, as a people, to be enemy, for all humanity shares the common hunger for peace and fellowship and justice.

Second: No nation’s security and well-being can be lastingly achieved in isolation but only in effective cooperation with fellow-nations.

Third: Any nation’s right to form of government and an economic system of its own choosing is inalienable.

Fourth: Any nation’s attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible.

And fifth: A nation’s hope of lasting peace cannot be firmly based upon any race in armaments but rather upon just relations and honest understanding with all other nations.

Pay particularly close attention to his third and fourth principles above. It seems we are clearly violating them– in the same way the Soviet Union did during the aftermath of World War II. We soundly condemned them for what they did in Eastern Europe, yet are we not doing the same thing in Iraq today? Oh, the hypocrisy.

Continuing to discuss the Cold War and the arms race, Eisenhower said:

The worst to be feared and the best to be expected can be simply stated.

The worst is atomic war.

The best would be this: a life of perpetual fear and tension; a burden of arms draining the wealth and the labor of all peoples; a wasting of strength that defies the American system or the Soviet system or any system to achieve true abundance and happiness for the peoples of this earth.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than thirty cities.
It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of sixty thousand. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete highway.

We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than eight thousand people.

This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. But this is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

These plain and cruel truths define the peril and point the hope that come with this spring of 1953.

And the spring of 2008.

04/14/2007

“The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.”

— Walter Bagehot

04/14/2007

There are a lot of people who are having trouble paying their mortgages these days. These are people who, in the last few years, over-borrowed to buy bigger homes because interest rates were low. The so-called “sub-prime” mortgage lending business saw a huge boom as a result, and now that interest rates are climbing again, the people with adjustable rate mortgages or balloon ARMs or whatever other creative things were invented are suddenly in a world of financial trouble.

The answer? Naturally there are people in the government who want to bail out these people. They advocate paying money to help support those who can’t meet their mortgage, and also requiring banks and lenders to foot part of the bill. Here’s a quote from an AP article:

Consumer advocate groups say those loans, with steeply rising payments, were pushed on borrowers who didn’t understand the terms. Advocates say a government bailout, even a large one, is appropriate because regulators didn’t do enough to stop predatory lending, and because of the high cost of foreclosures.

So, just to be sure it’s clear what’s happening here, the government is using my tax dollars (and yours) to give money to people who made poor financial decisions. These borrowers “didn’t understand” what they were doing, and the lenders were “predatory” and evil by “pushing” their loans on people.

The last time I checked, no one is ever forced to get a mortgage and buy a house… especially one with bad terms, or a house that’s perhaps a bit too large or expensive for the income of the buyer. But forget logic and forget what’s fair– apparently people who are too dumb to read the terms of their mortgage deserve a government bailout. And the price tag for this is estimated to climb to $120 billion dollars or more. Ouch.

I think the most appropriate quote was from Michael Englund, an economist:

If the plan is to pay off loans when people quit, then I plan to quit paying my loan.

The financial irresponsibility of our government is staggering.

04/13/2007

Just when you thought the War on Terror couldn’t get any stupider, you read a story like the one about terrorist-hunting dolphins (quoted from Associated Press):

About 75 dolphins and 25 sea lions are housed at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego Harbor as part of a Navy program to teach them to detect terrorists and mines underwater.

Holy cow, underwater terrorists? That seems pretty dire. I can’t even imagine the conversation that led to this development. Were there a bunch of analysts sitting around a big conference table, talking about the dire threat of underwater terrorists, when one of them hit upon this brilliant idea?

“Gentlemen, I have it. We’ll train dolphins to find them!”

But that’s not all. Working in conjunction with the dolphins are– you guessed it– terrorist-hunting sea lions!

The sea lions carry in their mouths a cable and a handcuff-like device that clamps onto a terrorist’s leg. Sailors can then use the cable to reel in the terrorist.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen… the sea lions who bark for fish at your local zoo can also attach handcuffs to an underwater terrorist so sailors can “reel him in”.

(Shown here is a photo of a different but related program, where the Navy actually attached laser guns to dolphins. Yes, this is completely real.)

Wow.

04/13/2007

A few weeks ago I bought an Xbox on eBay. I wanted it to build a media center for the family room, and after a bit of tweaking I got it working nicely. It’s a great little device, and the price tag of $60 is perfect.

With the Xbox came a stack of games which I didn’t want: a handful of John Madden NFL games, NHL, snowboarding, and the all-too-popular Grand Theft Auto (motto: “hey kids, smoking crack and beating up prostitutes is fun!“). I figured I’d sell them on eBay and get a couple bucks back, lowering the price of my new media center still further.

So I listed them with a starting price of a dollar, and a shipping cost of ten dollars. Ten bucks seemed reasonable to mail seven DVD cases.

The auction ended with a single bid, which was (naturally) a dollar. So I collected my $11.00 and went to the post office today to send them. The cost? $10.95.

Whee! I made five cents on the games. But wait– eBay charged me 40 cents to list the item, plus another 22 cents based on the selling price. So in the end, I paid for some guy in Pennsylvania to take seven games off my hands.

Chalk that up as Dumb Financial Decision #156.

04/12/2007

Lee Iacocca (remember him?) says this:

Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We’ve got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we’ve got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can’t even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, “Stay the course.”

Stay the course? You’ve got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I’ll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!

You might think I’m getting senile, that I’ve gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up. I hardly recognize this country anymore. The President of the United States is given a free pass to ignore the Constitution, tap our phones, and lead us to war on a pack of lies. Congress responds to record deficits by passing a huge tax cut for the wealthy (thanks, but I don’t need it). The most famous business leaders are not the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. While we’re fiddling in Iraq, the Middle East is burning and nobody seems to know what to do. And the press is waving pom-poms instead of asking hard questions. That’s not the promise of America my parents and yours traveled across the ocean for. I’ve had enough. How about you?

I’ll go a step further. You can’t call yourself a patriot if you’re not outraged. Why are we in this mess? How did we end up with this crowd in Washington? Well, we voted for them– or at least some of us did. But I’ll tell you what we didn’t do. We didn’t agree to suspend the Constitution. We didn’t agree to stop asking questions or demanding answers. Some of us are sick and tired of people who call free speech treason. Where I come from that’s a dictatorship, not a democracy.

04/12/2007

“Unless we could impeach Cheney at the same time, the best argument against impeaching Bush is ‘President Cheney’.”

— Lord Slepnir, on Slashdot

04/12/2007

Here’s an awesome spam message.

Sweet! I can receive %CUSTOM_3 for %CUSTOM_4 per month! Who can pass up a deal like that?

04/11/2007

Last week I was privileged and honored to receive a personal letter from Senator John McCain, in which he announced his candidacy for President. Of course he rambled on about his service in the armed forces and his long history in the Senate, dropping a few names here and there to impress me.

But then things got a little weird. The rest of his letter was a survey in which he asks penetrating questions about domestic and international policy. He wants to know how I, a common American citizen, feel about the pressing issues facing our country today. Although I don’t have a problem with that in principle, some of the questions were surprising.

Make the U.S. tax code fairer and simpler.
( ) I agree
( ) I disagree
( ) I have no opinion

Umm, what? Who on earth would say “I disagree”? Is there someone out there who thinks the tax code should be more complicated and more unfair? What kind of question is that?

Aggressively rein-in government spending.
( ) I agree
( ) I disagree
( ) I have no opinion

Again, what kind of boneheaded question is he asking here? “No, John, I think the government should keep spending money like it’s going out of style, funding every crazy pork-barrel project they can think of!”

Reduce federal deficit.
( ) I agree
( ) I disagree
( ) I have no opinion

Hmm. Let me think about that, John. No, I disagree– I think we should increase the federal deficit, because we all know the positive results that brings.

Continue to provide American troops with state-of-the-art weapons.
( ) I agree
( ) I disagree
( ) I have no opinion

John, I think we should give our troops muskets. Forget this body armor crap, too. Davy Crockett coonskin caps were good enough at the Alamo; they’re sure good enough for the troops in the Middle East today.

I used to actually respect McCain. That all changed a few years ago when it became clear he was one of Bush’s yes-men, and idiotic stunts like this survey only reinforce my opinion that he’s either

( ) a bonehead
( ) unable to form his own opinions, thus asking us to form it for him
( ) both

I shudder to think that someone like him may actually become President some day.

04/08/2007

“There’s always somebody who is paid too much, and taxed too little – and it’s always somebody else.”

— Cullen Hightower

(Particularly apropos as Tax Day approaches and I need to scrape together the money I need to pay the IRS. It seems like I pay them every year, sigh.)