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Thursday 28 March 2002

French Nut “Jumps” Out Of Window At Police Station

Here is the story from Le Monde. Here is the story in English from CNN.

“The two interrogators tried to hold him back by the legs, but the determination of this fanatic, whose body was already mostly outside, meant all this effort was in vain.”

<accent type=”french”>Malhereeusement, eet waz all in fain. ‘Ee zhust jomped out ze weendow. ‘At ‘appens all ze tahm, we ‘ave prizonairres wiz access to ze unlocked, unbarred weendows.</accent>

Yeah, right.

Posted by tino at 10:17 28.03.02
Wednesday 27 March 2002

High-School Student Suspended: Smelled Like Otto’s Jacket

The Canadians usually have a better sense of perspective than we do, but this story from Ottawa makes it looks like they’re working on closing the Idiocy Gap:

An Ottawa police dog’s interest in a 15-year-old boy’s ski jacket during an impromptu drug search at an Orléans high school yesterday moved school officials to immediately suspend the student — even though he had no drugs on him.

While even the school’s principal admitted she could not smell any marijuana on Chris Laurin’s coat, the dog’s word proved final.

Posted by tino at 23:48 27.03.02
Tuesday 26 March 2002

Defeating Islam, Part II

Mark Steyn comments on “peace processes” and such, and appears to reach the same conclusion as Steven Den Beste.

Forget the “cycle of violence” and the “peace process.” History teaches us that the most lasting peace is achieved when one side — preferably the worst side — is decisively defeated and the regime’s diseased organs are comprehensively cleansed. That’s why National Socialism, Fascism and Japanese militarism have not troubled us of late. One can imagine how World War Two would have ended had, say, Mary Robinson, the UN Human Rights poseur, been sitting in Downing Street instead of Winston Churchill. Her crowd should not be running World War Four.

Though I’d say that it’s in fact difficult to imagine how World War Two would ever have actually ended had Mary Robinson et al. been in charge.

Posted by tino at 12:59 26.03.02

There Is A Boom On Board

From an AP story:

Salt Lake City (AP) — The FBI says an American Airlines plane headed to St. Louis was diverted to Salt Lake City today after a suspicious note was found on board.

The plane was traveling from Portland to St. Louis when a child found a note in the armrest. The note said there was a bomb on the plane. The note appeared to be in a child’s handwriting. The word “bomb” was misspelled as “boom.”

They’ll probably find the child in question and zero-tolerance him into prison, of course.

Posted by tino at 10:37 26.03.02

B.C. Schoolgirl Bully Convicted

A teen bully whose victim committed suicide has been convicted of “uttering threats” and “criminal harassment”.

During the trial, one of the accused testified that she had beaten up Dawn-Marie Wesley. The other accused teen admitted calling the victim and saying, “You’re dead.”

That undoubtedly constitutes a threat, and criminal harassment, and kids certainly deserve the same protection of the law that adults do. This case probably belonged in the criminal-justice system. Probably belonged there while the victim was still alive, but here we are.

My concern, though, is that the trend of dealing with bullying in court will grow and grow until there’s a belief that any social friction between children is a criminal matter. That won’t help anyone, because schoolyard harassment is an important part of the process of socialization.

Jockeying for dominance — we call this “bullying” when it’s done in certain ways — is part of human nature. It’s not going to go away, ever. Schoolyard bullying is beneficial in that bullies can learn (hopefully) that bullying doesn’t lead to success, and that bully-ees can learn that there are people in the world who will give you a hard time for, say, wearing the wrong clothes.

Hopefully this doesn’t lead to suicide on the part of the bully-ee. The old belief that nobody likes a tattle-tale is insane; children need to deal with their own conflicts while having some protection from one another. But I’d be willing to suggest that the consequences of eliminating schoolyard bullying entirely would in fact be far worse in the long run than the occasional suicide.

Posted by tino at 10:34 26.03.02
Monday 25 March 2002

Defeating Islam

This is the best analysis I’ve yet seen of the realities of the current situation, i.e. the War on Evil.

Ultimately it seems we’re faced with completely destroying Islamic culture, much as Japan’s culture had to be destroyed in order to bring WWII to an end.

I fear that before this war ends we shall have to make changes as radical to the majority of Islamic nations, especially the Arab ones. I fear that, because I don’t see how this war can end if we don’t, unless we are defeated. We can’t merely defeat them militarily; I think we have to break their spirit.

Posted by tino at 21:54 25.03.02

New gadget

My new wireless gadget has arrived. You can now send AOL instant messages to my pocket using the screen name mobiletino. Send mail to beep-tino@tinotopia.com and they should also reach me.

Posted by tino at 12:16 25.03.02
Friday 22 March 2002

Kids With Stupid Names

The best predicate for stupid people, I’ve found, is stupid parents. Now, there are always exceptions, but in general, stupid people tend to have stupid parents. That’s how you get stupid; you grow up in a house with the TV always on, and where you’re never taught to have any curiosity about anything.

Anyway. Fortunately, stupid parents are doing us all a favor by giving their kids — who will likely grow up to be stupid adults — idiotic names.

Out of the 165,000 “.name” web addresses that have been registered so far, several hundred are registered to people with names like Gouda, Almond, Cappuccino, Veal, Corn and Cheddar.

There are exceptions to this, of course. Condoleezza Rice is not stupid (nor were her parents) despite having a silly name, for example. But then Condoleezza is just a very odd and unusual name, not a made-up or repurposed-from-the-grocery-store one.

When these kids start sending resumes around with names like “Cheddar Wilson” and “Cappuccino Goldberg” (though what’s the chances any of these kids are Jewish?), they’ll probably be thrown in the trash more often than not. Names like that are less a marker of individuality (which is what I believe the parents intend) as they are an indication of an idiotic upbringing.

I hope these kids are at least getting normal middle names.

Posted by tino at 10:32 22.03.02
Thursday 21 March 2002

Student With Bread Knife Re-admitted

The high school student thrown out of school in Texas recently for the heinous crime of having a bread knife in the back of his pickup truck while on school grounds (see below), has been re-admitted to school.

Rather than just admitting that they overreacted, though, the school has just reduced his punishment to “expulsion” for five days — still insane. Since he’s already been out of school for five days, though, he gets to return tomorrow morning.

Contrast this with the treatment a teacher in Florida is getting after having shown up for work apparently high on cocaine:

An independent arbitrator ruled this month that a penalty less severe than termination was warranted and wants [the teacher] rehired with full pay and benefits. […]

That came as little comfort to Superintendent Jim Paul, who today is expected to recommend that the county School Board appeal the arbitrator’s decision and fight for termination.

“We are expelling kids for taking aspirin or No-Doz. Now we are talking about someone taking cocaine, and that’s OK,” Paul said.

Posted by tino at 23:42 21.03.02

World War III Still Hotting Up

CNN story:

Further talks between Israeli and Palestinian security officials were suspended Thursday after a terror attack in the heart of Jerusalem killed at least two Israelis and wounded more than 50, five critically.

What’s the possible point of Israel doing anything to make peace? Assuming they satisfy most of their enemies, there would still be armed groups left whose success condition is nothing less than the total destruction of Israel and the annihilation of the Jews. Every time peace ‘talks’ begin in earnest, someone will see to it that they are derailed. And should the talkers determine not to be derailed, they’ll find themselves still in a state of war at the end of their peace talks.

And does anyone really believe that the U.S.’ war on terrorism will be any different? Unless radical-Islamist philosophy undergoes a serious shift, we’re probably facing a necessarily genocidal war.

Posted by tino at 14:04 21.03.02

The Wheels of Industry

The business pages lately have been filled with tales of woe, or of impending woe. Enron, Global Crossing, HP, XM Radio, the music industry, and many others are having their share of woe right now.

The remarkable thing is that the financial press, and presumably the financial and business community in general, sees all this as happening in a vacuum, in the hermetically-sealed world of Business. Nobody seems to suspect that these organizations are struggling because they think of their customers with contempt, if they think of them at all.

Take XM Radio as an example. XM’s service consists of beaming radio content to listeners via a satellite. This — building and launching spacecraft — is expensive, and so XM is seriously, perhaps perilously, in debt.

That’s what the financial press talks about: XM’s debt. The debt is sinking the company, and so Big Financial Moves are necessary to set things right.

Never mentioned is the fact that XM’s product — its radio programming — is terrible. For ten dollars a month, it offers its customers — what? Six channels of “urban” music, six of “country” music, five of “Latin” music (in addition to another six of “world” music), several channels not in English, and three of “Christian” programming.

There are a few channels of programming that is not available for free on radios the public already has: the BBC World Service (recently made unavailable on shortwave in North America) prime among them. But the over whelming bulk of the programming merely duplicates what’s already available on terrestrial American radio.

Now, if XM’s product were worth a damn, there would be more subscribers, the company would have more income, and the debt would not be a problem. This is not a fact you will find in the business pages.

As another example, we might take HP. Lately there’s been a battle over the future of the company, over whether HP and Compaq should merge.

The HP Board of Directors promises huge profits, in part by firing 15,000 employees. That makes sense; between Compaq and HP, there’s undoubtedly a lot of duplicated effort. By eliminating that effort, you can save a lot of money.

The profits they promise go far beyond that, though. And it doesn’t make any sense. Compaq and HP make money by selling products and services to customers. How will customers be helped if Compaq and HP become one company? What specific benefit will customers get from the merger?

They’ll be able to buy HP printers and scanners — HP’s only compelling products any more — and Compaq computers from the same company. That’s it. At the moment, customers can buy Epson, Canon, Lexmark, HP, and Compaq-branded printers from Compaq. But it’ll undoubtedly be better for them to be able to buy only HP/Compaq printers; this will clearly result in more customer satisfaction and more sales for the company.

But, when the HP/Compaq combination (doubtless to be called something stupid like ‘Ameripute’) is awash in red ink in a few years — and it will be — the business section will be full of moaning about debt and employee layoffs and restructuring and the like. There won’t be a mention of the fact that all the expense of this HP/Compaq merger had nothing to do with delivering better products and services to customers.

Because the customer is the great hole in the center of American large business these days. Here’s a simple recipe for success in business:

  1. Produce a product or service that people want.

  2. Offer it for sale for an amount of money that’s more than the product cost you to produce, but not more than the value of that product to the customer.

That’s it. Doing that will result in success. Doing anything but that, regardless of how complicated or how clothed in fancy language your alternative is, will result in failure. Every time. Even a child knows this.

This is all very naive, of course. You rarely, if ever, hear the executives of large companies actually talking about what’s good for the customer. In some cases, notably the music industry at the moment, you more often hear them talking about how to thwart their customers.

Maybe it’s because we’ve allowed “business” to put itself up on a pedestal, so that “businesspeople” can feel that there’s some fundamental difference between them and, say, someone who sells apples on the street corner. Few of them seem to understand that what they do is not leverage opportunities, or create new paradigms, or extend markets, or enhance relationships, or any other business bullshit. What they do — at least if they want to be successful — is offer value for money to their customers.

When you hear executives talk about “offering value”, they’re almost always talking about shareholder value. I haven’t charted this yet, but it seems that there is an inverse relationship between focusing on maximizing investor return, and actual investor return. Companies that focus on satisfying their customers, on the other hand, seem to have the highest rates of return on investment. “Maximizing shareholder value” as a goal in and of itself gives the company license to gouge customers, after all. If your sole goal is to squeeze as much money as possible out of your customers while providing as little as possible in return — this is “maximizing shareholder value”, after all — someone will eventually come along and take your customers away.

On the other hand, if your company sees its purpose as making a profit by satisfying customers, you’ll make money and be invulnerable. Seems obvious to me, but then I haven’t been to business school.

Posted by tino at 12:30 21.03.02

Honor Student Expelled For Bread Knife

The knife in question was in the bed of his pickup truck.

School officials have said their hands are tied by the policy, despite the student’s claim that the knife was left by accident after he and his father boxed up his grandmother’s linens, books and kitchenware to drop off at a Goodwill store.

I don’t even have any comments on this story. This sort of thing has become, if not the norm, certainly within the realm of ordinary occurrences.

Posted by tino at 11:43 21.03.02
Wednesday 20 March 2002

Tino’s Sort-Of Smart House

Educating My House

I certainly wouldn’t call my house a smart house in any real sense of the phrase. I’m working on educating it, though. At the moment, my real attention is all directed toward the whole-house A/V system. The immediate goal is to have a system that’s controllable and viewable/listenable from any room in the house.

Read the rest of it here. This is the first new non-log Tinotopia content in a while.

Posted by tino at 20:41 20.03.02
Monday 18 March 2002

Nibbling at the Margins

American culture, these days, seems to prefer to attack problems at the margins, thus obtaining marginal results (if those) at great cost, both in money and in liberty.

One interesting example of this is a move by CopyMax (OfficeMax’s in-store copy shop) to notify law enforcement of “suspicious” requests for copying and printing services.

The sign posted at CopyMax says “This is for the safety of our customers, our communities, and our nation.” Never mind that there’s no indication that photocopying had any role in the September 11 attacks, or indeed in any terrorist organizations’ sinister plots. Keeping a close eye on people trying to make copies is certainly a lot easier than doing something that’ll actually have an effect.

I wonder if OfficeMax makes customers register when purchasing box cutters?

Posted by tino at 17:24 18.03.02
Friday 15 March 2002

Atheism ‘Objectionable’ in Florida

The Florida DMV is attempting to recall a man’s personalized license plate — “ATHEIST” — on the ground that it is “obscene or objectionable”. Of course, they issued the thing in the first place, and have renewed it since 1986, so it can’t be too objectionable.

Anyway, some people who disagree with the sentiment have sent a petition to the DMV, and the DMV has ordered the man to send the plates back.

The St. Petersburg Times story quotes Kenneth Vickery, who owns the Florida plates “ALL4GOD” and “GOD4ALL” (he is associated with some sort of Holy Trinity of musketeers, one must assume), who thinks that the ATHEIST plate should be allowed, and who is concerned that the state could pull his plates on the same pretext. He’s a good man for thinking that, but somehow I don’t think it’s too likely.

Question: If your religion or faith is so fragile that someone’s license plate is potentially harmful to it, it’s not a very good religion or strong faith, is it?

Posted by tino at 11:19 15.03.02
Tuesday 12 March 2002

War On Fat Proceeds Apace

A Reuters story reports on a UCLA study that shows that being fat is more harmful to one’s health than smoking.

In terms of dollar amounts, the study found that obesity raised healthcare costs by an average of $395 a year, while smoking increased costs by $230 and heavy drinking is associated with a $150 annual increase.

So, in dollar amounts, being obese is 172% as dangerous as smoking, and 263% as dangerous as ‘heavy’ drinking. And obese people have 30 to 50 per cent more chronic medical problems than smokers or boozehounds.

To combat this, the Surgeon General’s office recommends that people cut back on “sugar and fats”. Which, of course, will only result in them eating massive loads of carbohydrates, and getting even fatter.

The UCLA guy, the story says, “cited more and more hours in front of the television, less physical activity and a car-obsessed culture, as significant causes of American’s growing obesity problem.” And he’s right; the problem isn’t what we eat, it’s the fact that we do almost nothing but sit on our asses. He’s not right about the country being “car-obsessed”, though. It’s not an obsession, it’s an environment built in such a way that walking is generally not an option.

Sturm [the UCLA guy] said higher taxes on cigarettes have played a big role in deterring people from smoking, but a similar approach to weight control — the so-called “twinkie tax” — is unlikely to work.

But that isn’t stopping a number of states from trying anyway.

Posted by tino at 13:54 12.03.02

Fuel-Efficiency, Economics, and You

The other day, I ran across a discussion of car fuel-efficiency and the need for more cars like the Honda Insight, a hybrid car that gets 68 mpg by using an electric motor/generator to replace some of the engine’s power when it makes the greatest difference for fuel consumption.

And people were using the words efficiency and economy pretty interchangeably. So we here at Tino decided to do some investigation.

The Honda Insight gets 68 mpg on the highway, and costs $19,080. The Honda Civic gets 44 mpg on the highway, and costs $13,610. Let’s assume for the moment that the cars are otherwise equivalent (they’re not — the Insight seats only two and is not as fast as the Civic). The Insight is gets 55% better mileage; because the Civic only outweighs the Insight by 31%, this actually represents greater efficiency and not just a reduction in load. If we equalize the weight of the cars, the Insight actually moves a pound of weight more than twice as far on a gallon of fuel. The Insight is very efficient.

All of that said, the Insight is uneconomical for the driver. If you drive the Insight for 100,000 miles, you’ll spend $1,600 on fuel, given current average fuel prices around here of $1.13. The Civic will cost $2,500 to cover the same distance. Big difference, right? But you’re still over $4,600 in the hole, because the Insight costs almost $5,500 more than the Civic.

To recoup that initial investment, assuming that capital is free, you have to drive over 600,000 miles. After almost 604,000 miles, you’ve saved enough on fuel to repay the initial higher investment in the Insight.

Honda, bless them, doesn’t market the Insight as a money-saver. They point out that it saves trees etc. This might result in the Inisight being worth it, but it’s impossible to know: environmentalists are right when they point out that the real cost of using gasoline is not reflected in the price of the stuff.

For the Insight to be financially worth it in 100,000 miles, though, assuming that you taxed gasoline heavily and spent the revenue on cleaning up the environment — fuel would have to cost $6.82 a gallon.

Posted by tino at 13:45 12.03.02
Monday 11 March 2002

Camaro Production to End

CNN has picked up an AP story about GM’s announcement that production of the Chevrolet Camaro will end after the 2002 model year.

The story is written by a Camaro fan, and it reads, in part:

GM blames the demise of the vehicles on a 53-percent decline in the sports car market since 1990. The world is now a place of low-horsepower, high-mileage economy cars and huge GMC Suburbans and Ford Expeditions. Maybe Camaros just aren’t necessary in a country where the government requires cars to attain an average of 27.5 mpg.

This would explain, of course, why Porsche and BMW are on the rocks, and why Ford has recently not re-introduced the Thunderbird and GT40. Nobody wants cars like that any more.

Oh, wait. Porsche and BMW are making money hand-over-fist, and Ford has re-introduced the Thunderbird and GT40. And the V8 Camaro gets 28 mpg anyway — better than the Honda Prelude.

A more likely explanation is that GM can’t sell the Camaro to anyone but die-hard Camaro fans, because the thing’s a piece of crap. The driveline is hard to beat, but the suspension is sloppy, the interior is plasticky, and the whole thing rattles like only a GM product can.

To be fair, the Camaro is an incredibly cheap car. The 2002 Z28, with a 310-horsepower V8 engine and a 6-speed transmission, goes for $23,000. Nowhere else can you get so much power for such a low price.

And that’s precisely the problem. The Camaro says to the world: “I can afford no more car than this.” If you’re thrifty, you’re not going buy the somewhat impractical Camaro; and if you’re after a good sports car, you’re not going to buy the somewhat brutish Camaro. And since the purchase of a car like this is partly about image, few people with a choice are going to choose a Camaro.

Chevrolet will re-introduce the Camaro, to great fanfare, in a few years. It will be a modern muscle car, with the driveline that Chevy’s done right since 1955, but hopefully with better styling and build quality. In the meantime, don’t try to blame on a non-existent cultural shift what is clearly due to GM management myopia.

Posted by tino at 19:21 11.03.02
Sunday 10 March 2002

Bully Another Kid, Go To Jail?

John Law is cracking down on bullying in at least one county in Minnesota.

Prosecutor James Backstrom slides an edge of steel into his voice and lays out one of the toughest juvenile-justice policies in the nation: School bullies will go to jail.

I have no problem with this, providing it’s carried out properly. I doubt that it will be, or that it is already:

Some judges have been quick to put any kid who lashes out in jail. Others find reasons to excuse schoolyard fights - the kid was provoked, he’s under stress - and hand down more traditional sentences of community service or counseling. Prosecutors estimate that about a dozen bullies have done time behind bars so far.

It seems pretty simple to me. Commit assault and battery against another person, whether you’re 8 or 38 years old, and you get punished. A child isn’t likely to do a lot of damage to another child, and children don’t have a complete set of social skills, so they shouldn’t be punished as severely. Offenses — I mean actual offenses like larceny and assault, not drawing a picture of a gun — committed by children should be punished in some imitation of the adult punishment for the same offense; this is part of the socialization process.

Unfortunately, the conventional wisdom recently seems to be that, because children don’t yet have a full set of social skills, we’ve got to throw the book at them for everything. It’s a binary justice system: either you’re innocent and free, or you’re Jeffrey Dahmer. If you’re under eighteen in the U.S. today, there’s not much middle ground.

Kids are being expelled from school and in some cases prosecuted for infractions that cause no harm and threaten no potential harm to anyone, and nobody’s particularly surprised any more. My guess is that this move, while sane on its face, will only push that unfortunate trend further. Kids who spend a night or two in kiddie jail for assault will not get the right message, if their cellie is in for saying “bang, bang” while pointing at someone.

Posted by tino at 11:59 10.03.02
Saturday 09 March 2002

Another Copyright-ish Idiocy

This article in the Telegraph discusses why bureaucracy is resulting in the movement of a larger part of the art market out of the EU, but I think it misses the main point.

At issue is the droit de suite, which basically establishes a statutory license fee on artwork. Every time a work of art is sold in some European countries (and, soon, anywhere in the EU), until a date 70 years after the artist’s death, a fee has to be paid to the artist or his heirs.

The Telegraph focuses on the fact that the EU’s procedures result in the sale of a work of art costing £40 in paperwork alone. That’s a problem, but not the big one. The big problem is that the EU dictates to artists the conditions under which their art may be sold.

There’s no reason an artist in the United States could not license a work of art to a buyer, with restrictions on the manner of subsequent resale, or with additional fees to be paid to the artist under certain conditions. All artists working in film and music do this, and some famous visual artists undoubtedly already do, as well.

But very few unheard-of artists do, for the simple reason that the market won’t bear it. Purchasing art by an unknown artist is, economically speaking, a risky transaction. The purchaser doesn’t want it made riskier still by a statutory fee that diminishes the value of the thing on the secondary market. The ‘strugling artist’, as the phrase goes, is going to sell his art for what he can get. That he is not now allowed to do so in the EU will not help Europe’s cultural decline.

Posted by tino at 10:22 9.03.02
Thursday 07 March 2002

Music Industry Idiocy Again

It turns out that Michael Greene’s speech at the Grammys — which has been seen as insane on its face by most mainstream media commentators — seems to have consisted mostly of falsehoods anyway. This New York Times article has some interesting points to make:

[…] it seems strange that [Greene] would admit on national television that he hired three people to break the law (the Electronic Theft Act) and then show them in the process of doing this, especially since one is a minor. And now one of these downloaders for hire (at about $12 an hour), Numair Faraz, has stepped forward to say that Mr. Greene’s claim that three students downloaded 6,000 files from easily accessible Web sites isn’t even true. […] “I was the only one who used Bearshare and Kazaa extensively,” he continued, referring to two popular file-exchanging programs. “And half of my files never completed: they were halfway downloaded or not downloaded at all.” As for the two others, both students at the University of California at Los Angeles, he said they hardly even used file-sharing sites. Instead, he said, they used AOL Instant Messenger, a chat program, to receive songs, which friends sent them from their hard drives. This not only means that the songs weren’t on public Web sites, but also that there is no guarantee that they were ever illegally downloaded, since some could have been from CD’s purchased by students and ripped into their hard drives. Mr. Faraz estimated that 4,000 of the songs were sent as private messages using Instant Messenger, and a few songs were legitimate authorized downloads from the Web site MP3.com.
Posted by tino at 18:22 7.03.02

Police State!

The following two paragraphs show up in a Minneapolis Star-Tribune article about a visit G.W. Bush made to Minneapolis recently. While he was making a speech, protesters were gathered a couple of blocks away.

The protests produced one odd piece of street theater. A few demonstrators tossed pretzels into the air, mocking Bush’s awkward encounter with one in January as he watched a football game on TV. Minneapolis police arrested two of the pretzel wielders. When a police supervisor was asked what charges would be brought against the pair, he cracked, “It’s got to be a felony. You could have called it attempted murder.”

Never mind that you can get arrested for throwing pretzels in the air. It’s far worse that the police are arresting people, and then joking about charging them with crimes that they didn’t even come close to committing.

It I tell a joke about committing a crime, the FBI will come and charge me with making “terroristic threats”. If the police tell a joke about becoming even more authoritarian, well, I suppose we should all just laugh nervously, and hope that they actually are joking.

Incidentally, if you look up felony in the dictionary, you find this:

felony fel·o·ny Law 1. One of several grave crimes, such as murder, rape, or burglary, punishable by a more stringent sentence than that given for a misdemeanor. 2. Any of several crimes in early English law that were punishable by forfeiture of land or goods and by possible loss of life or a bodily part.

But, according to the police in Minnesota, throwing pretzels in the air has “got to be a felony”. Pretzel-throwing is more like, say, murder and rape, and other crimes more serious than kicking and punching people — after a car accident — for which Mike Tyson was charged with misdemeanor assault in Maryland in 1998.

Posted by tino at 14:30 7.03.02

Toy Gun Update

Since I reported the original event, it’s only fair that there’s a follow-up.

Prosecutors in Washtenaw County, Michigan, will drop felonious assault charges against an 8-year-old who allegedly pointed a plastic cap gun at three other 7-year-old kids on December 6 of last year. He apparently didn’t “fire” the gun, and he reportedly didn’t even threaten to; he just said, “Don’t fight me anymore.”

A prosecutor quoted in the story says that the charges are being dropped because the charge of “assault with a dangerous weapon” requires that an actual dangerous weapon be used. Imagine that.

The mother of one of the “victims”, though, isn’t happy.

Robin Arthur, the mother of one of the 7-year-olds, said Monday that her son no longer lives with her because he does not feel safe living near Tommy Davis, with whom her son has had several fights. “I find it very appalling that they are not going to seek charges,” said Arthur, who lives directly behind the Davis family. “Now, he thinks he’s going to get by with it. What’s to say he won’t get a real gun now?”
Posted by tino at 10:23 7.03.02
Wednesday 06 March 2002

Not Thinking of the Children

So, children are our “most precious cargo”, and the entire focus of our society, and the future, and all this other stuff.

So why is it that a lot of people choose to live somewhere where children aren’t allowed? Could it be that all this focus on children, to the detriment of everyone else, is proving burdensome?

Posted by tino at 18:46 6.03.02

Won’t Somebody Stop Thinking of the Children?

Yesterday, as I was trundling off to the Safeway, I was stopped by a school bus going the other way on a small neighborhood street.

The bus followed what is, these days, the standard procedure. To begin with, it’s a 40-foot-long vehicle that’s painted bright orange and carrying a flashing strobe light on the roof. As it began to slow down, orange lights started flashing; when it came to a stop, red lights started flashing, a stop sign swung out from the side of the bus, and red strobe lights on that started flashing. I and another car on the road came to a stop.

As the door opened, a long arm swung out from the front bumper, to keep the kids from crossing within about ten feet of the front of the bus (even though this was a rear-engine bus, with a windshield designed so the driver can see everything to about two feet out from the bumper). So far, nothing I haven’t seen before.

Then, someone got off the bus carrying an orange flag. The flag-waver glared at me and the other stopped car, and started waving the flag. Then, and only then, did two kids, looking to be about nine or ten years old, get off the bus and cross the street. After the kids were safely on the grass verge (the sidewalk in the picture doesn’t actually go anywhere), the flag-waver rolled up the flag, squatted down to look under the bus for — for what? treasure? children lodged under there? — went around to the side of the bus, squatted down and looked again, and got back on the bus.

If you don’t believe me, here’s a photo. Clicking on it pops up a larger version:

Now, if one of those children was likely to have been killed had it not been for that flag-waver, then the flag-waver is necessary.

But, of course, those children were not actually in harm’s way. The other school-bus regulations — flashing lights, stop sign, etc. — see to that. It’s just that when, in the legislature or school-board meeting, someone proposes waving orange flags, you can’t really vote against it. If you did, you’d be accused of hating children.

So we wind up with flashing lights, strobes, stop signs, flag-waving, under-the-bus-checking people, and, probably soon, a siren or something that will alert any blind drivers that there’s a school bus unloading nearby.

And the real problem with this is not that it’s a waste of time and resources — though it is that. The real problem is that these children are being taught, with the school-bus rigamarole and nearly everything else in their lives today, that they are incredibly fragile, and incredibly dependent on others. That the world is an incredibly dangerous place, and getting dangerous-er all the time. That they must be protected at all times.

None of this is true, but the kids don’t know that. All they know is that most of the adults they come into contact with see the world as an incredibly hostile place, full of “superpredators” and school-bus-related deaths.

The reality that the kids don’t know is that one child is killed as a pedestrian while dealing with the school bus in the USA — run over by the bus, or by another car — for about every 1,890,000,000,000,000 school-bus passenger-miles. That’s not a typo. One child is killed for about every two quadrillion passenger-miles. That’s a number so large as to be inconcievable, but I’ll try to make sense of it: If there were only one school bus, and it carried fifty kids — about the national average — it would have to make over two hundred thousand trips to the sun and back before one child would die as a pedestrian.

As a comparison: in 1997 (the most-recent year for which I can put together statistics), commercial aviation in the USA resulted in one death for every 13 billion passenger-miles flown. The conventional wisdom is that aviation is the safest means of travel there is. But the school bus is over 142,000 times safer. It’s not just a little safer. It’s over one hundred thousand times safer.

But, as I said above, kids are taught — subconsciously — to believe that the school bus (and nearly everything else) is very dangerous. It’s a good idea to teach children how to cross the street safely, but it’s a very bad idea to teach them that they’re at risk when they aren’t. We’re raising a generation of nervous nellies. Eventually, they — the ones who don’t self-destructively rebel against this idiocy, that is — will grow up to be the kind of people who are afraid of their own shadows. Fearful of nearly everything and instinctively dependent (who wouldn’t be, in such a horribly dangerous world?), they’ll be the kind of people who vote dictators into power.

Now, they might not — probably won’t — actually do that. But it is well worth remembering that the environment in which a child is brought up strongly influences the kind of adult he or she will become. The Jesuits say “Give me the boy until he is seven, and I will give you the man.” The current parenting culture, on the other hand, says “Give the child, and I’ll see to it that he’s always a child.”

(Statistical note: School buses carry 24 million children in the USA, and they travel a total of 4.3 billion miles per year, both according to the NHSTA (warning: PDF). I have assumed here that all those kids ride the bus all the time, and that the average child rides exactly half the bus route. These statistics don’t include deaths that occur while on the bus (though that’s even less likely, as it happens), or any fatalities that occur on field trips, after-school activities, etc., because we’re mainly concerned with the normal before- and after-school pick-up and drop-off here.)

Posted by tino at 13:23 6.03.02
Tuesday 05 March 2002

American TV and Prudery, Revisited

I am, as I’ve said here before, mystified by the prudery of American TV. I don’t necessarily have a problem with editing things for broadcast television; prime-time broadcast TV should be something you can watch with your grandmother without feeling squeamish.

What I don’t understand or approve of is strange editing for seemingly no purpose. The Smoking Gun has an account, with pictures, of a mystifying reworking of Diamonds are Forever as shown on ABC recently. Basically, a bra is drawn on an actress (as seen from behind), and her underwear is re-colored from flesh-tone to black. Frankly, the black undies are sexier anyway.

So, in this case at least, it’s not boobies that are potentially destructive to American society, but the mere thought of unclothed boobies. My God.

Posted by tino at 12:31 5.03.02

Maybe They Can Put Him In A Toy Jail

When I was seven years old, I had toy guns. Most of my friends did, too. We’d put these strips of caps in them and shoot ‘em at one another. Bang! Bang! Bang!

Sometimes we wore cowboy hats while doing this. Sometimes we ran out of caps and just threw the guns at one another. Those cheap castings had sharp edges, do in this case the guns might have been considered ‘dangerous weapons’.

However, when a seven-year-old pointed a toy gun at some other kids on December 6 of last year, it was felonious assault, according to the Washtenaw County, Michigan, prosecutor’s office.

The kid’s mother sums up things best, I think:

“I think it’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” said Lisa Davis, Tommy’s mother. “This is a waste of taxpayers’ money. I didn’t think it was against the law to have a toy gun. Doesn’t the police department have anything better to do than to take complaints from kids who have a dispute with other kids?”
Posted by tino at 09:10 5.03.02
Monday 04 March 2002

The Customer Is Always Wrong

An excellent Newsweek article on the music industry. The conventional wisdom now seems to very clearly be that the industry has gone off the deep end.

Clearly, clamping locks on electronic equipment and intentionally crippling CDs wouldn’t increase sales. Would it depress sales? Almost certainly. […] if new discs are copy-protected, someone who wants a classic James Taylor album might do better to buy a vintage disc on eBay. MP3 fans desiring a rip-friendly disc of Moby’s latest would be forced to seek a pirated version where someone has illegally broken the security controls. I can’t see how this situation would boost album revenues. Then there’s the impact on the electronics industry. If new computers, CD-DVD players and personal video recorders are hobbled, consumers will hold on to their pre-Hollings machines. […] What makes this all totally insane is that Internet file sharing is not necessarily the foe of copyright holders. […] No outlaw service can ever provide consumers with the deep libraries at guaranteed high quality that content owners can deliver. […] If the prospect is scary, the media giants can take comfort in history—their original reaction to previous technological advances, from talkies to television to the VCR, was just as hysterical as it is with the Internet.

The music industry, of course, maintains that only they truly understand the situation, and that the rest of us just don’t “get it”. Presumably, if we were insiders, we’d understand how it it that effectively increasing the price and decreasing the quality of the product will lead to greater sales.

The entertainment industry has fought against every technological innovation that touched on their business. When they lost their battles, they went on to make even more money than before by embracing the technology that they swore would be their ruin. I continue to be amazed at just how stupid these people seem to be.

Posted by tino at 23:50 4.03.02

Blaming the Customer

The Wall Street Journal reports (subscription required — the WSJ is well worth it) that Toyota has changed its warranty policy to cover engines that seem to have problems with oil sludging.

Formerly, dealers have refused to repair the engines under warranty unless customers could produce receipts proving that they’d changed the oil at the right intervals for “severs operating conditions”. Now, it appears that they’re just fixing the cars.

The column says, in part:

There are lessons to be learned here. One is that any car maker — no matter how sterling its reputation for quality — must think hard about responding to complaints with policies that effectively blame the customer for things gone wrong. It could be that the customer is off-base. But customers aren’t as powerless as in the past to fight back. That puts a different spin on the cost calculus for a manufacturer confronted by a problem like Toyota’s. Let’s say for argument’s sake that all 3,000 Toyota customers who reported engine-sludge problems are truly at fault for totally neglecting proper maintenance. It would still be cheaper for Toyota to replace all these engines for free than to risk significant, ongoing damage to its reputation. That reputation is worth hundreds of dollars per vehicle in extra profit, because many consumers will pay more to get a Toyota than a comparable vehicle from a weaker brand. “You don’t want to be blaming your customer,” says Mr. Rodland.

Why don’t more companies understand this? Most of the companies I deal with seem to delight in blaming the customer, and providing the mimimum service or product that they’re legally bound to. My mobile phone provider, for instance, isn’t contractually required to actually provide any phone service at all.

Posted by tino at 14:09 4.03.02

High-School Research, and Plagiarism

Background: a high-school teacher in Kansas City has resigned following the school board’s meddling in her grading of 28 10th-graders who plagiarised material for an assigned research paper.

The Kansas City Star has an account that includes this:

Woolley [the parent of an involved ‘A student’] said she believes the district needs to do a better job of educating students about plagiarism. She said her daughter is not sure now how much she needs to rewrite research material before she can use it. [emphasis added]
    Well, there's the problem.  The students -- or this one, at least -- see their task as "rewriting research material".  They misunderstand the purpose of their work, possibly because the official stated purpose of it is nonsensical.

In my school days, a lot of micromanaging was done by the Missouri department of education. One of the state requirements was that the major year-end project in 11th grade English class was to write a “Research Paper”. (The people in the K.C. Star article are in Kansas, but the Kansas D. of E. probably does the same thing.)

This paper — required to be the mind-boggling length of fivepages, double-spaced — was harped on all of 11th grade, and most of 10th. “You think this is hard, kiddies, wait until your Research Paper!” etc. The explanation of the requirements for this paper took at least a week of class time. “Research” meant two or three weeks of the English class meeting in the library for an hour a week. There were then three weeks to “write” the thing, whereupon it was handed in and counted for most of the second-semester grade for English III.

Notecards were explained, and MLA style, and margins and footnotes and bibliographies oh my. But I don’t think there was ever any discussion of the purpose of writing such a paper, namely to express some novel thought or to find some original connections between facts in the materials researched. That is, that the purpose of the Research Paper was scholarship, i.e. synthesis of knowledge.

It’s probably not reasonable to expect much original research from

high-school students in a five-page paper, but it’s also not reasonable to

expect them to play at research unless they have some knowledge of the

purpose of what they’re playing at.

In the 80s, my class wasn’t really given much of an idea of what we were really supposed to do with the Research Paper; I think that most of my classmates just re-worded entries from the Encyclopedia and left it at that. Since respect for the high-school intellect seems to have declined even more since then, I doubt that things are better today.

I still think that the kids copying their material should be failed. But I think that a good deal of the problem — in this case an in a lot of the other school-plagiarism cases you read about now — is due not to that reliable bugbear, the Internet, but due to the assignments being presented as procedural training, hoops to be jumped though, rather than as actual intellectual exercises.

Posted by tino at 13:19 4.03.02

Lileks on Nursing Homes

James Lileks’ Bleat for today is an emotionally-draining account of a visit to a nursing home. In it, though, he says:

I don’t get it. If I designed a nursing home, I’d stock the library with old movies and copies of old mags, pipe swing and 30s jazz through the speakers, put up photos of Bogart and Bacall, and let everyone marinate in the age when they were limber and hale. Why not? What better way to tell people they’d best shuffle off to Buffalo then to plop them in this unmoored moment where none of their culture has survived?

Posted by tino at 12:13 4.03.02
Friday 01 March 2002

Sin Tax on Coca-Cola proposed in California

Kids in America are fat, and they appear to be getting fatter. This isn’t because they’re not allowed to leave the house by themselves anymore. Oh, no, it’s because they’re drinking soda. Obviously, what’s needed is a tax on soda to decrease consumption.

Diet drinks — full of strange chemicals that, of course, might themselves be dangerous, are exempted, as are sodas that contain at least 10% fruit juice. So if 10% of the drink contains fructose from a “natural” source, and the other 90% contains high fructose corn syrup, it’s less likely to make children fat, and thus healthy?

I don’t pretend to understand anything about these people, except that they’re dangerous.

Posted by tino at 11:13 1.03.02