moldybluecheesecurds 2

Monday, October 31, 2005

It's worth your time

Although I frequently feel like the media's obsession with human interest stories leads to too many "How tyrannical rule in China affects this small town family" stuff, sometimes it's incredibly compelling. There's a kid named Reece Meikle who died from an incredibly strange blood disorder last year and whose death baffled the medical community in Minnesota. It's a great story of how doctors reached the limits of their profession and how a family had to deal with the trauma of an inexplicable death of a wonderful young man. Read it.

Day 1: What killed Reece Meikle?

Day 2: Watching as the worst comes true

Day 3: From hospital lab to crowded wake, one question: why?

Day 4: Ruling out everything in search for answers

Day 5: Making peace with the unknown

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Trying listening to those advisors, buddy

I just saw this while reading for a graduate class on the interaction of science and politics. Three years ago, the Chairman of President Bush's Council on Bioethics wrote in his vision for the council that, "Some efforts to prolong life may come at the price of its degradation, the unintended consequences of success at life-saving interventions." So why were so many Republicans trying to keep Terri Schiavo, human vegetable from a better life in the hereafter?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

I can be "that guy"

Sometimes I feel like a misunderstanding in a conversation leaves me defending things I don't care about or didn't even agree with. I hate that. I tend to assume that people have good intentions and mean to be agreeable, so I tend to approach disagreement with curiosity. Other people do not.

I guess it probably happens when I have no vested interest and the other person does. Then my curiosity could be perceived as both lackadaisical (because I have no firm opinion) and contrary (because the alternatives all look equally appealing). That's like the guy who can never tell you what he wants on his pizza. Hmm, annoying.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Is a real campaign the best way to an impartial judiciary?

What's more important? Knowing the judge you present your case to is an impartial witness to the evidence brought before her? Or knowing which political endorsements she has and what her opinion is on issues like Roe v. Wade? I'd suggest that the typical mudslinging, partisan election is inappropriate for judicial campaigns.

Example number one. In recent elections in Illinois, a state Supreme Court election cost the two candidates a combined $9.3 million. In the last contested race for the Supreme Court in Minnesota, the two candidates spent $37,000. When money becomes more important in politics, so will the people who have it. Justice should be impartial to wealth. Electing judges with full-blown campaigns could compromise that.

Point number two. Supporters of partisan and hard-fought judicial races have no appreciation for the fact that the kinds of information aired in a campaign would have little to do with competence on the bench. Traditional political campaigns are filled with issue positions that get boiled down into character attacks (your tax policy means you hate America!). I fail to see how having that kind of illumination on Election Day will get us better judges.

The Minnesota man who brought forth the lawsuit challenging the state's regulation of judicial races argues that folks who fear real campaigns "fear democracy." Judging by the election of George W. Bush, the hoopla over gubernatorial recall and referenda in California, etc, I'd say that people should have a healthy fear of democracy. Fareed Zakaria, in his book The Future of Freedom, notes that sometimes more direct democracy just asks for trouble. His assessment of California's trouble of popular legislation mirrors his assessment of problems in Third World countries. They both struggle with what he terms illiberal democracy - a tendency to let democracy trump rule of constitutional law.

While the people might be the source of laws in democracy (indirectly), no one is above it. We need well qualified people on the bench to enforce and interpret our laws, not just good campaigners.

Jones, stop Googling and get back to work!

It's no surprise that many companies are starting to crack down on employee internet use. I've never understood why so many workplaces allow their employees free access to the internet. I've been in very few job situations where I required internet access for work-related activity. The rest of the time I spent surfing news sites, checking email, or doing onling shopping. Good for the economy, perhaps, but not for business.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Never, ever drive drunk in this county

There aren't many times that rhythm becomes a prerequisite for testing clean at a DUI stop. Good thing this guy can dance. Too bad he can't stop talking.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Gambling with their lives, and their money

It's an honor to know that so many servicemen and women are serving the United States so honorably around the world right now. They're willing to put their lives on the line to protect our country and to defend our interests abroad. So what does it say to the soldiers when we find a way to take back millions of their paychecks to pay for their own entertainment?

A dirty little Pentagon secret is that American military bases around the world have slot machines, allowing soldiers to participate in some harmless diversion, or perhaps squander their entire paychecks. When Congress ordered the Pentagon to study the effect of gambling on military families, the Pentagon first hired PriceWaterhouseCoopers, but then decided on an internal investigation when it seemed the contractors were a little too interested in the truth.

See, the military makes $120 million a year on its gambling soldiers, and although many of its casino games are on overseas bases, it has only one problem gambling treatment center for troops in the entire world. In fact, for many soldiers, admitting a gambling habit is the short route to a dishonorable discharge.

So let's get this straight. We take advantage of stressed troops' need for entertainment to get their money from gambling. We justify it by using the proceeds for other entertainment for them. We refuse to treat them if they have a gambling problem (that's hard to avoid if they can't leave the base). And then we refurse to let a third party do an honest survey of the problem. Nice.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Smokers pay again

Everyone knows that smokers already pay. They have to buy their cancer sticks. They pay big-time state taxes. They sit or stand outside of many establishments. But now Northwest Airlines is taking the health issue one step further. Employees who smoke will now pay higher health insurance premiums. I can't recall the last time I agreed with these pillow-depriving, peanut stealers, but this policy strikes me as good sense. You want to engage in health hazardous, smelly behavior? Don't expect me to pay for your oxygen tank.

All nastiness aside, I'd hope the health insurer also cuts a deal on quitting programs, because people who smoke can't always help the habit.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Spin the turbine, but watch the bird

Sometimes my fellow environmentalists drive me nuts. In my mind, it's a great triumph that businesses are finally taking alternative energy seriously enough to start investing in some fairly large scale wind power projects. The Nantucket Sound wind project, for example, will put out a projected 419 megawatts per hour. Ironically, the greens are actually mounting opposition to wind energy projects.

Apparently, wind turbines can have one specific environmental impact as they absorb wind energy by spinning turbines. Those large blades have a tendency to whack anything out of the air nearby, including birds of prey or bats. Some environmentalists are clamoring for the shutdown or relocation of certain turbines because of the potential impact on airborne species.

If these requests can be accomodated with a minimum of fuss, I say great. But in general I find it appalling that anyone from the green movement is lobbying against wind power. Think of the alternatives. Are spent fuel rods from nuclear plants an improvement over a few dead birds or bats? Are we willing to trade off wind power for more coal and oil and the requisite pollution? Greater dependency on foreign oil?

Sure, I exaggerate. Most of the changes seem fairly superficial such as avoiding key migration routes and habitats. But in the grand scheme of things, we're much better off letting those turbines spin.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Bad news? Watch out for terrorists!

All credit to my friend at 28th Avenue for posting a link to MSNBC's story on "The Nexus of Politics and Terror." It illuminates the Bush Administration's willingness to politicize terror threats to kill unfavorable news coverage. Coincidence ten times over? I think not.
Someone much more creative than I decided that the Lord of the Rings would be much better with some of the witty dialogue of the Princess Bride.

GOLLUM: You were supposed to be this legendary manservant, you were this great loyal companion, and yet there are crumbs on your jacket!
SAM [to FRODO]: Well, I’m carrying food for three people, and Gollum’s got only himself.
FRODO: I do not accept excuses! I’m just going to have to find myself a new gardener, that’s all.
SAM: Don’t say that, master Frodo. Please?
FRODO: Did I make it clear that your job is at stake?

Inconceivable!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The enemy of my enemy is my friend

I must confess that while I find the idea of confirming My Little Crony to the Supreme Court somewhat repugnant, Pat Oliphant makes a good case (in 1000 words or less) for why Harriet Miers might be worth a second look.

Monday, October 10, 2005

My Little Crony

So you already got my opinion post on Harriet Miers, but here's the take of a wise and talented editorial cartoonist.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

A legacy called "My Buddy"

Harriet Miers appears to be nothing more than a crony appointment to the Supreme Court. Despite her lawyerly background, she has zero judicial experience, leaving Bush to offer this assertion of her qualifications: "I've seen into her heart."

Quin Hillyer of Newshouse points out how this is one dumb political move:
Now the Ted Kennedy left will have a field day portraying Miers as an unqualified crony while the political right remains unenthused and silent -- because they, too, consider her an unqualified crony.
George Will is scathing:
There is no reason to believe that Miers' nomination resulted from the president's careful consultation with people capable of [sophisticated] judgments [about competing interpretations of the Constitution]. If 100 such people had been asked to list 100 individuals who have given evidence of the reflectiveness and excellence requisite in a justice, Miers' name probably would not have appeared in any of the 10,000 places on those lists.
Even the conservative blog Powerline could say nothing better than this:
Prior experience doing the same work is universally considered important for almost every job that requires skill...It's important to note, however, that while prior judicial experience is a valuable qualification, its absence doesn't necessarily make a nominee unqualified.
If the unenthusiastic reception of conservative pundits isn't enough, Bush should perhaps be concerned by this news note from FOX News:
Anti-abortion group Operation: Rescue on Tuesday promised an active campaign to get Bush to withdraw her nomination.
So the far right campaigns against her, mainstream conservatives are unenthusiastic, liberals are disgusted, and the President "knows her heart." How touching. President Bush should be considering his legacy, if nothing else. Teapot Dome, anyone?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A gun toting robot that doesn't suck

What happens when you combine the maker of a popular robotic vacuum with the Army's need to locate snipers in urban warfare settings (i.e. Iraq)? Enter REDOWL, a little robot that can locate the source of gunfire with 94% accuracy and illuminate it with visible or infrared light (the latter visible with nightvision goggles). This little piece of hardware can apparently be added on to robots already in use by the army. Fortunately, there are no plans to give these iRobot devices firearms, but we can't discount the value of an urban soldier that would clean up between firefights.