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Nerd Spot

A shout out to the nerdy and proud.

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Location: Massachusetts, United States

Lifelong nerd, shameless Constitution-hugger, unreconstructed Democrat and thoroughgoing misanthrope

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Yaarrgh! Get yer hands off me ... stemware??

Ah, Blackbeard. Now who wouldn't love a guy with fuses in his beard? Sure, it might seem a little heavy-handed since the perfection of bullying, intimidation and dishonesty by Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, but let's not forget that in the 1700s, "sign aboard or walk the plank" was one hell of an effective push poll. But I digress. Thanks to the delightful daily headlines from Archaeology Magazine, I found this interesting (to me) story in which archaeologists have linked stemware found with the wreck that some presume is the Queen Anne's Revenge to the early 18th century. Based on the craftsmanship, a specialist dated the glass to 1710-1720. The wine glass is missing part of the bowl and its base, but the remaining four-sided stem has diamonds and crowns embossed on it in honor of the coronation of England's George I. According to the article, this type of glass was never popular with the English. Further, the leaded glass helps in dating the glass, because finer crystal glasses were not developed until later. Blackbeard's ship ran aground in Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina in 1718.

Other sites of interest:
North Carolina Maritime Museum page on Blackbeard and Queen Anne's Revenge
The Queen Anne's Revenge Shipwreck Project site

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Friday, May 06, 2005


So here's my new semi-regular feature: Whackjobs of the Week. I'm calling it such because Whackjobs of the Fortnight or Whackjobs of the Month in Accordance with the Lunar Calendar produce less satisfying acronymic outcomes. Criteria include delightfully insane rants, use of cheesy graphics (unlike the style I bring to my template blog), and aggressive use of font options. LOTS OF CAPS and bold italics always convey a message to your readers. That message being that you're as crazy as a rat in a coffee can. Of course, it helps if there is zealous adherence to some particular cause, and obviously flawed reasoning is always a plus. I realize some of these will be the equivalent of clubbing baby seals, but I'm a mean son-of-a-bitch so that's the way it goes.

For the Whackjobs of the Week, Week of May 2nd, I give you
Citizens for Limited Taxation

CLT is an anti-tax advocacy group in Massachusetts. Motto: Every tax is a pay cut...A tax cut is a pay raise. Now I grant that whipping up support
for "tax relief" in a legislature so overwhelmingly Democratic that if a Republican goes to use the bathroom, they won't have enough votes for a roll call is not an easy task. Still, you might think that if you want to be taken seriously, you should at least pretend not to be hostile. My favorite this week are the titles they chose for their updates. Hit a pothole, thank a teacher is a fair and balanced look at public pensions for teachers (Massachusetts public employees don't pay into Social Security). It's filled with your usual conservative-type language manipulations like
  • "the Boston Globe's out-of-touch editorial board elites would only read their own newspaper they might tumble down out of their ivy tower" (emphasis in original)
  • "over half of that $1.2 BILLION extracted from us taxpayers annually for public employees' platinum parachutes -- $682 million of it every year -- goes directly just to "retired" teachers, much of it to cover this newest scam." (emphasis in original)
  • A reference to the "Education-Industrial Complex" (I admit I laughed at that one).
  • "[R]apacious teachers unions"
  • Poor roadway maintenance inspired the author to suggest " that we need a bumper-stickers of our own that reads: 'Hit a pothole, thank a teacher!'"
The secret ticking time bomb: "public service" pensions, health insurance giveaways is another lovely human interest piece on the the "'public service' gravy train [that] is soon to utterly bury us, especially the younger generations coming up who'll have to pay the staggering bill for government first and foremost taking care of itself as usual."

The public service in quotations certainly is endearing, because we all know that NOBODY could possibly be interested in making a difference in public life or their community. They're all in it for the massive salaries (except for the Mittster who doesn't take one, because he doesn't need one) and the exclusive perks. In fact, last time I checked, Weston's population is 88% teacher. They drive around in Lexuses with low-numbered license plates on their way to the secret yacht club for public employees. Their cars aren't powered with gasoline either. They were specially developed to run on taxpayer dollars. Hundreds, preferably.

In addition, both updates bizarrely and appprovingly reference a Fortune article that bitches about public employees retaining pension benefits when the private sector is junking them with the rest of the social compact. I guess if it's ok for the private sector to screw our parents, government should be doing it, too. Bring back the poor house! The article disingenuously discusses local/state government cost offloading to the federal government under Medicare D when in fact many states, including Massachusetts, will end up picking up more of the cost of care for the elderly and disabled than they already do. Nor is there any mention of looming multi-billion dollar private pension bailouts by and through the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation. Savings & Loan ring a bell? It should to Neil Bush.

However, now that the proposition 2 1/2 generation has faded away, CLT is in large part sending their message to a bunch of public servants. Many of these same public servants have children, often in public schools, and happen to like teachers. Because of the nature of their work, they interact with many public employees whom they also tend to like.

But reasonable people can disagree, n'est-ce pas? How about when you call your political opposition evil? I think the Nixonesque enemies list is a nice touch, too.

"How despicably evil is the Gimme Lobby. When it needs to advance their agenda, without hesitation they trot out the sick, the halt and the lame on cue and scare the living bejesus out of the unfortunates in the process.

Yes, evil.

We've seen it in every campaign where an attempt is made to let taxpayers keep more of their hard-earned income ... every time, without exception, unless it's done their way.

Evil incarnate.

Whether it's "cutting school lunches" when it's an increase in spending ("investment" in PC-Speak) that's not as much as the Gimme Lobby demands, "throwing the elderly out into the streets" or the perennial "roads and bridges are crumbling all around us," when they can't get even more of our money -- there's always a prefabricated and timely "dire crisis" that never explains what all our already "invested" money has purchased.

We eternally need to "invest" more, but we never seem to get any return on the "investments" we've already made -- the goal post just gets further and further out of reach the more that's taken from us ... oops! ... "invested."

Yesterday's news release from the governor's office (full text below) is another example. It noted:

"Massachusetts has been nationally recognized for leading the way in providing health insurance for families and for children in particular. Last month, Governor Cellucci and Swift released a report on the uninsured population in Massachusetts. Since 1998, there has been a significant drop in the number of uninsured, from 8.2 percent to 5.9 percent, with an even more dramatic reduction in the number of children without health coverage, from 5.8 percent to 2.8 percent."

The evil Gimme Lobby's response: State Sen. Richard Moore (D-Utopia), at its dog-and-pony show yesterday, observed that "while progress has been made during the economic boom of the last decade, much more remains to shore up a fragile health care system."

Even though the state budget has doubled in just the last dozen years, "much more remains" to be done.

"More Is Never Enough!" (MINE!)

More never will be until they have it all.

And they won't stop until they do.

Barbara reports that Sen. Birmingham threatened yesterday that the promised tax rollback would destroy dental care and even housing for children! She calls it his "teeth and home" scare.

There is no morality too sacred, no compassion for the less fortunate too revered, beyond which the shameless Gimme Lobby will not transgress when its stranglehold on our wallets and its power is threatened.

Drag an unfortunate wheelchair-bound child and his stressed mother, terrified by lies and misinformation, into their news conference as a sympathetic prop to advance their agenda?

Nothing new. They do it all the time and, after all, they did vow to do "whatever we have to do" to defeat Question 4. They do "whatever we have to do" all the time, and there isn't much if anything they won't do.

Remember the elderly seniors around the state they terrified then subpoenaed into a Boston court when they desperately needed to disqualify signatures on our first rollback petition?

Compassion? Caring? Honesty?

Not from that crowd. Not when their power is at risk.

Evil. Selfish, stark and heartless evil."


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Thursday, May 05, 2005

Corporate Whore

So I admit I'm a complete corporate whore. I have no principles. I am shilling for The Man. Yet, I implore you. Watch Arrested Development. You''ll laugh. Out loud. Without prompting from a laugh track. You don't need tv to tell you what's funny. Watch it before it's cancelled. My heart still remains empty from the loss of such late greats as Mr. Belvedere, Blossom, Parker Lewis Can't Lose, Silver Spoons and Hunter. O, Michael Stoyanov, at which dinner theater are you thespiating?! Christopher Hewitt, I hope you're butling up in heaven! Hey, Corin Nemec, watch out for Mansquito! Fred Dryer, oh when will you back in force?! Michael Bluth, I mean, Jason Bateman, loved ya in Dodgeball. The point: life is short. Your beloved(s) will leave you. Grab that remote firmly and don't let go.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Breathtaking Tykes

"Nobody ever called me breathtaking before."
"I've never been called breathtaking either."

The New York Times
New York Times.com
May 3, 2005

Ugly Children May Get Parental Short Shrift


Parents would certainly deny it, but Canadian researchers have made a startling assertion: parents take better care of pretty children than they do ugly ones.

Researchers at the University of Alberta carefully observed how parents treated their children during trips to the supermarket. They found that physical attractiveness made a big difference.

The researchers noted if the parents belted their youngsters into the grocery cart seat, how often the parents' attention lapsed and the number of times the children were allowed to engage in potentially dangerous activities like standing up in the shopping cart. They also rated each child's physical attractiveness on a 10-point scale.

The findings, not yet published, were presented at the Warren E. Kalbach Population Conference in Edmonton, Alberta.

When it came to buckling up, pretty and ugly children were treated in starkly different ways, with seat belt use increasing in direct proportion to attractiveness. When a woman was in charge, 4 percent of the homeliest children were strapped in compared with 13.3 percent of the most attractive children. The difference was even more acute when fathers led the shopping expedition - in those cases, none of the least attractive children were secured with seat belts, while 12.5 percent of the prettiest children were.

Homely children were also more often out of sight of their parents, and they were more often allowed to wander more than 10 feet away.

Age - of parent and child - also played a role. Younger adults were more likely to buckle their children into the seat, and younger children were more often buckled in. Older adults, in contrast, were inclined to let children wander out of sight and more likely to allow them to engage in physically dangerous activities.

Although the researchers were unsure why, good-looking boys were usually kept in closer proximity to the adults taking care of them than were pretty girls. The researchers speculated that girls might be considered more competent and better able to act independently than boys of the same age. The researchers made more than 400 observations of child-parent interactions in 14 supermarkets.

Dr. W. Andrew Harrell, executive director of the Population Research Laboratory at the University of Alberta and the leader of the research team, sees an evolutionary reason for the findings: pretty children, he says, represent the best genetic legacy, and therefore they get more care.

Not all experts agree. Dr. Frans de Waal, a professor of psychology at Emory University, said he was skeptical.

"The question," he said, "is whether ugly people have fewer offspring than handsome people. I doubt it very much. If the number of offspring are the same for these two categories, there's absolutely no evolutionary reason for parents to invest less in ugly kids."

Dr. Robert Sternberg, professor of psychology and education at Yale, said he saw problems in Dr. Harrell's method and conclusions, for example, not considering socioeconomic status.

"Wealthier parents can feed, clothe and take care of their children better due to greater resources," Dr. Sternberg said, possibly making them more attractive. "The link to evolutionary theory is speculative."

But Dr. Harrell said the importance of physical attractiveness "cuts across social class, income and education."

"Like lots of animals, we tend to parcel out our resources on the basis of value," he said. "Maybe we can't always articulate that, but in fact we do it. There are a lot of things that make a person more valuable, and physical attractiveness may be one of them."

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Adhesion contract (n.) --

Adhesion Contract (n.) -- A standard-form contract prepared by one party, to be signed by the party in a weaker position, usu. a consumer, who adheres to the contract with little choice about the terms. Black's Law Dictionary (8th ed. 2004).

Being an all-around bully-hater, I thought this site was pretty amusing. I breathlessly await my kid's activation code. I also confess to a bias against microsoft as I especially loathe their annoying self- and cross-promotion in every product issued (for the love of God, leave me alone MSN Messenger! Get your corporate detritus off of my screen!)

So the site also tickled my interest as i have been forced to imbibe entirely too much economics in the law recently and need some mental ipecac to get it out of my system. For a particularly enraging opinion (in a dry, law-talkin' guy, sort-of-way), see Hill v. Gateway 2000. In that case, a couple ordered a Gateway computer (i'm a dell person myself) over the phone with a credit card. Like any other electronics or software you've purchase, a bunch of papers with terms and conditions in miniscule font that no one ever looks at came with it.* Those papers set out terms and conditions that said the couple was bound by the terms unless they returned the computer within 30 days (paying shipping, of course). When their computer broke a few months later, Gateway wouldn't repair it, and they sued. Gateway said, "ha ha! (nelson munce-style), now's the time to take a good look at those tiny terms on the papers in the box. You have no right to sue us, you toothless hicks (i paraphrase, of course)! You gave up your right to sue in that tiny-fonted insert. You've won a trip to arbitration!"**

The court said that there was no sale when the couple called Gateway and forked over their credit card number after which gateway agreed to ship their white elephant. Nope, gateway shipped the computer (which, i would think, your average person would assume he has already purchased) with an "accept-or-return offer" to sell the computer. The sale wasn't made until the couple didn't return the computer within 30 days (the only way to avoid the arbitration terms). It didn't matter that the supposed offer wasn't explained in any meaningful way or within a reasonable period of time.

This is so law schooly, I should be ashamed of myself, but i can't help it: One author noted that the case is particularly astonishing, because it revives "the principle that
dominant contracting parties can use standard forms and manipulate the mode of agreement to bind their customers without meaningful assent, notice, or opportunity to pursue other terms. It transforms the normal into the unexpected--giving a credit card number on the phone is not really a sale. Then the unexpected becomes normal; more and more, companies like Gateway can dictate the terms on which their products are purchased and used with only the barest illusion of consent. As [a law professor explained] explained, under Hill, 'misrepresentation is the oil that lubricates capitalism.'"

And now, for an awkward transition, riddle me this,

Q: when can a credit card company charge you 28.49%, the highest possible rate?
A: when the cardholder is late making a payment to any creditor, including phone and utility bills and car payments. this can happen even if the cardholder paid the credit card company on time.

You know all that stuff that comes with your credit card statement every month? wouldn't you like to know what you agreed to in those tiny terms? Check out a really comprehensive overview from frontline: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/credit/

*the papers stated that they were bound by the terms unless they returned the electronic doodad within 30 days, paying for the shipping themselves. Did you even get to these tiny terms? do you know where all those pieces of paper that came in the box for grand theft auto: vice city that you bought awhile back? how about for your iMac?

**arbitration is a topic of venting for another day, but the first question i always ask myself as a consumer is "why is industry x, or industry in general so keen to do y?" generally, the answer has nothing to do with benefits for their employees or consumers, although that won't stop them from framing it that way. wouldn't you be suspicious if your opponent picked the judge hearing your case who happened rely on
your opponent for more business.

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