Monthly Archives: October 2007

BusinessWeek’s Vivek Wadhwa thinks that fears that we’re falling behind in the sciences are misplaced. First a snide observation, but I’ll follow it up with some actual thoughts:

The call has been taken up by some of the most prominent people in business and politics. Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft, said at an education summit in 2005, “In the international competition to have the biggest and best supply of knowledge workers, America is falling behind.” President George W. Bush addressed the issue in his 2006 State of the Union address. “We need to encourage children to take more math and science, and to make sure those courses are rigorous enough to compete with other nations,” he said.

You ever get the sense that for a lot of people (myself included, I must admit) it’s not so much about their being too few science/math majors but rather there being too many liberal arts majors? I half consider talk like this to be the public policy equivalent of “Quit your band, cut your hair, and get a real job!”

So, there isn’t a lack of interest in science and engineering in the U.S., or a deficiency in the supply of engineers. However, there may sometimes be short-term shortages of engineers with specific technical skills in certain industry segments or in various parts of the country. The National Science Foundation data show that of the students who graduated from 1993 to 2001, 20% of the bachelor’s holders went on to complete master’s degrees in fields other than science and engineering and an additional 45% were working in other fields. Of those who completed master’s degrees, 7% continued their education and 31% were working in fields other than science and engineering.

There isn’t a problem with the capability of U.S. children. Even if there were a deficiency in math and science education, there are so many graduates today that there would be enough who are above average and fully qualified for the relatively small number of science and engineering jobs. Science and engineering graduates just don’t see enough opportunity in these professions to continue further study or to take employment.

This confirms my biases, so it absolutely must be true. Perhaps it’s because of the type of people I hang out with and maybe where I went to school, but I see a whole lot of mathematical, scientific, and engineering talent being underutilized. At the least, I see a whole lot more of that than I see companies unable to staff their payroll.

I think that part of the issue is big companies complaining that they don’t have the very specific skills that they need, rather than that their aren’t enough math people out there. The cause of this is not too many people majoring in Comparative Folk Dancing (though too many are) but rather the fluctuation in demand. My brother majored in aeronautical engineering despite being warned by everybody not to because there was such a surplus. By the time he graduated enough of his peers had listened that he was quite in demand… and a new generation of future engineers were being told to start majoring in aeronautical engineering… and round and round we go.

Some of this is unavoidable. Who knows what we’ll need five years from now? Things are always, always, always changing. But some of it is the expectation on the part of employers that they get their employees already trained and ready to start on the first day. For a variety of reasons (not all unreasonable) they don’t want to train. In some cases, they’d rather import talent from abroad that already knows exactly what they need to know.

I have many not-very-nice things to say about my former employer Bregna, but one of the things that they did that I really respected was that they were looking for good people (as they defined it, anyhow) rather than people that had all the right skills. It helped that they primarily used an obsolete programming language and that this was determined in part by necessity, but even so they had the right idea. They’re not requesting people have just the right experience with Fortran… they’re requesting that people have demonstrated that they have the ability to learn it.

As someone with a lot of experience in a lot of different areas but always falling short of the “__ years experience required in _______” threshold, this is an issue of importance to me. I’m biased, but I think that employees like me are great. I’m a utility infielder with the demonstrated ability to learn just about anything given the time. But alas, people like me (even ones that are smarter, more ambitious, and more reliable) are frequently overlooked.

I wish that undergraduate majors were a lot more broad than they are. In my mind, graduate school ought to be the area for specialization. This is something that I think the medical field does right. Clancy came out of medical school with a broad education and from that she chose her specialization (which turned out to be broad, too, but by her own choice).

Category: Office, School

Slate’s Justin Peters has a piece on cell phone games and why they just aren’t what they used to be (namely… free):

In the early part of this decade, cell phones started to become less about the phone call and more about the ring tone. Mobile-gaming types began to realize two things. First, if kids were willing to pay $3 for a 10-second snippet of a 50 Cent song, they’d probably be willing to pay some nonzero amount for a game. Second, consumers aren’t going to buy the cow when they can play Virtual Milkmaid for free. It’s obvious where this line of reasoning leads: Goodbye Tetris, hello $7 Tetris. But Tetris isn’t the industry’s endgame. Established gaming companies—images of a potentially multibillion-dollar market dancing in their heads—have bought out mobile-game studios and set to work manufacturing slimmed-down versions of full-platform games. (Electronic Arts paid $680 million for Jamdat Mobile in December 2005, for instance.) If you’ve felt a primal need to play Age of Empires II in an elevator (just $19.95 on a Windows Mobile Smartphone), your long and burdensome wait is over.

Like Peters, I used to spend hours and hours playing snake on my cell phone while waiting in line, waiting on the elevator, and various other in-between-with-nothing-to-do points in my life. I became quite the enthusiast! Slowly but surely the games stopped being included. My assumption was that, as Peters notes, they simply started wanting money for the games. Here’s the rub, though, I can’t buy games for the phones. I go to the little “store” and it says that none are available. Quite aggravating.

I think that the cell phone people overestimate the flexibility of their product. It’s like when they started trying to sell music (not ring-tones, but DRM-protected music files) at $3 a pop (in part to show Apple that their iTunes were not charging enough). It was a complete flop. As long as we have to change cell phones whenever we change providers, or we are forced to change to an incompatible model or brand when one breaks, the uses of a cell phone as anything but a cell phone are limited. I’m simply not going to invest in something that dies with the device that I am using it with. This is something that the record labels and movie studios are going to have to learn when it comes to selling digital copies of their product. This is especially the case for a cell phone which is likely to be changed out with more frequency than an individual computer or TiVO-like box.

Ever since I got my Pocket PC I’ve taken to using that when I used to use my cell phone. Jawbreaker is the new Mindsweeper (which was the new Tetris). I don’t mind buying applications for it because I won’t have to change Pocket PCs on a corporate whim and I know whatever Pocket PC I get in the future, there is little chance that it will stop working.

I do miss Snake, though.

Category: Theater

Every now and then, CNN and other newsmedia run puff pieces on people who are exonerated of previously convicted crimes, usually through DNA evidence and the work of groups like Innocence Project.

In this one, however, I found something that disturbed me.

Sometimes an Innocence Project client is confirmed to be guilty by DNA evidence, but the group doesn’t make the number of those cases available. Theoretically, If key DNA material in a case is properly preserved, there’s no time limit on revisiting old cases, according to the Innocence Project.

This worries me slightly – I understand that their goal is a reform of the justice system. In many ways I sympathize with their cause, since psychological science has proven time and again that certain longstanding identification techniques (books of “known criminals”, badly arranged lineups) can easily be abused and give false information, and that memory fades and changes over time.

At the same time, the question this passage raises is, is Innocence Project wilfully exaggerating the extent of “wrongful” convictions for their purposes? What other purpose does hiding the record and ratio of guilty/innocent determinations by their DNA testing serve, except that it may come out that most of the people they test are in fact guilty, and that the justice system may be mostly working as it should?

And if they were getting a whole lot of exonerations, wouldn’t they be willing to say, perhaps, that “over 50%” or “over 75%” or even “over 25%” of the people they tested were innocent? Heck, 10% or even 1% (1 in 100) would be a not-inconsequential figure and better evidence for their cause. Instead, they only list “208 exonerated.”

There’s an old rhetorical fallacy from the baloney detection kit known as “Observational Selection” (aka “counting the hits but forgetting the misses”) and I submit today that Innocence Project, in presenting the statistic of “208 exonerated” on their webpage while refusing to tell us how many of their subjects are confirmed guilty, are very guilty of this.

Category: Courthouse

The folks over at Slate think that this season of Office has been little short of a disaster. As I read their critique and suggestions for improvement, I had to ask myself: What the heck are they smoking? The Office is better than it has been since Season 2, which may be one of the best seasons of any comedy ever made. If anything, Season 3 represented a backslide and Season 4 is a recuperation. Further, some of their complaints are some of the best things about the show.

Their first complaint is the (temporary) one-hour episode structure. Watch carefully and you will see that these are not hour-long episodes, they’re a combination of two-part episodes that break pretty evenly about the middle (for syndication purposes, most likely). As someone that plowed through the first two seasons in the course of a week, I don’t have a problem with back-to-back episodes. This might have presented a problem last season when the show was not at its best, but I’d take two hour episodes of the stuff they’re putting together this season.

The most puzzling thing, though, is their disappointment at the relationship of Pam and Jim:

PB & J are a disappointment for those of us who saw the couple as a worthy successor to Ross and Rachel, NBC’s will-they-or-won’t-they couple of yore. But their relationship is also a bad sign for the show. Jim and Pam’s thwarted love gave The Office a narrative arc that transcended the episode-to-episode hijinks of the other Dunderheads. Pam and Jim provided emotional ballast for a show that has always been in danger of keeling over into the absurd. Now, especially with these first episodes running to the hour, the show feels adrift and, at times, pointless. When Michael finally learns that Jim and Pam are together, he malaprops that “this is a day that will live in infamy.” Let’s hope that doesn’t turn out to be the case.

Good grief, the last thing I wanted was for Pam and Jim to devolve into a Ross-and-Rachel situation. Ross and Rachel were, though likable, vain and rather self-centered people. Part of the magic of Pam and Jim is that they have never, ever been that way with one another. Their hurdles were not indications of character defects, they were external. They were the perfect couple-in-waiting. It would be beyond disappointment if they suddenly decided to start screwing it up. It’s quite possible that it will happen in future years, but I hope not. Tim and Dawn in the British Office had two seasons and a movie and their happy ending. The concept behind Jim/Tim and Pam/Dawn simply wasn’t meant to go on forever. I for one am very glad that the writers recognized this, made it happen, and are moving on. Problems will surely arise as they do in any relationship, but I am glad that they didn’t leave them twisting in the wind forever and I’m going to be pretty pissed off if it devolves into a drama-fest.

Besides, their partnership gives room for the Dwight/Angela/Andy situation, which even the Slate people seem to be liking. It also gave room for the last episode with an extraordinary scene with Michael and Jan that was both heartfelt and funny. If Pam and Jim were still hovering about, that would have been a lot more secondary than it was.

The verdict for Ryan’s new position at corporate seems to have a lot of people nonplussed and thus far I’m the only person that likes it. I thought that the entire reason for putting Ryan in New York was to make him a foil for the gang and that’s exactly what he’s been. Yeah, it doesn’t quite have the chemistry of Michael and Jan, but it works to me.

The overarching thing is that the Slate people apparently wanted The Office to stay frozen in amber at about the second or third season. They’re complaining about the jokes that they can’t do anymore, but like the Budsweiser frogs sometimes it’s best to move on before something got way too old. I want movement and development. It makes the characters more relatable and it makes the jokes more new.

Category: Theater

The blog Kissing Susie Kolber has a great, foul-mouthed post listing the obnoxious nature of Boston fans. This one is the big one:

11. Adopt the attitude that you, yes you, DESERVE this success. “Hey, we Pats fans know how it used to be back in the day. We earned these titles.” Don’t treat your team’s good fortune as the stroke of good fortune it happens to be. No, no, no. Your championship has to be deeper then someone else’s championship. It has to mean something more. Why? Because you fancy yourself as being introspective. {censored}. Treat it like some sort of karmic reward for Len Bias dying, or some other twisted, idiotic explanation.

Back when both the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs were in their respective league championships, I was one of the relatively few rooting against both teams because I got so sick and tired of all of the stories about how these poor teams have had it so rough. It was hard to deny the Chicago Cubs their pain, but the Boston Red Sox had so much less to complain about. They made the World Series in 1986 and almost won it. They put up more winning records than losing records and aren’t a case like the Buffalo Bills were for a stretch wherein they make it to the championship but just can’t win it. They are a team, like the 30-some-odd other teams.

The year after the Red Sox won it all, the Chicago White Sox did. There was no grand theory about how accursed this team was even though they had gone two years longer than the Red Sox without winning a World Series. The Milwaukee Brewers have posted exactly one winning record in the last fifteen years, the Pittsburgh Pirates last posted a winning record in 1992, and a handful of teams have never won a World Series in the history of their franchise (granted, it’s mostly teams from 1960 and after, but even so that’s coming on 40 years). Yet it’s the poor, poor Boston fans we’re supposed to feel good for because that scrappy young team of 100+ years and one of the better records in MLB history finally got their championship.

I actually have nothing against the Patriots or the Celtics except for the contaminated fan-pool.

Category: Downtown

Every now and again I will find myself stunned that a TV series has not yet made its way to DVD. It seems like every show has, so those that haven’t have become the exception rather than the rule. More and more, I’m finding that those shows that haven’t made it to DVD haven’t done so for one of two reasons: (1) They want to get their stuff together so that they can have cool extras and whatnot, or (2) there are copyright issues, usually involving the soundtrack.

Back when TV-to-DVD transitions were new, the studios were somewhat reluctant to release entire runs on to DVD because they were worried that it might conflict with syndication spoils and they felt that by releasing an entire TV show on to DVD they would either have to charge more than anyone would want to pay or alternately that they wouldn’t charge enough, essentially charging the same amount for an entire season that they otherwise would for the Best Of release that they would sometimes release on VHS.

Specifically, I remember a lot of fans of Friends and Frasier were irate that you could get the entire runs in Britain but not in the US. NBC was concerned about the above syndication spoils and cost analysis and they held out for a very long time, despite having the DVDs all but ready to go because of their British releases. Eventually, they gave in and got a second wave of profits because the same desperate people that purchased the Best Of collections ran out to the stores to buy the entire seasons. They got the best of both worlds, but the bean-counters at NBC mostly looked at the windfall of DVD season releases and noted that individual DVD prices had fallen, so now they (along with everyone else) opt almost entirely for full-season releases.

Meanwhile, there are various TV shows that they haven’t put together because they’re worried about releasing DVDs with insufficient new content, be it behind-the-scenes interviews, commentary, out-takes, or deleted scenes. It’s a rare case where they have decided to forego immediate profit for a quality product… and I wish they would stop.

It seems to me that they have an excellent opportunity for two waves of profits like NBC had for Frasier and Friends and like the movie studios frequently do with movies: Release something adequate right away and then come back later with something that the fans are going to kill for.

I would love to buy or rent legitimate copies of the ABC show The Practice, but I couldn’t. I either had the option of recording episode-by-episode to VHS (or digitally) or downloading poorly ripped copies from the Internet. The first option requires far too much work and the last option results in their consumers giving them not a single dime for their production. ABC is finally getting around to releasing the show on DVD bit by bit while they get their extras in order, but I really don’t want to wait. I would like them to offer me what they have right now and then later I will consider what they really want to sell.

I think that they’re actually underestimating the willingness of fans to pay a pretty penny for their material, twice if they have to. It’s the same problem that made record companies so reluctant to change their models to the extraordinarily successful iTunes model. They overestimated the patients of the buying public, believing that they would still be willing to purchase entire CDs for single songs, and they underestimated the willingness of people to pay for their product even if they could get a free version online. They finally acted because their hand was forced, and I really think the end result will be a renewed rather than destroyed record industry.

Similarly, if they simply released a run-of-the-mill release of TV shows like The Practice and Picket Fences years ago, some people would have bought them or at least rented them. Not a whole lot of people, but once you take out the cost of master-producing the DVDs, you don’t have to sell as many. Even if people knew that a better version would be coming out, they’d still take what they could get rather than wait a half-decade for the juiced up version… and they’d end up buying both.

I think this is especially true for those shows where the hold-up is music. Content owners are racking their brains trying to figure out whether to bother trying to figure out whether or not to hold out for the original music or to simply put cheaper music on the DVDs. The owners of the music know that they have very high leverage, so they are often holding out for obscene amounts of money trying to call the TV content owners’ bluff of using different music. So shows like WKRP in Cincinnati, Alli McBeal, Daria, and a host of others are either being released slowly or not at all during negotiations.

Why does it have to be “and”? Why can’t they just release something now with music they can get their IP hands on and then come out with the real stuff later? The main objection is actually from the fans, but I really think if you put it out there, they’ll still buy it. If they don’t, they’ll buy the second wave anyway. In many cases they’ll buy both. Meanwhile, a lot of the leverage the soundtrack content owners have goes away. DVDs are being sold and they’re losing money. And honestly, most of the time the specific song can be replaced by something less expensive and just as good. The power of the soundtrack is often because it was new and relevant at the time and has since become dated. On the TV show Daria, they actually wrote the scenes without any paticular music in mind and just filled in a Top 40 hit when it came time to air the episode. It’s a little more complicated with Alli McBeal where many of the songs are sung live by Vonda Shephard, but I think it could still be done with some creative editing.

I can understand how people want the unvarnished, original run of whatever show it was that they’re buying, but I really think at the end of the day they will get the opportunity to do so. I think what’s often at stake is the Authenticity Police who object to anything done on the account of money. To go back to Daria for a second, people were crying bloody murder when they released some episodes on VHS even though the scenes weren’t written for the music (and vice-versa) and few of them actually claimed that the new music used was wrong so much as it wasn’t what they remembered. Again, I can understand the desire to have what they remembered, but I really, really prefer something rather than nothing and right now nothing of Daria has actually been released.

Meanwhile, those of us that don’t want to wait have to go get copies where nobody gets paid even though we are perfectly willing to pay for it in some way or another.

Category: Theater

Blender has a list of the 50 worst songs ever. Sure as rain, there are some songs on there that I really like:

#44 – I’d Do Anything For Love (Meat Loaf)
I think Meat Loaf has an unjustly bad reputation. He has an amazing voice whether you like the actual music or not and Jim Steinman (who wrote all of the songs on the Bat Out of Hell CDs as well as other hits) has a grand pageantry in his music that I have a great deal of appreciation for. The man writes musical comic books. To answer blender’s question of what ML won’t do… he won’t lie to her in order to hold on to her (or get her into bed… either way). He says it at multiple points throughout the song.

#43 – Follow Me (Uncle Kracker)
This song is just too catchy not to like.

#42 – The Sounds of Silence (Simon and Garfunkel)
Are you kidding me? Great song! A little pretentious perhaps, but it’s one of those “moment” songs where if you listen closely you can hear it playing in the back of your mind at specific points in your life.

#41 – We Didn’t Start the Fire (Billy Joel)
Catchy and nostalgic. Not Joel’s best, but a good listen from time to time.

#31 – Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm (Crash Test Dummies)
The Crash Test Dummies have a bunch of songs that sound the same and get tiresome pretty quickly, but this is one of the memorable ones. And not in a bad way.

#29 – Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Deep Blue Something)
Someone once said to me, at the point where it became obvious we were beyond the point of reconciliation, “This isn’t Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. Neither of us were willing to fight at all to keep whatever it was that we had, neither of us really lamented what we were losing, and we had no “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” moment to harken back on. Ever since then, this song has taken on a special meaning for me.

#22 – Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (Toby Keith)
This song captured the moment like few of the 9/11 songs did. We were pissed off and no artist at the time seemed willing to say so.

#21 – Two Princes (Spin Doctors)
I doubt I would like this song if it came out today, but I did like it at the time and get a good feeling when I listen to it now.

#19 – Broken Wing (Mr Mister)
Yeah, yeah, it was suburban angst… but it was quality suburban angst… and I was an angsty suburbanite.

#13 – Illegal Alien (Genesis)
I don’t know what possessed them to write this song given its politically incorrect content, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I find it funny. And I don’t know of any way that I could fairly be described as anti-immigrant.

{Via Dustbury, who is equally guilty of liking some of these songs.}

Category: Theater

Like most youngsters, when I was a little kid I wanted to be a big kid. Big kids at St. Jude’s Episcopal School had Ms. Mencker as their teacher. She taught kindergarten at a school that only went up to kindergarten, so her students were just as big as big kids could be. Except my brothers, who were really big kids of course but that escaped my attention because they wanted to be even bigger kids. So they weren’t really big kids in my mind, even though they were bigger than the big kids in Ms. Mencker’s class. Cut me some slack, my mind was only capable of managing pre-school thoughts at the time.

Whenever I brought it up, they’d just say “you will in time” or somesuch, they just didn’t get it. So I found another way of telling Mom that I wanted to be a big kid: I told her that I wanted to be in Ms. Mencker’s class. My logic was that Mom would give me what I wanted since it didn’t cost money and then I would magically be a bigger kid. I’d found a loophole in the system! Unfortunately, Mom denied my request but did file it away for future use.

When I was about ready for kindergarten, my teachers privately expressed concern with my parents that I was behind the other students. I would stare blankly when I was supposed to be finger painting, I ate inordinate amounts of glue, and other stuff like that. They wanted to hold me back a year and figured that the best way to do this would be for me to attend kindergarten at St. Jude’s (and perhaps by coincidence, pay an extra year of tuition) and then attend it again at West Oak Elementary, the local public school.

When I asked how come I was not going to West Oak like everyone else, Mom said that she was granting me my wish: I was going to get Ms. Mencker just like I had asked.


When I was in the second grade, standardized testing was becoming all the rage. At the time, Delosa elementary students were taking the California Achievement Test Test (The word “Test” being in there twice because it was called the CAT Test). Ms. Nolan, the counselor at West Oak Elementary was concerned because I was now staring off into the distance during mathematic lessons and still eating more glue than my teachers would prefer.

So Ms. Nolan called my mother in for a conference and outlined her concerns. She said that she was worried that my self-esteem would be hurt by failing the test and that I should refrain from taking it. It would also go in my Permanent Record, which was bad. And perhaps by coincidence, West Oak Elementary would look better on the standardized test scores, though I’m not sure that she was very upfront about that.

Mom said she would take it into consideration and looked further into it. As it turned out, the deferment Mom was being asked to sign would have put me in a special group that would have required my taking special instruction classes for the rest of my tenure at West Oak Elementary. If I deferred from taking the class a second time, I would be put in a special category that would, at the completion of my 12th grade year I wouldn’t receive a diploma but would instead get a “Certification of Attendance” which is more like a GED. So if I didn’t take it in the second grade and the fourth grade, or even if I didn’t take it in the second grade and was sick that week in the 10th grade, I would likely have to start my college career out at the local community college.

When Mom brought this to the attention of Ms. Nolan, Ms. Nolan said that this was true but that it was probably for the best. Quite bluntly, Mom said that deferment was basically for the mentally handicapped kids and I was not a handicapped kid. Nolan condescendingly responded that of course I was not stupid and of course I was a very talented and smart young man, but that it would be best if I were put with other kids that were uniquely smart and talented like I was. In short, she was saying that I was “short bus special” and Mom needed to come to terms with that. Mom declined, I took the test, and as it turned out my self-esteem was not hurt because my Permanent Record was so secret that even Mom and I couldn’t find out about it (this law was changed shortly afterwards and my folks were given access to all of my later standardized tests).


Flash forward about five years or so and Delosa no longer takes the CAT Test but has now switched to something called the Delosa Assessment of Knowledge (DAK). Students who didn’t pass the DAK were relegated to remedial reading in the 8th grade while other students got to opt out of reading and take an elective. I failed the DAK and ended up in a class with hoodlums, misfits, and the folks I would have gotten to know at West Oaks Elementary had Mom not opted for me to take the CAT Test.

Mom was quite distressed when the reading teacher asked for a student-teacher conference. I’d failed the DAK and she was probably going to ask that I not take it the next go-around. Mom got all of her evidence in order and went to see Ms. Cordoza. Turned out it was quite the opposite. Despite reading being my worst subject, I was blowing the other kids out of the water. In fact, I was positively bored and was drawing and writing comic books, which in turn was distracting the other students. Whereas other teachers were bothered by my looking blankly out into space, Cordoza apparently would have liked me to do more of it. Cordoza asked if she could have me teach other students or, if there wasn’t anything I could do for that, go play around in the computer lab across the hall.

Cordoza could not believe that I had failed the DAK and actually looked up my test scores, which were apparently just shy of passing. At the end of that year I took the DAK again… and failed it again.

Over eight years later, I graduated from Southern Tech University with honors. When I got the piece of paper, Mom asked if she could borrow it to have it framed. She did frame it for me, for which I am grateful. What she also did was photocopy it and send a copy of it to Ms. Nolan, for which I am also grateful.

Category: Ghostland, School

A story on has the US Congress trying to pass a law that offers victims of identity theft the “right” to sue for restitution. As anyone who has or knows someone who’s had their identity stolen, there’s a lot of expense and effort involved in putting your credit score back together once it’s been trashed.

Unfortunately, the law as currently written is (at least to my mind) horribly flawed, in three very important ways. It counts as an excercise in misdirected effort.

The first problem is that the law addresses the problem of identity theft in a backwards manner. It presumes that thieves can be deterred by passing more punishment. The problem here is that it assumes the criminal has been found, and the vast majority of identity thieves are very hard to track down. Just as one example, recent IRS statistics place between 10 and 12 million duplicated (or worse) Social Security numbers in the tax system due to fraudulent SSNs used by people ineligible to work in the United States. Each of these is a serious enough problem to start with (try applying for college loans and finding out you’re an 18 year old with a 25 year credit/work history), but becomes worse when bank accounts and credit cards start to get involved.

The second problem is that even if you do find the criminal, and convince the authorities to prosecute, you’re then having to go back to the court a second time to get restitution. The way the law is worded, it’s not something that the judge can simply order; you have to sue the criminal in civil court. By the time you can get a civil judgement, there is likely no money left to have it paid from. It will all be gone, spent on the defendant’s lawyer in the criminal case or otherwise vanished/confiscated by the authorities, or even repossessed by credit companies trying to make back the money the criminal will never pay them.

The final problem is that this law doesn’t address the real root problem of identity theft, which is the credit companies themselves. A couple decades ago, credit was harder to come by. People started with a gas card or store card, a bank account, perhaps an ATM / Debit card, and worked their way up. Now, the credit agencies are offering credit cards to everyone and their dog, the sooner the better, and with much less requirement of proof of identity and ability to handle money. It goes without saying that the less verification the credit card agencies do, the more fraud slips by them until it’s too late. Ultimately, if the law held the credit agencies (rather than the merchants who don’t get paid and the consumers who currently suffer increased interest rates and fees) responsible, you’d see fraud go down significantly as they started to pay attention to who they were giving credit cards and credit lines to.

I’d be very interested in a real law that could crack down on identity fraud, but I don’t think this law does anything at all.

Category: Statehouse

Atlanta Constitution-Journal:

The days of nightclubs hosting “18 to party, 21 to drink” events may soon come to an end in Atlanta.

The Atlanta City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Monday prohibiting anyone younger than 21 from entering or working at businesses where alcohol is consumed. It should go into effect next week.

Councilwoman Cleta Winslow, who wrote the ordinance, said she is troubled by the city’s law that allowed 18-year-olds to work in businesses where people are drinking. It does not affect restaurants where alcohol is served, nor supermarkets or convenience stores.

Winslow worries about teenagers drinking in strip clubs or bars and endangering themselves.

“Since a person under 21 can’t drink in a nightclub, they should not be in these establishments,” said Winslow, chairwoman of the council’s public safety committee.

How utterly retarded. Underage drinking is already illegal. If the laws aren’t being enforced, start enforcing them. If the laws can’t be enforced, then explain to me how this new law is any more enforceable.

First, there are reasons to go to some bars even if you can’t drink: entertainment. People 18-20 are now going to be shut out of the live music scene. Since live music often caters to the younger set, that’s not an insignificant demographic. I once went to a local wrestling event at a bar, too. If there’s an exception for bars that display entertainment, the article doesn’t say.

Even if there is such an exception, it makes life more difficult for barely-of-age patrons. A lot of bars are already 21-and-over, but some aren’t precisely because they know that people that are 21 or 22 have friends that are 19 or 20. The underage can have a coke while his friends drink beer. Bars face enough competition with coffeehouses as a third-place venue and this makes it worse. This also encourages more drinking in apartments and dorm rooms, which is entirely unregulated and much, much more likely to result in severe drinking and the alcohol poisoning that comes with it. At least in a bar you’re limited by the underage drinking laws, public intoxication laws, and a high price-tag.

On top of that, people that are 18-20 make great designated drivers and keep drunk drivers off the street. Kyle did his job keeping us drunkards taken care of and in return we paid cover and bought him cokes. It was a win for Kyle, a win for us, and a win for the late-night drivers of Colosse.

I might be able to understand if they were concerned about underage people serving a product that they cannot consume, but (1) there are better ways to do that and (2) this doesn’t even take care of that. Eighteen year olds will still be serving alcohol as waiters in restaurants and 16 year olds will be doing the same at grocery store check-outs.

So what problem does this solve? What does this little piece of legislation do other than give the appearance of tackling a problem while not only failing to do so but actually making it worse in some cases? Oh… “appearance of tackling a problem”… I guess I answered my own question there.

Category: Statehouse