Monthly Archives: January 2011

Immigration officer fired after putting wife on list of terrorists to stop her flying home:

An immigration officer tried to rid himself of his wife by adding her name to a list of terrorist suspects.

He used his access to security databases to include his wife on a watch list of people banned from boarding flights into Britain because their presence in the country is ‘not conducive to the public good’.

As a result the woman was unable for three years to return from Pakistan after travelling to the county to visit family.

The tampering went undetected until the immigration officer was selected for promotion and his wife name was found on the suspects’ list during a vetting inquiry.

The Home Office confirmed today that the officer has been sacked for gross misconduct.

Doesn’t that rise above the level of fireable offense? Isn’t there an “abuse of authority” or “manipulating public records” charge in there somewhere?

Category: Newsroom

Provided by Jaybird from The League:

Well, once upon a time, marriage was, in theory, a bargain.

The man would trade some amount of food and shelter in exchange for sex and reasonable assumptions of paternity of any children born. Love wasn’t really that much of an issue to the point where marriages were as likely as not to be arranged by parents (see, for example, Fiddler on the Roof for the dynamic that existed between Tzeitel, Motel, and Lazar Wolf… we, being modern folks post 60?s know that Tzeitel and Motel ought to get married!!! *dUh*). Divorce was damn near unheard of… only the French got divorced. There was a *HUGE* stigma to divorce. Huge. Like, you got divorced? You have to move because you’d be otherwise shunned. If you were lucky, you could move somewhere and claim to be a widow and MAYBE accepted by the new community. Maybe. The stigma was just that great.

Well, the personhood of women happened and that screwed everything up. Well, as society evolved and absorbed the lessons of feminism, marriage stopped being *PURELY* an economic bargain made by parents pimping out daughters to the best available John (will she be fed? housed? rarely beaten? Listen to the matchmaker song!) but an economic bargain made by the women themselves in response to the most skilled suitors. Divorce still carried a *HUGE* stigma… but folks got married, had children, and discovered that, for better or worse, parents were somewhat more dispassionate when it came to making these economic decisions…

Which brings us to 99.44% effective birth control.

Once children were no longer certain to happen when a woman married a man, the economic bargain became exceptionally moot for *HUGE* swathes of the “respectable” community. Hell, even if you *HAD* kids, you no longer had seven. You had two if you were Protestant and three if you were Catholic. This changed the dynamic and potential costs of divorce enormously and once we reached a tipping point where everybody knew someone who got divorced (and was better off for doing so), the stigma pretty much evaporated entirely.

Which brings us to the 80?s when it seemed like everybody’s parents were getting divorced. (I was in Middle and High school… it felt like every freakin’ month someone would come in absolutely wrecked.)

Marriage stopped being an economic bargain and became something that two people who loved each other and wanted to have children did and that became something that two people who loved each other and if kids happened, great!, did and *THAT* became something that two people who loved each other did.

And seeing soooooo many marriages end in screaming fights taught a lot of kids a lot of lessons about being a lot wiser about making the devil’s bargain of marriage. Ubiquitous birth control (and abortion) gave an out for a huge number of folks when, in the past, they’d have had a hasty elopement followed by the first baby being born two or three months “premature” (but still full weight! It’s a miracle!) and people who once would have gotten married at 19 were allowed to be people who just broke up at 20. No kids, no foul. Hell, there are even “starter marriages” now. People get married, figure out that 20 year-olds aren’t very good at making long-term predictions, get divorced, no kids, no foul… and, from what I’ve seen, a lot less acrimony than we saw in the 70?s and 80?s. (Seriously, hearing the grown-ups talk about their exes was like listening to New Atheists talk about Christianity.)

And now that marriage is pretty much a “no kids, no foul” kind of relationship, it only makes sense to extend it to homosexuals and, having done so, it *STRENGTHENS* the idea of marriage as a “no kids, no foul” long-term commitment. Indeed, even as the kids of divorce from the 70?s and 80?s are getting married, many are making different mistakes than their parents… and, when it comes to marriage, they’re better at getting out before they wreck the lives of their kids.

Or something like that.

Category: Coffeehouse

Many years ago, when I went up to Canada for an acquaintance’s wedding, I had prepared myself to get an earful about America and Americans. My experiences with Canadians online told me that I was probably going to hear all about how they do everything better than we do. Apparently, Canadians (like most people) are much nicer in person. I did get a fair amount of ribbing, though. Interesting, not about our health care system. Not about our lack of a safety net. Nor how we’re less committed to world peace. Nor the death penalty (which more than one told me they wish Canada had). No doubt many of them thought Americans are crazy about these things, but almost all of them devoted their energy to two topics: American attachment to the American flag, and… more on this and on Canada in a minute.

The last couple times I was in Deseret, dropping off and picking up the dog, I went to the neighborhood of some friends I have out there. The GPS was flawed, and as a result I took a scenic detour trying to find my way back to the highway. Part of the difficulty was navigating my way around a whole bunch of cars that were parked around… what? I could figure it out. Then, finally there was a break between them and I looked down and saw that there was this huge crater thing in the ground. Everyone was sledding to the bottom, walking back to the top, and sledding again. It looked awesome.

All fun things must come to an end, however. At least in New Jersey:

Lawsuits filed by injured sledders, it seems, have struck fear in the hearts of municipal and county government officials, prompting them to simply ban sledding at some of the state’s erstwhile sledding meccas. On today’s webcast, we look at two of them – Galloping Hill Golf Course in Kenilworth and Camp Dawson in Montville Township – and compare two childhood sledding crashes, decades apart, that ended in two very different ways, shedding some light on how we got to a point where some of the best sledding hills in the state sit snow covered and silent. {h/t}

Yeah, that was the other thing. The lawsuits. This was back when being on a jury that awarded bazillions of dollars to somebody got you a spot on the Oprah Winfrey show. The time of the infamous McDonald’s coffee lawsuit that made it forever difficult to get a really hot cup of coffee on the go. They just commented with amazement at how crazy American juries and our civil litigation system.

Meanwhile, the state of Texas is considering going to a loser-pays system, where if you sue someone and lose you have to pay the legal costs of your adversary. For my part, that’s one thing that you can get very, very wrong if you don’t implement the right way and Texas’s governor does not strike me as the type of person that is going to get that right. Be that as it may, I was not remotely surprised to read the third comment:

I’ve commented on it before, but it bears repeating again: to any opponents of this rule, it’s actually NOT crazy. For real. We have it up here in Canada and it seems to work pretty well. {…}

And, as always, nuance is important. There are different schedules of costs that are ordered depending on a variety of factors – merit, complexity, etc. – and they’re left to the discretion of the judge as an extra tool to encourage good behaviour and discourage bad. Waste 10% of a trial with nonsense? Pay the other side’s legal costs for that 10%. Were you a jackass? No costs for you. Cause a delay? Front the other side’s bills for anything caused by the delay. It’s easy and effective. Even people who are suspicious of leaving too much power to judicial discretion don’t seem to care much about it from anything more than a theoretical standpoint.

Sounds pretty Canadian in its straight-forwardness and sensibility, though I have little doubt that we would screw it up somehow. This isn’t the only thing that Canadians do differently. The perils of law school are commented upon here with regularity, and the Canadians have a straight-forwardly, sensible Canadian approach to that, too:

Having already figured out how to provide health care to all of its citizens, Canada seems to have also come up with a system of legal education that doesn’t hobble its young lawyers before they even start practice.

Canada’s key to success seems to be actually regulating its law schools and assuring a basic level of high quality across the board. There are only 20 law schools in Canada, which means that (gasp) not everybody who wants to go can go. Yet despite demand, Canadian law schools also cost less than their American counterparts.

It appears that much like their health care system, not every Canadian gets exactly what they want precisely when they want it. But their magical ability to behave like adults when faced with delayed gratification somehow makes things better for everybody. Chant “U.S.A., U.S.A.,” all the way to debtor’s prison if you like, but clearly the Canadians are doing something right — and maybe we could learn from them here in the States…

Category: Courthouse

As a general rule, I try to respond to most comments and all comments that ask me a question. I missed a comment by Nanani and I’ve been missing a few lately due to increased posting volume. Any time I have not responded to your comment and it’s a couple days old, you’re welcome to follow up and point out that I missed something. I do not take offense.

Category: Server Room

Any of my northeastern readers have any experience (or hear of others’ experiences) with them? I am apparently a customer of theirs now.

Also, for anyone looking for a TV, Woot is hawking the model I own. I think. The specs appear to be the same. They’re offering it for a $100 less than I paid for it eight months ago. It’s been a pretty good TV. Not nearly as nice as my parents’ Samsung, but a few hundred dollars less expensive. The non-HD stuff isn’t terrific, unfortunately. That and the lack of PnP are my only two complaints. But you can’t beat their pricing. With the other cheap brands, Philips and Sanyo, you can see why they’re so cheap. Less so with Vizio.

Category: Market

Mamapundit raises objection to a proposed Florida law grading parents as well as the kids. She comments thusly:

Parental involvement in children’s education is important, yes. However, the expectations of parents (read: mothers) in this regard have become increasingly burdensome in recent decades. When I was a third grader, my parents helped me with big projects, and they occasionally attended a school function. Today, however, “good” parents are expected to make involvement with their children’s school and classroom a kind of second job. I see many moms who volunteer at school several days per week. When they aren’t actually AT the school, they are selling candy bars and wrapping paper to raise money for the school. These moms know more about the minutiae of their kids’ classwork than the kids themselves, and they expect to spend hours each night sitting next to their children as they complete their homework. Prep for a school project – like the annual science fair – is a major family undertaking requiring intensive maternal involvement at every turn, as well as expensive and fancy supplies.

Sometimes it really does feel like we live in two countries. As often as I hear complaints about this, I also hear complaints from others (including educators) about how school is viewed as daycare and it’s the lack of parental involvement that is to blame for our education system’s failures. While some of that is passing the buck (educators have an incentive for parents to be blamed) and some of it is smug superiority (parents have an incentive to feel superior to other parents and none of them are going to think that they are the problem, it still rings true. Perhaps by sheer repetition.

Granju, though, is making the other argument. Never has more been expected of parents. And you hear these complaints, too. So-called “helicopter parents.” Ironically, these complaints also come from educators, though more of the upper level variety. Perhaps some of this is coming from parents that are resentful about being “judged” by having a job and therefore not being willing to work for the school district 40 hours a week, there is an element of truth to it.

These two ideas are not mutually exclusive. It’s more than possible to have one set of parents that won’t let go and another set of parents that simply doesn’t have time to care. It does make it, however, difficult to really approach from any sort of policy or public meme perspective. Talk about how parents should be more involved, and it’s those that are already involved that are most likely to listen. Talk about how parents need to be more laid back, and those same parents are not going to want to sacrifice any perceived edge that their involvement gives their kids while others may (to the extent that they’re listening) take it as a pat on the back for doing something right (if only by default and circumstance).

What this gets me thinking about, though, is the degree to which, if this continues, it will further create a disparity (along economic lines) among the youth. Maybe not, if the helicoptering actually doesn’t do any good. In the Sigmoid view of the world, though, it’s that sort of hyperinvolvement that gets kids to do the right things to get into the right college and avoid the abject failure that occurs with regard to anybody that doesn’t go to an Ivy League (or perhaps Public Ivy) institution. As with most things, while dramatically overstated and false in scope, it’s hard to deny there being some truth there. You may not have to go to an Ivy League of Public Ivy, but it sure is helpful to have a degree of direction and if you go to a commoner university to get into the honors college or have a realistic game plan to get into a good field upon graduation.

I am an example of how having on-guard parents can make a real difference. Academically, I was headed absolutely nowhere until my parents put their foot down and my father watched over me to make sure that I was going what I needed to be doing. Had I been raised by another set of parents that didn’t do that, it’s likely I would have ended up a college dropout and in a much worse situation than I ended up in. Mom would later put the foot down when I started making noise about going to trade school instead of college. Well, she wouldn’t have stopped me, but she urged me strongly not to and had the moral authority for me to listen. On the other hand, in an alternative Sigmoidian view, my experience is irrelevant because the entirety of my failure or success is due to my genes.

Anyhow, all of this is the long way around saying that if competition between upper class (and upper middle class) parents has never been greater and more and more is expected of the parents, while it becomes increasingly common among working class families and below to let the school districts (inadequately) raise their children, this portends bad things for the future of equality. I know that this is hardly an original thought, but considering all of the objective factors that make it harder for people from poor families to get ahead, the consideration of the additional layers added by hyperparents who believe that their livelihood exists in the success of their parents and that State College is death, is pretty depressing.

On the other hand, Granju’s kids attend Episcopal schools, which are both private and Episcopalian. It’s not hard to imagine that her experiences are not universal. I went to a very strong public high school, which followed a moderately strong middle school, which followed a pretty strong elementary school. Past grade school, the expectation of parental involvement was pretty slight.

Category: Home, School

The whole discussion about Taco Bell’s 36% beef made me hungry for Taco Bell, so I stopped by one on my way back from Redstone yesterday. It was yummy.

But was it also… beef?!

According to Taco Bell, it mostly was:

Our beef is 100% USDA inspected, just like the quality beef you would buy in a supermarket and prepare in your home. It then is slow-cooked and simmered with proprietary seasonings and spices to provide Taco Bell’s signature taste and texture. Our seasoned beef recipe contains 88% quality USDA-inspected beef and 12% seasonings, spices, water and other ingredients that provide taste, texture and moisture. The lawyers got their facts wrong. We take this attack on our quality very seriously and plan to take legal action against them for making false statements about our products. There is no basis in fact or reality for this suit and we will vigorously defend the quality of our products from frivolous and misleading claims such as this.

Now I feel kinda cheated.

Category: Kitchen

CHD vs Fat Consumption... or not?

As anyone who follows food will doubtless be aware, the nightly news is a terrible thing. Scares over “this food”, “that food”, “that other food”… you name it, there’s probably been a scare over it at some point or another.

And yet, for some reason, an oddity persists in that people – or should I say, Americans – have been taught over the years to treat the word “fat” as if it were the devil incarnate, something to be driven away with pitchforks and torches. Now, certainly, there are definitely some things that if eaten every day can cause you problems.

But then again, the second link I just posted is a combination of HFCS and water… no fat at all. Tricky, aren’t I? Of course, sugar is something that it’s been argued Americans eat (or drink) way too much of, and the argument over sugar is nothing new.

To his credit, Mr. LaLanne doesn’t tell people they “can’t” eat sugar, just that hey, they should watch how much of it they eat. And his selling of a juicer in his later years (fruit juices are mostly sugar) may seem slightly hypocritical, but I’d still rather see people having fresh grapefruit juice than HFCS-laden sodas, and he himself was in dang good shape right until his final days.

The joke of the graph above is rather obvious. If you – as a “scientist” (I use quotes for a reason, since cherry-picking data isn’t science) – were to take a large number of data points and throw out anything that disagrees with a foregone conclusion, you’d be laughed at. Yet somehow, Encel Keys, the guy who is also the father of the Meal Rejected by Everyone (then called “K-rations”), and who along with his wife was relentless in pushing the “Mediterranean Diet” later in life, got away with this. The graph at the top of this blogpost is important for a reason; on the left side is Keys’ “research” graph, while on the right is a graph putting back in all the data Keys just threw out.

Notice the difference. If you plot “Japan vs USA” on the “Fat vs Heart Disease” curve, you get this wonderful, sky-is-falling, “correlation” between fat intake and heart disease. But if you start putting other nations in… the French, despite eating an “alarming” amount of fat, have no greater heart disease risk than the Japanese. The Swedes eat as much fat as the US, yet have 1/3 the risk of heart disease. Plot the data another way, cherry-picking a different 7 countries, and you could easily come up with the Atkins Diet.

Go further and widen the study, and you wind up with other studies… the most credible of which, the Framingham Study, concluded after 22 years of observation of a wide variety of subjects: “There is, in short, no suggestion of any relation between diet and the subsequent development of CHD in the study group.” The World Health Organization in 1983 came to the same conclusion in the European Coronary Prevention Study.

So why the deal with food in the US? Fishy and/or stupid health claims on the label of a “food” seem to draw people in. Candies that are essentially 100% refined sugar label themselves as fat free in order to sucker people in. A rush of shoddy studies regarding fish oil led to everyone labeling their products as “enhanced with omega-3”, “high in omega-3 oils”… you get the idea.

Chasing a particular nutrient, avoiding a particular nutrient or food, is the result of fads. Eating according to fad isn’t going to help you.

In the end it comes down to… well… the same old story. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Category: Elsewhere, Kitchen

So the iPhone is finally coming to Verizon. I have to confess, one of the thoughts that crossed my mind is that I stand a chance to be proven entirely wrong by something I have been saying (usually with the “it’s quite possible that…” or “I suspect that…” without a firm commitment of knowledge that I do not have) for quite some time now. AT&T’s network doesn’t suck so much as the iPhone sucks as a phone (you know those famous dropped calls? Never happened to me… but I never had an iPhone) and/or consumes so much data that it would be hard for any network to keep up. If the Verizon iPhone seriously outperforms the AT&T iPhone, I will be proven wrong.

Apparently, some people on the other side of the debate – those that believe that Apple can do no wrong and every problem that the iPhone has is AT&T’s fault – are going through similar second thoughts.

Granted, most of this doesn’t actually address the dropped call issue. Even so, suddenly The World’s Worst Carrier is having upsides when compared to The World’s Best Carrier. AT&T offers simultaneous voice and data, which Verizon doesn’t. Verizon’s plans are more expensive. AT&T’s tiered data plan – which was previously proof that AT&T was evil – can save you even more money vis-a-vis Verizon unless you’re a hard-core user*. Verizon doesn’t do international well (and won’t at all with the iPhone) And, of course, Verizon’s network isn’t perfect, though only Manjoo will come out and say so.

I carry no brief for AT&T. I was a satisfied customer for many years, but now I am a satisfied Verizon customer. Because of the deal we get through Clancy’s work, we don’t even pay more for Verizon than I would through AT&T. Truth be told, when our contract is up and AT&T is in the area (which they should be soon and almost certainly will be a year from April), I don’t know whether we will stay or switch. I had considered switching back to AT&T as soon as they came to town and simply paying the early-termination fee, but at this point I am skeptical that we will.

All of that being said, both AT&T and Verizon have their plusses and minuses. It’s Verizon, not AT&T, that refuses to activate any phone that isn’t theirs. It’s Verizon, not AT&T, that mandated data plans first (and AT&T’s has huge loophole that they don’t seem to have any interest in closing). But it’s Verizon and not AT&T that works out a lot of deals with employers and the like for better prices.

AT&T took a lot of flack when they sued over Verizon’s commercial with the maps. And Verizon’s maps were entirely accurate. However, they were also misleading. AT&T’s 3G coverage isn’t remarkably wide, but the map leads one to the impression that AT&T’s data coverage is weak. It’s not. The main difference is that with AT&T, a whole lot of those areas not covered by 3G are covered by slower data service. With Verizon, it’s 3G or nothing. Any place you don’t see on the map, the best you can ask for is “1X” which means that you can text message but that’s about it. AT&T was stupid about suing over a (technically) accurate ad, but their claims about being misleading were not entirely false. Speaking is misleading, though, AT&T’s ads about being the “fastest 3G network” are technically accurate, but are also misleading in the sense that they assume a completely wide and free network. With all of those iPhone users (and perhaps even if you discount them) the average user, unless they’re alone and beside a tower, is going to get slower speeds with AT&T than with Verizon.

In any event, if Verizon’s adoption of the iPhone goes off without a hitch and all of those people complaining about dropped calls start talking about how much greater Verizon is, I pledge to post that I was indeed wrong. It’s been known to happen, from time to time.

* – The author of the first piece (courtesy Wesley) actually says something incorrect. You can’t get $15/mo from Verizon unless you have a web phone, which is dumber than a smartphone but smarter than a regular phone. There was a brief window where they offered a tier as an “introductory” sort of thing, but that was discontinued and current users will not be grandfathered in when their contract expires. Regarding the tiers, I use web on my phone with regularity and I have yet to cross the 200mb barrier. Only about a third of users do. Besides which, even if you stay within the 2GB barrier, which all but less than 5% do, you’re still saving $5 a month. It’s only those that go over that are paying ($10) more. On the other hand, Verizon is planning to switch to AT&T-style tiered pricing.

Category: Market
Any and all flipping of birds to two year old girls was accidental and not a reaction to being called “Will.”

I visited with two sets of kids during my trip to Colosse. The first was my college roommate Hubert’s twins. The second was the three kids of my other college friend, Al Cavanaugh. Hugh (re-)introduced me to his daughters as “Will” while Al went with “Mr Truman.” I’m not at all offended with the former, but the traditionalist in me prefers the latter. It was how I was raised to refer to people my parent’s age. But these days, even if a parent wants to go that route it can be problematic because a lot of adults insist on being called by their first name with children. So it might not be a tide worth fighting.

I am getting older and more and more of my friends have kids. We were all raised with Mr and Mrs, but their kids haven’t been. So an age-peer will refer to my mother and father as Mr or Mrs Truman, but their toddler kids go with Bill or Susan.

I’m too lazy to look it up, but a couple of blog posts have been written on the subject. James Joyner (or one of his professorial co-bloggers at Outside The Beltway) spoke disapprovingly of the trend of college professors either wanting to or being encouraged to go by their first names with their students. The idea behind this trend being that you don’t want hierarchial relationships and it should be considered a relationship among equals. Joyner, a former professor, pushes back against this because teachers and students are not equals and it does nobody any justice to assume otherwise. Heebie-Geebie from Unfogged, a mathematics professor, expressed appreciation that a former student referred to her as doctor rather than shifting towards a first-name reference.

In the student-teacher relationship, I am more of the same mind of Joyner and Geebie. One of the irritating things about college was when students would challenge professors as presumptive equals. My friend Karl was – until the professor finally lost patience and put him in his place – so bad about this he almost ruined the class we took together. That’s not to say that what professors say should go completely unchallenged, and questions should definitely be asked (“Have you considered this?”), but by and large they are there to teach and you are there to learn. Any questions and challenges ought to be in an effort to better understand what they are trying to say. Not to prove that you, and undergraduate student, know more than they do. First-name bases – to the extent that they make a difference – seem to encourage the latter behavior.

Yesterday I went to orientation to be a substitute teacher. This was for the Redstone elementary schools. One of the things they kept harping on was dress code (which essentially boiled down to “no t-shirts or jeans”) and the insistence that, whether you prefer it or not, you are to be addressed as Mr or Mrs. The point being to establish authority. I’m not entirely sure how necessary this is with elementary school kids, though. Don’t get me wrong, I approve of both (preferring the Mr and Mrs and being a fan of non-casual dress codes generally), but it strikes me as the area where it makes the least amount of difference.

There is no orientation for the secondary schools, but it came up that (while presumably the Mr and Mrs honorifics are still required) they are much less worried about dress codes. That struck me as odd since that’s the place (in K-12 at any rate) where kids are most likely to challenge the adult-kid nature of the relationship. That strikes me as where it would be most important to draw every distinction you can.

Category: Coffeehouse, School