"That you may ruminate"

Archive for August, 2008

…On Milkshakes.

Posted by Steve on August 31, 2008

I have yet to see There Will be Blood, though I’m interested. Mostly, because I saw the following Saturday Night Live skit and it intrigued me about the movie:

Linked, not embeded, cause it’s at NBC’s website

I too love milkshakes, though I’m not an oil man. Of course, I don’t much care for using my blender (too much of a hassle to clean up), so I typically just use a spoon to smoosh ice cream around in a cup. Possibly with chocolate syrup or malt powder. Or Slim Fast powder so I can claim the milkshake as a meal since it will then contain vitamins.

Or, of course, I pay someone to make me a milkshake. There’s a few ways to do this. Most burger joints (excluding, as far as I can remember, Burger King, but including the non-burger Arby’s) serve shakes. So too do ice cream places, though why someone would shell out that ton of money for a shake at a Ben & Jerry’s or a Coldstone or etc. is beyond me. Especially when those places serve megasundaes.

But the best, I think, are diner-type establishments. If for no other reason than that they have a multitude of flavors you just won’t get elsewhere, and the strawberry shakes usually contain actual strawberries. You know the sort of place I mean. Stake & Shake for national chain, but better the regional chains like the Silver Diner in the Delmarva states, or the purely local places like Atlanta’s OK Cafe or Nashville’s Elliston Soda Shop, or Clemson’s ’55 Exchange.

I don’t really have a point. I just love milkshakes.

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…On Those Proposed HHS Regulations.

Posted by Steve on August 31, 2008

It’s been now nine days since I reported the Department of Heatlh & Human Service’s release of a draft regulations for public comment. I wanted to talk about those some. This will probably get hell of long, so…

Read the rest of this entry »

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…On Covering All Your Bases.

Posted by Steve on August 30, 2008

I just clicked through Yahoo, where a little section of the page included news headlines. Among those were this brilliant headline, “Analysis: Palin may be plus or bust for McCain.” What’s not to love about that headline? It rhymes and it addresses all possibilities just as thoroughly as “Weather: Tomorrow may be sunny or rainy.” Or the flyer I saw on campus one time back in college, that was trying to get volunteers to be subjects for some psych study: “Are you a person who smokes marijuana, has smoked marijuana, or has never smoked marijuana?” I’m pretty sure if you did a Venn diagram for that, you’d just get a perfect circle full of people.

Brilliance, I tell you.

As for Sarah Palin and whether she’ll be plus or bust for John McCain, I wasn’t going to vote for John McCain before he picked her as his running mate, and now that he’s picked her I’m still not going to vote for John McCain.

Although, apparently my dad donated to his campaign back in 2000. The things you can learn on the internet.

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…On Experience and The Presidency.

Posted by Steve on August 28, 2008

I pay attention to the world around me, and thus I have become aware that once again, the unnecessarily long process of a U.S. Presidential Campaign is ongoing. And, it seems, much has been made of some candidate’s “experience”, and what that signifies regarding their ability to be “Commander-in-Chief”. I just plain don’t understand why anyone would bring that up. Way I see it, “experience” is only ever relevant when it reveals incompetence, dipshittery, or some other strong disqualification. In other words, having lots of experience can reveal negatives, or it can be irrelevant, but it can’t ever be a positive. Likewise, not having any experience is irrelevant, since that experience either wouldn’t matter or would reveal something bad.

Now, here’s why I think that:
The U.S. President has exactly 14 powers/duties/authorities, all but one of which are defined in Article II of the U.S. Constitution. They are:

  1. “The executive power.” This is a very vague, open-ended power, but I take it to mean that Congress and the Courts are Patrick Stewart and the President is the guy who has to make it so when they tell him, “Make it so.” As I see it, this makes the President the Henchman in Chief, or perhaps the Assistant Manager in Chief. Administrative experience is indeed relevant – except that millions of people have experience in receiving a set of instructions from one person and directing a group of people to carry out those instructions. Like, say, the assistant manager at every fast food restaurant in America, or every department manager at every department store in America, or… yeah. While it’s possible someone actually doesn’t have any experience at this, it doesn’t strike me as a likely-to-be-valid criticism of a candidate for President of the United States.
  2. The authority of being “commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States.” This is, of course, the origin of the “Commander-in-Chief” term used to designate the President. But please note: it’s a very limited Commander-in-Chiefship, as it’s scope is over only one thing, the armed forces, and there constrained by the fact that under Article I, the entire armed forces are subject to Congress’s rules. Thus, you can call the President the Commander-in-Chief, but that’s misleading since he’s only the Military Commander-in-Chief and still subordinate to Congress in that role. Of course, “Ex Officio Highest Ranking General and Admiral” is too much of a mouthful. And no President’s actually exercised their authority as Commander-in-Chief since Madison took control of Barney’s battery at Bladensburg in 1814. So… this strikes me as mostly a ceremonial, almost trivial, aspect of the President’s job. You know, like throwing the first pitch at the World Series and having tea and crumpets with foreign royalty. For a slightly different take on this power, I highly recommend this.
  3. The authority to “require the opinion, in writing, of the principal officer in each of the executive departments, upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices.” The President can make cabinet members and agency chiefs answer his questions in writing. Even granting for the sake of argument that there exists such a thing as meaningful experience at making people answer questions related to their job, what would that experience impart that its lack wouldn’t?
  4. The power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment. Now, that’s some combination of the powers of forgiveness and of something akin to jury nullification. I actually have very little experience with giving people forgiveness because I don’t believe in it, but really… Experience has nothing to do with being Pardoner-in-Chief, unless it’s lots of experience at forgiving people too readily.
  5. The power to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur. Experience at negotiation could be relevant – if the actual negotiations and treaty-draftings weren’t delegated to professional staff. Telling the staff what to negotiate for and what to write in the treaties, that’s the aforementioned administrative experience – and a matter of ideas, as in, “What will this candidate try to get put into treaties.” That’s a matter of ideology and goals, not of experience.
  6. The power to nominate and appoint, by and with the advice of the Senate, a whole heap of people unless they’re being appointed to a job that Congress said someone else would do the appointing to when it created the job. Named jobs consist of Ambassadors and “judges of the Supreme Court.” Makes me wonder if Congress could have vested appointments for Circuit and District Court judges in the Supreme Court. After all, Article III does specifically call those “inferior courts”, and it’s “inferior officers” where Congress gets to choose who does the appointing. I can speculate about that, of course, because it’s something where “experience” isn’t pertinent.
  7. The power to temporarily appoint the people described above without the Senate’s approval because the Senate isn’t in session. Experience still just isn’t pertinent.
  8. The duty to tell Congress about the state of the union “from time to time.” I love how that’s turned into a yearly thing rather than an “as often as I feel like it” thing, and while experience with public speaking may make him more comfortable, I don’t see where it’s really necessary.
  9. The duty to recommend to Congress such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient. This is the second most important part of the President’s job, and… EVERYONE IN POLITICS HAS EXPERIENCE AT IT. So what if someone has more experience at it? It just means they’re that much older. That much more out-of-touch with what’s pertinent, that much more stuck in the past, and that much closer to the inevitability of Alzheimer’s and death. Not to mention, this is somewhere that ideology and ideas count for everything. That someone with a decades-spanning track record of writing and voting for mediocre or even pernicious legislation is an inferior candidate to a 35-year-old with good ideas, worthwhile values, and desirable goals should be self-evident to everyone who isn’t part of why we have wolves and other large predators.
  10. The right to call Congress to emergency session and to tell them how long their break’s going to be if they can’t agree on their own. Experience matters why? Oh, it doesn’t.
  11. The duty “to receive ambassadors and other public ministers.” He has to stand on protocol and attend black-tie galas with foreign dignitaries. Etiquette could be relevant. Patience could be relevant too, having to put up with all that silly fooferah. Experience? Meh.
  12. The duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. Most important part of the job, and that’s a matter of integrity. Other than that, see above about being the guy who makes it so.
  13. The power to commission all the officers of the United States. I’m pretty sure this has something to do with promoting military officers, but honestly don’t know for sure what it means. Don’t think anybody’s got experience at it, either.
  14. The power to veto legislation. Third-most important part of the job (well, maybe second), and the sole part that comes from Article I. It’s about judgment, and judgment doesn’t come from experience. Judgment comes from intelligence, thoughtfulness, inquisitiveness, and proper values. An idiot with a lot of experience is still an idiot and will still make execrable decisions, while a smart rookie can kick ass and take names.

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…On Regeneration

Posted by Steve on August 27, 2008

To be able to regenerate severed body parts would be AMAZINGLY WONDERFUL. Thus, let us all hope that there is substance to this article and that it is indeed a first step to the day when humans, like starfish and geckos, regenerate lost body parts. Hooray!

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…On Observations at a Bar/Club Place

Posted by Steve on August 23, 2008

Last night, I went out with some folks, first to a bar and then to a place that was a bit odd: tucked away beside the marina of a gated community, next to a yacht club (!?!), it was a combination bar and club, with a dance floor and a band that played a pretty tight cover of Sweet Child O’Mine. My goals were accomplished: I did not spend the night alone at home playing video games, and the night went as expected: I ended up alone at a packed Wa-Ho at 3 AM, where I further contributed to my obesity with a delicious double-waffle, a delicious double order of scattered & smothered, and a sausage melt that made me decide to stick with sausage-egg-and-cheese sandwiches henceforth.

At that second joint I soon after my arrival spotted two women near the font of the dance floor, making out. “I wonder,” I thought in a charitable moment, “if they’re really together. I hope so.” And wanting it to be so, I decided that it was so. “I’m glad they feel comfortable enough to be so open about it.” That lasted all of perhaps five seconds before I realized how ridiculously naive I was being. “Dipshit,” I thought to myself, “that’s a load of crap. It’s just two drunk straight sluts making out to get men’s attention.”

Some time later, after drinking Red Bull through a straw (the bartender gave me a straw, and with the resources already wasted it seemed pointless not to put it to its intended use) and politely but firmly telling the tequila-promotion women who were there that no, I did not want to be airbrushed with a temporary Jose Cuervo tattoo, I again noticed those two women, still together, and seemingly paying no attention to anyone else. “Huh. Maybe they really are with each other,” I thought, reconsidering. Perhaps I’d been too hasty. Perhaps these two women were special, different from the other pairs and trios I had seen kissing and rubbing each other for brief moments before throwing themselves back into kissing and rubbing upon men. Perhaps these really were the wholesome, heart-warming, life-affirming honesty of Jill Sobule’s “I Kissed A Girl” and not the exploitative, objectifying, collaborationist cultural appropriation of Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl. (Let me add, as a side note, that Sobule’s song is by far the more likable, even setting aside the advantage its laudatory lyrical and thematic content gives it over the other’s loathsome lyrical and thematic content, given its catchy up-beat melody as opposed to the simple droning of Perry’s song.)

Shortly before last call, I was able to reach a conclusion about those two when they at last broke apart and each went their separate ways… with a man. About that time, though, one of the people I’d gone there with walked up, disappointed by being shot down by a woman he’d had his eye on all the night. “She’s with another girl,” he told me, pointing. “That big Latina over there. Her girlfriend.” And being who I am, now I can’t help but wonder if she really was a lesbian (or bisexual) and that really was her girlfriend… or if she was just making up an excuse to dismiss some jerk she wasn’t interested in. I know which one I’d prefer were fact, but I suspect it isn’t.

At this same place, I observed a brief incident of punches being thrown, men being restrained, and one or two people getting forcibly ejected. During this, one bystander decided to get involved by sucker-punching twice one of the main participants. When pressed as to why he did this, I’m informed (I did not actually witness this part) his answer was to the effect of, “I donno, I just felt like it.”

That’s something I can’t understand. I recall once speaking with someone who said he and his friends would routinely have fistfights over disagreements, with unspoken agreements regarding when the fight would stop, and what sort of blows weren’t allowed. Again, I can’t understand. In my mind, the goal of fighting someone is to incapacitate, cripple, or kill them. So the only reason to fight someone has to be a reason to deliberately incapacitate, cripple, or kill them. Which means when you fight someone, there’s no such thing as “dirty”, there’s only efficient and inefficient, effective and ineffective. “Dirty” – say, a blow to the crotch or an eye-gouging – can be very efficient and effective. As such, in my mind, it’s to be encouraged during a fight – but only because “I donno, I just felt like it” isn’t a reason for fighting. Real-life fights aren’t boxing or wrestling or MMA – sports with rules and competition, where safety is a concern and causing injury something to prevented. They’re purpose-driven efforts to deliberately destroy someone’s body, where the target’s safety is antithetical to the goal and causing injury is an objective. In a real fight, it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s whether you win or die.

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…On Doing it Twice in a Row.

Posted by Steve on August 21, 2008

Read these and weep, Ames. I’ve now scooped you twice. The topic from before has now been released for 30 days of public comment, as announced in a third post on the Secretary’s blog.

A quick scan reveals the following:

  1. The words “contraception” and “contraceptive” do not appear.
  2. The rule applies to “sterilization procedures” and abortions.
  3. It states “This regulation does not limit patient access to health care, but rather protects any individual health care provider or institution from being compelled to participate in, or from being punished for refusal to participate in, a service that, for example, violates their conscience” but does not provide analysis as to how not compelling providers to participate in the service does not limit patient access. I assume this is because of the flaws fundamental to U.S. law that actions are not judged solely by their effects and that any intermediation, however tenuous, between an action and its effects severs culpability.
  4. I’d say more but it’s a quarter to 7 and I have to be somewhere at a quarter after.

I encourage you, if you have an opinion on the matter, to submit a public comment. Instructions are contained at the beginning of the proposed rule. After all, active participation in government is a good thing.

Posted in From the News, Here be Politics!, Other people's blogging, The Law | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

…On a Cabinet Secretary’s Blog

Posted by Steve on August 19, 2008

My old friend Ames (we go back to the mid-90s) posted on his blog, Submitted to a Candid World, about a month ago about a draft Department of Health & Human Services regulation to 1) prohibit Federal funds to any governmental (at any level) program or entity that “subjects any institutional or individual health care entity to discrimination on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions” and 2) classify contraceptives as abortifacents.

Following up on that, I discovered that Health & Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt has his own blog, which it appears he writes & staff moderates comments on. On this, he has two posts, Physician Conscience and Physician Conscience Blog 2 in which he addresses this proposal and public reaction to it. I encourage you to read it for yourself because I think you learn more from primary sources than secondary sources. But to sum up what he says:

  1. He believes there exists “a physician’s right to choose whether he or she performs abortion”
  2. Three pre-existing Federal laws he doesn’t specify (and I don’t know what they are – I’d say Hyde Amendment was one, but I think that just forbids any Federal funds from being spent on abortions) grant legal recognition and protection to that right.
  3. Various (unspecified) medical organizations have been trying to subvert/violate those laws.
  4. He asked that this regulation be written to address #4.
  5. Addressing contraceptives is unintended.
  6. The draft was a preliminary draft that hadn’t even gotten to his desk yet when it became public knowledge.
  7. He isn’t certain that any regulation will be passed.

Now, #6 certainly fits how I’d expect things to be done: various staff write some proposals, bounce them around, and eventually send something to the Cabinet Secretary for them to read, comment on, and send back for changes, until eventually there’s something the Cabinet Secretary likes enough to stick in the Federal Register… and I guess that starts up a public comment period?

Obviously, I disagree with #1. Especially as concerns pharmacists, since this may insult them, but oh well: I think the only difference between a pharmacist and a vending machine is that a pharmacist can say “Hey, I shouldn’t give you SSRIs and MAOIs at the same time” while a vending machine can’t. But with #1 as well, I think providing for abortion’s part of a doctor’s duties, and as doctors knowingly and voluntarily join their profession, it seems to me they ought to be treated as knowingly and voluntarily assuming all of those duties. Plus, I think their “act of conscience” is patently immoral.

That said, I can see a pragmatic reason not to require doctors who oppose abortion to perform one. Nothing wrong with compelling them to make a substitute doctor available to their patient, but compelling them to perform the procedure themself just doesn’t seem like something that would actually work – at least not without some serious unintended (but highly foreseeable) consequences.

Anyway, I think more Cabinet Secretaries should have blogs, I beat Ames to the punch on this, I’m thinking about leaving a comment on Leavitt’s blog but am worried about it being in the results when people Google my name and causing me trouble at work or something, and Firefox’s spellcheck tried telling me that “abortifacents” isn’t a word – ditto with “spellcheck” itself. Totally is so a word, and Wikipedia can take that extra “i” in abortifacient and shove it.

Posted in Here be Politics!, Other people's blogging | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

…On Lasers.

Posted by Steve on August 16, 2008

Boeing put out a highly uninformative press release on Wednesday regarding the first full systems test of their Advanced Tactical Laser project for the U.S. Department of Defense. Basically, an updated version of the Vietnam War-era AC-130 that uses a megawatt-range laser instead of a 105-mm howitzer.

It isn’t clear to me how a giant laser mounted on an airplane’s going to be a useful weapon, since it seems like being on as inherently jittery a firing platform as a plane is going to interfere with the precision that’s part of the reason for developing this system, but it’s definitely a cool weapon. It’s a friggin laser beam!

Lasers… is there anything they can’t do? I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a fiber optic cable, but each fiber is no thicker than the lead for an automatic pencil. There’s a laser shooting down each fiber. A laser no bigger than automatic pencil lead, and it’s transmitting phone conversations and the internet. Then there’s laser eye surgery. I remember a newspaper ad in Atlanta: you could get laser eye surgery for like $600 an eye. Lasers help you see! Lasers have industrial application: you can weld with them, and you can cut metal with them. And now… you can assassinate tanks with them. Lasers are just cool.

They’re also entertaining, as anyone who’s ever been to a laser show can attest.

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…On Your City.

Posted by Steve on August 14, 2008

I hate something about my job. Not what I do, not the hours I work, not my coworkers (while I wouldn’t look forward to spending any time away from the office with a few, that’s as strong as it gets), not my pay or my work environment or career prospects or anything like that.

What I hate is the reaction people always, always have whenever I tell them what I do: “Oh, you need to come look at/do something about the lights by my house/office/wherever I go regularly.” Without fail.

Dammit, people, I don’t live where you do. I don’t work for your city, I work for a private firm, that probably doesn’t have a contract to do anything in your city. In other words, regarding the traffic signals by your house or your office or in front of your grocery store, I am probably powerless. But you… you aren’t. And the person whose job it is to deal with the lights where you live, they aren’t powerless either.

Oh, what’s that? Someone whose job it is to deal with the signals where you live? Yes, I said that. Yes, Virginia, someone whose job it is to deal with the traffic signals where you live is real.

See, here’s the thing. I do indeed work in transportation planning and engineering (although it will be three more years before I’ve satisfied the work experience requirement to get licensed as a P.E. Everything I do is under the supervision of a Professional Engineer licensed by the state where I’m doing it.) Signal timing is something I do, among other things. I could absolutely look at the intersections where you live, look at the traffic volumes and patterns, take a few other locational factors into account, do some simulation, and recommend new timings. I’ve done it before, I’m doing it now, I’ll do it many more times. Depending on the equipment your city uses to control its signals, I could even do the reprogramming myself (assuming they let me have the access). But I’m not the only person who can do that, and your city probably didn’t hire me to do it there – they hired someone else.

So go complain to them.

Seriously.

If you don’t like how the traffic control works where you live, pick up your phone book, turn to the blue pages (government), and look up “Public Works” or “Traffic Engineering”. Call them. Let them know. Or go to your city’s (or county’s) website, and find the Public Works, or Traffic Engineering, or Transportation Department’s webpage, and send them an email. Let them know. It’s their job to listen. It’s their job to say, “There’ve been complaints about the intersection of Street Road and Avenue Parkway. Let’s take a look at it.” They may decide your complaint is baseless, they may decide your complaint is valid but there’s important reasons for things to stay the way they are, they may decide you’re right, there’s a problem, and it needs fixing and then fix it. They may hire someone like me to do that for them because they’re understaffed. Depends on the city, depends on the intersection, depends on various things.

But if you don’t let the people with your own city even know, nothing’s going to happen until the next time they decide to do a city-wide signal retiming or a major development comes in near the intersection in question. That can easily mean nothing’s going to happen for five to ten years.

City governments work for cityzens. Part of that means adhering to “if it aint broke don’t fix it”, since fixing things that aren’t broken costs money. Taxpaying cityzens don’t like the city wasting money, and they complain. So, if city staff think the signals aint broke because nobody’s let them know they aren’t happy…

Venting to me about the traffic situation, in general or specifics, where you live is a waste of your time. Informing your city’s traffic-related staff about a specific traffic situation where you live is the first step in getting it changed – or in getting an explanation of why it won’t be changed. Either way, it’s productive.

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