"That you may ruminate"

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…On Senatorial Illness.

Posted by Steve on August 8, 2009

I was going to post a review of the Mayhem Festival concert I went to Thursday night (long post short: Slayer live is fucking awesome, Marilyn Manson is pathetic, I still love The Black Dahlia Murder, no matter how ugly you feel you are nobody at a metal concert cares, and Rockstar’s “energy shot” tastes like a cherry crapped out some coffee). Then I was going to post my thoughts on the questions eHarmony asks when you sign up (some of them are flat-out bizarre), since I’m currently carrying out that lengthy process. My mom’s been pushing me to do it for awhile – I think she wants grandkids or something.

But, at the moment, what really interests me is this: how often are U.S. Senators hospitalized? I noticed Sotomayor got confirmed with 99 total votes, and several other justices, like Scalia and Stevens, were confirmed on 97-0 or 98-0 votes. So… there’s supposed to be 100. And the only reason I can think of for the not-voting thing is can’t vote, which means hospitalized or dead. So how routine is it that a senator’s in the hospital? I don’t really keep track of these things.

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…On A Little Bit of Context

Posted by Steve on August 4, 2009

Overall population of the world: ±6,000,000,000 people.
Population of the United States: ±300,000,000 people.
Annual traffic fatalities in the US: ±40,000 people.
Traffic death impact on US population: -.013% per year.
Annual change in US population despite that: Increases.
Annual change in world population: Increases.

Not going to go into more details, but I attended a conference where I thought that was some badly needed missing context.

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…On Picking Fruit.

Posted by Steve on July 19, 2009

Yesterday I picked fruit. There’s a number of pick-your-own-fruit farms in town, and while most of them only have strawberries (for which the season is over) there’s one that has blueberries and blackberries. So, I was able to go there enjoy a fun activity outside for a few hours, participate in the local economy, and best of all, get over seven pounds of farm-fresh berries for a price that would’ve only gotten me two or three pounds of not-as-fresh berries at the store. I’ve been eating handfuls of blackberries since then, and I’ve got some pancake mix, so I’ll probably mix up some of that tonight, toss the fruit in, put it in a bowl, and have black & blueberry pancakes for breakfast this week.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I like getting local produce at stands or farmer’s markets or the like, and a you-pick farm is definitely in that category. It’s often cheaper, it’s often higher quality (at least in terms of flavor and freshness, although it may not be as large due to not having been treated with polyploidy-inducing fertilizers), it’s often fresher… and I tend to think it’s safer. See, by now we’re used to food recalls: alfalfa sprouts and peanut butter, tomatoes, peppers, green onions, spinach – just a few I can name off the top of my head in the past few years. Now, one of the proposed solutions is to split the Food and Drug Administration into a Food Safety Administration and Drug Safety Administration, bringing some of USDA’s food-safety programs into the new Food Safety Administration. That’s contained in the proposed H.R. 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009, currently sitting in committee. Incidentally, as of 1:10 PM Eastern on July 18, 2009, there were 36 bills in the U.S. Congress containing the phrase “food safety”, such as the “Keeping America’s Food Safe Act” (H.R. 999 IH), the “SAFER Meat, Poultry, and Food Act of 2009” (H.R. 815, and by the way… aren’t Meat and Poultry both types of Food?), and of course the “Safe FEAST Act of 2009” (H.R. 1332). Apparently safe food is something lots of people in Congress want to sponsor bills about.

Now, I found out about this after someone sent me something on Facebook urging opposition to the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 on account of something about it “banning organic food”. Well, 1) my understanding is that it really doesn’t ban organic food, 2) organic food is priced higher (usually – sometimes there’s weird exceptions) than regular food and the farm lobby would never let something ban growing and selling higher-priced food (some of the price is related to farm expenses, but some of it’s a premium – which means higher pure profit), and 3) partially as a consequence of 2, organic food may well be superior environmentally, nutritionally, and flavorly, but it really doesn’t do anything to address food distribution and availability. So I can’t say I’m spurred to action by a perceived threat to organic farming.

I do think, though, that the approach being taken in the bill, which seems to be establishment of a centralized food safety monitoring agency to enforce uniform standards (including to imported food) of safe food growing and processing, isn’t necessarily the ideal solution. And part of it’s on account of that “centralized” issue.

Don’t get me wrong – large scale farming and processing makes large-scale food distribution possible. I’m in Virginia; I can get pineapple year round – because it’s grown in Hawaii in the summer and in the Southern Hemisphere during the winter. But, there’s a catch. Processed tomatoes (tomato sauce, ketchup, etc.) are available cheaply throughout the United States… partly because of an economy of scale due to 90% of them being grown in California. And that centralized growing and processing scheme means that widespread distribution of food-borne illness is possible. Hepatitis or E. coli O157:H7 infects a massive farm or processing plant that ships nationwide, and hooray, the disease has now been shipped nationwide. Whereas with local farming… if that farm I picked berries at yesterday had contaminated fruit, I’ll get sick, other locals will get sick, but nobody outside of the immediate area is at risk. And I wonder if dispersion of food production and processing might not be better for safety than centralization, even if it means less monitoring. Sure, it might mean more infections more often – but the infections would never be of epidemic scale.

Not sure, really – agriculture and food safety are hardly my areas of expertise, or really areas of interest. But it’s food for thought, I guess.

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…On Honduras.

Posted by Steve on July 16, 2009

A little late, but whatever. For the life of me, I can’t understand why the U.S. Government is saying that Manuel Zelaya is still the President of Honduras and that he was ousted in a coup. There’s a self-executing provision of the Honduran Constitution that says whoever’s President automatically ceases to be so if they do something, and there’s not any dispute that Zelaya did it. Honduran law doesn’t have a Posse Comitatus Act the way the U.S. does, so there was nothing illegal under Honduran law about the Honduran military enforcing a Honduran court order for Zelaya’s arrest. The only crime was the exile of a private citizen, and that 1) doesn’t really affect the fact that under the Honduran Constitution, Roberto Micheletti is the sole legal claimant to the Honduran Presidency and 2) has been compatible with democracy since ancient times.

And yet the U.S. government – and every other government in the world – supports an usurper, since apparently it’s more important to back the former incumbent than to actually enforce the Constitution that defines the very terms of the office you’re insisting he still has.

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…On Resurrections.

Posted by Steve on June 25, 2009

Sprouts are back! I saw them in Kroger the other night. They were in the “organic” subsection of the plants section, and didn’t have a pricetag. I thought about getting them, but I got squash instead since I know what to do with that: chop it up and put it on the George Foreman Grill.

Also, I’m back. Not that I went away, I just quit posting to the blog because doing that is time-consuming and boring. I’ve started a bunch of posts and not finished them. The latest was about listing the songs on my iPod that would get me in the most trouble at work if anybody heard them. Which is a concern of sorts, since I listen to my iPod with speakers, not headphones, and keep my office door open. So basically, I have to keep the volume down – and be ready really fast to skip a song or turn stuff off.

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…On Problem Solving.

Posted by Steve on May 23, 2009

Problem solving: this man understands how it’s done. Lian Jiansheng saw a problem, saw the solution, and implemented the solution. Simple, quick, effective. He’s earned my respect.

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…On Sprouts.

Posted by Steve on May 23, 2009

I remember there used to be this stuff called “sprouts” on salad bars (even at Wendy’s – yes, I remember when Wendy’s had a salad bar). When I was a kid, I called it hair because that’s what it looked like: a medusan tangle of white & green hairlike strands, about three or four inches long each. I remember my mom would buy cartons of it, like the cartons mushrooms or grape tomatoes come in, to put on salads at home. More recently, I remember sandwich shops like Subway or the bagel shop around the corner would offer it as a veggie you could put on your sandwich. And I remember that I liked them, even though for the life of me I couldn’t tell you what they were sprouts of in any more detail than “Not beans” (I know bean sprouts, bean sprouts are the thick sprouts in pad thai and chow mein). And I remember that I liked them on sandwiches and on salads – they added a nice texture to roast beef & swiss, and they were a good compliment to a sliver of lettuce and a load of shredded cheddar drenched in Italian.

Well, I’m starting to think that the Sprout Plant has gone extinct – which is really unlikely since I’m guessing it was something domesticated and grown on farms. Nonetheless, they’ve disappeared. None of the grocery stores I’ve been in lately have had them. None of the salad bars I’ve been to in months have had them. The sandwich places where I could get them last year, they don’t have them anymore. So what happened to sprouts?

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…On Identity Theft.

Posted by Steve on May 18, 2009

I’ve never been a victim of identity theft, thankfully. Two of my friends have, and from their experiences I’ve learned that it really, really, really sucks. One of my friends has had the theft going on for years, and even though she’s able to give them the thief’s address (when someone uses your stolen identity to set up utility service at their home, it’s a pretty good bet where you’ll find them) three law enforcement agencies haven’t done anything about it, all claiming it’s outside their jurisdiction.

Well, today the fact that I’ve never been a victim of identity theft didn’t change. Instead, I learned that last year I unknowingly blundered into an identity theft that’s been going on since 2005.

See, ever since I got my new cell phone and number last year, I’ve started getting periodic calls on it that were for someone who isn’t me. Every time, it’s been a recorded message telling some guy (let’s call him Ozzy Freer, based on what his name really is) that it’s urgent he call back “about your account”. I, of course, figured it was something akin to those assholes the FTC’s busting. On a side note, I like to imagine the FTC’s staffed entirely by Robocops and Terminators. Something about sicking remorseless cyborgs on fraudulent advertisers and telemarketers just warms the cockles of my heart.

Anyway, I figured the calls for Mr. Freer were all a telemarketer and ignored them. But then, today, I got a call. A call from an actual human, a human explained that she was very sorry to be calling me, but I wouldn’t happen to know anything about the person who stole her husband’s name and social security number and registered for a phone in his name at my number, would I? When I asked if her husband was me (in hindsight, a very stupid question – I’d know if I were husband, and I’m not. I’m not anybody’s husband – at least, not unless I was married by proxy without my knowledge), she said no, her husband is Ozzy Freer. It appears that there is a real Ozzy Freer, and while he was deployed to Iraq back in 2005, someone stole his identity and got a cell phone in his name – a cell phone with the number that became mine last May. And it appears a collection agency’s been hired to collect several hundred dollars in unpaid bills on that old phone account. Got to say, that’s got to absolutely suck for them. So, I wrote her number down and offered to give her a call the next time I get a voice mail for Ozzy Freer. I figure, it might be a little helpful to them, and it should definitely help me quit getting calls that aren’t for me. About which, you’d think that collection agency would’ve been able to figure out that the phone number belongs to somebody else now.

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…On Minimal Progress.

Posted by Steve on April 15, 2009

I drive a manual transmission 5-speed 1993 Honda Accord DX. According to the EPA’s gas mileage estimates, the 5-speed ’93 Accord gets 21 MPG city and 29 MPG highway. The 2009 manual 5-speed Accords have EPA gas mileage values of 22 MPG city and 31 MPG highway. So, over the course of 16 model years, the Honda Accord’s gas mileage has improved all of one mile per gallon in city driving and two miles per gallon highway… that’s 240 yards per gallon per year highway and 120 yards per gallon per year city.

Hardly impressive.

Of course, the EPA mileage estimates are just that, estimates. Good thing that the official joint Fuel Economy website of the United States Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency has a lovely feature: Shared MPG Estimates. It allows you to look at estimates based on what people have reported about their actual experienced gas mileage (and allows you to contribute your own data, which I encourage you to do. I’ve started doing it.). From that, well, nobody’s put data in for manual transmission 2009 Accords yet. Plus the data doesn’t give a city/highway mileage value the way the Official Estimates are structured, just a combined total and then each driver’s combined total with their cumulative estimate of % city/highway. But for what it’s worth, 5 drivers of ’93 manual Accords have reported an average 30.9 MPG while 7 drivers of ’08 manual Accords have reported an average of 29.7 MPG.

Obviously, the 5-speed Manual Transmission Honda Accord is not the only car in the world. It may not be a properly representative car for comparing typical 1993 model year gas mileage to typical 2009 model year gas mileage and illustrating the non-progress made in improving gas mileage. Maybe, maybe not.

All I know is that I drive a 1993 Honda Accord DX with a 5-speed manual transmission. It is old enough to get its own driver’s license, has 174,000 miles on it, and has been in more wrecks than I can keep track of (I think it’s 5, excluding minor parking-lot collisions, but I could be wrong…). It still manages to pull 32 MPG on the highway and around 25 MPG city. I’m going to have to replace it eventually, but any automobile manufacturer thinks I’m going to put myself into debt to buy a new car that doesn’t give me significantly better performance than what I already get from a 16-year-old crash veteran… frankly, that’s insulting.

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…On the Forbidden Topic.

Posted by Steve on April 8, 2009

As I’ve alluded to before, I don’t think it’s appropriate to use this blog to discuss my employer or the specific work that I do. For the past two months, that hasn’t been a problem, since I was laid off. And if I’d wanted to badmouth my former employer, there would have been no need to do that here, since someone created a website devoted solely to that purpose. However, on April 16th, the day after my income tax return is due (I’ll be submitting it some time later this week once I’m at my parents’ place and have access to a printer), I’ll begin my new job in a municipal government’s public works department. Accordingly, I won’t ever be talking about that city again, at least for the duration of my employment there. Just thought I’d share.

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