Saturday, August 07, 2010

How to drive up blog readership statistics 101 - - - Use the term "Same Sex Marriage" in your title. Guaranteed.

Blogster and Statistician to the Stars William M. Briggs, a personal favorite read, Friday posted his take on the judicial decision to overturn California's Proposition 8. By Saturday afternoon his site had processed well over 40 comments and I'm sure his blog had received at least 10 times that number of "hits". Fortunately - or maybe not - Matt Briggs doesn't totally rely on blog advertising to put beans on his plate, but he is sometimes controversial vis-a-vis global non-warming, etc., thus traffic numbers are encouraging and probably a good thing. He needs to get his name out there often so ensuing national administrations will tap him to be a future Secretary of State or maybe even something more important. But I digress.

Briggs raised this point:
Those outside of two-person, male-female sets who want conferred upon them the status of marriage paradoxically ask to be part of tradition. That is, they want the trappings of marriage: the ceremony, the rights and, although we rarely hear about these, the responsibilities. But they also want the tradition overthrown, or abandoned. There is no solution to this paradox.
Most commenters on the site were civil and anxious for "dialogue". In fact on this topic they almost rose to the level of commenters on "The Belmont Club", and imho that's quite high. But in the post and during the comments a troubling issue arose that spawned measured disagreement. Because later on he also said:
The third, and most fascinating point, is that the judge, in slaying tradition, only discovered a right for two same-sex persons. He did not (yet?) unearth a right for three, four, or more mixed-sex persons. Nor did he tell us that people and cats could be wed.
The last sentence seemed to strike a dissonant chord with several commenters who deemed it illogical, labeling that topic a "slippery slope". That's one way to sweep the issue under a rug, but their problem here is that Professor Briggs is totally logical. He teaches logic. He lectures on logic. He reads long, dry books written by long-dead authors we've never heard of who wrote about logic. And the commenters who thought the point illogical did not refute this, merely chose to label and forget it, hoping it would go away. It won't, and in more than one way it might actually be an "identitative slippery slope". No matter the best of intentions, when "tradition" is thrown out the window whatever takes its place is never static. Things do change.

In my view when all is said and done - and it's not at that point yet - secular societies of the future will at some point find themselves under pressure to, in this probable order:
  • "accept with approval" marriages of more than two individuals.
  • "accept with approval" marriages of an adult and a child.
  • "accept with approval" marriages of more than three individuals of both genders.
  • "accept with approval" marriages of humans and what we currently considered to be a different animal.

All this even though currently many consider the subject to be illogical and a "slippery slope". They may be right, but they might also be wrong. It is only their opinion, not something cast in stone.

Remember rule #44, little ones. Things change. The rising ground may yet prove to be too lubricious for safe passage.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

It's Official! The NBA totallly fries the mind.

At least if you're playing guard. In Detroit. For the Pistons. For twelve years.

Nothing else logically explains the latest idiocy emanating from the mayor of that bastion of democratic mal-management, the worn out and economically depressed city of Detroit, Michigan. Appointing a convicted murderer, no matter how well rehabilitated, to the city's Police Board only makes sense to those interested in ripping society apart, not building community.

Taking nothing away from Raphael B. Johnson for the vast strides he's made in returning to society, but putting a former wolf in charge of setting policy for sheep is not a prudent thing to do. How could anything go wrong? Of course living in and holding office in that city could also qualify as lack of prudence, but that's another story.

Don't know the size of Detroit's current phone book, but that's got to be one city where the late William F. Buckley, Jr., might have needed to rethink his famous Boston phone book maxim.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Has Firefox finally "jumped the shark"?

When Mozilla first brought out Firefox it seemed such a clean, simple browser program. Quick, intuitive, fully functional for the casual user. All-in-all an ideal time-saving alternative to the blunderbuss that had grown from the original IE.

Over the years Firefox has gradually morphed into numerous "new and improved" versions - probably to either keep up with the Jones or preempt the Jones from trying to improve their product. The problem is that each "improvement" has seemed to make the browser harder to use, taken longer to load and less stable to browse. Today, each day - running on Vista with plenty of guts and glory - it takes five to eight minutes to initially load - IF it doesn't need to "upgrade" something or other. The last time I counted there are 23 add-on's and features on my update screen roster, though not each one populates the screen every time - thankfully. But this is turning into a serious chunk of time.

And now it looks like they have finally "jumped the shark". For the last eight months three out of five times I close out a Firefox window the program becomes unstable and stops responding - forever, apparently, if I had that much time left to hang around - which being on social security I don't. So once again, after all these years, control-alt-delete are my new best friends. If it weren't for that nice Task Manager program it would be re-bootsville five to ten times a day.

In that same length of time I've upgraded Firefox to the newest, slickest, "bestus" version each time its been offered, but whatever is causing the slow loading and unstable close outs has apparently not been new, slick or best enough for the mavens at Mozilla to mingle with their upgrades.

All of this would be merely a minor problem if Firefox or Mozilla had some type of support system old folk like me could use. They don't. They have "user forums" for everything. Have you ever tried to figure out how to get on the proper user forum to ask a question that won't get you laughed off the planet? No, I thought not. I regularly get kicked off City-Data Forums by moderators and I've never cussed or used a dirty word on them, once. It's just that going to a forum with a problem seems as sensible as driving all the way across town to the Walmart when a laundry load is ready to run through the dryer. Walmart might help, eventually, but the best solution is waiting for me just 3 feet away.

So unless "Firefox Lite" debuts in the next few days it looks like I'll once again be shopping around the browser store for something simple, clean and intuitive. But not Firefox.

UPDATE: This afternoon (7/31) loaded Opera, tried it out a couple of hours, uninstalled Firefox, re-booted and reopened Opera - and my screens have never been faster and simpler. At last a lite browser that doesn't slow me down.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Watching little white balls . . . . .

Will be tied up the next week volunteering as a shuttle driver for some very fortunate athletes. Should be back in action after the 20th.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A way out of the California pension mess?

First, my plan. I call it the "Graduated Postponement" law.

Under this proposal, which could hypothetically be effective 1-1-2011, every state employee covered by a publicly funded pension plan who had been initially hired full time before 1-1-1985 would not have their pension conditions and benefits changed; they would simply remain in effect as currently written.

Those first hired on or after 1-1-1985 through 12-31-1989 would have their retirement conditions and benefits modified in such a way as to add the requirement of serving one additional year [12 months] beyond their existing target date before they could go into effect.

Those first hired on or after 1-1-1990 through 12-31-1994 would have the same conditions and benefits modified in such a way as to add the requirement of serving two additional years [24 months] beyond their existing target date before they would become effective.

Those first hired on or after 1-1-1995 through 12-31-1999 would have the same conditions and benefits modified in such a way as to add the requirement of serving three additional years [36 months] beyond their existing target date before they were to become effective.

Those first hired on or after 1-1-2000 through 12-31-2004 would have those conditions and benefits modified in such a way as to add the requirement of working four additional years [48 months] beyond their existing target date before seeing the effective date.

And those first hired on or after 1-1-2005 and thereafter would have the same conditions and benefits modified in such a way as to add the requirement of working five additional years [60 months] beyond their existing target date before retirement might be implemented.

Retirement target ages would not be mandatory and provisions would be continued in place or modified that enable the accumulation of additional retirement credit for each year worked past a target age. At their discretion agencies would be permitted to reassign or transfer without relocation or hardship, but they could not demote, employees working past 15 or more years past their target dates.

Nothing in this law would modify or alter any other existing conditions or requirements for state employment, including health, physical condition, etc., etc.

Whatever their current target dates, a law like this would simply set-back most full time state employee's retirement options for a given number of months - based on when they first began full time state service. In this way the change would maintain early retirement perks public safety officers enjoy, and the net effect would be to spread the hurt fairly evenly among agency employees based on the ever-loved "seniority" modality, which at the very least should make it slightly more palatable it to employee unions.

Meaningful comments and suggestions are welcome but moderated. Others are treated with the respect they deserve.

PS: Update 6/10/10. To date four off topic responses have been very gently deleted.

Monday, May 17, 2010

How I see the problem…..

No matter how tempting to think so, what follows is not intended as a “hit” on diversity per se,. Instead, it is a constructive comment inviting informed and reasonable dissent or comment. Also, it is meant as a general statement, recognizing quite well there have been and will continue to be many, many exceptions.

None-the-less, if the illegal immigration/open borders issue is to ever be resolved, at least one factor of the dilemma must be faced and fixed: a perceived lack-of-assimilation pattern within too large a segment of the extant Hispanic community. It's a dilemma compounded both by lawful and unlawful residents. Some express the problem differently. In a recent interesting and perceptive article in the Washington Times Ivan Kenneally wrote:
However, the deepest and most important issue that underlines the current imbroglio is what precisely it means to be an American citizen.
In most cities and towns where they live these families are seen to cluster in tight, inclusive barrios. Obviously, at the very least, the reasons for this include economic, cultural, security and convenience factors. There very likely are other forces in play.

Clustering is understandable and for the most part an historical and positive way for new-comers to the US to begin entering the mainstream. The problem is too many Hispanic families who are here lawfully seem to stop right at that point and hesitate to take the next step. Add to this the unlawful resident and it only compounds the problem. Thus over time a barrio becomes third-world-ish, and its inhabitants become further sheltered from the “regular” world about them. Shopping, commercial services, government is all provided in their own language and the incentive to “Americanize” is not compelling enough for many to break through from their tiny worlds and test the bigger outdoors by dipping their toes in public waters, so-to-speak.

The negative societal result includes an extra heavy burden, usually well beyond acceptable per-capita norms, heaped on the educational, medical, commercial and governmental service providers involved. It is amplified and made even more tragic because far too many resultant students seriously underachieve in school, or become frustrated and drop out early, not because of lack of ability, but because their parent(s) fail to be involved due to unassailable language and cultural barriers. And the majority of those children seem to be forever damaged and short-changed.

The situation also tends to encourage maintenance of closer ties with family members in the “old country”, which contributes to a regular massive outflow of “support” currency to residents of third world nations which seriously shorts the interests of local economies.

Another serious factor is the ease with which barrio residents are influenced and victimized by unscrupulous persons and criminals. For example the city of Phoenix, AZ, is now the kidnapping capitol of the USA almost exclusively due to criminal Hispanic gang activities targeting non-English speaking immigrants who are either surreptitiously passing through the area or have already settled nearby. Some of the latter have lived there for years without integrating into the local culture, and have proven to be extraordinarily “easy pickings” for kidnappers. Successful prosecution of these crimes has turned out to be a nightmare.

A major part of the lack of assimilation problem is likely caused by a high degree of adult illiteracy among those coming from Mexico and Guatemala, as well as other nations. For persons who can barely read or write their own language a “savior” of sorts becomes the local electronic media. Spanish language radio and TV is almost ubiquitous in the southern US, and indeed has spread now to virtually every state. Plus, if one lives beyond the range of over-the-air broadcasts there is always cable and satellite TV.

I have two questions. One, is the programming currently available from Spanish language electronic media contributing to the non-assimilation situation? Does it tend to continue the cultural separation factor? Two, are conservatives and/or tea party organizers taking the opportunity that particular medium provides to reach into the quasi-isolated Hispanic community with effective messaging that provides an alternative point-of-view together with incentives and encouragement towards the assimilation process? Or is there a field here that may be ready for cultivating?

Comments are moderated but encouraged.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Trifecta. A world record?

Back in ancient days when 49er worked for a living, in one particular period of time he was driving a front-load garbage truck [somewhat similar to this] five nights a week on a midnight until done shift in a central California city. A private firm held the city's solid waste collection contract, and in turn the firm "contracted" with 49er to run their "commercial" [OK, front-load bins] route while the rest of the company - and the city itself, pretty much slept.

Btw, for those with an opinion for or against "privatization" of municipal functions 49er did in five days and about 50 hours a week, including personal nap time, exactly what three city employees had normally done in six days and at least 140 hours a week - including 20 or more hours of time and a half overtime. But that's not important.

It's not that interesting but at the time 49er's truck was of the style that picked up a loaded bin with two front forks, then the arms holding the forks raised the bin up and over the cab, and finally the forks pivoted and dumped the by then upside-down bin's contents into a huge hopper, where a giant packing "blade" could push the trash rearwards, compacting it against the rear door and whatever else had been loaded earlier. The truck was a new type that could pack while moving, thus saving time in transit by clearing the hopper for the next load. And because this was a solo night route the truck had custom work-area mirrors, special overhead work lights and a public access radiophone in addition to it's company two-way radio.

To avoid ruining resident's sleep patterns, for the first few hours each night [or morning, to be exact] the route was limited to downtown and shopping center commercial districts [thus the name for the route], and agricultural packing shed and industrial park areas. All of which were thought not to be in proximity to residential areas.

One particular week-night at about 3 AM 49er began a fresh run - having just dumped the prior load in a landfill - by emptying a string of bins in an alley serving major downtown businesses. The loads consisted mostly of loose boxes, lightly folded cardboard flats and balls of plastic wrappings. Pretty light and loosely packed stuff. At about the sixth bin, located at the rear of a furniture store, something unusual happened. After tipping the bin, righting it and beginning a pack cycle - and at the same time lowering the arms holding a now-empty bin - 49er caught a glimpse in a mirror of something out of place near the right arm. Whatever it was, was moving!

Everything froze! Instantly he stopped packing and arm lowering to check. Was relieved to find it was merely a large sheet of loose plastic being blown around by engine exhaust. Whew! He began lowering the arms again when suddenly what appeared to be a shoe and lower pant leg came into view, obviously attached to a human being, seemingly reaching down from overhead probing for the fork arm. Everything froze again!

OK, need to explain something else. Sometimes homeless persons sleep in bins. Why, you ask? Why not. Sheets of cardboard afford protection from wind and bagged office trash can ofttimes be formed into "pillows" or "mattresses". Loose plastic can make everything water and weather-tight. Snug as a bug, etc. When the firm took over the city's collection task it had inherited one known location where one individual, night after night during his infrequent unincarcerated periods, made his home. 49er's solution to this hazard was to routinely dump this particular bin after daylight, and after a pre-dump safety check. Just to be sure.

Now 49er jumped out of the cab but could not spy anything amiss in a quick walk-around. His first thought was homeless guy had picked a new location, but that fellow usually made noises and moved around when the truck approached, and right now everything was still and quiet - except for the idling truck engine and 49er's beating heart.

Even with special work-lights there was limited visibility in the darkened alley. His quick solution was to carefullly move the truck as-is to a well-lit nearby service station and have the police and ambulance respond to a potential "industrial" accident. A few seconds later the truck pulled in under huge overhead lights at the station as two officers arrived. He explained the situation and everyone prepared for a disaster.

Everything was still quiet overhead, in the platform above the cab. The police called out but nobody responded. One cop began climbing the front access "ladder" to the over-the-cab platform and suddenly stopped and called out again. "Freeze"! "Show me your hands"! The then cop switched to giving instructions in Spanish. A sheepish-looking individual slowly stood up on the platform, hands tentatively reaching for the sky. He was drunk! And he wasn't homeless guy. He was merely a borracho field worker. And too drunk to safely climb down the access ladder by himself, so a second cop scrambled up and the two of them handed the tipsy but uninjured passenger down to two other freshly arrived officers standing on the ground. Relief and laughter all around. No blood and guts. Guy is arrested for public intoxication and put into the back of a squad car. Case over. Ambulance canceled.

Exchange of information, shooting of the breeze for a minute or two, first cop had already climbed back down, second was checking out the blade operation because this truck was new and had caused quite a stir among city staff by working the pants off three former city trucks. Suddenly cop #2 calls out, "Come out of there." Then switches to Spanish. More commands. Cop #1 goes back up the ladder. Both reach down into the top of the full hopper and pull another field worker up,
out and onto the platform. This one even sleepier and more borracho than his friend.

The hand-down process is repeated and passenger #2 is also checked over, found to be uninjured, arrested and put into another squad car. More laughter and relief. Bit that bullet, too. And a double! Two in one bin. Never had that happen before. Wow, call the newspaper. Good human interest story material there. Things were settling down, getting serious, but something was nagging 49er. The first cop car leaves for the jail. The second and third are preparing to follow. Wait a minute!

Suddenly dawns on 49er the second guy was wearing pea green dungarees, just like one member of a group of three field workers seen earlier, shortly after midnight, staggering up the alley behind one of the city's Mexican bars and cantinas. What if this was the same group and there was a third body still up in the hopper?

This time 49er climbed topside, followed by two officers, and began pulling flat sheets of cardboard out of the hopper. Three flats later a portion of a human leg appeared, and the situation reverted once more to tragedy. By this time the flats were too far down in the hopper to be reached from above, so one officer carefully jumped into a far corner of the hopper and slowly began pulling additional flats away in an attempt to find other parts of the body that went with the leg. And he did. Find other parts, that is.

Slowly, agonizingly slowly, as cardboard was pulled away the officer uncovered the rest of the clothed body - still attached to the leg! The body was sound asleep. Passed out. Borrracho in the extremis. But apparently not bloodied or traumatized. Wonder of wonders; tres amigos in a dumped bin and none injured. Unbelievable.

Number three was finally passed down to ground and poured into a squad car. On further reflection 49er made a command decision and had one officer follow him to the landfill where the remainder of the short, uncompacted load was unceremoniously dumped and spread out on the ground where it could be gone through tooth and toenail to ensure there were no other bodies or parts lying around. And none were. Case closed.

The question arises, could this be a world record? Three people dumped from one bin, all uninjured? 49er doesn't know, but several veteran officers from a central California city still recall the night they responded to one of the weirdest and frightening calls on record - a possible injured person squashed or mangled in a trash truck, and everything turned out well - hilarious in the retelling, perhaps, but well. As for the tres amigos, upon release the following morning none seemed to recall just how it was they came to be arrested. In vino veritas? Not this time.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Is it true? Could VDH be a pantywaist?

I'm sorry to have to raise this question, but one of my literary heroes, Victor Davis Hanson, yesterday seemed to unveil himself as a fraidy-cat.
I know, I know, military historian and columnist extraordinaire and all that, but this rough and tough professor and straight-talking raisin-farmer from the Central Valley practically admitted to being intimidated and humiliated by lowly clerks at the DMV.
A retired DMV office manager, this author spent a portion of his career, including two years as administrative assistant to the region manager, working in offices in VDH's neck of the woods.
"Going into the DMV to deal with SEIU T-shirted employees is to face petty humiliation and impediment."
OK, the purple SEIU shirts are stupid, but these not-that-well-paid people are striving to move customers in and out as quickly as possible, be as accurate as can be, and get everything done correctly the "first time" during the customer's current visit. That's the way they're judged by their bosses, and as with any concern - a boss is a boss is a boss.
For a grown man to feel humiliation and obstruction in the face of an employee who only hopes the customer doesn't have halitosis and remembered to bring all of his documents is way too "sensitive" and touchy-feely. Does the professor have the same feelings on opening day of his classes, facing a classroom full of new students? Or when the picking crew arrives for the first day of harvest each year? I doubt it. Methinks he overstates the point here.
As a California DMV customer VDH - and every other patron - is in the position of power. A front-line technician must be courteous and provide the patron with what he needs WHEN the application process is finished. If that doesn't happen, a simple conversation with the employee's supervisor usually will suffice. And beyond that supervisor is an office manager. Beyond her - or him - is a regional manager. None of them want to answer a service compliant when it comes down from the Governator's office, so trust me - they want customers to leave happy and fulfilled! Kaput! Satisfied! In fact, they'll provide them with a mail-in survey form afterward just to confirm it.
"I watched dozens of hurried customers stand in line while bored employees at the window lackadaisically redirected them to other bored employees."
This one is cute. VDH can see the same thing at every busy grocery store, bank, train station, college admission offices at the beginning of semesters, etc. People stand in line. But in virtually every California DMV they only stand in the "start here" line once, when they first walk in.
"Why are you here"? It might not have occurred to Dr. Hanson, but each DMV office is set-up to perform from two to three dozen different tasks. Not all offices do all things. One needs to be screened on arrival to ensure he or she is properly served. Why do hospitals triage patients arriving at emergency rooms? Would you want to walk up to any old window, interrupt the customer being served and tell them what you want to do? That seems rude and inefficient. Do the harvesters jump from vine-to-vine and row-to-row, going back and forth repeatedly over just-picked vines when something catches their eye - or do they carefully harvest each vine thoroughly so as to pick all the fruit that's ripe as they go along that day? It's more efficient for both the user and the service provider to find out what a customer wants and is served by a properly prepared person.
Then, after a customer passes through that one line in each of the seven DMV offices surrounding the Fresno - Kingsburg area, the extended community where VDH lives, customers are given a coded number and offered the opportunity to wait in chairs in the lobby until their number is called. At the time of this is writing the longest wait time posted in real time on-line in any of those seven offices was 22 minutes - while seated. The shortest wait was 12. "Hurried customers"? While sitting in chairs? Seems unlikely.
Likewise "bored employees" is an interesting comment. When I worked the front line I used lots of friendly humor, trying to make the process fun. Most customers responded in kind, but several times my display of levity offended customers because in their minds what they were doing was, to them, "very serious". The point is front line workers are forced to draw a fine line. Sometimes just maintaining an non-judgmental appearance is the best that can be done. A little empathy, please, professor.
"The subtext was 'You need my form and stamp, so calm down, take a deep breath, and wait on my time. It’s not like I have to work for your rat-race company.'”
California DMV offers one of the most elaborate web sites with hours and hours of advice and information for customers needing to "do" something requiring licensure, vehicle or vessel registration or any of the other myriad of disciplines DMV handles. About one person in a hundred, or less, uses that site to thoroughly simplify and speed up their office visit. Most folks just skim it and then wait till they're there, and ask the technician what to do? TRANSLATION: Most customers are not quite prepared to complete their transactions during their first trip. This makes more work for the technician and customer. And that counts against the worker. So most technicians try to figure out a way to get around those problems. Sometimes they can, and sometimes they can't. Dr. Hanson sounds as if he is chiding the underling because the power person messed up. Isn't that like blaming the messenger, or something?

I hope I've totally misconstrued the professor's remarks. On the subject matter of his post I'm mostly in agreement. But I think in this case he resorted to hyperbole, stretching the DMV example by blending his memories of the old days with modern times. If not, then if going into today's California DMV really intimidates him, in my view he's a scaredy cat.
As usual, I am humbly open to corrective and instructive comments.

Monday, February 01, 2010

This one is too easy.....

I really, really try to be nice and not make fun of the less fortunate, like certain career bureaucrats, but sometimes they lob such a temptingly easy serve it can't be ignored, like this one:
"Former NASA associate administrator Scott Pace, now a professor of space policy at George Washington University, said relying so much on commercial companies is taking a big chance because they might not deliver on time or on budget."
Apparently Professor Pace has never run into a government agency that doesn't "deliver on time or on budget". At least in his own little fantasy-world, of course. But here in real life the rest of us can spew our morning coffee all over the room when we read his words and he just ignores the mess he leaves behind. "On budget", eh? I wonder if he ever in his entire lifetime ever heard those words muttered together, by themselves, in a meeting or by a co-worker?. No? I thought not.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Holy Geiko! This is.... This is...... Wow!

Some news stories write their own headlines. This one not so much.

"Hans Kurt Kubus, 58, is to be deported to Germany [from New Zealand] as soon as he is released from prison, Judge Colin Doherty ordered Tuesday. Kubus was caught by wildlife officials at Christchurch International Airport on South Island in December, about to board an overseas flight with 44 geckos and skinks in a hand-sewn package concealed in his underwear."
Forty four lizards sewn into one's underwear! The mind boggles. From a newspaper city editor's perspective where to be begin with the headline? Feel free to comment. And ..... were any cavemen involved?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Lunacy wins in Statistics v. Performance fray

OK, the inmates are officially running the asylum. According to this from the AP [which had to be found far afield since the local rag dropped the link about 30 minutes after posting - hmmmmm, wonder why?] the state of Califschwarzenegger is finally applying logic to its appalling prisoner recidivism rate. The state will no longer check in on a certain number of its new parolees and thus will not know if they need to go back to prison or not. That way parole officials will have fewer felons to place back into custody. Viola! Like magic, the rate should be lower.
"At the same time, the state will stop its monitoring of low-level offenders after their release. That is designed to reduce the number of parolees returned to prison, essentially because the state will not know if they are violating the terms of their parole."
What could possibly go wrong with that?
It's past time for the Maricopa County, AZ, sheriff to be put in charge of California Prisons and Parole. At least his recidivism rate is honestly reported.