Monday, November 5, 2007

Eggnog and Other Dangers of Modern Life

We see above a picture I scanned from a newspaper showing kindergartners at a local school digging into some kind of "rock" constructed from flour, searching for hidden treasure it seems. I got a big kick out of the idea they needed to be wearing eye protection.

One thing Sue keeps saying is "How did we as kids ever survive?" Surely the kinds of risks our parents exposed us to just letting us go outside to play would peg them today as child abusers. How exactly did we ever develop into a society where our kids must live in a risk-free world? Who decided this and how did society become so intense about enforcing this notion?

Certainly one of the culprits is our Tort system. You have to expect defensive behavior in a world where anyone might sue anyone for anything, no matter how ridiculous. As a consequence, some of the warning labels and disclaimers you see can be quite hilarious. One of my favorite disclaimers is in a commercial that shows an SUV driving into a volcano and subsequently getting blown out of it, landing miles away. "Do not attempt" it advises.

Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch certainly has some good ones on warning labels; after all the humorous examples it goes on to say "Predatory lawyers know they can file ridiculous lawsuits against innocent product makers and blackmail them into cash settlements..." But what amazes me is that it seemingly proves effective to use the warning labels and disclaimers in the first place. Sometimes I see some disclaimer flashed on the screen in tiny writing, and for an impossibly short period of time. Is it really true that anyone trying to sue some company that does that would just hear the judge say, "yes, it was too tiny to read and shown too briefly to read, but that was all that was required by the law and therefore you lose your lawsuit."

The law is an ass, they say. An ass that does not care how ridiculous it looks, it would seem. I remember watching a program that had a bunch of lawyers on it and one of them criticized the lawsuit that the lady had against McDonalds for making their coffee too hot to pour on your crotch. One of the other lawyers spoke up and said something like "actually I was involved in this and you know if you learn the details you find the lady had a good case, McDonalds had been warned before and blah blah blah." I guess it is probably true, that if you were involved and you buried yourself only in the legal issues, anyone who was willing to look at it only from that perspective possibly could be convinced of this.

And then there is the phenomenon of not having a warning label where one would be advisable. Take the recent case of popular little seats made to put a baby in; apparently the manufacturer suggested the kid was not able to get out of the seat and parents were using it to put the child aside so it did not have to be watched. And they would put child and seat on the tops of tables and counters [the company had literature showing this usage]. Of course there have been several incidents of severe injuries as the kid and seat topple off together to hit the floor. Well, I have little sympathy for that company [or for the dumb parents either].

I was hoping I would be able to tell you the results of an experiment I undertook. The white 7 gallon buckets that are used for my homebrewing hobby carry a big warning label that a child could fall into the bucket and drown. It occurred to me that possibly this was something that has never happened except in crazy circumstances, since under normal circumstances a child unable to get out of the bucket would also not be able to get into it. So I had Google email me every time it had a news story involving the words "drown" and "bucket" or "pail." I decided the experiment failed as there was a long period with no emails [something wasn't working] and too many stories where it wasn't clear what happened. I also decided that possibly incidents wouldn't always make the news. I wound up with just a few stories on buckets, and only one was clearly a case of drowning in a bucket similar to what I use for homebrewing [one that drywall paste comes in]. But no details of how it happened. I sure got emailed a lot of tragic stuff. Vast quantities of children drown in swimming pools and bathtubs, with an eerie constant factor being that toddlers do so silently and without much struggle, theoretically not quite realizing what is happening. There were several stories worldwide of children drowning in mop buckets, one kid also drowned in a bucket that her mother had vomited in [ugh!]. As I remember they threw the book at that poor lady. But 90% of the articles Google sent were public-service type warning that children could drown in such buckets! Nonetheless it was a failed but interesting experiment.

[bad link edited out]

Friday, October 19, 2007

Bold New World

I guess with the "rant" style blog, it's pretty easy to go off into something a little too heavy. If "something really bothers me" it lends itself to that, maybe.

But here's something that's been bothering me that should be in a lighter vein: Contrived TV programs purporting to be something else. Two shows in particular, lately.

I probably shouldn't admit this [I'll use the word "almost"] but they "almost" had me going on these shows for a bit. Certainly I was almost buying in to a Court TV program called "psychic detectives" or some similar title. This program shows true crime stories where the police called in psychics to help them crack unsolved cases. Now from some books I've read [not from one of the shows] I did know that some weird, unexplainable things have happened, such as the lady who was helping the Green River detectives and wound up literally uncovering one of the bodies. She was accompanying them to a dump site and said she was getting vibes and "try here," just walking up to a little area. She was so shocked that a body was there she never helped them again, refusing to do so, totally shook up. Maybe it was just a coincidental thing. Anyway, you have to wonder, sometimes.

This Court TV program is something else, though. Story after story of psychics helping crack cases, that assistance varying from astonishing to perhaps less than astonishing, but story after story. Probably because there were just so many stories, finally I became convinced it was just too much. The sincerity of the police who were claiming the help was really appreciated and valuable was a puzzle at first, though. It finally occurred to me that there were a couple of explanations for this:

*in some cases the cops just seemed to like the "good yarn" themselves and did what they could do help that story along.
*in other cases, they were victims of talented operators who knew how to get over on these guys. In at least a couple of the shows, it seemed to me that the psychics were using the technique of secretly discerning what the detectives knew and then repeating it back to them, claiming the source of the knowledge was some sixth sense.

Is it possible that ESP or something really helped? Well, in some cases just repeating back to the detectives what they already were starting to suspect might have helped in an odd way, it seemed to me.

For an even more cynical put-down of these shows, and more on techniques that are used, see

Now, for a TV Program that "really bothers me" but to which, at times, I am nonetheless drawn for brief, irritating, spells, that's gotta be "Ghost Hunters." Now this program on the Sci-Fi channel is in the reality TV form [that could be a whole other blog] and the boldness of the real dishonesty of this particular program is mind-bending. An organization calling themselves "TAPS" puts on a show that so earnestly portrays what they are doing as being on the level it has to be seen to believe. These people would have you believe that they are using the latest scientific equipment, and the latest techniques. With special know-how they are able to document "para-normal" events right and left. They clearly have a considerable following amongst those who just cannot seem to come to realize: no reputable group has ever been able to do this. It's the sheer amount of shown para-normal activity alone that just begins to scream "fake!" Not to mention the total lack of credibility given to the program outside of, well, themselves. But I have no doubt they have many true believers.

One very clever aspect: they include debunking as part of the program. In other words, they go to a site to do a show, and they always make sure they debunk some phenomenon there that has been reported. Absolutely brilliant!

Some criticism at Wikipedia shows them no mercy:
"Ghost Hunters has attracted various critics and skeptics. Some question the scientific validity of the investigations conducted by the TAPS team, its methodology, and particularly its use of instrumentation, as there is no scientifically-proven link between the existence of ghosts and (for example) cold spots or electromagnetic fields (which Hawes and Wilson say are not necessarily paranormal). Of ghost hunting in general, skeptical investigator Joe Nickell says, "...the approach of the typical ghost hunter—a nonscientist using equipment for a purpose for which it was not made and has not been shown to be effective—is sheer pseudoscience". Others contend that the show's claimed evidence of the paranormal could be easily hoaxed, since third party review of evidence collected by TAPS is not encouraged, and those who have contacted the group asking for full footage from everything recorded at the haunted locations have also gone unanswered. With each new season, critics of Ghost Hunters continue to publish skeptical analyses and theories on the Internet, often employing frame-by-frame analysis of episode footage which they believe debunks the show's findings." [footnotes deleted]

You finally realize watching the show that for a fact these people have to be fully aware that they are really completely in the business of deceiving the public. The last time I started to watch the program, they began with reading an email from the such and such grade class from so and so Florida Elementary school. Clearly a whole class of students and their teacher was getting duped into believing this program was for real. Not a hint of irony [or shame] crossed the faces of our ghost-busting "investigators" as they continued to pretend it was all for real. I had to turn it off.

Seems like today we are heading for the Age of Misinformation. The internet has been famous so far for providing plenty of baloney; people have to decide for themselves what is for real and need to be ready to "snope" out stories that don't sound right. I guess for TV more disinformation is what's come with the age of cable. Don't expect any concept of integrity to pull any programs, it's clear that the integrity of the producers is getting diluted in the massive volume. Shame on the History Channel, for example, for showing over and over again a terrible program years ago on the Kennedy Assassination. I think we are really in for it.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Sub-Prime Saga

Honesty on this subject requires courage, I've decided. And we have seen some of that from a few. First off we must absolutely and positively give credit to the Daily Show [and it's funny, too.] I'll let you watch it without comment.


Amongst bloggers, without that editorial control, I had hoped for more. Of course I couldn't do an exhaustive search. The below was a good one, though. I especially noted:

*Lenders were supported by politicians and "community leaders" eager to promote minority home ownership.

*When Illinois (Cook Co.) tried to establish credit counseling programs for new minority buyers by targeting ZIP codes, the program was pulled as being "racist".

*this is America, where nothing happens if it isn't about poverty, race, gender or disability.


And lastly, Ben Stein weighs in to give us some perspective. Something we didn't get from TV's Jim "Mad Money" Cramer.


Sub-Prime: in the "that really bothers me" vein again

As a matter of opinion, I think this whole business of the Sub-prime crisis has been brought on for the most idiotic reasons. I saw this coming years ago when the Washington Post would run articles claiming that Lenders were still discriminating against Minorities; the proof that this was happening would be statistics showing that, say, 7% of loans went to Af/A's while they represented 10% of the population. That would be the full extent of the evaluation! There was no thought of saying that Black applicants tended to be less qualified, not in the articles I saw. I guess that would have been racist.

Now, I don't need to be told that Lenders haven't necessarily had the most stellar record when it comes to non-discrimination. I'm sure in the old days a loan officer could reject a qualified minority applicant and just be following some sort of unwritten company policy that maintained such a policy was best. Furthermore, there have been plenty of claims over the years that banks and loan companies would simply red-zone entire districts as off-limits to loan approval. In fact, maybe minorities had been suffering from residual discrimination when these articles were written. But the writers were not proving anything: you don't have to take a course in statistical analysis to see that such arguments are flawed. In fact, I'm sorry, but my opinion has been that such articles have been completely dishonest. I don't believe the editors for one second believed that such lame analysis proved anything.

And, yes, I think there was some sort of agenda the newspapers were following. The ACORN organization [] apparently really pushed this. Now, of course, they are screaming bloody murder. Government must bail these innocent people out! I'm hearing a little grumbling about that, though. How about people who put nothing down? Maybe I wouldn't want to be in their shoes, but at the same time, it hardly makes sense to see them profit from a bail-out, either.

I was aware of some of what was going on. I know somebody who decided to step in and help an employee who was getting himself in trouble. This employee was from South America and really was somebody who was trying to get in on the American Dream. Unfortunately, he was attracting predatory businessmen. One of the things he got talked into was buying a nice new pick-up truck with all the fixings... this on little or no money down and on an interest-only loan! Now this kind of loan is designed for someone else, someone who was waiting to cash out a CD, someone who was expecting to inherit money, etc. Not some working stiff who was going to watch his car loan get upside down on him. And surely someone at the Lending institution was supposed to help make sure this didn't happen. Supposed to unless, hmmmm.

I'm sure the thinking was that Lending institutions could be forced into making some loans that were a bit riskier and that, well, if a little less profit was made out of the billions coming in, so be it. The problem of course is that when you ask businesses to do this sort of thing, they react in the way that is in their nature: they proceed with the profit motive. Wrong method for social engineering. I think it brings out the worst in a business to have some authority lean on it and advise it to do things that have been against the best policies. And to top it off, it greases the chute for the bad apples in management to get an upper hand and take over. In this case:

"Hey, we're being asked to make riskier loans. OK, so be it. First we get rid of the old fuddy-duddies in the company who get in the way. Next we get these shaky applicants to sign up for some zingers: interest-only when it makes no sense, balloon loans when ill advised, etc. In the short term, this kind of stuff has really made the bonuses pour in. Let's get in on it!"

I have in fact heard that one of the problems with bad policies in Banks and other Lenders has been just that: too much of a time-lag between the later ill-effects of bad management and the initiation period of the ill-advised practices. Businesses, and, well, just about everything in general can suffer from this, but for Lenders, it's a case where big bonuses get paid out in the interim, it seems. Another interesting aspect is that in the old days, the current panic would mean a "run on the banks." Nowadays, the panic is slamming certain Hedge Funds and other related markets.

Well, I for one am not ready for the big bail out. I guess it would be hard to totally oppose some kind of help for certain cases, and surely we are going to see something happen by politicians in the matter. It's just too big of a Political Football. I don't have all the answers, either, but one thing I really want to see is some honesty. Thanks again to those sources who have been honest. Let's learn the correct lessons from this.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Someone once said something very true: we live in a world of Perception, not Reality. Although I was first impressed by this insight long ago, recently the truth of it has been hammered home pretty hard.

This blog has certainly been proving the point, and don't get me wrong, the irony of what I'm about to cite regarding blog feedback is not upsetting: on the contrary, it fits well with my new worldview, which I will relate at the end here.

I guess it's pretty clear what set me off and got me going on writing a blog is my increasingly unpleasant experiences with the local gendarmes and their objections to my driving behavior; but especially bothering are the new trends in Federal participation in local traffic enforcement. Blogging about it gave me the perception that I would be seen as valiantly fighting back against Big Brother, etc, etc. The reaction from my niece Louise, though, gave me some pause. "
Man, Uncle Carl, you sure get stopped for speeding a lot." Hmmmmm. Maybe the reality of how this blog is being received is different than my perception here! Who else thought that I clearly was someone just getting too many tickets... or that it was a little nutty to do such a rant about it?

When I sent out the URL that helps balance your checkbook; that wasn't a blog, and I wasn't sure everyone would find it useful. But I allowed myself to think some would use it, or pass it along. The one response I got [you know who you are!] joked about balancing checkbooks: "do people still do that?" I got a chuckle out of it. But that also gave me some pause: probably a lot of people thought that was a silly thing to send out. God help me, I use the hell out of that thing.

Here's something more in the category of "hammered home hard."

Anymore I do not assume that other people see me the way I see myself. Realizing this when younger would have been very helpful at work, in relationships, for life in general. I'd say that's the positive thing I'm taking away from that whole fiasco.

Keep it coming on the blog feedback. Fear not, I am receptive these days to wake-up calls on Reality. I thank you in advance.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

More on traffic tickets

Today's blog will again be about traffic tickets. You may be wondering, and I have had to stop and ask myself, exactly why I allow myself to get so worked up about this issue? I seem to engage the attention of the local traffic gendarmes about once every 5 years, and actually get a ticket maybe a little more often than once every ten years. It'd be easy to say "doesn't affect me that much" just like I might say "the DWI laws can be severe, what do I care, I haven't had a problem."

Well, I have been getting worked up about it because things are *changing* and we had all better be aware of it. The Virginia legislature has gotten so bold as to decide to slap the "bad-boys-bad-boys-whatcha-gonna-do" types with draconian fines expressly for the purpose of paying for road maintenance and improvement! All I will say about this is, take notice, and let's all hope this gets slapped down as unconstitutional or repealed because of public outcry. Although I wonder, how much of an outcry would there be if they hadn't been stupid enough to include the possibility that just about driver might find himself slapped hard with "20 miles per hour over the speed limit?" Dear readers who know they have never done or ever will do such offenses are excused [but will suffer from my suspicions about their veracity, I'm sorry to say.] But the blog today will go back to some more original trends "that really bother me" and not focus on this, although I have included some links below.

Here's my experience, not shared by everyone it seems, so consider me the canary in the coal mine. Starting about 20 years ago almost every policeman who pulled me over and who worked in a metropolitan area demanded my driver's license and registration by shouting at me as soon as he/she walked up to the driver's window. Yes, one was a woman. I call this the "drill sergeant" intimidation method. I have to say this mystified me for years; I thought I was just making these officers angry or something. I have wised up after the last incident. This officer made me so angry I took him to the mat, in the only practical manner I had open to me, going to court. It took me 4 trips, once for the original hearing [later I find this is considered kangaroo court by the system,] once for an appeal against the ruling by Head Kangaroo [real court date was set,] once to find out my date was scheduled for Lee-Jackson day [courts closed, evidently to the surprise of the courts,] and lastly for my only real trial. Four trips. Yes, we were going to the mat, and finally my case was dismissed.

The thing that was good about this, though, was that I finally learned some things. Had to research how to beat "Officer Owens" at his own game. I'll pass these things along.

*One of these days you likely are going to get the "Drill Sergeant" yelling at you. This person is not angry, but needs to get your license and registration ASAP. Cops in a metropolitan area are savvy to this, I have found that out in the sticks you don't get this treatment. I don't know that they "run" anything but your license plate, the license and registration are a must for them, though, as a matter of procedure. It becomes viewed as the first step. If they can intimidate, then you likely will cough up both immediately; I certainly always did, needing a cooling-off period myself after that treatment. For Officer Owens, main character in the last and most outrageous of my experiences, this told him I was a fool, too, because the smart thing to do is to fumble around as long as practical looking for your license or something. This gives you a chance to talk to him and schmooze before he writes that ticket. Owens knew he didn't need to talk once I gave this stuff up, certainly he didn't, didn't even tell me what my offense was supposed to be, just slapped me with the ticket. But even with a guy like Owens, if you can talk to him, plead a little case of "I promise," assert your excellent driving record, etc, etc, all very nicely, you might even have a chance with him. What happened next, since I was so dumb, is too ugly to relate in full here [g].

*Do not think, as I did, that you have nothing to lose by expressing your dismay at your treatment. You absolutely want this guy to forget everything and not remember you at all. Ultimately, this is what saved my bacon, even though what I deserved was Owens writing down notes on everything immediately to be sure he remembered all of it.

*When the right moment comes, the cop will be sure to tell you that you can just call the telephone number and pay your fine that way. He earnestly desires this, wanting to make his day in court as short as possible. The smart thing to say is "boy, I'm so busy, that's *definitely* what *I'm* going to do!" Hopefully this will really encourage him to forget you completely, while secretly you plan to go to court. I was stupid and told him I'd definitely see him in court. Dumb!

*Do go to court. If you doubt what this is really going to cost you, check out the below. By all means this means millions of dollars to the insurance companies and THIS IS ONLY GETTING WORSE as time goes on!

Highlights of the below link:

"The insurance industry is very quietly passing new harsher rules so they can raise your insurance rates or cancel drivers with three points in a three year period. Before it was three points in a one-year period and you could start fresh every year." I repeat, do not assume that just because you previously seemed to be able to get a ticket once in a while without it being a big deal, that this is always going to be the case. Virginia is certainly working on that!

"The average raise in insurance cost for one speeding ticket over the course of 3 years is $947.00! NINE HUNDRED & FORTY-SEVEN BUCKS!"

"Last year Geico Insurance Co. gave $20,000,000 ( twenty million dollars ) to police departments for the purpose of buying new laser and radar guns... And they're not the ONLY ones..." Protecting the children again, eh?

"Insurance companies spend 26 million dollars a year checking driving records? You know by now that they're not checking it to give you a good driver's discount. They want to INCREASE your rates..."

BTW, if you spend your money with the link below, I would bet you don't learn much more than what I just advised above.

I'll close now, but I could go on, believe me.

Link for the above quotes.
you can find more like this with no trouble.

Links on Virginia's latest:

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Marsha gets me going

Marsha is a friend who blogs; she really puts a lot of work into it, and shows everybody how you are supposed to do it.

Well, Marsha, I can't hope to match the excellent quality of your Blog, but your latest experience getting a ticket you describe at
finally got me going. I can't clutter up your Blog with this much stuff.

I thought you and I might be a victim of an over-bearing Federal government. I seem to have come across pretty good evidence. And a lot of things REALLY BOTHER ME about this.

First, take a look at this item:

I'm sure a good researcher could find something more up to date, BUT:

Amongst NHTSA recommendations made in 1999:

# Make Federal grant money available to jurisdictions that encourage legislation permitting the use of technology to fight aggressive driving.

# Provide Federal funds in the form of local grants to support innovative initiatives submitted by law enforcement entities.

I hardly know where to start. More on this later.
As for Marsha and I getting hit by the same sting, tell me this news story is not related:

Since this link will eventually disappear from the web, I'll save it completely below.

note this: "Aggressive driving is not just road rage, police said. Behaviors include speeding, tailgating, unsafe lane changes, running red lights or stop signs, and using the shoulder to cut past traffic." [emphasis mine]

Now here is what really bothers me. A list.

*The federal government wants to be, as my wife Sue says, our Nanny.

*The Media cooperates fully, completely, absolutely. Of course they are getting a piece of the action, because the Feds make sure money goes for ads in the paper, radio, TV. Before I got my illegitimate citation [so ruled in a VA court] I was listening to the radio, and sure enough, there were ads warning aggressive drivers they were targeted and "sliding through stop signs" was one of the things mentioned.

*Like regulations that are to "protect the children," boy does it sound good. I think I thought "bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do?" when I heard that radio ad. We'll be protecting the children!!

*Neither we, nor the Media, stop to ask "why are the Feds getting involved in local traffic regulation?"

*Neither we, nor the Media, stop to ask "hasn't this always resulted in a review of the ironical statement "I'm from the Federal Government and I'm here to help you!"

*Lo and behold, what BS regulation is easy to abuse here? Yes, indeed, the way almost all of us deal with stop signs these days, is technically a bit incorrect. Yep, if you wanted to, you could rake in the dough writing up tickets like crazy. Wasn't a problem before!

*Sure enough, seemingly rare if the local government is not prompted to do so, the only two incidents I am aware of, Marsha's and mine, are the worse kind of thing that you just hate to see: ordinary citizens harassed by the government over a Nanny issue. And I sat in on a whole day of court, a multitude of cases; I didn't see anybody getting nailed for "aggressive driving" issues [besides already targeted speeding cases] except for more of some upstanding looking citizens cited for this business of how they went through a stop sign or used right-turn-on-red.

More on this later. Much more. Repeat: you've got me going on this.