Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Raising Average Salaries

Anytime I see a group call to "raise salaries to the national average" I have to chuckle. This from the Virginia teachers union president, in opposition to performance based pay:
President Princess Moss said the teachers union favors boosting pay to the national average in a way that would benefit all educators.
Princess apparently doesn't have the hubris to ask for above average pay, and for good reason: if Virginia's 91,000 teachers were given raises to meet the current national average, that would by definition raise the national average, leaving Virginia still below average and President Princess still grousing.

Do I think Princess is bright enough to comprehend this paradox? Nah. She probably just thinks she is advocating for a couple hundred bucks for her constituents. But by calling for salary increases that merely meet the average, the Virginia teachers union guarantees that they will never attain it!

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Futility Policies

I have stated before that there is something creepy about the enthusiasm with which the "right to die" crowd is pursuing their agenda. Nurse Nancy Valko effectively puts her finger on it
Most people assume that refusing treatment, like assisted suicide (the other goal of the "right to die" movement), means choice and control.

But a funny thing happened on the way to this supposed "right to die" nirvana.

Some families and patients did not "get with the program" and insisted that medical treatment be continued for themselves or their loved ones despite a "hopeless" prognosis and the recommendations of doctors and/or ethicists to stop treatment.
She goes on to explain why there's good reason to stay away from a doctor or ethicist in full god-complex mode:
Many doctors and ethicists were appalled that their expertise would be challenged and they theorized that such families or patients were unrealistic, "in denial" about the prognosis or were mired in dysfunctional family relationships. (In contrast, families who agree to withdraw treatment are almost always referred to as "loving" and their motives are spared such scrutiny.)
Even more frightening than an appalled ethicist, it seems that the medical community has developed ways to justify withholding care from your loved one no matter what.
"Proper stewardship of these resources entails not wasting them on treatments that are futile and inappropriate. They must be rationally allocated; to waste them is ethically irresponsible and morally objectionable."
In other words, if the docs can find someone else they'd rather have using your respirator (someone with better insurance, maybe?), you're out of luck and off to meet your reward. Your "right to die" has been morphed into your obligation to die for the sake of proper stewardship of resources. Ms. Valco has this neat summation:
"Ironically, the 'right to die' movement was founded on the premise that patients and/or families are the best judges of when it is time to die. Now, however, we are being told that doctors and/or ethicists are really the best judges of when we should die."
No wonder those "right to die" people strike me as creepy. They really are.

Hat tip: Hit and Run

Monday, March 28, 2005

My wife and I have long commiserated about how little we want to go about the business of cooking dinner after schlepping home from work. So yesterday, we went out and bought the George Foreman Grill of the 1970s. The appliance that sat in every kitchen during the Ford and Carter administrations:A Rival Crock Pot. When we arrive home tonight, there will be a piping hot crock of beef stroganoff waiting for us. Either that or a pile of charred embers where our house used to be.

Voting Irregularities

Remember this from the Democrats?
The leader of the Democratic National Committee announced yesterday that he will launch an investigation into voting irregularities in Ohio.
And it wasn't just the voting that the Dems found to be "irregular":
(Ralph) Neas, who was joined by NAACP Chairman Julian Bond and civil rights lawyer Barbara Arnwine, said lawsuits are being prepared to challenge conservatives' electioneering tactics in some states.
That investigation has so far yielded nothing, but we have discovered this:
Five Democrats in East St. Louis have been charged in a scheme to buy votes in November's election in a federal indictment unsealed today.

Federal prosecutors in southern Illinois charged four Democratic committeemen and one precinct worker in the indictment.

Yesterday, four others pleaded guilty to related vote-buying charges in federal court.

Court records indicate voters were paid five or ten dollars to cast a Democratic ballot in the November second election.

They allege that the money to buy votes came from the St. Clair County Democratic Committee.
Couple that report with this one and it becomes clear where the dirty politics is being played:
Five Kerry-Edwards campaign staffers, including the sons of two prominent Milwaukee Democrats, were charged Monday with the election day tire slashings of 25 get-out-the-vote vehicles rented by Republicans.
Incredibly, the Dems dismiss this as some youthful prank: "This really doesn’t have anything to do with politics. ... This is something that some young people who used some incredibly bad judgment did on their own."

Five people, operating out of a Democrat campaign office commit vandalism on Republican vans and it has nothing to do with politics??

Off to Paradise

I am working on a project in Hawaii!

Well, let me re-phrase that more accurately. I am working on a project that may someday be built in Hawaii. I remain stuck in Norfolk, where it's rainy and gray.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

I said before that Survivor host Jeff Probst and the immunity idol bear a striking resemblance. I present you with Exhibit A.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Revolution, Jets, Brad and Jen?

There's a bloody revolution going on in Kyrgyzstan, which is next to Afghanistan and has a US military base near its capital. President Bush has decided to sell fighter jets to Pakistan to save American Jobs and scare the crap out of India. Oh yeah, and we're fighting a little war in Iraq.

But ninety perecent of the TV morning news today has been Terri Schiavo, Brad and Jen. Go figure.

And just what was with that stupid chocolate Peeps Egg on Fox.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Cousin Don sent me this clipping of a concerned mother-to-be. He hasn't posted it yet, so I will.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Survivor Palau: Episode 6

It’s night 12 on Ulong beach, and the Ibrehem bashing continues. James, who looks like he hasn't seen straight in years, demands "focus." Next morning, Ibrehem, after praying toward Mecca, opines that God had a hand in his savior at the last Tribal Council. If that's so, I wish Allah would spend a little more time helping the Muslims in the Middle East to a less violent lifestyle and a little less shepherding Ibrehem through a silly TV program.

That morning at Koror, it's home improvement day. Colby and Caryn dish on Katie for weaving. Then, in possibly the weirdest thing I have ever seen, Koror has a sock puppet show making fun of Ulong. "Ahm Bobby Jon, ah luv everbody, and ah look lahk jeezus chrast." I haven't seen a display that juvenile since I left junior high school. And these are adults, trying to win a million bucks.

Tree mail arrives with a Pringle's potato chip announcing the reward challenge, which turns out to be a shooting competition with a replica WWII era .50-caliber canon. My first impression is "COOL!" but it turns out to be a lame paintball gun gussied up like the real thing. Still, it's better than slingshots, I suppose.

The shooting begins, and nobody hits much of anything. After a few times through the rotation, they get better, and eventually Ulong wins when Steph hits and Caryn misses. Steph is not just happy - she's positively radiant. And ya know what? I'm happy for her. And for me. Because reward includes not only potato chips, but cocktails and a snorkeling trip. And I've been longing to watch Steph snorkel all season. Steph snorkeling drunk is that much more enticing. I rub my self hands with glee and make a fresh gin and tonic.

Off goes Ulong on a Japanese yacht of sorts, munching Pringles and drinking. And it's all in all one of the most boring rewards yet. Steph looks good again in her underwire bra, but there's not much of anything going on. Bobby Jon helpfully informs us that he will never be here again. I wonder if BJ will ever see the Macon County line again when he is through with this thing.

Night 13 finds Koror in the midst of a tremendous thunderstorm. Lightning, wind, rain, and terror. The next morning the tribe is visibly shaken. Janu responds by crying in the hammock all day. Tom tries to encourage her, but I am pretty much over her histrionics. I mean, they are in a shelter built by the crew, for crying out load! No Survivor group ever had a better shelter, and Janu is sobbing like a baby? Get over yourself.

Ulong receives treemail demanding they tie a chest up so that Koror can't get in it. James, who claimed to know something about guns in the last challenge but missed every freaking shot he took, now declares, "Ah know a few thangs about knots. Got a plan fer ya, ah learned this in the Navy." James proceeds to tie a bizarre looking birdsnest of a knot, and the tribe seems hopeful. Will Ulong win two in row, or will James look like an idiot? Let me rephrase that: Will James look even more foolish than he already does?

The tribes gather together for immunity challenge. Probst stands next to the immunity idol, and my wife remarks that they look alike in the same way dogs resemble their owners. And you know what? She’s right.

Off they go, both tribes building a fortress around their trunk. Or, more accurately, piling a bunch of tree limbs on top of their trunk. After 20 minutes, they stop and try to dismantle the other's work.

Will James's knot be the secret weapon? Koror reaches the trunk first and encounter "The Knot," which doesn't appear to slow them down. They win immunity yet again as, Steph shakes her head in disgust. Probst demonstrates his grasp of differential calculus and matrix algebra by announcing, "Someone's going home and this tribe will be down to three."

Ibrehem declares that he will vote for James. Steph and James try to rally against Ibrehem, with James picking up on the religion thing: "Ibreheem's overstaid his welcum. He wuz mint to go lahst tahm, and bah the grayce a All-ah, he din't go. Well, mah god sez he iz tah-day." Meanwhile, we see Bobby Jon and Stephenie scheming to run James out tonight, followed by Ibrehem. They seem resigned that the remaining three will return to tribal council before the tribes merge, and who can question that logic?

On to tribal council. James goes all psychological, and Probst rips them a new one, pointing out that Ibrehem took a stroll and James played with his clothing, and that's what lost them the immunity challenge. James's response? "That's not what held us up." Yeah, and hanging around a bar drinking all day wouldn't keep me from doing my work.

Off they go to vote, Probst tallies, and it's a tie between James and Ibrehem. Bobby Jon and Steph re-vote, and James is finally toast. "Ah unnerstaind, y'all" marks the end of my James dialog transcriptions. And I was just starting to get good at transcribing in Alabamese.

Next week: Serious fishing exploits, as Tom bags a shark.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

I promised not to comment on the Terry Schiavo situation, but let me just say this: there is something mighty creepy about the enthusiasm with which her husband is pursuing her demise.
Last night on PBS I watched The Question of God - Sigmund Freud & C.S. Lewis, a round table discussion of the atheistic philosophy of Freud contrasted and compared with the Christian philosophy of C.S. Lewis. (I know, I also faithfully watch "Survivor." Call me schizophrenic.)

It occurred to me while watching this 145 minute excercise in navel gazing that a society can support this sort of intellectual self-absorption only to the extent that it creates capital in excess of its survival needs.

Throughout history, excess capital was usually fairly limited and channeled through religion. Since the industrial revolution, however, excess capital has been heavily taxed by governments, which have replaced the church as the primary distributor. The result has been the transformation of art from religious didacticism to secular pomposity. That is, Michelangelo's Pieta has been replaced by a crucifix in a bottle of urine. Both paid for by societal contributions to the church and government respectively.

I would venture to suggest that today's society produces enough capital that the arts no longer need government patronage and should be compelled to compete in the free market, not subsidized by the taxpayers.

Personal Introspection and the Schiavo Case

Everybody and their Aunt is blogging on this one, but I think I have a bit more to say on this subject than most.

I have a sibling who has been severely mentally retarded since birth. He has mental functioning beneath that of a two year old, and he must constantly have people exercise his muscles for him or he forgets how to use them.

Now this may be far above the functioning of Terri Schiavo, but neither myself nor my mother can ask him what he wants. What is the quality of his life?

Who am I to judge if my sibling would be better off dead. Would it be a mercy killing b/c his life is not worth living? I cannot make that judgement nor can anyone else.

Experts have said that Terri Schiavo is cognitively "not there." Not too many years ago, scientists and experts were all taught that brain development stopped after adulthood, and not too long ago physicians performed surgery on infants without any pain medication or anesthesia because they believed infants couldn't feel pain. Well, the experts were wrong.

In this case, the experts can't agree at least according to this article. And when medical research is regrowing cells in the brain with adult stem cells as I have recently written, one can understand why the parents are holding out for the faintest signs of hope.

Unfortunately, Terri never gave specific instructions in writing about what measures she would want to be taken if incapacitated. Both the husband and her parents have said and done some controversial things over the past fifteen years, so any testimony by them is colored by the long battle.

In the end, one wishes that the method of her demise, death by starvation, was not so terrible, and perhaps this case would not have the longevity it has.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

I am not going to comment directly on the plight of poor Terry Schiavo - anything that can be said has been. What the situation has done, however, is cast a bright light on the role of judges in today's society. It was judges that ruled the feeding tube be removed, reinstated, removed again, reinstated again, and finally removed (albeit after a three week delay). If this is a clear matter of law, why so many capricious rulings? Clearly something more than just "law" is at work here. With that as a stepping off point, Thomas Lifson at The American Thinker has interesting article on judicial activism has reached its zenith:
After six decades of expansion, the tendency of judges to impose their preferences on society, rather than simply interpret the law as written, may have reached its apogee. Judicial activism, as this writing of law from the bench is known, faces a confluence of forces which promise relief for the principles of Constitutionalism, and for the American people they protect. The trend of judicial activism morphing into judicial tyranny faces a perfect storm.
I hope Dr. Lifson is right, but I don't see it yet. Here are the elements in the "perfect storm:"
The American public is paying attention.
High profile decisions in which judges nakedly impose their preferences have been accumulating at an accelerating pace. It is no longer an unusual occurrence for Americans to turn on their radios or TVs, or log onto the internet to discover that a judge somewhere has concluded that homosexual marriage is a Constitutional right ...
While there is a group of politically interested people watching, I think there are numerically fewer people watching than one would hope. It will take some big, sweeping ruling to really get people's attention. Without an outrageous ruling requiring excise taxes to pay slavery reparations, or the release of the terrorists at Guantanamo, most people continue skating along without much notice.
Abortion policy is an increasing, not a receding irritant.
Of course, the lodestone of judicial activist decisions remains Roe v. Wade, in which a wholly fictional “penumbra” of the Constitution was invented to justify judicial control over one of the most controversial, significant and emotion-filled matters in the sphere of public debate, abortion.
Again, I think abortion percolates very hot for the people involved in its debate - but while most people have an opinion, most are just not worked up enough to start impeaching judges.
Public awe of the judiciary is receding.
Judicial activism ultimately depends on public acceptance of the rightness of judges handing down their decrees from Olympian heights. To the extent that judges carefully cite principle and precedent, this awe is reinforced. But conversely, when judges cite ephemera like public opinion polls and current sociological research, they come to be seen as mere human beings with opinions. Like the rest of us.
Maybe so. But it is worth noting that most people, if not in awe of law enforcement, have a deep respect for the men and women with badges and guns. And it is they that carry out activist judicial decrees. Until something comes down the pike outrageous enough to cause a revolt against or amongst the law enforcement community, lack of respect for the judges won't mean much.
The Supreme Court is at a turning point.
Today’s Supreme Court inevitably faces substantial changes in its membership. While appointments to the Court have always been of public interest, today’s environment makes both the stakes and the visibility of the next few appointments greater than ever before. If President Bush is able to appoint two or three new justices to the Court, including a new Chief Justice, there is the possibility of the Court signaling a retreat from activism, and legitimizing a return to what has been called “originalism,” the modest belief that the writers of law and the framers of the Constitution should be merely interpreted according to the actual words they wrote, not redefined and redirected by inhabitants of the judiciary.
While I agree with the sentiment, there is a pretty big "if" in there: "If President Bush is able to appoint two or three new justices." President Bush can't get his circuit court judges through, and what we are seeing now in the Senate with respect to judicial nominations is tiddlywinks compared to the histeria that is going to surround a Supreme Court bid, let alone two or three.
The Republican Senate majority seems inclined to break filibusters of judicial nominees.
Fortified by electoral success in 2004, most specifically the defeat of Minority Leader Senator Tom Daschle, GOP Senators are openly threatening to change Senate rules (requiring only a majority vote), to forbid the application of filibusters to judicial nominees.
*Drumming my fingers on the desk impatiently, waiting for the Republicans to stop being simply "inclined" and actually do something.
The Democrats’ arguments will not prevail in the public arena.
Since the Constitution specifies that only a majority vote is required for confirmation, the Republicans have a very good case to make to the American people, should the Democrats stupidly follow-through on their threat to shut-down legislation in the Senate, in response to a rules change.
Weak Democrat arguments only fail to the extent the main stream media allows them to look weak. The hyperbolic rhetoric they get away with on a host of issues, from pollution to health care to social security will be similarly tolerated or ignored with judges.

I would love to see some of Dr. Lifson's speculation come to pass, but I think it will take another decade to reach the point Dr. Lifson sees us at right now.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Silver Star

My fraternity brother and friend who lost his life fighting in Iraq as a Marine Commander will be awarded the Silver Star this April.

I have written about him on this site before.

So remember when you have a beer or go to the movies or church this weekend.

It is men like this who have given their lives from the days of the revolution to now to keep this country safe, secure, and strong.

Stem Cells and Chemicals

I haven't been blogging because I've been at the American Chemical Society Meeting in San Diego.

During the meeting I attended a keynote talk on stem cells, although it is a bit out of my field, I couldn't resist the curiousity factor.

The talk was fascinating and the field is stunning. Currently, they are taking adult stem cells and inserting them into the Hippocampus of the brain to regrow areas damaged by ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). There is also work being done where they are repairing cardiac tissue with adult stem cells.

There are problems with teaching the cells how to differentiate and preventing them from multiplying out of control. These difficulties are especially prominent with embryonic stem cells.

However, I don't think research with embryonic stem cells should be banned, but I do think it should be restricted.

The restriction which I think everyone could live with is to ask people who are going to have embryos created for artificial insemination what they want to do with the extra embryos. There could simply be a form which would be an "Embryo" donors form. Perhaps the form has the options of donating the embryos to research, or donating them to single women or sterile couples for surrogate mothers, or simply destroying them.

Give the people whose sperm and egg created the embryo the option of what should be done with it.

I believe this would allow plenty of stem cell lines to be created for research without resortin to making embryos solely for research.

The solution is simple, Congress and the Press. You make it complicated.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Survivor Palau: Episode 5

Night 11 at Koror finds Gregg and Jen romancing. This coupling nonsense is getting old. Until Survivor moves to Cinemax, I am officially against all this unseen romance. Colby is as well, but in catty-gay fashion rather than my "offended I can't watch the real action" way.

Flash to Koror, and the seeds of Willard's demise are planted, as the tribe implores him to tend the fire. Inexplicably he refuses.

At Ulong, a lightning storm is brewing, and the tribe is now lost in the jungle, having evacuated their camp in terror. In the past, I have made light of the intellectual firepower of this tribe. It seems I have overestimated them. They become "totally lost" on a 300 yard trek to a cave, and as the storm builds, Steph brilliantly observes "We're in the middle of the freaking jungle."

It took her eleven days to come up with that insight? And she follows up with this: "That's the last place they tell you to be." Ya know, growing up in New Jersey, my mom and dad always said, "the last place you want to be in a thunderstorm is the jungle," so I guess Steph is on to something. Finally back at camp after their futile adventure, James states "If you wont to ween do not quit. Ay-men." No sh*t, Sherlock. But at the same time, don't go wandering around in the rain all night long, either.

At Koror, Tom and others are kvetching about Willard's lack of interest in the fire. The consensus is that Willard is skating. And he is.

Day 12 and it's time for reward. The challenge is an underwater Easter egg hunt, in which the survivors swim and dive to retrieve submerged bottles. The treat is that the reward is food. The trick is that both tribes are going to tribal council, regardless of the outcome. Willard is in a boatload of trouble.

The challenge is on. And kind of boring it is. Probst does his best to inject some drama, but Koror has too much talent yet again. In the end, Ibrehem falters badly, Ulong loses, Steph pouts in her bra, and my wife remarks "underwire is a beautiful thing." Indeed it is. Indeed. It. Is.

I start to fantasize about Pouty Steph and her underwire bra, but the wife is here, so I must continue the illusion of serious blogging.

Koror celebrates their victory, with Ian promising a "party in my mouth." I hope he is talking about the food,and I fervently hope he isn't inviting Hairdresser Colby to that party. Colby helpfully implores his tribe not to eat and giggle and laugh at the same time. Nobody seems concerned about who to vote for, and Willard looks mighty worried.

Back at Ulong, the tribe comes down on Ibrehem like a ton of coconuts. In spite of his massive pecs, it seems he is destined to join the other losers back in civilization.

Willard also seems resigned to the inevitable. Approaching Colby, who is again clad only in his black banana hammock, Willard asks, "Do you fit in to my shorts?" SAY WHAT?? Is Willard looking for the gay vote? Colby responds, voice braying like Mister Ed but a full octave higher, "Willard, don't make me sad. Probably." Eeeeww.

Some catty alliances start developing in Koror out of nowhere. Colby is suddenly portrayed as a power player, and strategies are developed to get rid of Fireman Tom. Colby is predictably excited by the psychological head games - enough said about that.

Koror arrives at Tribal Council for the first time. Tom and Ian are identified as leaders. Coby just luuuvs everybody. Hell, everyone in Koror loves everyone.

The tribe votes, and Willard is predictably gone. Before he goes, I resolve to have Willard's biceps at his age. That guy seemed weak, but he had some guns.

Ulong files in for their vote while Koror feasts and watches. Janu, the Las Vegas showgirl, is single handedly dispelling the rumor that showgirls have nice figures, because this woman looks like an anorexic thirteen-year-old.

Ulong is desperate and depressed, as tattoed Angie almost wrings her skull with her hands. This group really seems to be spiralling into the abyss. And you know what? It couldn't happen to a better bunch.

Let me pause for a minute to comment on James. And his garb. Jeff Harrell remarked on it previously, but this guy's Jesus crisis continues. Tonight he is adorned in his white skivvies and t-shirt, with a robe draped dramatically over his right shoulder. I am prepared to drop to my knees, as all that is missing is the nails in the palms, but the spell is broken quickly as Jimbo speaks:
"We wonted it, main. Ahr deesahr wuz thair. We wuz pullin as hahrd as we could."
Ibrehem tries to pull his ass out of the fire by pointing out he is not the only weak link. Then: SURPRISE!

Probst announces that Koror will vote immunity to a member of Ulong. Koror is clearly surprised as well, but three astute tribemembers see that they can throw Ulong into further turmoil by granting Dead Man Walking Ibrehem immunity.

What will Ulong do now? Who knows? For myself, it's time to refresh my cocktail. Ah that's good.

I think I'll hold it right here and refresh once again. Slurp - Ahh. TiVo rules.

*urp* Koror departs and, in obvious turmoil, Ulong votes, though not for Ibrehem as planned. Probst counts and we have a tie between Tattoo Angie and Bobby Jon. James, Ibrehem, and Steph re-vote, and Tattoo Angie is given her pink slip. Nobody saw that one coming when this council started, but the editors in charge of pixelating inappropriate-for-teevee body parts just had their work cut in half.

Next week: Ulong still has no love for Ibrehem, and Koror is afraid of the weather.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Check out this Washington Post article (link requires registration):
(The Rev. Jesse) Jackson told worshipers at Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fort Washington that he launched the effort because Bush told members of the Congressional Black Caucus last month that he didn't know the landmark measure, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, is up for renewal in 2007.


Jackson plans to lead a march in Atlanta on Aug. 6, the 40th anniversary of the legislation's passage. He said a coalition of civil rights, labor and elected officials will soon release a lobbying strategy for the bill's renewal.
"We the people are not going back no matter who is in the White House," Jackson boomed. "We have come too far by faith and by fighting."
This is fear mongering, pure and simple. Jackson knows that Jim Crow isn't coming back. But he conjures and exploits fear purely for his own aggrandizement. Check out what the Urban Legends Reference Pages have to say about this nonsense:
The Voting Rights Act was never intended to be in force permanently. It was initially effective for a period of five years; that period was later extended for another five years, then another seven years, and finally for another twenty-five years, ending in 2007. Even if the Voting Rights Act is not extended again in 2007, this will not mean that the right to vote will "be taken away" from blacks — it will simply mean that the federal government will no longer require states to seek federal approval before changing their voting laws. We should see this as a positive — that we as a society have finally (if slowly and painfully) progressed to the point we no longer need to take special measures to ensure that every citizen has a fair opportunity to participate in a democratic voting process. There are times when we should get all riled up about what our government is doing, but this isn't one of them.
Dry up and go home, Jesse. We grow tired of your now quarter century old Chicken Little act.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Will this end Rummy's Run?

The New York "Pravda" Times and others are reporting that looting after the invasion of Iraq was "sophisiticated" and many tools used for making nuclear weapons and biological weapons.

Beside, the NYT's obvious schizophrenia about the weapons issue, "there were no weapons" or "well there was stuff to make the weapons but you guys screwed up and didn't get them, I must ask is this the end for Rumsfeld.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Survivor Palau - Episode 4

I have again assembled the tools of the trade, but this time the Tanqueray has been replaced by rotgut. It seems a shame to waste the good stuff on these clowns.

Night 8 at Ulong, and the tribe is lamenting the loss of Hobbled Jeff. James, for his part, makes this observation: "Koror is using strategy when it comes to the immunity challenge." Gee, James, do ya think? This is the kind of piercing insight that keeps guys like me glued to the screen. That and Stephenie. Sweet, taught, tanned Stephenie. Excuse me, I'll be right back . . .

OKAY. Bobby Jon thinks that Ulong’s problem is one of self esteem. Never mind that Steph and Pierced Angie are the only members that ever succeed at anything. A few gold stars and a smiley face in the tree mail, and they'd be right in it, man.

Koror, still besieged by rats, finds treemail directing them to choose a representative. Everyone would gladly do it, but Fireman Tom selects Ian. No democracy here, but they are kicking butt on democratic Ulong, so what the hey. Strangely, Ulong elects not to vote at all, since nobody is able to reach a decision. They go fishing instead. This is democracy?

Probst lands at Normandy Koror Beach in the LST Home Depot and challenges them to build a bathroom with six tools of their choice. They have one day to build a toilet / shower / washroom. Reward will be a shelter built by the crew.

At Ulong, Probst re-presents the challenge. James is drafted to lead, and Steph stands up and puts her hands on her hips. She stands straight up in her bra and cutoff shorts, her tummy tight enough to bounce a dime off. Oh cripes, I'll be right back . . .

OKAY. James picks his tools, and both tribes set to work. Saw, hammer, nail, saw, hammer, nail. Before long Kim gets the vapors and Bobby Jon channels Paul Bunyon. "Winners keep perserverin" he says, oblivious to the fact that Ulong has not yet won much of anything but a sewing kit. Kim, for her part, thinks these people are crazy for working so hard.

Probst brings production designer Jesse to judge the bathrooms. Koror would be shocked SHOCKED! if they don't win. Ulong is similarly confident. Probst and Jesse will return later to the winning tribe.

In the least suspenseful challenge conclusion ever, the crew returns to Koror and builds a 4-star Gilligan's Island hut. Two bottles of champagne are split amongst the nine tribe members; Tom romances Ian and Caryn laughs like a hyena. Freaking lightweights.

Slowly, it dawns on Ulong that they have lost. Once. Again. James is ticked. Angry even. "Run through 'em like a dang bulldozer" pissed. Whatever. We'll take James seriously if and when his crew wins something.

Day 11 dawns at Ulong to find Steph wearing denim shorts and a toolbelt. Treemail tells her that she will have to duel with a pillow, so Steph takes to practicing against a tree. She swings, her tanned thighs flex, and I'll be right back . . .

OKAY. James pledges to be a Wolverine, and Bobby Jon pledges to "faht faht faht."

The challenge is a duel on a raft, each survivor attempting to push his opponent off.

The duels are battled. 41 year-old Fireman Tom defeats 27 year-old Bobby Jon not once, but twice! Score one for us old guys! Stephenie wins in a walk, but I am too spent to celebrate her victory. On we go, push push shove shove until eventually it’s Flamboyant Hairdresser Coby against Southern Steelworker James for all the marbles.

Coby beats James for the second time, and Koror wins immunity for the 4th consecutive time. Ulong schleps home, beaten again.

Back at their beach, Ulong agonizes over another loss. James, wearing a dress of sorts, says, "It feels tirrible ta have mah butt whupped by a homer-sectual, ya know? But a lotta gay folks are strong, main, They all workin' out at the gym an all, ya know? Daim." Stereotypes run rampant on both sides of that one

Stephenie, meanwhile, is smokin' hot in her toolbelt, and boy is she pissed at James. A girl's alliance starts to form with Kim and Angie, but seems to evaporate just as fast. We have no idea what they will do. Heck, they have no idea what they are going to do. No one could have predicted it, but Steph and Pierced Angie seem to now be the powerbrokers in this clan, what little power there is.

At tribal council, Pierced Angie states "Now, I nail a lot at home." We viewers are unsurprised by this revelation, as Angie has spent most of the last 11 days in her underwear with her chest pixilated out. James, meanwhile, continues his obsession with Cody, stating "That boy raht thair gots some ass behind him." Go ahead, run through every gay 'ass joke' you can think of, because I did. I'll wait. ... ... ... Done? Okay, time to vote. Probst counts 'em up and Kim is gone. Somehow, she musters the energy to walk out, and Ulong wanders back to camp, beaten and demoralized.

Next week, romance blossoms at Koror, and Ulong needs an On-Star subscription to get home.

Thursday, March 10, 2005


Blogging has been light as I have been working on a design-build competition. While I have no problem with design-build projects per se, I do object to design-build competitions. Here's how it works:

  • The client decides it has a need for a building. (in this case, a University decides it needs 1100 student residence beds, a dining hall, fitness center, game room, classrooms, and retail space)
  • The University solicits qualifications from design-build teams. Each team must contain architects and engineers to design the project and a contractor to build it. The three best qualified teams are selected to compete against each other for the privilege of completing the project.
  • Each team submits its proposal to the University. Proposals must include documents and drawings demonstrating the complete design, and a total cost to build the whole thing. This is where we are now. Our firm will spend upwards of $100,000 for a one-third shot at the prize. The entire team will likely be on the hook for something like $150,000 worth of effort.
  • After the proposals are submitted, the University will select the winner, with building design accounting for 45% of the scoring and total price for 55%. The winners will have their fees paid, including the cost of preparing the proposals, and the losers will go home empty handed.
  • The University, for its part, is free to pick any elements it likes from the losers proposal and ask the winner to execute them, essentially having "stolen" that intellectual capital. If the competing teams all spend the same $150,000 we expect to expend, the University will have been given $450,000 worth of ideas and effort, and will expend only $150,000 in fees. Pretty slick, huh?

    I have been saying for many years that architects don't place a high enough value on their time. We are taught from freshman year in college to disregard the clock in order to explore every last design option of every project. The result is a process that goes on and on, without a sense of completion or resolution, and one for which nobody could ever justify fees representative of the effort expended. A lawyer would never talk for five minutes without billing for his time, yet architects think nothing of spending hours agonizing over whether to use brass or bronze door hardware, before deciding on chrome.

    Our willingness to participate in design-build competitions for a chance at payment is another manifestation of that mentality.
  • Tuesday, March 08, 2005

    A Giant of Physics Dies at 98

    Hans Bethe, professor emeritus of my alma mater Cornell University, passed away at 98 years of age today. I was fortunate enough to attend a couple of lectures by him during my decade in Ithaca, NY including the talk mentioned in this BBC in memorium article.

    Professor Bethe was head of the theoretical physics division during the Manhattan Project. He was a mentor to Richard Feynman, a famous larger than life physicist. He also lobbied hard for the safe use of nuclear energy (note safe energy and nuclear energy are not contradictory). Towards the end of his life he also lobbied heavily for wordwide nuclear disarmament.

    One of my fondest memories of Professor Bethe is seeing him driving his car around Ithaca in about 1996 or 1997. He was at a stop sign near the Cornell Dairy Bar and his head was tilted to the side as he pulled his small sedan into the intersection. I found myself wondering if perhaps the smartest man alive should really still be driving.

    In a little reported side note, the NY State Board of Useless Statistics had to lower the average IQ of New York State by 40 points with his death.
    I have heard the question posed rhetorically before, and now we have an answer. To wit: If homosexuality is indeed genetically determined, and the "gay gene" identified, would you support the rights of parents to abort a pregnancy because the child will be gay?

    It seems we have an answer, at least from the pro-life side:
    The Pro-life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians (PLAGAL) is applauding a Maine lawmaker for introducing a bill that would prohibit the abortion of unborn homosexual babies.

    "We recognize that at this time the gay gene has not been isolated, but with all the advances of genetics, we believe that it may just be a matter of time" before a test for the predisposition of homosexuality will be developed, said Jackie Malone, executive vice president of PLAGAL, in a press release.

    PLAGAL hailed Maine State Rep. Brian Duprey, a Republican, for his solid support of pro-life legislation and said it is glad he will continue his fight for the unborn, even in the case of sexual orientation.
    Say this about the pro-lifers: they're consistent. It will be interesting to see how the pro-abortion crowd responds.

    Sunday, March 06, 2005

    Is Buffet the next Soros?

    It was announced that Berkshire Hathaway's quarterly profits were up 40% or $1.63 Billion primarily due to shorting of the US Dollar.

    This fund is Warren Buffet's, the Oracle of Omaha's, pride and joy, and a single share goes for over $85,000 dollars. As a matter of fact the one day movement in the price of a single share is more than a monthly car payment for most Americans. Now this is because Buffet doesn't believe in share splits and Warren Buffet claims to be all about honest and wise investment.

    But I must ask is it Patriotic to bet against your own currency?

    George Soros made alot of money and his name by shorting the British pound. This move along with his controversial and overt support for John Kerry, have led many to see Soros as a slippery character and he is often seen in a very harsh light for his bet against the Bank of England.

    Now both Soros and Buffet and Bill Gates are shorting the dollar.

    Is this good for the country?

    Some reduction in the dollar is obviously beneficial because it will help reduce the trade deficit theoretically, but will it be possible to cause enough increase in exports to lure jobs back to the US. To some extent, we have more Japanese cars being built here for some of those reasons but mainly tarriffs have more to do with this.

    But all the American eco-terrorists should really be concerned about a truly endangered species, the American Manufacturing Worker.

    At what point do all these bets against the dollar lead to a worldwide dumping of US debt and dollars thereby destablizing our currency and leading to massive inflation?

    So Warren Buffet may consider himself honest but is he being ethical?

    Saturday, March 05, 2005

    Tired of Stewart

    Anybody else sick of Martha Stewart?

    I'd like to scream at the papparazzi to leave the woman alone as they take photos of her in her kitchen through the windows of her house and from helicopters in the air over her estate.

    Except sadly, Martha Stewart and Mark Burnett, the Survivor and Apprentice producer, are probably laughing all the way to the bank because it is free publicity for their upcoming Apprentice spin-off.

    Friday, March 04, 2005

    Survivor Palau: Episode 3

    As 8 PM approaches, I have assembled the tools of the trade, at least as I practice it: the TiVo is set, my old Handspring is attached to its keyboard on a TV tray, and a well-iced Tanqueray and tonic sits at my right hand. Let the games begin.

    At Ulong beach on night 6, the tribe complains about Probst's questions. If they think he's obnoxious now, they are in for a long haul. All he ever does is ask inane questions and say "Survivors ready! Go!"

    Social scientist and way-too-southern steelworker James has this to say about Jeff and Kim: "Everbahdy seez what thar doin. Raht now thair cuddlin'. Next week they goan be makin' out. Yoo now. Suckkin fayce and stuff. She's a wooman. And all she has ta her avantage ... is her sexyality." Educated men all over dixie cringe in embarrassment.

    At Koror, it's pouring rain, and they still don't have adequate shelter. On day 7. These idiots haven't solved problem #1 in a freaking week. Later, we are treated to Gay Colby in a banana hammock dragging a giant pole into camp. Freud is spinning like a gyroscope.

    A catfight between Caryn and Katie results in ... a promise not to talk to each other. No hair pulling, no torn bras, not flailing. Worst. Catfight. Ever.

    Later, both tribes gather for the reward challenge, which will entail both tribes fighting each other over a lifering. Winner takes home - wait for it - a sewing kit. Probst observes that if something isn't done about the clothing situation, the show will have to move to Cinemax, and Southern James says "hail yeah."

    The battle ensues, a tug of war in the water, first the men, then the women, then mixed doubles. Ulong dominates, with Pierced Angie the ultimate dominatrix. All those long nights in leather masks and bustiers pays off for Angie, who helps her tribe bring home needles. Will she use them to pierce something, or dip them in ink for a new jailhouse tattoo? Only time will tell.

    Ulong celebrates, with Stephenie speculating that she can do something with the jar. What that might be, we don't know, unless drug testing has become part of Tribal Council. Apparently exhausted from their exhultation over some thread, needles, and a jar, the tribe promptly crashes on the beach, to Bobby Jon's disgust. He sets to knocking coconuts out of trees while Kim watches. Kim speculates he will be of no use if he keeps it up. Kim, meanwhile, is of no use right now.

    Over at Koror, Fireman Tom and Ian are killing venomous snakes. For no apparent reason, beyond fun. Much to their surprise, the bleeding headless snakes attract sharks. Which they decide to hunt by throwing pointed sticks, unsuprisingly to no effect. But at least they aren't lying around sleeping like Ulong, so it makes for marginally better TV.

    Flash to Ulong beach, night 7. Jeff has sprained his ankle on a rogue coconut on his way back from "the little boys room." The particulars of personal elimination in this game are never elaborated upon, and for that I am thankful.

    Come the morning of day 8, Jeff is still hobbled by a swollen ankle. Unfortunately, it's time for immunity challenge.

    The tribes assemble before the great Probst, to discover that the challenge is to chase each other in an oval through waist deep water while carring weighted backpacks. In other words, to pass the fireman's exam. Why don't they just give this thing to Koror and Fireman Tom?

    Well, they can't. So on we go. Hobbled Jeff drops out before it starts, but the chase takes longer than anyone could have imagined. The women collapse, time passes, and Colby feints in the wilting sun.

    Koror, led of course by Fireman Tom, eventually puts on a burst of speed to overcome Ulong and win immunity.

    Back Ulong beach, Jeff thows himself on the grenade, saying there is no reason to vote anyone else off. The rest of the tribe seems to decide Jeff is better with a bad ankle than Kim in her prime. But by now we all know that careful editing makes what the tribe seems to decide irrelevent. Otherwise, why wait to see Tribal Council when we could catch the last segment of the O'Reilly Factor?

    At Tribal Council, Ulong's third in a row, Bobby Jon pays props to Fireman Tom, a "man among men." Jeff waxes on about his ankle, prompting Probst to ask sternly, "What's your point?" C'mon, Probst, let the guy talk! He's hurt, after all. The editors can keep things moving in the cutting room. Southern James repeats the truest words of the night: "We doan even know what we're gonna do until we do it." Too true, Jimbo, too true.

    The votes are counted, and Jeff is given his wish. He hobbles into the darkness, the victim of both a full bladder and an unmarked cocoanut. One can only hope that the Palauns with Disabilities Act will make things easier for Jeff, now that he is out from under Mark Burnett's thumb.

    Next week: Ulong freaks out in spite of James's exhortations.
    Last night on Dennis Miller's program I saw the Larry Summers / Harvard Professors/ Womyn in Vapors kerfuffel summed succinctly by The Weekly Standard's Andrew Ferguson:
    I hope people who are sending their kids there for $30 thousand dollars a year are paying attention to things like this.


    (Harvard President Larry Summmers) made the mistake of thinking he was talking to a bunch of scholars who might actually be interested in scholarly issues, so he threw out a couple of questions and said 'hey what about this, if this is true let's look into it.' He asked the wrong questions. Harvard ... is like a 19th century tea party with a bunch of old ladies sitting around waiting to see someone do something wrong, and if you hoist your pinkie the wrong way or you say something wrong they're all over you like a cheap suit."

    Well put, sir.

    Wednesday, March 02, 2005

    Abortion, the Death Penalty, and a Dead Body in a Box

    Wigwam Jones has a good commentary on the Supreme Court's ruling yesterday from a political perspective that I don't feel like commenting on, but one that I definitely believe to be true.

    I'm going to go to the very dregs of my memory and dig out some Philosophy 101 in order to ask the question, is it possible to be for abortion and against the death penalty?

    The opposite question is easy, because one can obviously be for the death penalty and against abortion because the embryo can be considered an innocent victim. And although many would argue that many people killed by the death penalty were not guilty, I think it is difficult to argue that the embryo isn't always innocent.

    I'm not really for outlawing abortion or the death penalty, but being a recovering Catholic, I'm also not really a huge fan of them either.

    Personally, I'd prefer to avoid the death penalty, and I obviously wasn't aborted unless my entire life is the firing synapses of an embryo as it is yanked from its mother's womb.

    But avoiding all "world on a blade of grass" metaphysical discussions, let's bring up a Philosopher, named Jeremy Bentham, who lived in the late 18th and early 19th Century, and who now sits in a wooden cabinet.

    Well, almost all of him, his head is mummified.

    The head you see in the picture is a wax one. I wonder if Jeremy gets to converse every once in awhile with the cracked head of Teddy "Ballgame" Williams.

    Jeremy: "Hmm, Teddy, did you fall off a bar stool and get that nasty

    Teddy: "Oh, go get them to shrink your head some more you Cricket playing

    Jeremy Bentham believed in a concept called utilitarianism. In short, he believe that happiness could be quantified, and, therefore, the most moral action was the one that produced the most happiness for the most people. Yeah, yeah philosophy professors are hating this over-simplification but interested parties can read more here

    One could argue that abortion kills the unborn child but saves the child the pain of being unwanted, the mother and father the pain of trying to raise the unwanted child, or even the pain of having to give that child up for adoption, and then the pain of the child always questing for his or her birth parents etc....

    Does sparing these people pain and lack of happiness justify the abortion?

    Now this argument could likewise be used to be against the death penalty, that by killing a murderer you may be alleviating some of the pain of the victims family but then adding to the pain of the murder's family in many cases and also the societal pain from justifying killing.

    Now there are many scenarios and ways to weigh the situation and that leads to the crux of the problem.

    The obvious catch here is who is the one who sets up the standards by which happiness is measured?

    Does one measure the level of serotonin in everyone's brain worldwide and then see if a murder's death or an abortion produces more happiness than sadness as some net sum?

    I don't really know, but I just like to offer food for thought. And if anyone ever decides to freeze me, please keep my head attached to my neck, I've grown fond of it there.

    You Lose, Senator Byrd

    "But witness how men with motives and a majority can manipulate law to cruel and unjust ends. Historian Alan Bullock writes that Hitler's dictatorship rested on the constitutional foundation of a single law, the Enabling Law. ... Bullock writes that `Hitler was prepared to promise anything to get his bill through, with the appearances of legality preserved intact.' And he succeeded."

    West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, debating on the floor of the Senate a rules change he opposes.

    Godwin's Law: "As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." There is a tradition in many groups that, once this occurs, that thread is over, and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress.

    Tuesday, March 01, 2005

    Supreme Court History

    Mark Levin, author of the book MEN IN BLACK, just finished a segment on Jay Severin's Radio Show on WTTK in Boston. His book is about the history of the Supreme Court, and, in his opinion, how the Justices over time are ruining this country.

    Mr. Levin has been making the rounds of the conservative talks shows recently and the blog Curiouser and Curiouser has a good excerpt of some of Mark Levin's points. In addition to these points, Mark Levin is calling for an admendment to the Constitution to limit the Supreme Court Justices to a twelve year term.

    Of course, all of this is in light of today's decision by the Court to make capital punishment illegal for those 17 or under.

    This decision had many scary aspects, none more so then the majority argument depended heavily on the law of other countries in particular England (didn't we kick those guys out once or twice?). Check out Anne Althouse's site for a good summary of the decision and dissent.

    So what do I have to add to this conversation?

    Very little, except to ask what is the difference between a 17 year-old murderer and an 18 year old murderer?

    Well, 12 months, and the fact that the 18 year-old can vote and if he's male can be drafted to die for his country.

    No 17 or 18 year-old can drink alcohol legally but most can drive an automobile. You need to be 21 to drink legally.

    Something seems a bit inconsistent about all this. Are we saying children don't grow up as fast as they used to?

    This may be the case since it's extremely difficult to get a job that can support a family and buy a house at 17 or 18. In Boston, this is even difficult at 30.

    But, seriously, if you can't have a beer at 17 or 18, should you be allowed to vote or die for your country or die for committing murder?

    Where is the cut-off age where one becomes responsible for one's actions?

    I would argue it should all go down to 17, but I also think we need to bring back American manufacturing jobs so these high school graduates have a place to earn a decent wage.

    So, basically, I'm pro-death, pro-driving, pro-drafting, and pro-drinking for 17 year olds. Sound like a philosophy Darwin would dig?

    That's just my opinion, what's yours?