Archive for August, 2005

Things are apparently deteriorating rapidly in New Orleans and other areas hit by Katrina. Between the storm damage, the subsequent floods, and ineffectual response to the hordes of violent looters (who need to be shot dead, seriously) there are a lot of people who’s lives will never be the same.

We can argue about this situation and the long-term solutions later, but these people are in trouble now. Virtually every blog I visit (including all those stingy and heartless right-wingers) are making a concerted effort to help. I know money is tight for many of us right now, especially with gas prices being what they are, but please consider making a donation. Any amount will help. I chose to follow Babalu Blog’s generous lead and donate to the American Red Cross. (And now that Amazon has come to their senses, you can use also their convenient donations page to do the same.)

As members of the Nazarene Church, I also suggest Nazarene Compassionate Ministries. We’ll be making a donation through our church this Sunday.

If you aren’t sure where your money will do the most good, please visit some of these fine folks for their recommendations:

That’s just a small selection. There are many, many others. And If you have a blog of your own please pass along the message. Thanks!

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Upchuck with 7up!

I’m not sure exactly how it happened, since I’m making this all up, but  back in 1953 there was apparently a sudden massive surplus of Seven-Up. Maybe they discovered a lost cache of soda in a hidden storage room deep beneath 7-Up Castle. Maybe a Coca-Cola double agent sabotaged the books. Whatever happened, it left the company with far more 7-Up than anyone could possibly drink.

Something had be done. The answer? Cooking with Seven-up! James Lileks has all the distubing, fizzy, all-family details.

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Neat site: The Classic Radio Gallery

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People will talk

Did you know that the market for cell phones in Africa has grown from 7.5 million to 78.6 million in the last five years? That’s amazing. According to this NY Times story one out of every 11 Africans is a mobile subscribers. And many of those subscribers shares their phone (for a fee) with other non-subscribers. Whole coutries are skipping right over the expensive and difficult stage of running landlines and moving directly into wireless communications. This communication doesn’t come cheap, but the new ability to talk with anyone else instantly at far less cost than before has been a huge boost for small businesses and for individuals just living their lives. They’ve showed a lot of ingenuity.

I think this article is a perfect example of how easy it is for more developed nations to make unwarranted assumptions about what kind of technology our African brethren need to improve their lot in life. I’ve followed many discussions about African aid, and whenever computers, cell phones, GPS, and other "exotic" technologies are mentioned someone will inevitably get upset: They don’t need that stuff! Stop wasting everyone’s money and time on pointless Western conveniences.

But this is completely wrongheaded. Africans don’t need our charity – they’re as capable and as intelligent
as you and I. What they really need is the means to help themselves. That why whenever they’re actually given the chance, people in developing countries embrace technology. Yes, clean water and nutritious food are important, but human beings aren’t satisfied scraping by just with just the basic requirements of survival. They want to be able to talk to each other and go coordinate online and travel at will and all the other things that our own society takes for granted. They want to live in the 21st century with the rest of us, not in a nature preserve or a zoo.

via Samzidata

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From the Chicao Tribune, this story of a heartless hoax. It turns out that a soldier named "Dan Kennings", allegedly killed in Iraq, never actually existed. His part was played by an actor, and his "daughter" was a little girl tricked into thinking she was acting a part in a movie. Bizarre.

In the end it was a reporter who discovered the deception, and they deserve praise for that. But I suspect that  sympathetic gullability and general ignorance of millitary matters led them to embrace this story in the first place. Anti-war advocates are perfectly willing to lie and reporters are far too willing to believe and support them without question.

Update: Mudville Gazette has lots more on this story.

There are elements to the story
that would reveal it as an obvious fake to anyone remotely familiar
with the US military or the war in Iraq, but apparently few folks at
Southern Illinois University qualify in that regard. The fictional
Kennings was stationed in Mosul, Iraq, with the 101st Airborne
Division, and apparently had been since the war began. He was only able
to phone home and speak with his daughter on rare occasions, because
calls from Iraq cost him $2 a minute.

Both of these claims are obviously false to anyone who’s either
"been there" or has been paying attention to those who are. But this
sort of stuff is taken at face value by the same anti-war crowd that
insists the media isn’t telling them the "real truth" about Iraq.

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A tipping point

How much should you tip in buffet restaurants? Interesting discussion over at the Volokh Conspiracy. Unless there’s an unusual reason I only leave a token tip at buffets, because sometimes I don’t even see a waitress. Takeout and fast food? Not a chance. Pizza delivery? Sure, keep the change.

To be honest I have very mixed feelings about tips. The evil part of my nature secretly agrees with Mr. Pink’s famously obscene rant (warning: strong language). However hard they work they’re not my employees, and there’s no rational reason to pay one group of service workers tips and not another. Restauraunts should stop expecting special legal treatment and pay their employees what they’re worth, like everywhere else.

In practice I’m really pretty softhearted.  If someone does a good job and is reasonably attentive then they get 15% (and it’s easy to work out – just multiply the 5% tax here in Maryland by three.) If they do a sucky job and ignore us, then they get less. It’s been a long time since I haven’t left any tip at all. We (the wife and I) try very hard not to punish the waitstaff for things that aren’t their fault. If the cook is slow or the manager is goofing off and messing things up then it’s not the waitresses’ fault. We’ve had ocassion to walk out of Denny’s with our meal on the table because of stupid mistakes by the cook, but the waitress who was almost reduced to tears by the whole situation still got a nice tip.

What does bother me is the expectation that tips need to constantly go up. If you do a particularly good job then you deserve a good tip. But pushing the "minimum" tip upward from 10% to 15% to %20 and higher is just silly. The cost of the food has already gone up over the years, right? So the fixed percentage of that amount that’s given as a tip also went up at the same time. I know waitresses work hard, but no harder than a lot of other people. Unless you can make a case that the waitstaff is working 5% harder now than they were before I don’t see any justification for giving them a higher and higher percentage of my bill. (And yes, I know it’s not an exact coorelation, but I think it’s close enough.)

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Right now the Iraqis are busily engaged in hammering out their new constitution. And despite what you may have heard, when the shouting is over they’re likely to have a pretty good start on a democratic and free nation. Right now the various factions are debating and wheeling and dealing in the best democratic tradition. (Except for the Sadrists mob, apparently, who are being run outta town by other Iraqis sick of their violent activities.) When they finish they’ll have a document that the people of Iraq will be able to agree upon, despite whatever personal differences they may have. In other words, the arguing and the compromise is not a bug, it’s a feature.

To help balance the pessimism and negativity that permeates virtually all MSM reporting on Iraq, Hugh Hewitt offers this timely expert reminder of the contentious history behind our own Constitution. Or, more accurately, both of our constitutions. A lot of people don’t realize that the United States’ first try at a constitution was a failure. The Articles of Confederation took four years to ratify and lasted only seven years before being completely scrapped and replaced by our current United States Constitution. And even that was a close thing, only achieved after a lot of compromise and debate among the states and the competing ideologies among the Founding Fathers.

So, in other words, this sort of thing is never easy. Don’t give up on the process just because the real world doesn’t follow the convenient dramatic pace of an episode of The West Wing. And don’t assume that disaster is looming just because people are arguing. The Iraqi people aren’t dumb. They really, really want a democracy, and they’re not about to go back to a facist dictatorship like the one they just escaped or to a theocracy like the Taliban used to have in Afganistan. Have a little faith.

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A Visit to Six Flags America

Steph and I took a drive down to Largo, Maryland (or thereabouts) to
visit Six Flags America today. Back in the bygone mists of time it was Wild
World, an independently operated water park who’s main appeal seemed to
be that it was that it was fairly convenient to Baltimore and DC. Since
then it was purchased and turned into a Six Flags park, with another more
recent expansion adding a bunch of new rides.

The main attraction for Steph was the newly remodeled water park. She enjoyed a
couple spins on the big slides and we both enjoyed a trip down the
Renegade Rapids. I’m not much on water rides (can’t swim, wear glasses,
cowardly) but that was fun.

The last time I was on a roller coaster was in the early 90’s, the Rebel Yell
at King’s Dominion. That was sort of a family tradition dating back to
when our family visited the park in the 70’s and 80’s. I figured it was
time to try another coaster, so I took a ride on The Wild One.
It’s a classic wooden coaster that began life in 1917 as the "Giant
Coaster" in Paragon Park, Mass. It’s been modified and rebuilt a bunch
of times since then, of course, but it still carries the reputation of
its original incarnation. It was really a lot of fun. I may even get up
the nerve to try their neo-classic wooden coaster ROAR next time. They also have lots of fancy metal coasters that really don’t appeal to me.

As for the park itself, it was crowded and they nickel-and-dime you to
death for every little thing. In other words, pretty much like every
other amusement park I’ve ever been to. And Saturday in late August is
about the busiest time for a water park.

The food and the food service were just plain awful, though, and
there’s no excuse for that. The kids behind the counters wandered off,
ignored customers, and took for-freakin-ever to complete simple orders.
I had the dryest and blandest cheeseburger I’ve ever eaten, complete
with a side of cold, tasteless fries. The food itself was overpriced
too, as expected, but I could live with that if it were actually tasty.
And, of course, they don’t let you bring food or drinks into the park
with you. Eat somewhere else first, and if you do get hungry just get
something from a concession booth around the park.

It was a fun day. There are other rides that both of us would like to try. We’ll probably go again if we can get another discounted admission somewhere. I’m sure Steph will have some comments of her own to add.

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Originally uploaded by defekto.

A local photographer has posted neat photo set of Enchanted Forest pictures. Click on the photo and then view the rest of the set for more.

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Remember the Supreme Court’s now-infamous Kelo ruling on eminent domain? They basically declared it was
hunky-dory for local governments to take away your house and give it to
another private business that would pay more taxes, because increased tax revenue alone satisfies the "public good" justification. That case has wide-ranging effects, but it centered on the
the plight of homeowners in New London, Connecticut.

If you wonder how those homeowners are making out then you should read this follup-up story from New London, Connecticut. The same kind, charitable, and public-spirited local government that took away these people’s homes is now claiming that the homeowners owe them back rent dating to 2000, the year they first challenged the eminent domain ruling. And the compensation for their homes will be computed using the much lower property values of 2000, not the current values in 2005. (I wonder if the rent is also computed using 5-year-old numbers? Somehow I doubt it.)

This would establish an absolutely horrible precident. Challenge the state and lose, and you’d be instantly swindled out of the fair value for your home, deep in debt, and, oh yeah, with no place to live. This is what happens when governments make the blind pursuit of tax revenue their highest and most important priority.

(via Pejmanesque)

UPDATE: Here’s more on these developments from the Volokh Conspiracy and BizzyBlog and Reason Hit & Run.

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