Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Time: Ummm, Yeah, You Suck

Time's James Peniewozik writes:

Hey there, you! It's been, what, a year? I don't think I've seen You since we named You Person of the Year 2006. What did we praise You for again? Oh, right: "for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game." Remember? You wrote about it on Your blog! We cornered the world market in reflective film for all those mirror covers! Good times, those. Hey, You've lost weight, haven't You?

So I see You've been flipping through this issue. Ahem. This is a little awkward. Well, as You can see, we ... we went in another direction this year. Please don't take it personally. We still love You. But let's face it: You had kind of an off year. It's not like You ran for President or anything. O.K., a few of You did, but to be fair, Rudy was already Person of the Year once...

Today's Dumbest Headlines

Or at least the dumbest headlines that I saw:

"Non-believing US voters feel demonized"

So they believe in demons?

"FDA: Spermicide Does Not Protect Against STDs, AIDS"

Neither does Tylenol.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Shooting-Free Weekend Celebrated in Gun-Free DC

The Macaca Post reports:

Although many neighborhoods have been dealing with increases in homicides and other crimes, there were no slayings or shootings in the city over the weekend, said Assistant Police Chief Diane Groomes, who oversees patrol operations. There were two serious stabbings, but neither was fatal, she said.

"It's been a while since we had no shootings," Groomes said, crediting the extra police presence for curtailing the usual weekend gunfire.

Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier began All Hands on Deck in June, increasing police presence in concentrated time periods in hopes of deterring crime and improving community relations. Most officers worked a pair of eight-hour shifts between Friday and Sunday mornings, including many who usually are assigned to desk duties.


So far this year, homicides across the city have increased 14 percent, armed robberies are up 25 percent and shootings and other assaults with guns have risen 9 percent, according to preliminary figures. Lanier has cautioned that the department's record-keeping could be off by as much as 10 percent because of continuing problems with databases.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Six Degrees of Bad Reporting

The Macaca Post has a bizarre article on the dealings of Rudy Giuliani's consulting firm, including this most quotable paragraph:
But many of the firm's clients have never been listed on its Web site or identified publicly by associates, and two of the most controversial arrangements among them surfaced only in recent weeks. One involved a 2005 agreement to provide security advice to the government of Qatar. The second stemmed from a deal to assist a partnership proposing a Southeast Asian gambling venture. Among the partners were relatives of a Hong Kong billionaire who has ties to the government of North Korea's Kim Jong Il and has been linked to international organized crime, according to a Chicago Tribune report.
The first one... well, we've seen that before. The second needs a bit of restatement:
Giuliani (has interest in) Firm (does business with) Partnership (which includes) Relatives (of) Billionaire (has ties to) DPRK (controlled by) Kim Jong Il.
Noting that the "has ties to" link could represent another series of connections as well, anybody can probably have closer "links" by eating lunch at the Panda Express.

Six degrees of separation may be a fuzzy concept, but it is certainly a good starting point.

A Budgetary Lie of Omission

From the Christian Science Monitor, David R. Francis writes:
The latest tussle concerns a fiscal 2008 appropriations bill for three departments: Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services. The difference between Congress and the White House on this is $21 billion, figures the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a Washington think tank. That's about 5 percent of all domestic appropriations, 1.8 percent of all federal discretionary spending ($1.14 trillion, a sum that includes defense spending), and far less than 1 percent of the $2.9 trillion total budget...
That's a lot of numbers. Here's what's missing: the actual size of the bill itself. You can compare the dispute to a lot of things: GDP, tax revenues, or the market capitalization of Coca-Cola - but that still omits the single most relevant percentage in the debate: 15%.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (cited by the author), the President proposed $140.9 billion in spending. The disputed $21 billion represents a 15 percent increase over that proposal - far beyond any measure of U.S. inflation. Especially with the federal government operating at a deficit, a 15 percent increase in any area should be cause for concern. Anywhere outside of government, it would be outrageous.

Oddly enough, at $146.19 billion today, Coca-Cola's market capitalization is roughly equivalent to the appropriations bill discussed above.

Friday, December 07, 2007

DC Government to Preserve Blight

The Macaca Post reports:

The District government conferred landmark status on a 36-year-old downtown church today despite impassioned opposition from congregants and community leaders who dismiss the building as an architectural blight.

The Historic Preservation Review Board's 7-0 ruling bars the Third Church of Christ Scientist from redeveloping their fortress-like sanctuary on 16th Street NW, two blocks north of the White House.

While several preservation board members expressed reservations about the church's modernist appearance, they said the building is among the city's most significant examples of Brutalism, an architectural movement of the 1950's and 1960's that espoused the use of roughly cast concrete.


"Preservation isn't always about whether we like and not like buildings," board member Denise Johnson told the audience at the hearing before voting. "You can learn enough to have an appreciation for it."

So if I have some moldy food in my refrigerator, but only one container, I should preserve it too?

Congregants said they were unsure whether they would appeal the ruling to preserve their home, an octagonal concrete structure, with high, windowless walls, standing on a spare, unadorned plaza.

But they also said that it may be too costly to repair a 400-seat sanctuary that's no longer suitable for a church that typically draws 40-60 Sunday worshipers.

If the District government finds this eyesore so valuable, it should be purchased outright, not regulated into uselessness.

Click here for a photo.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Prince William County Turns a Blind Eye to Common Criminals

The Macaca Post reports:

The Prince William County public school system yesterday rolled out a computerized security system to check for sex offenders at campus entry points and keep tabs on when visitors come and go, the latest sign that pen-and-paper visitor logs at front offices may be on the way out.

The debut of V-soft (for "visitor, student or faculty tracking"), also known as the Raptor, on 86 Prince William campuses comes as other schools in the Washington region are taking similar steps. The Raptor, devised by a Texas company, scans government-issued identification cards and checks them against a database of listings of 460,000 sex offenders from across the country.

School systems in Fairfax and Montgomery counties are piloting similar security programs or have made proposals to install them in coming years. Many Anne Arundel County schools use the Raptor, which so far has alerted officials to three sex offenders and led to one arrest.


Some immigrant-rights advocates worry that a move to check IDs in Prince William will be linked to the county government's recent crackdown on illegal immigrants, even though the Raptor is not plugged into any immigration database.

"Some people already spoke to me saying that they feared that their immigration status will be checked," said Ricardo Juarez, general coordinator of the D.C.-based Mexicanos sin Fronteras, or Mexicans Without Borders.

School officials stress that the only government databases being checked are sex-offender registries...

Even if the Raptor identifies a visitor as a sex offender, the person might be allowed to stay on school property depending on the state and the offense but must be chaperoned at all times by school officials.

Every visitor should be chaperoned. That would make it virtually impossible for a sex offender to commit a sex offense (or for anyone to commit any offense). You don't need special technology - you need eyes.

[Some parents] questioned whether the system was worth the $130,000 cost.

"I'd rather give my teachers more money in their paycheck," said Ellsworth Brown, whose daughter attends Enterprise Elementary School in Woodbridge. "Is there a credible enough threat of sex offenders trying to enter the schools to warrant this deployment?"

The article makes no reference to any credible threat. In fact, the system makes no effort to counter obvious credible threats. By only checking against sex offender lists, the system will miss known thieves, robbers, and other thugs. Theft is immeasurably more likely than the panic-inducing sex offense (purse snatchings vastly outnumbered rapes at my grade school).

If enabling arrests is a selling point, how about checking against outstanding warrants? Unpaid parking tickets? Overdue library books? There's a lot of potential here, but using computers to create such a false and limited sense of security isn't living up to it.

My recommendation to Prince William County: stop watching Law and Order SVU.

Lowered Expectations

The Politico reports:

A 2008 calendar distributed to congressional offices Monday shows the House holding five-day weeks only three times next year, exposing Democrats to charges that they are backing away from a pledge to work harder than Republicans did when they ruled the House.

"You have to hand it to Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats for... rewarding themselves with another broken promise," said Ken Spain, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "With a record low approval rating... you would think they would start getting to work instead of planning extra vacation days."


Next year's planned schedule... shows the House holding four-day weeks most of the time, arriving on Monday night and leaving Thursday, or arriving Tuesday night and leaving Friday.

The whole federal government should follow the Congressional calendar. America would be better for it.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Washington State University Snubs Vice Presidential Debate

Eastern Washington - 2,500 miles outside the Beltway

The Spokesman Review reports:

Washington State University's push to host a national political debate in Spokane wasn't snuffed out... by a search committee. The snub was self-inflicted.

Michael Tate, vice president of equity and diversity at WSU, announced... that Spokane had been passed over in its bid to host one of three presidential debates next fall.

But he failed to mention that WSU had been offered the chance to entertain the only vice presidential debate of the 2008 election, which attracted more than 43 million viewers in 2004 when Dick Cheney squared off against John Edwards.

"We had an offer to host the vice presidential debate," Tate confirmed, "but we decided, with the focus we had right from the beginning of getting one of the three presidential debates, that we were just not in the position to accept the vice presidential debate."

...officials in St. Louis, which got the vice presidential debate after WSU turned it down, were elated to receive the national attention by default.

"Spokane turned it down, great. St. Louis will take that business," said Donna Andrews, public relations director of the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission.


[After being defeated in his election bid] Spokane Mayor Dennis Hession said... he was aware of WSU's decision and supported the call.

WSU is located in Pullman, Washington - 75 miles south of Spokane in Whitman County. The article never addresses why WSU would have hosted the event when at least three universities are actually located in Spokane County. (And at least one recognized the importance of Vice Presidents when it endorsed Al Gore in 2000.)

Tom Keefe, a former Spokane County Democratic Chairman [and failed candidate for Congress], called Tate's decision a "blunder."

"I think beginning with the Clinton-Gore relationship, and clearly with the Bush-Cheney relationship … the vice president in the modern term is an important player," Keefe said. "For Washington State University to turn that down tends to confirm Washington State University's own self image as a second-rate place."

Curt Fackler, Spokane County Republican Chairman, called it "the wrong decision."

"Anytime you can be on the national stage and show off your area, that's a good opportunity," Fackler said.


Harry Sladich, director of the Spokane Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, worked with Tate to research the potential impacts and benefits of Spokane hosting a debate. He learned from a reporter Tuesday of WSU's decision.


Sladich said his organization focused its research on the impact the presidential debates. It never talked to city officials who previously hosted vice presidential debates.

"I'll bet the cities who hosted the vice presidential debates didn't have near the impact," he said. "We would rather save ourselves for another day when we can get a presidential debate."

Because of this laziness, WSU and Spokane should be forever barred from holding such events.

A member of Sladich's own staff indicated seven months ago that the bureau was considering the chance of landing the vice presidential debate. Tim Rhodes, a convention sales manager for the bureau who worked with WSU on the application, told The Spokesman-Review in April that Spokane has a track record of success hosting such events.

"It doesn't get much bigger than a presidential debate or a vice presidential debate," Rhodes said at the time. "I don't think we will ever host a Super bowl, so next to that, this is big."

Instead, no debate will held at a location noticeably west of the Mississippi.