Monday, August 01, 2011

Weather-Induced Government Follies Post #4

Today, severe thunderstorms and torrential downpours caused all kinds of damage across Westchester County. Downed power lines, downed trees, power outages, and so forth, and so on. No real surprise, right? Today's the first of August; this is just summertime weather.

OK. But why does Westchester County and Liberty Lines, the company that operates the county's Bee-Line bus system, allow buses to travel down streets that have become all but impassable?

When I got on the bus to come home from work, after leaving really late to avoid getting drenched -- I forgot my umbrella -- the driver told me I wouldn't be able to get off at my usual place ("Your stop is canceled," he actually said), because power lines were down at the intersection just before my usual stop. I wound up getting off one block away, which is no big deal. But the driver didn't say anything to any of the other passengers to let them know there was a detour, he just crossed Scott's Bridge and followed the course this particular route used to run the MTA complained that the buses were causing extra wear and tear on all the bridges over the Metro-North tracks. But buses headed in the opposite direction -- some of them double-length -- went right up to the intersection where the wires had come down, then were forced to wind their way through streets too narrow for such large and wide vehicles. Why didn't someone somewhere redirect the westbound buses to follow the same course the eastbound ones were taking? Or would that have made too much sense?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Government Follies Post #3

One thing that's all over the news here in the NYC area is a referendum before the Nassau County taxpayers to fund a new arena to replace the old Nassau Coliseum. The owner of the NHL's Islanders, Charles Wang, has said he will move or sell the team if Nassau County doesn't provide his team a new stadium.

It seems like every professional sports team pulls this stunt, or tries to, at some point. Why do these multimillionaires think the public is supposed to build them a place of business? Do you ever hear of Walmart threatening to relocate one of their stores because the local government won't provide a new building for their business? If Charles Wang wants a new stadium, he should build one. Period.

Government Follies Post #2

I was all set to rant about how all this stupid political posturing in Congress was about to create financial chaos, when lo! the sparring parties managed, somehow, to put aside their ideologies and agree to some kind of compromise. Of course, the sticking point were these Tea Party rookies who haven't yet learned that in strong winds, grass survives because it bends, while trees stand stiff and resist the wind and thus they break.

Earlier tonight I saw some talking-head show where one of the Tea Party rookies naturally said, "Hey, it wasn't us, it was the oldsters who've been there 30 years who made this mess." And yeah, he was right. The underlying mess wasn't created by the Tea Party rookies. But if everybody stuck to their guns, with no chance for compromise, millions of people who did all the things they were supposed to do, and contributed to the Social Security kitty all those years, would have been told, "Sorry, we can't pay you." And the military members who the Tea Party people seem to think they emulate would have gone unpaid also.

Of course, it's not really over just yet. Everybody still has to vote, and let's face it, little bits of the crisis they're supposed to be trying to prevent will still come to be. The US economy, and the US government itself, will not stop on a dime. It's more like one of those oil supertankers that need thousands of feet to make even the smallest course changes.

And, for what it's worth. a balanced budget is mandatory. There's no way it can just be pushed aside. But adding a constitutional amendment saying the budget must be balanced cheapens the Constitution. You don't have to add an amendment in order to do it. Just... do it.

Mass T-RANT-sit (Government Follies Post #1)

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a New York State agency that manages public transportation systems in and around New York City, wants to charge $1 for Metro Cards. They've been trying for awhile now to encourage reloading existing cards rather than buying new ones. That's well and good for people who use the subway or the city buses every day, or at least live near a subway station where they can recharge their card before going on the bus.

But for us in Westchester County, which signed on to using MetroCards a couple of years ago, this amounts to a tax or a fee, for using a system we didn't ask for. I happen to live in Mount Vernon, which borders the Bronx. I can walk to the 241st Street subway station to recharge my card... theoretically, at least. More about that later. The point is, someone in, say, Tarrytown or in Mount Kisco, doesn't have a subway station nearby to put more money on their cards. Their local Metro North train stations have ticket machines that will dispense MetroCards, since MetroNorth is a division of the MTA, but those machines don't recharge existing cards.

The MTA would probably claim that the cost of allowing for recharging cards outside the city is prohibitive, not cost-effective, and so forth and so on. But there is an obvious solution to that problem. Since the cards are issued by the MTA, and Metro North is run by the MTA, just allow for Metro Card use for Metro North train fares. Metro North is not a closed system as the NYC subways are, but the system could be made to accommodate the cards if the MTA wanted to do it. 

As it happened, I went to the 241st Street subway station intending to put some money on one of my Metro Cards, only to see when I got there that I couldn't get into the station. It was closed because of trackwork. Riders were being offered shuttle buses to the 180th Street station, but I wasn't about to ride to 180th Street just to put money on my card. I wound up using the remaining balance on my one Metro Card with money on it to go to a local store, then taking a cab home, since I didn't have change or a Metro Card for the bus. Again, if there were a way to recharge the cards in Westchester, I wouldn't have to go the subway station just to find that I can't get in.

Yeah, I know, I didn't have to wait until I had only one ride left to recharge. But that's beside the point... ;-)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Of Organ Donors and 'Words (reposted from elsewhere 10/23/07)

I'm what you could call a "magazinaholic," or "readaholic." I read lots and lots of magazines, and an occasional book. Right now, when I get the chance, I'm reading The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell, about... well, the subtitle is "How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference." For clarification, "tipping point" can be another way of saying "the straw that broke the camel's back."

Anyhow, recently I read a special edition of Scientific American magazine, which I buy when something on the cover catches my eye. This special edition, titled Scientific American: Mind, has articles like "Psychology of eBay" (we shouldn't be so trusting of strangers we don't know and can't see, and yet we are), "Preventing Dropouts," and "How Words Shape Thought."

That last one really stuck with me: it's about how almost everyone who wants to shape people's thought patterns or catch people's attention will do so with careful attention to the words they choose to make their points. One example is ex-US President George W. Bush using the phrase "death tax" in his campaign to abolish what is actually an inheritance tax. By calling it a "death tax," he gained support from people who have little to leave as an inheritance for the ending of a tax that only those US residents inheriting money have to pay. Bush didn't make it clear that this was not a penalty tax on survivors but a tax on interited income. And, of course, Bush did not disclose that sometime soon he himself would have to pay this tax if something were to happen to his father. Conflict of interest, anyone? :roll:

Another example was "opt-in" vs. "opt-out" policies for organ donation. In many countries, people who renew their driver's licenses are asked if they want to be an organ donor. In opt-out countries like Belgium or France, where the default is that you are an organ donor, the effective rate of participation approaches 100%, while in opt-in countries like the US and the Netherlands, where you have to explicitly sign a form to donate, the percentage hovers in the twenties.

I'm sure there are those who would screech about freedom and rights and such, but in light of the thousands of people who stay on transplant lists for years while perfectly healthy people who could donate do not, policy makers in this country and elsewhere should think about changing to an opt-out policy. After all, we all have to opt-out to stop receiving postal mail or email that we didn't even ask for, so what's the big deal about making organ donation an opt-out process? It would make many more organs available, and thus prolong and even save lives -- people wouldn't be forced to donate, but many times more people would be checked to see if they're suitable than are being checked now.

I had my kidney transplant three years ago, but if a relative hadn't volunteered to donate, who knows where I'd be now?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Dragging BP through the mud

I never understood how BP figured that "top kill" thing could work. They had to drill through solid rock in order to get to the oil, which was under pressure. Drilling through the rock relieved the pressure, thus creating a gusher. Did they really think that, with mud and machines, they could exceed the underground pressure pushing the oil up in the first place?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

So much commotion over drawings

Facebook and Youtube are now blocked to Web users in Pakistan because of a Facebook campaign to draw caricatures of the prophet Muhammad, a no-no in Islam. (Culture Wars vs. Censorship: What's a Social Network to Do? from But what's all the fuss? Draw Muhammad Ali, or Ali Shaheed Muhammad, or Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. Draw Matthew Saad Muhammad, or Dwight Muhammad Qawi. (I know my examples are loaded with boxers, but so what?) Probably not what the organizer had in mind, but the contest is titled simply Everybody Draw Muhammad Day. It doesn't specify which Muhammad...

Friday, March 12, 2010

Do your homework,

Recently I was re-reading the Writer's Yearbook 2010 issue of Writer's Digest magazine, and saw an ad for a word-processing program targeted for professional writers. In trying to distinguish the program from both open-source programs like Open Office, and from online writing solutions like Blogspot, they made a wild leap of disconnected logic, as thus:
Unlike Open Source, iQ Word is an installed program in your computer. No link to the Internet is required.
Once more, for the class:
  • Open Source has nothing to do with the program's installation. Open Source simply means the program's source code is made public so that anyone with knowledge of the program's operation can fix bugs, add features, and so on.
  • Installation, in this context, refers to whether a program places files in the Windows or Windows/System directories, or if it makes changes to the Windows Registry. is a suite of open source programs, but it is fully installed in your computer, if you install the full program. There is also the no-install version -- one that does NOT create files in the Windows or System directories, or make changes to the registry -- that can be kept on a USB drive or a CD for use in whatever computer one comes across;
  • Blogger,, Google Docs, and other online writing systems require an online connection.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Tiger Better Fess Up

By now, everyone within range of a TV or radio knows that Tiger Woods had some kind of "incident" over the holiday weekend. The official story is that at 2:30am, Woods was backing out of his driveway and ran into a tree and a fire hydrant, injuring himself. His wife supposedly had to break his rear windshield with a golf club to pull him out of the vehicle, and when the police arrived, they found Woods lying in the street, bloody and incoherent. with his wife "standing over him."


Before any of the inevitable rumors began to swirl, I had my doubts. First I thought, "Tiger Woods had an accident at 2:30 in the morning? Backing up? What was he trying to get away from?" Then I heard more details. Facial injuries, wife with golf club. Immediately, I figured, he wasn't injured from the accident, his wife went upside his head with that golf club. After all, if he injured himself that badly backing up, he would have had to stomp on the gas pedal, meaning at least he would have pulled the hydrant out of the ground (I've seen it happen) and/or possibly backed into -- or through! -- whatever was across from his driveway.

Then it came out that Mrs. Tiger had read a National Inquirer report of her husband having an affair with a woman in New York. That would definitely be a rationale for her working him over with a golf club or whatever. These days the Inquirer has to be taken more seriously than in years past; after all, they stuck to their guns with the John Edwards paternity story, and turned out to be correct.

Eldrick Woods is, and has always been, a private person. I can respect that; I treasure my privacy as well. But Tiger better put aside the worries about his image and just fess up to whatever it is he's so afraid of the police finding out, and just answer their questions. The best way to make the story go away is to tell it. But continuing to stick to an obvious fable, and continuing to hold off the police, will just prolong the publicity until the truth comes out anyway, maybe bringing along with it something else the Woodses would like to keep private.

EDIT: Of course, now more women are stepping up and saying that they've had affairs with Tiger Woods, one even supplying a voicemail recording of Woods asking her to remove her name from her phone so it won't show up in his cell phne's call logs  when she calls, because his wife had checked his phone and seen the name. And, typically, Woods is throwing money around to all involved, including his wife, in the hopes that it will keep everyone in their respective lanes.

I will never understand the mindset of someone who apparently values image above reality. Woods is apparently rewriting his prenuptial agreement with his wife to give her more money if (well, basically "when") she leaves but giving her more to stick around for a couple more years. Reminds me of a movie I saw parts of a few years ago, "Love Don't Cost a Thing," starring Nick Cannon and Christina Milian. Tiger comes off as a lot nerdier (and maybe needier?) than Nick here, because Nick's character didn't pay millions to Christina's cool-girl character to pretend to be his girlfriend, the way Tiger's paying Elin millions to stick around and pretend to be his loving wife. (Take note of the title, Tiger; whatever you're paying for ain't love.)

Interesting note from, in its definition of Kobe Special, named after the ring NBA player (ha!) Kobe Bryant bought his wife after being caught cheating:
Jewelry bought by husbands to appease their angry wives. Usually, the anger concerns extramarital skank diddling on the side. In normal households, a gift of jewelry like this would solve nothing; it would be seen as the empty and loveless gesture that it is. However, in the lives of the rich and famous, empty materialism covers all sins and fixes all problems because they have no souls.