Thursday, June 30, 2011

Disturbing Trend Watch

QR codes are popping up everywhere. They work kind of like UPC barcodes, but they are designed to be scanned by smartphones, bringing up a webpage.

It didn't take long for the younger set to start wearing them alongside their tribal tattoos.  Apparently, there is a market for this new spin on body art. While they have a certain practicality as wearable business cards or permanent medic-alert bracelets, what happens when you change your phone number (or your prescriptions)?

I wonder how long it will take for some bible-thumping televangelist to start calling them the mark of the beast?

Come on, Arlene

Tropical Storm Arlene has made landfall in Mexico. The area is parched from a severe drought, so although there is potential for destructive mudslides in the mountainous regions, the rain is welcome.  Just yesterday, NPR did a story about the shrinking of Lake Travis near Austin.
In Austin, theyre praying for a hurricane, a nice slow moving category one or two, or a tropical storm, that makes its way up to Austin and then stalls out over the Texas hill country.
Arlene is too far south to do Lake Travis any good.  It is only the southern tip of Texas that may see rain from this storm.  Maybe next time, Austin.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fire and Water

The rumors about impending nuclear disaster and a government-ordered news blackout at the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant in Nebraska have turned out to be bullshit. Fortunately, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission did its job a couple years ago and ordered some flooding protection measures.

"Bottom line: The floods appear more annoying than destroying for Nebraska's nuclear plants," says nuclear engineer David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nuclear industry critic. "If the NRC had not found the flooding protection shortcomings (at Fort Calhoun) last year and compelled the owner to fix them, chances increase considerably that the floodwater would have gotten into places that disabled equipment."
On the other hand, the wildfire that threatens to overtake the Los Alamos National Laboratory could be cause for serious concern. Let's hope that the radioactive waste onsite is indeed stored in fireproof vaults.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Why Paul Ryan's Medicare Plan Is Doomed

Jon Huntsman is promoting it.  The moderate Republican (and former Obama administration ambassador to China) reportedly plans to make it an important issue in his presidential campaign. (h/t, The Paul Ryan Watch).

Republican politicians with career ambitions have been wanting to distance themselves from Ryan's plan for almost a month now.  Although Newt Gingrich was punished for telling the truth prematurely, even some Tea Party officials are now reading the writing on the wall.

Huntsman has just handed them a face-saving way to throw Paul Ryan under the bus.  The former ambassador is the Dick Leinenkugel in this race, a moderate Republican who served in a Democratic administration.  He will be painted as a RINO and run out by the week after the New Hampshire primary, and Ryan's plan will be buried with his political career.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Looks Like Monsoon Season Has Started

Western Wisconsin really got nailed by heavy rains over the weekend.  La Crosse got over five inches of rain in 24 hours.  That kind of rain used to be associated with subtropical states like Florida.  I don't remember Wisconsin getting those kinds of torrential rains before the summer of 2007.  Since then, we've gotten them almost every year (with the exception of 2009, if I recall correctly).  Gays Mills has finally taken the hint and is looking into relocating to higher ground.

We are extremely fortunate not to face the serious river flooding that many other Midwestern states have suffered this Spring.  It's too bad we can't build some kind of giant storm sewer system to divert all that surplus water to the parched western states. Too expensive to get it across the Rockies, I'm sure.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bye-Bye, Biddy

UW Chancellor Biddy Martin, who first invited controversy (and pushback from faculty) with her plan to change the governance of UW-Madison's grad school, and then went all in on the "Badger Partnership" scheme to spin off the Madison campus, has decided to take her ball and go to Amherst College.

Don't let the front doors of Bascom Hall hit you in the ass on your way out, Biddy.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks

There has been some debate around the Cheddarsphere in the past week over the usefulness of the tactics employed in last week's civil disobedience demonstration that disrupted a meeting of the Joint Finance Committee.

Some have cited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement as proof that civil disobedience should always be supported by the left when it seeks to address social injustice.

There is a lot we can learn from Dr. King and the story of the Montgomery bus boycott.  A lesson that usually goes unnoticed is that all civil disobedience is not perceived equally.

When most Americans are asked to name the first African-American person in Montgomery to refuse to give up her bus seat to a white person, they will likely say it was Rosa Parks.  That answer is incorrect.  Mrs. Parks was actually the third African-American woman in the space of nine months to be arrested in Montgomery for challenging its bus segregation law.

The first was an idealistic young student named Claudette Colvin.  After learning about Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth during Negro History Week in February 1955, she was inspired on March 2 to refuse an order to give up her seat, for which she was forcibly arrested.  At first, local civil rights leaders thought they had their poster child to fight the unjust law.  It was not to be.
Soon after her arrest, however, Colvin became pregnant by a much older, married man. Local black leaders felt that this moral transgression would not only scandalize the deeply religious black community, but also make Colvin suspect in the eyes of sympathetic whites. In particular, they felt that the white press would manipulate Colvin's illegitimate pregnancy as a means of undermining Colvin's victim status and any subsequent boycott of the bus company. Colvin was also allegedly prone to emotional outbursts and cursing. She was ultimately sentenced to probation for the ordinance violation, but a boycott and legal case never materialized from the event.
The next woman to challenge the unjust law was Mary Louise Smith. She was also considered and rejected by the movement as their test case, due to (untrue) rumors that her father was an alcoholic.

Finally, Rosa Parks made her historic decision, and the movement had its standard-bearer.
King recalled in his memoir that ‘‘Mrs. Parks was ideal for the role assigned to her by history,’’ and because ‘‘her character was impeccable and her dedication deep-rooted’’ she was ‘‘one of the most respected people in the Negro community’’ (King, 44).
VDLF has played the Claudette Colvin role in the #Wiunion movement.  The discomfort felt by other segments of the movement now is actually very similar to the discomfort felt by the Women's Political Council of Montgomery back in 1955.  They understood that not all civil disobedience tactics are equally effective, and that it is important to elicit sympathy from the political mainstream.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Lessons from Ralph Nader's 2000 Presidential Campaign

Back in 2000, Ralph Nader mounted a third-party run for President against Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush.

While many on the left criticized Nader's run and cautioned that he would help Bush get elected by siphoning votes away from Gore, others felt that he would energize new voters and bring attention to important issues that would otherwise be ignored by the major party candidates.

I supported Nader's right to run (though I did not vote for him for a variety of reasons), and I was glad that he was advocating for a variety of environmental and social justice issues that were getting short shrift from both major parties.  However, I felt he was being dishonest when he repeatedly said on the campaign trail that Al Gore was not significantly different from George W. Bush.

I wonder how many of those who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 can look back and honestly believe that Al Gore would have used the 911 attacks as an excuse to invade Iraq in 2003.  Or that he would have rolled back environmental protections and squandered our nation's budget surplus on tax cuts for the wealthy.

Nader ran a humorous commercial in which children expressed a series of cynical dreams for their future. One said: "I want to vote for the lesser of two evils."  The implication, of course, is that it is better to vote for someone you really want, even if they have no chance of getting elected, or just to stay home.  I have always felt that those who refuse to vote for the lesser of two evils are complicit in allowing the greater evil to come to power.

Nader actually said that, given a choice between a candidate (Gore) who would make voters complacent with small incremental improvements in environmental protections and one (Bush) who would wake up the left by making things worse, he would prefer the provacateur.

I am not sure what Nader meant by waking up the left.  If he meant that they would come out to vote the Republicans out of office in 2002 and 2004, then he was rather naive.  If he meant that they would donate a lot of money to Nader's organizations so that they could "fight" the disastrous Bush policies, then he was rather corrupt. Either way, those who believed his campaign bullshit were taken for a ride.

Most voters are turned off by the extreme left. Nader and his ilk (I'm looking at you, Dennis Kucinich) will never succeed in pulling the Democratic Party as far to the left as they like, because for every voter gained on the left, two in the center will be lost.

In recent months, I have seen the debates among anti-Walker activists over where the movement should go and what tactics should be used.  I would like to point out that influencing politicians is more like training a cat than training a dog.  You must be very patient and reward incremental improvements in behavior.  Any Hollywood cat wrangler will tell you that negative reinforcement does not work with a cat. While you must be careful not to reinforce negative behavior, you must be just as careful to recognize and reward positive behavior, even if it is only a fraction of the eventual behavior you want to see.

Quote of the Day

And all that stuff about camels getting through eyes of needles... with the tax breaks Ryan is giving the rich, they can breed miniature flying camels.

The Paul Ryan Watch contributor DownWithTyranny

Sounds like a lucrative new enterprise for Sokoblovsky Farms.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Life Line Screening Scam in Town

If you are a Madisonian of a certain age, you may have received a brochure in the mail from a company called Life Line Screening.  They are bringing their medicine show to town (for one day only!) at St. Peter's Catholic Church (I assume the church merely rented them a meeting hall and is not actually promoting this snake oil).

For about a hundred and fifty bucks, they will do several unnecessary ultrasound tests to check for a variety of ills. After they have had time to review the images, they will send you a letter telling you whether you should follow up with your doctor.

There are good reasons why Medicare and most health insurance policies do not cover such screening tests in individuals with no symptoms needing diagnosis. Not only is it an unnecessary expenditure, but such screenings do not improve the odds of living a long and healthy life. Yes, you may detect clogged arteries, but if you had no symptoms, there is a good chance that the treatment will be worse than the disease.

This is a good example of what is wrong with our for-profit health care system. Aggressive marketing techniques convince people (and their doctors) that they need procedures that will do little good and may do harm. How many of the fools who pay $150 out-of-pocket for the screening will learn that they have clogged arteries?  The letter will convince them that their money was well-spent, and they will go to their doctor (on their insurance carrier's dime) for further tests. A few of them may have unnecessary surgery; a larger number of them will start taking a cholesterol-lowering drug (which works by damaging the liver to suppress its production of cholesterol). Doctors are way too quick to prescribe those drugs, since their education about their safety and efficacy has been provided entirely by the drug companies.

Caveat emptor.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Quote of the Day

If you'd like to make an ass of yourself, just throw a hat upside down on the State Street sidewalk and start your rambling: you might even make some tips.

Oshkosh blogger Jb, commenting on the protestors who disrupted yesterday's committee hearing at the Capitol.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Dan Kapanke Has a Plan

He just needs to get those pesky public employees to sleep the day away on July 12.

Jon Stewart Schools Donald Trump

...on the subject of New York Pizza.

I have to wonder at the Donald's sense of hospitality in showing Sarah Palin such a sub-standard pizza experience. Did he think she was too ignorant to know any better?  Or did he feel she didn't deserve a good New York pizza?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Tornadoes in Massachusetts

While not nearly as powerful nor as deadly as the Joplin storm, the tornado that struck Springfield (MA) today is noteworthy because New England is well outside Tornado Alley.

This is the first tornado in Hampden County since 2008 and the most powerful in over 40 years.

The tornado crossed the Connecticut River and caused at least one death.

This has been a bad Spring for tornadoes in the United States.  It seems that it will not be limited to the South and the Midwest. 

Today also marks the first day of the 2011 hurricane season. It's going to be a busy year for insurance claims adjusters.