Thursday, March 31, 2011

The ballot box conundrum

Why do we often seem to vote against our own best interests?

Here are some possible reasons. Each seems to contain part of the answer.

1. We are unwilling or unable to think critically, and therefore are unduly influenced by public figures (celebrities, TV pundits, and the like) who claim to have answers, but who actually have agendas that are at odds with our own.

2. We fail to differentiate fact from opinion, and give disproportionate weight to the latter.

3. We support measures that benefit those who are more affluent because we incorrectly perceive ourselves to be, or aspire to be, in that class.

4. We are manipulated by populist leaders who use powerful emotional themes such as patriotism, defense of freedom, government waste, and national security, to distract us from bread and butter issues, and to divide us from other constituencies with whom we would otherwise find common cause.

5. We socialize exclusively with those who have similar views, thereby affirming the validity of our own opinions.

6. We fail to discern that governments at various levels deliver much of what defines quality of life, and that this is not possible without taxation.

7. If we perceive a candidate to be elitist or patronizing, we will teach her/him "a lesson" at the polls, even when we would personally benefit from the candidate's programs.

8. Short term benefits (e.g. tax breaks) have more appeal to us than long term benefits (e.g. better education system, improved infrastructure, deficit reduction, etc.).

9. As party platforms that enumerate a party's stand on various issues are replaced by personality-driven campaigns (attack advertising, etc.), our choices are more affected by emotion than by reason.

10. As power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the party leader, we are more inclined to vote for the party than for the local candidate who would best represent our interests.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The ice retreats

This visualization by Adrian Meyer and Karl Rege of Zurich University of Applied Sciences shows melting of the polar ice, starting 21,000 years ago and advancing 1,000 years into the future.

Their assumptions include complete cessation of carbon dioxide emissions in 2100, and no growth in world population from today's levels.

Years are shown in the panel at bottom right.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Business lobbyists want regulation

What! Business lobbyists are protesting a bill that would massively deregulate a wide range of industries?

Yep, you read that right.

That's exactly what's happening in Florida, and consumers had better be on their guard if this gets passed, which seems likely.

In the anti-regulation climate created by new Republican governor Rick Scott and his caucus, sponsors of the legislation are hell-bent to get rid of rules put in place over decades in reaction to a long list of commercial offenses. Those have often included fraud and other criminal behaviour.

Florida has a long history of real estate fraud going back 100 years, but the bill proposes to end oversight of home inspectors, despite the protests of the Florida Home Inspectors Council and the Florida Association of Realtors, and would abolish the state agency that oversees condominiums, time-shares and mobile homes.

Walt Disney World, the state's best known employer, testified against reducing oversight of the time-share business, an industry that was rife with shady operators before being cleaned up in the 1980's.

Likewise, the law would end registration of, and posting of surety bonds by, travel agencies. The need for oversight seems obvious here, as the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs received 13,000 complaints about this scam-plagued industry in just the past five years.

Oversight would also be reduced or eliminated for athlete agents, auctioneers, sellers of business opportunities, charities, dance studios, health studios, movers, car repair shops, talent agents, telemarketers, boat brokers and others.

In all, 30 industry associations have testified that the bill is ill-advised.

More on this here and here.

Monday, March 28, 2011

When it comes to hats

[Note to non-Canadian readers: Believe it or not, these are the candidates for Prime Minister in our upcoming federal election. No, seriously!]

Nobody beats...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• If you have two families, you need two Facebook accounts. Dick Barton's wife discovered he was a bigamist when he posted wedding photos showing his new wife on the social media site.

• If you have a prairie dog problem in Boulder County, Colorado, you get out the Rodenator, a device that pumps a propane mixture into burrows, then ignites the gas.

Having a lot more sex would actually reduce the risk of an activity-triggered heart attack, researchers say.

• Half of the world's new electrical generating capacity in 2008-2009 was for renewable energy.

• A Pew survey found that 85% of Brazilians think climate change is a very serious problem. 52% of Germans, 40% of Brits, and 37% of Americans agreed.

• In the 1960s, McNairy County, Tennessee had a crime problem and Sheriff Buford Pusser had an idea to solve it. He got a 4x4, carved it into a club, and used it beat the living crap out of criminals. He jailed 7,500 criminals over 6 years by targeting illegal gambling dens, prostitution rings, and moonshine stills. Even after they killed his wife, shot him 8 times, and stabbed him 7 times, he kept beating the living crap out of criminals. He once jumped onto the hood of a car that tried to run him over, smashed the window, and beat the living crap out of the driver.
How about that?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sorry, there's an earthquake on

[Next time you feel you've had a bad day at work, think about this Delta Airlines pilot's story. Thanks to retired airline captain Wayne for sending this along.]

I'm currently still in one piece, writing from my room in the Narita crew hotel. It's 8am. This is my inaugural trans-Pacific trip as a brand new, recently checked out, international 767 Captain and it has been interesting, to say the least. I've crossed the Atlantic three times so far so the ocean crossing procedures were familiar.

By the way, stunning scenery flying over the Aleutian Islands. Everything was going fine until 100 miles out from Tokyo and in the descent for arrival. The first indication of any trouble was that Japan air traffic control started putting everyone into holding patterns. At first we thought it was usual congestion on arrival. Then we got a company data link message advising about the earthquake, followed by another stating Narita airport was temporarily closed for inspection and expected to open shortly (the company is always so positive).

From our perspective things were obviously looking a little different. The Japanese controller's anxiety level seemed quite high and he said expect "indefinite" holding time. No one would commit to a time frame on that so I got my copilot and relief pilot busy looking at divert stations and our fuel situation, which, after an ocean crossing is typically low.

It wasn't long, maybe ten minutes, before the first pilots started requesting diversions to other airports. Air Canada, American, United, etc. all reporting minimal fuel situations. I still had enough fuel for 1.5 to 2.0 hours of holding. Needless to say, the diverts started complicating the situation.

Japan air traffic control then announced Narita was closed indefinitely due to damage. Planes immediately started requesting arrivals into Haneada, near Tokyo, a half dozen JAL and western planes got clearance in that direction but then ATC announced Haenada had just closed. Uh oh! Now instead of just holding, we all had to start looking at more distant alternatives like Osaka, or Nagoya.

One bad thing about a large airliner is that you can't just be-pop into any little airport. We generally need lots of runway. With more planes piling in from both east and west, all needing a place to land and several now fuel critical ATC was getting over-whelmed. In the scramble, and without waiting for my fuel to get critical, I got my flight a clearance to head for Nagoya, fuel situation still okay. So far so good. A few minutes into heading that way, I was "ordered" by ATC to reverse course. Nagoya was saturated with traffic and unable to handle more planes (read- airport full). Ditto for Osaka.

With that statement, my situation went instantly from fuel okay, to fuel minimal considering we might have to divert a much farther distance. Multiply my situation by a dozen other aircraft all in the same boat, all making demands requests and threats to ATC for clearances somewhere. Air Canada and then someone else went to "emergency" fuel situation. Planes started to heading for air force bases. The nearest to Tokyo was Yokoda AFB. I threw my hat in the ring for that initially. The answer - Yokoda closed! no more space.

By now it was a three ring circus in the cockpit, my copilot on the radios, me flying and making decisions and the relief copilot buried in the air charts trying to figure out where to go that was within range while data link messages were flying back and forth between us and company dispatch in Atlanta. I picked Misawa AFB at the north end of Honshu island. We could get there with minimal fuel remaining. ATC was happy to get rid of us so we cleared out of the maelstrom of the Tokyo region. We heard ATC try to send planes toward Sendai, a small regional airport on the coast which was later the one I think that got flooded by a tsunami.

Atlanta dispatch then sent us a message asking if we could continue to Chitose airport on the Island of Hokkaido, north of Honshu. Other Delta planes were heading that way. More scrambling in the cockpit - check weather, check charts, check fuel, okay. We could still make it and not be going into a fuel critical situation ... if we had no other fuel delays. As we approached Misawa we got clearance to continue to Chitose. Critical decision thought process. Let's see - trying to help company - plane overflies perfectly good divert airport for one farther away...wonder how that will look in the safety report, if anything goes wrong.

Suddenly ATC comes up and gives us a vector to a fix well short of Chitose and tells us to standby for holding instructions. Nightmare realized. Situation rapidly deteriorating. After initially holding near Tokyo, starting a divert to Nagoya, reversing course back to Tokyo then to re-diverting north toward Misawa, all that happy fuel reserve that I had was vaporizing fast. My subsequent conversation, paraphrased of course...., went something like this:

"Sapparo Control - Delta XX requesting immediate clearance direct to Chitose, minimum fuel, unable hold."

"Negative Ghost-Rider, the Pattern is full" <<< top gun quote <<<

"Sapparo Control - make that - Delta XX declaring emergency, low fuel, proceeding direct Chitose"

"Roger Delta XX, understood, you are cleared direct to Chitose, contact Chitose approach...etc..."

Enough was enough, I had decided to preempt actually running critically low on fuel while in another indefinite holding pattern, especially after bypassing Misawa, and played my last ace...declaring an emergency. The problem with that is now I have a bit of company paperwork to do but what the heck.

As it was - landed Chitose, safe, with at least 30 minutes of fuel remaining before reaching a "true" fuel emergency situation. That's always a good feeling, being safe. They taxied us off to some remote parking area where we shut down and watched a half dozen or more other airplanes come streaming in. In the end, Delta had two 747s, my 767 and another 767 and a 777 all on the ramp at Chitose. We saw two American airlines planes, a United and two Air Canada as well. Not to mention several extra Al Nippon and Japan Air Lines planes.

Postscript: 9 hours later, Japan Air Lines finally got around to getting a boarding ladder to the plane where we were able to get off and clear customs. That however, is another interesting story.

By the way, while writing this, I have felt four additional tremors that shook the hotel slightly, all in 45 minutes.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

L'automobile formidable

Ah, the French. They always have a different take on things.

Take the automobile, for example. While Henry Ford and Karl Benz were taking a more conventional path, Marcel Leyat was promoting the propeller driven Hélica. Here's the 1919 model. Pedestrians at crosswalks, please keep your distance.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bubba goes to the doctor

Doesn't it seem more and more that physicians are running their practices like an assembly line?

Here's what happened to Bubba.

Bubba walked into a doctor's office and the receptionist asked him what he had. Bubba said, "shingles." So she wrote down his name, address, medical insurance number and told him to have a seat.

Fifteen minutes later a nurse's aide came out and asked Bubba what he had.
Bubba said, "shingles," So she wrote down his height, weight, a complete medical history and told Bubba to wait in the examining room.

A half hour later a nurse came in and asked Bubba what he had. Bubba said, "shingles." So the nurse gave Bubba a blood test, a blood pressure test, an electrocardiogram, and told Bubba to take off all his clothes and wait for the doctor.

An hour later the doctor came in and found Bubba sitting patiently in the nude and asked Bubba what he had.

Bubba said, "shingles." The doctor asked, "Where?"

Bubba said, "Outside on the truck. Where do you want me to unload 'em?"

[Author unknown.]

Monday, March 21, 2011

OK, I've heard enough

Friday, March 18, 2011

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• In the 1840s P.T. Barnum's New York museum of curiosities proved so popular that it was regularly filled to capacity and could admit no more customers. He studied the problem and hired a carpenter. Soon a new door appeared in the museum with a sign reading "THIS WAY TO THE EGRESS." Those who followed it to see this new marvel found themselves on the street.

• Twitter registers 460,000 new accounts daily.

• Acne sufferers are no longer told to avoid chocolate, as well as fried and greasy foods. Those diets didn't work.

• Rifca Stanescu is probably the world’s youngest grandmother at only 23 years of age.

Studies show that having good friends may help stave off memory loss as you age; reduce stress; boost immunity; help you lose weight and keep it off; and buffer against depression, among other health benefits.

• In 1962, The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff approved Operation Northwoods, which would use acts of terrorism blamed on Cuba in order to to turn public opinion against Castro. Among other things, it called for innocent people to be shot on American streets. It was not implemented by the Kennedy administration.
How about that?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Time for a different dream?

This is from the "Too soon old, too late smart" department.

The headline in my local newspaper says, "Gas Prices Eroding the American Dream."

High oil prices are just one of the threats to North American standards of living.

Food prices are headed up, too. Probably in a big way.

Then there's the matter of the median earnings of full-time Canadian workers increasing by just $53 annually between 1980 and 2005. In the U.S., median household income has actually declined since 1999, when adjusted for inflation.

Meanwhile, governments everywhere, and at all levels, are in deficit reduction mode, for good reasons. That means many of the programs we take for granted, the stuff that affects quality of life, are about to be put on a diet, or trashed completely. They include services we have come to regard as entitlements.

Look for big rollbacks in tax-funded healthcare, for example, as it sucks up an increasing, unsustainable share of provincial spending. That means you'll be paying more for it, despite politicians' promises about a "sacred trust."

More money going out, but no more coming in. It adds up to a major lifestyle adjustment for many, perhaps most, people.

The future isn't what it used to be.

Scary? You bet.

The American Dream, shared by Canadians, is based on the possibility, even the expectation, of prosperity and success.

In the five decades that followed Word War II, economic growth fuelled income growth, unbounded optimism, and creation of the social safety net. There was little thought about the possibility that the music might slow down, or even stop.

Sure the economy sometimes got a bit overheated, then cooled off, but generally the curves on the graphs went ever higher.

But, as a society, we can no longer afford the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed. Maybe those heady days will return, but it will take a while, as we work off the huge debts incurred to pay for the party we threw for ourselves.

Can we adjust? Could downsizing and simplifying our lives even have a positive side in the greater scheme of things? Might it offer an opportunity to get refocused on different priorities?

It'll be a hard sell. We're creatures of the consumer society, and we equate owning lots of stuff with status and wellbeing.

We let corporations construct our dreams, and then furnish those dreams with their wares.

We are, in the words of the famous quote, possessed by our possessions. We handed our keys to a bunch of marketing guys, and they convinced us that we were enjoying the trip.

Now, we're looking around, and it's not so good.

We've surrounded ourselves with high tech toys that deliver the illusion of pleasure, but contribute little to real fulfillment. We are tethered to our work by cellphones and eMail, even during our off-hours. We stare at TVs that mostly deliver time-wasting garbage, interrupted every few minutes by pitches for more products that promise to improve our lives. We live in big houses that consume too much scarce energy. We drive gas guzzling monster vehicles that contribute to climate change, and we bury tons of plastic packaging that will still be intact when dug up by archeologists in a few centuries. There's plenty more.

Maybe weaning ourselves off some of this will be a good thing.

Might it even mean more time for activities that give meaning to life, including time spent with our important people --- partners, kids, cousins, friends?

At the end of life, we will not assess its quality based on the number of material possessions amassed. We will think back on relationships, experiences, achievements, contributions.

Life is short. Time to create your own dream.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The President's Speech

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The strength to carry on

We have all seen many pictures of the tragedy in Japan. This photo of a mother and her child seems to sum up the courage and perseverance of the Japanese people in the face of overwhelming destruction and loss.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Friday, March 11, 2011

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• The very first bomb dropped by the Allies on Berlin in World War II killed the only elephant in the Berlin Zoo.

• The rate of births to teenage mothers in the U.S. has dropped to the lowest level ever recorded, 39 babies per 1,000 mothers aged 15-19.

• In related news, fewer people in the 15 to 24 age group are having sex.

• Massachusetts is the first state to allow voters to register as members of the Pirate party.

• The yellow sac spider is blowing up Mazdas. No really!

• The brain operates on the same amount of power as 10-watt light bulb.
How about that?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Good advice

[Sent along by Anita and Wayne]

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Unexpected consequences

As you may know if you're following this blog, I am down here on the Golf Coast for the winter.

That means involuntary immersion in the ongoing brawl between the Democrats and the Republicans. Unlike in Canada, there seems to always be an election going on down here, and these tussles are more entertaining than four-down football.

Fan excitement is kept at a peak by both teams' cheerleading squads, most enthusiastically the Teapartiers for the Republican side.

In November, the Republicans had a big win, retiring to the locker room on an adrenalin high after recapturing the House of Representatives, and installing the majority of state Governors.

Now everyone is looking ahead to the Presidential contest in 2012.

By virtue of public support manifested at the ballot box, Republicans rightly feel entitled to have their way. That seems mostly to involve cutting taxes for corporations and wealthier folks while beating the drum for cuts to social security, medicare, education, public service pensions, environmental safeguards, public broadcasting, and all that other lefty stuff that is mostly for the benefit of regular folk. Homeland security and the military are, of course, untouchable.

The U.S. is in a financial pickle, and deficit reduction is absolutely essential. The problem is that everyone is for reducing government expenditures right up to the point where the programs they personally enjoy go under the knife.

It looks like the timing of all this couldn't be better for Obama who, until recently, looked liked a one-term president.

Now, at both state and federal levels, the Republicans, driven by the strident cheers of the Teapartiers, must follow through on their promises to cut. Those cuts are going to be taking effect right in the middle of the 2012 campaign.

Plus, widespread public sector layoffs and budget cuts will drive up the unemployment rate and retard the economic recovery.

The result is very likely to be a lot of very tea-ed off voters, who will remember who took their goodies away.

The effect --- four more years for Obama.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Drug bust in Saskatchewan

[Sent by Libby. Author unknown.]

"Hello, is this the Police Office?"

"Yes. What can I do for you?"

"I'm calling to report 'bout my neighbor Jack Murphy. He's hidin' marijuana inside his firewood! Don't quite know how he gets it inside them logs, but he's hidin' it there."

"Thank you very much for the call, sir."

The next day, twelve RCMP Officers descend on Jack's house. They search the shed where the firewood is kept. Using axes, they bust open every piece of wood, but find no marijuana.

They sneer at Jack and leave.

Shortly after, the phone rings at Jack's house.

"Hey, Jack! This here's Floyd. Did the police come?"


"Did they chop your firewood?"


"Happy Birthday, buddy!"

Monday, March 7, 2011

Just the facts

Friday, March 4, 2011

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
Ear cleaning parlors are the latest hot trend in Japan.

• Scientists in Florida have communicated with wild dolphins using a primitive form of language using sounds, symbols and props.

• The world's hottest chili has been grown in Grantham, England.

• More video content is uploaded to YouTube in a 60 day period than the three major U.S. television networks created in 60 years.

• The milk produced by cows in the first few days after giving birth is being touted as the latest performance enhancer for long distance runners.

Facebook got Sister Maria tossed out of the convent.
How about that?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mighty good eatin'

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

An amazing mind

[Sent along by Anita and Wayne]

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The patience file

A Texas DPS Trooper was patrolling late at night off the main highway.

He sees a couple in a car, with the interior light glowing brightly.

He carefully approaches the car to get a closer look, and sees a young man behind the wheel, reading a computer magazine.

He also immediately notices a young woman in the rear seat, filing her fingernails.

Puzzled by this surprising situation, he walks to the car and gently raps on the driver's side window.

The young man lowers his window and mutters, "Uh, yes, Officer?"

The trooper asks, "What are you doing?"

The young man says: "Well, Sir, I'm reading a magazine."

Pointing towards the young woman in the back seat, the trooper says: "And her in the back, what is she doing?"

The young man shrugs, "Sir, I believe she's filing her fingernails."

Now the trooper is totally confused. A young couple, alone in a car at night, in a lover's lane, and nothing is happening! The trooper asks, "What's your age, young man?"

The young man says, "I'm 22, sir."

The trooper asks, "And her, what's her age?"

The young man looks at his watch and replies, "She'll be 18 in 11 minutes."

[Author Unknown]