Thursday, March 31, 2005

Which question should I answer first?

So far, I've resisted the temptation to sound off about Terry Schiavo. It's really none of my business.

But I am really getting tired of Terry Schiavo. No, that's not right. What I'm getting tired of is this irrational, ever-intensifying obsession with Terry Schiavo. As with so many issues, what caused it to crystalize in my mind was a question asked by Rush Limbaugh.

But I don't think I arrived at the answer Limbaugh wanted me to make. Neal Boortz wrote an answer for, but it's the wrong answer too. Poor Neal. And now, he says, Sean Hannity won't even return his calls about this issue.

Limbaugh asked, "Why do you people want Terry Schiavo to die?"

What arrogance. As if anyone can prevent it at this late date.

Terry Schiavo died on February 25, 1990. Her remains have been maintained in a grotesque parody of life for over fifteen years. Thanks to modern medical science, it appears that they could continue to achieve this zombie-like state indefinitely, if they wished, for as long as the money holds out. So far, over twenty judges have ruled that enough is too much.

The woman died fifteen years ago. Isn't it about time to bury her?

More supporting documentation:
Wikipedia: Terry Schiavo
Football Fans for Truth: Terri Schiavo FAQ for the Uncommitted

What does it take to get banned?

Greenville News | Some IMAX theaters not screening volcanoes flick
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -- The IMAX theater in Charleston and several others in the South have passed on showing a science film on volcanoes because of concerns it might offend those with fundamental religious beliefs.

"We've got to pick a film that's going to sell in our area. If it's not going to sell, we're not going to take it," said Lisa Buzzelli, director of the local IMAX theater. "Many people here believe in creationism, not evolution."

Buzzelli said while the Charleston theater doesn't rule out showing "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea" in the future, she considers people's religious views when showing films.

The film makes a connection between human DNA and microbes inside undersea volcanoes. Buzzelli said the handling of evolution was considered in her decision.

IMAX theaters in Texas, Georgia and the Carolinas have declined to show the film, said Pietro Serapiglia who handles distribution for Stephen Low, the film's director and producer who is from Montreal.

"I find it's only in the South," Serapiglia said.
We're never going to outgrow this reputation for being Dukes of Hazzardland at this rate. (See also CNN.)

But wait: That's the filmmaker and distributor talking, and they might have an ulterior motive for beating the publicity drum. Fernbank has made a statement, too:
Centre Daily Times | IMAX documentary gets cold shoulder
LOS ANGELES -- Some IMAX theaters have declined to show "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea" -- but is it because of debates about evolution, or is it just a so-so movie?

Filmmakers behind "Volcanoes" said executives at some Southern IMAX theaters told them they worried the movie might rile conservative Christians partly because of its references to the way life may have evolved.

...Executives at several Southern science centers said test audiences disliked the film's music and narration, found the tone too academic, and the deep-sea images lacking in color.

"The scientific team and research on the film was top-notch," said Anita Kern, dean of science at Atlanta's Fernbank Museum of Natural History, whose IMAX theater chose not to run "Volcanoes." "But when you're doing IMAX films, you're doing it for the general public. What you want is to educate people in very entertaining ways. This film just didn't do it. It was slow moving and a little dry."
Wow. A movie filmed at the bottom of the ocean is a "little dry"? That really hurts. I guess they can't all be "Nemo".
Kern said she did not recall anyone in the museum's test audience making comments about the evolution theories presented in "Volcanoes."

"Volcanoes" filmmaker [Stephen] Low said science centers are calling it a "lousy film" so they do not have to admit they bowed to religious sentiment.
Low could just as easily be blaming lost bookings on "religious sentiment" so he doesn't have to admit it's a lousy film. But goodness knows plenty of lousy films get bookings.

Whatever, it worked: Now that Low has made his accusations, the film is getting enough notice that the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, for one, has changed its mind and plans to run the film after all.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

At some point in this story you'll stop believing me

Normally, I'd just link to the story, give it a tsk-tsk and go on my way. But I want to see if this tale strains your credulity as far as it does mine. At what point in this narrative does your train of thought jump the tracks?
  • The State of New York requires its teachers to pass a certification test.
  • 19,000 teachers take this test each year: About 95% of them pass it.
  • The City of New York has been waivered by the State from meeting the requirement due to a lack of qualified teachers.
But... never mind. Keep going.
  • Middle School 142 is, according to the Daily News, "one of the city's most dysfunctional schools."
  • Wayne Brightly is a teacher at M.S. 142.
  • Brightly has been teaching since 1992, full time since 1998.
  • He has taken this test every year. He has never passed it.
  • If he fails it again, he may lose his job. (Even New York's patience is not endless, I guess.)
  • Brightly sought tutoring from one Rubin Leitner.
  • Brightly, 38, has a Master's in history from Brooklyn College. Leitner, 58, is an Asperger's syndrome patient with degrees in American and Asian history from Brooklyn College. They met in the college's alumni office.
  • Tutoring having failed, Brightly paid Leitner to take the test for him.
  • Brightly paid Leitner $2.
  • Brightly is 38, black, tall and thin. Leitner is 58, white, short and overweight.
  • Brightly arranged for fake IDs for Leitner, so that no one would question his veracity.
  • No one did.
  • Leitner aced the test. (!)
  • He scored so well that the State got suspicious.
Pardon me, I'm laughing so hard I can't type.
  • They also noticed that "Brightly's" handwriting had changed.
But not that he'd turned white and aged twenty years. You are who your ID says you are, and that's that, apparently.
MS 142 is one of the city's most dysfunctional schools. Fewer than 20% of its students perform at or above grade level; its principal was fired last year for incompetence. It's the type of school that experienced teachers flee, leaving children to the mercies of teachers like Brightly.
Is it actually possible that Brightly is the best they can do?

Sources: NY Daily News (front page); New York Times; New York Daily News (editorials, 2nd item).

No child left behind, so far as they know

Ann Arbor News | Parents wait all night in freezing weather to enroll kids in preschool
88 people in line by 7 a.m. to fill out registration sheets

The last time Kristin Carney was willing to wait for hours in a long line, it was for tickets to a Prince concert. For Pam Chaundy, it was for tickets to a U2 concert.

But on March 18 the hot ticket was a place in a popular three-day-a-week, morning preschool program for 4-year-olds. Both women, now moms, were trying to get their youngsters enrolled in the Tot Spot, Brighton's popular preschool program.

"My husband Chris got here at 10 p.m. Thursday night," said Carney. "He wore a snowmobile suit and slept in a sleeping bag in his car after starting a sign up list on the door. I thought he was crazy going at 10, but he proved me wrong because if I was behind these ladies who got here at midnight, our daughter wouldn't have gotten in the class we wanted."
I fully expect this will be the case at Atlanta Public Schools' Office of Student Placement this spring, when they begin accepting applications for what used to be called "administrative transfers"--which is to say, to beg them to allow your child to attend a school other than the one he'd otherwise be geographically zoned into. We've been there several times over the past seven years.

The only real difference is that Atlanta's weather is generally a little more temperate than Michigan's.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usActually, I appreciate the reminder, since the administrative transfer is one of APS' best-kept secrets. Here's what you get when you go to their web site and click on the "Student Transfers" link.

At least, I get an empty page. Your mileage may vary.

Here's the information you're supposed to get: three PDF documents from Atlanta Public Schools. The Placement Letter to parents (informing them that the option of transferring their child is available); FAQ about Student Placement 2005-2006; and the Application form.

They accept applications for transfers from April 18 through May 27. In theory. In practice, if you aren't in line when the office opens at 8:00 am on the first day, you won't get your transfer.

LATER: Finally found out what's going on with the empty page. If you have the current version of Adobe Acrobat Reader (7.0) and MS Internet Explorer, you'll see an embedded display of Dr Hall's letter. Any lesser Reader, or any other browser, fails. Is there anything in this document that requires Acrobat? No. It could easily have been simple HTML text, readable in any browser, but for technological tunnel vision.

Thursday, March 17, 2005


Decatur Daily Democrat | Sign slowed gasoline price rise to top $2
GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) - Some customers may have thought it was simple justice. Alas, it was technology that prevented a gas station's sign from displaying any price $2 or higher.

Byron Wheeler, who owns a Byco gas station, said he kept prices below the $2 mark for five days last week because the station's electronic sign couldn't display a ''2'' in the dollar position.

Wheeler said the company is upgrading the sign, which has been in place at the station's convenience store since the business opened in 1991. But until the sign can be brought up to speed, Wheeler is displaying only the time and temperature.

And, those five days last week will be only a memory to customers.

''It brought customers in,'' Wheeler said. ''We had some fun with it.''
Now, I'd expect that kind of problem with signs that use physical numbers, not electronic displays.

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Tennesseean | Gas station owners' dilemma: too few twos
It turns out that when regular gas prices top $2 a gallon, it can be a pain for station owners, too — sometimes there aren't enough twos to go around for their signs.

As average prices for regular unleaded topped the $2 mark in Nashville yesterday, there's been a growing demand for the number 2 from some convenience-store and gas-station owners, said Bobby Joslin of Joslin and Son Sign Co.

''The large numbers cost about $150 each, so stores don't keep a large inventory of them around,'' Joslin said yesterday.

''We did get a few calls for threes in California,'' [said Bobbie Shosty, marketing director of May Advertising in Fort Worth, Texas].

Gas prices are seen Tuesday, March 15, 2005, at a 76 gas station in Malibu, Calif. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


Yahoo News (Reuters) | 'Lord of the Rings' to Take to Stage as Musical
LONDON (Reuters) - After setting cinema box office records around the world, "The Lord of the Rings" is to take to the stage as a musical, the producers announced to Reuters on Tuesday.

The show, based on the fantasy classic by J.R.R. Tolkien, is to open in March 2006 in Toronto and come to London six months later.

But the producers have promised to go back to the original tale of Middle Earth and not try to reproduce the dazzling special effects from the movie trilogy, which earned $3 billion worldwide and garnered a string of Oscars (news - web sites).

"We are ultimately dependent on 50 actors and musicians to tell the story rather than technology," producer Kevin Wallace said as he announced details of the 27 million Canadian dollar (11.5 million pound) musical.

"We are going to have to break new ground. It is a hybrid of text, music, spectacle and physical theater," he added.
And this is different from every other stage

You can't make me

Patriot-News | Case opens eyes of driver seeking shut-eye photo
Billy Reed just lost a 19-month battle to protect his rights, or what he believes is his right to have his eyes closed in his driver's license photo.

But Reed, 49, of Fleetwood, Berks County, said he might appeal yesterday's Commonwealth Court ruling against him to the state Supreme Court.

A three-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court rejected Reed's arguments in a published opinion, in which it found that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's requirement that subjects keep their eyes open for the photograph is reasonable.

Reed claimed there is no law supporting PennDOT's position and that the law requires only that a person submit to a photograph. He argued that PennDOT was violating his right to freedom of expression, due process and his "right to happiness."

"Petitioner's only argument regarding his right to freedom of expression is that the Department's policy denies him this right," Judge James Gardner Colins wrote for the court. "Petitioner simply states 'PENNDOT is currently doing its darndest to upset my happiness.'

"Keeping one's eyes open and looking straight ahead while being photographed for a driver's license is a minuscule requirement that Petitioner must deal with if he wants his license."
So much time, so much trouble spent fighting the wrong battles.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

"The rabbit's name seems to have little effect on shopping habits"

Palm Beach Post | Mall bunnies hunt for neutral names
The Easter Bunny is a vanishing breed.

Not that there's a shortage of 6-foot white rabbits carrying baskets of colored eggs. It's just that Mr. Shopping Mall Bunny is becoming more politically correct.

The bunny at The Gardens mall Easter egg hunt last weekend — oops, make that just plain "egg hunt" — was called Garden Bunny.

"The name just complemented The Gardens of the Palm Beaches," mall Marketing Director Jeannie Roberts said.

... The rabbit's name seems to have little effect on shopping habits. "I'm not really sure how religious the bunny is," The Gardens' Roberts said.

She's right. The origin of the Easter Bunny dates to the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility, Oestre or Eastre, whose mythical companion was the ultimate symbol of fertility, the hare.

Over the centuries the Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus became entwined with the pagan celebration of the annual rebirth of life each spring. German immigrants brought the Easter rabbit across the Atlantic in the late 1800s, and he's become the secular symbol of the Easter season.
Hm. So the Christians have taken such a firm hold of the goddes Oestre that invoking her name is too controversial?

You know, some things just don't bear too much thinking about. We're talking about the theological implications of marshmallow eggs.

Next up: The annual December visit from the jolly old elf himself, er... Kris Kringle.

Oh, yaah, ya wanna super-size that, OK?

Yahoo News (Reuters) | Look Who's Talking at the Drive-Through
McDonald's Corp. wants to outsource your neighborhood drive-through. The world's largest fast-food chain said on Thursday it is looking into using remote call centers to take customer orders in an effort to improve service at its drive-throughs.

"If you're in L.A.... and you hear a person with a North Dakota accent taking your order, you'll know what we're up to," McDonald's Chief Executive Jim Skinner told analysts at the Bear Stearns Retail, Restaurants & Apparel Conference in New York. Call center professionals with "very strong communication skills" could help boost order accuracy and ultimately speed up the time it takes customers to get in and out of the drive-throughs, the company said.
You know, the more I think about this the more sense it makes. The customer and the order-taker can't see each other in most drive-throughs: Does it really matter if the order-taker isn't actually in the building? Thanks to modern telecommunications, the cost of an always-on voice line is negligible. And most fast-food employees' microphone skills are abysmal: It would be a genuine pleasure to deal with someone who knew how to speak. English. Clearly.

On the other hand, my manurometer begins to quiver when I remember how other companies have implemented remote call-centers. When they start talking about how much more efficient it is, I know they mean "cheaper". The first time I pull up to my neighborhood McDonald's and hear a New Delhi accent, I'm a'goin' to Burger King.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

"Lovecraft would plotz"

Boing Boing | Lovecraftian mockumentary about Cthulhoid Woodstock
Garage rockers with DV cameras are making a mockumentary about a sixties rock festival in Arkham that goes awry when the hippies open up the Necronomicon instead of the Whole Earth Catalog.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

"You've got to act crazy to keep from going crazy"

Anchorage Daily News | Man turns on sprinklers to create a tower of ice
For a guy who doesn't like winter, John Reeves sure has a funny way of showing it.

How else do you explain the nearly 150-foot-tall, prehistoric-looking tower of ice Reeves has grown -- and continues to grow -- next to the Steese Highway eight miles north of Fairbanks?

...With nothing more than a well, a pump, some 1-inch copper pipe and a regular old Fairbanks winter, Reeves has created something that is absurdly Alaska.

"It's unique on the planet," said Reeves, standing next to his masterpiece on a sunny Saturday. "It's not like anybody else has one of these things."
For those who thought Northern Exposure painted an unrealistic picture of the average Alaskan. (Why does a man who professes not to like winter live in Alaska?)