Friday, April 27, 2012

Deadly Hotspots

Leave it to those wacky BBC News researches with oodles of time of their hands.  Recently they carefully gathered evidence and combed through statistics to determine where in the world you are most likely to die from a specific cause. Pick a cause, any cause.

Afraid of bees?  Stay out of El Salvador. Scared of fire?  Definitely avoid Bhutan. Falling out of bed?  No trips to Hungary for you.


Affirmations

Canadians say “Eh?” at the end of a sentence making it into a question (you know they do, comedians make jokes about it all the time). “Our beer is so much better than what the Yanks make, eh?”  Brits will make a declarative statement, but then frequently throw in a question-phrase, mostly rhetorical, like “A pint goes down rather pip-pip here at the Crown and Rose, wouldn’t you say?  Or some other such question begging some type of a response. Not necessary a verbal response really, just a knowing wink, raised eyebrow, smile, etc.  Some sort of clue affirming that you understand and agree with the speaker.

In parts of the U.S., street-wise culture uses plenty of question-endings. “Jiggy is out of his mind tonight. You know what I’m talking about, bro?”

In Yankeeland we try not to prolong conversations by inviting additional and unnecessary responses. We finish a sentence and turn to take care of other business. No need for all that human interaction stuff.  Hmmm, but wait.  I just thought of an exception to that rule, don’t cha know?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Plasma Jam

Aurora Borealis from the inside out in Alaska. Great stuff.  Play the video from SmartPlanet in full screen and crank up the volume.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day Suggestions


I received an attractive electronic newsletter this week highlighting simple green practices that would honor Earth Day.  I’m a sucker for chemical equations, so one newsie section especially caught my attention.

“Use these safe natural alternatives in your home:

Vinegar + water = disinfectant
Lemon juice + olive oil = floor polish
Baking soda + vinegar = drain cleaner
Club soda or vinegar = stain remover
Gin + tonic = happy hour”

Oh wait, I don’t think that last one was actually in the newsletter.

Look!

This civic-minded instruction painted on a parking lot pavement gave me whiplash.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

More than a Three Hour Tour

I came across a news story, apparently a few months old, about an 8 year old Indonesian girl who had been separated from family and swept out to sea in the tsunami that hit West Aceh after a massive earthquake hit the area two days after Christmas 2004. She miraculously reached landfall somewhere else on the Indonesia coastline but couldn’t be identified and spent the next 7 years living on village streets.  Somehow she made a return to her village (now age 15) and was reunited with her mother and extended family.  Amazing fortune – hard to imagine the joy of the girl and her family.

On a lighter note, there was no indication that she was in contact with the long-lost S.S. Minnow during her ordeal and she claimed no knowledge of either a “Gilligan” or “Skipper.”

Monday, April 9, 2012

I’m beginning to lose faith in this internet thing

I don’t think the internet is keeping up with the times.  This evening I searched for restaurants in my suburban town of 21,000 residents.  I tried Yahoo, Yellow Pages and several restaurant-based search engines.  Every one led me to essentially the same database - one that still listed a restaurant that closed one year ago and another that must have closed 3 or 4 years ago.  And yet the restaurant that opened last year here in town was nowhere to be found.  Big help, technology.  Among the restaurant choices this database did give me was my local Mobil gas station.  Mmmmm, fine cuisine and romantic atmosphere.

But take heart. The GSP linkage to these fine databases told me to click here for “15,857 more local results.”  I didn’t have the faith to obey the internet genie and click on the link.  I just don’t think that in a town of 21,000 residents, that I’ll find we have 15,857 restaurants.  Now, maybe if you also include those gas stations…    

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Fairness

We keep saying this fall’s presidential election will pivot on economic issues but what I hear getting at least equal time in the media and from the progressives is the theme of fairness.  Commentator Charles Krauthammer said it best: “Obama is a leveler. He has come to narrow the divide between rich and poor. For him the ultimate social value is fairness. Imposing it upon the American social order is his mission.  And with the OWS encampments broken up (at least for the winter months), their dispersal left a lingering air of: “We are OWS and we want equality.”  Meaning universal equality = universal fairness.

I think many folks are ready to argue the U.S. strives to live the principle of equality of opportunity. I know the OWSers, the President, and many progressives are arguing for the equality of outcomes.   That position is at odds with opportunity – which presumes that variables, external factors, personal risk levels, are all in play in a capitalistic society.  If the OWSer took a group field trip to Las Vegas for a weekend, do they supposed all of them would be counting an equal wad of cash on the redeye flight back home?  No, I think they realize that a few of them would have cash to count but many others would be returning with just a comb or half-eaten roll of Lifesavers in their pockets. Would they make the winning fellow OWSers feel bad?  Maybe insist they split their cash among the less fortunate gamblers on the plane?  Forcibly take away their colleagues’ ill-gotten gains?

Even a free and democratic-themed society like ours does strive to tip the playing field to favor one group or class – perhaps with noble intent. The federal tax code is overly complicated now, in large part because of such (you could argue) well-meaning balancing attempts.  You can deride the tax code as loop-hole filled, or you view it as it is: a complicated matrix of attempted fairness measures.  “Home ownership is good for both individuals and for the health of our society – let’s encourage home ownership with a mortgage deduction (cue IRS Publication #936; 16 pages).  Or, want family farmers to benefit from accelerated equipment depreciation? Cue Publication #225, 89 pages.  Or want to bring a measure of fairness to Disaster Relief Payment systems?  Cue IRS Publication #525, 43 pages.  It goes on, and on, and on. The tax code is one big attempt at a “fairness” system when you boil it down.

A straight flat tax (or Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan) can appeal as seemingly universally fair at first blush.  But anytime you change the status quo of a policy, statute, regulation, or even enforcement practice you are going to rebalance the apple cart with either intentional or unintended consequences.  And those that have something taken away from them will cry “unfair.” Apple cart rebalancing is a messy business.

No, I’m not na├»ve about loopholes and special deals.  Although I’m not a CPA, for five years I worked for one of the Big 4 global accounting/consulting firms and well understand the money to be made in finding quasi-legitimate loopholes in federal tax laws. Many, many folks are employed full-time to do just that at very handsome salaries.

I’m not especially defending our present tax code – it does need fixing.  It’s more that I don’t look forward to the coming months of “fairness” discussions in the heat and posturing of the national and state political races.  Call me a pessimist.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Rugged Data

I love this solicitation announcement that appeared on a procurement listing today from the U.S. Army: "We're tough and we want only rugged data.  No sisified data need apply!" Grrrrrrrrr!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Easter in New England

Plenty of church seating available, even on Easter Sunday.

New England Weekly Church Attendance – 2010 Gallup Poll:

State (% Attend weekly or almost every week)
Vermont (23%)
New Hampshire (26%)
Maine (27%)
Massachusetts (29%)
Rhode Island (32%)
Connecticut (32%)

I don't believe attendance is actually this high. People tell white lies to telephone pollsters.

Tall States

Quick, how many of the lower 48 U.S. states have mountain peaks exceeding 14,000 ft?

Only three it turns out: California, Colorado and Washington.

And how about those wimpy states?  Five don’t have elevations reaching even 1000 ft.

Rhode Island – 812
Mississippi – 806
Louisiana – 535
Delaware – 448
Florida – 345

345 ft?  In New Hampshire we have town landfills that can beat that one hands down (300 years of trash add up).

Check out your state here.