Editorials and Opinions
Do you enjoy controversy? If so, this page is for you. Contributions welcome, email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
All opinions expressed are those of the respective authors or submittors.
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Major Opinions and Controversial Topics
House Trashed -- Now There Were Three
Think Small in the Chemistry Lab (1/99)
A Policeman was Sued (10/98)
Saving Social Security (9/98)
Waiting for the Rest Room (8/98)
Spanking Children (7/98)
High school proficiency exams (7/98)
Whole body transplants (7/98)
In favor of workfare (7/98)
Computer virus runs up your phone bill
Don't bring laptop on a vacation cruise
Let people with fewer bags board plane first
Airline flight voluntary bumping confusion
Public school wants to give out laptops -- bad idea
Rowdy Party Goers Damage Home (5/00)
1. News Item (eastern Massachusetts, May '00)
A couple on vacation got a call from police back home. It was about their home after a rampage by dozens of teenagers invited to a party by the teenage friend of their son doing house sitting and caring for their cat. Plenty of alcohol was consumed. The husband flew home early and tried to clean up the place somewhat so the wife wouldn't be too distressed when she returned.
2. News Item (I forget the location)
A father is suing his son for breaking into his home and holding a wild drunken party with friends and causing thousands of dollars of damage. The son normally stayed with the father's estranged wife.
3. News Item (eastern Mass. May '00)
Over fifty high school students were arrested for breaking into a house just about to be sold. They held a wild party with plenty of beer and alcohol, and caused considerable damage. It was not clear whether the seller's insurance company or the buyer's insurance company would cover the damage. Title to the house had not passed and the closing was postponed.
On May 30, a local radio station (WRKO 680) had a talk show to discuss what the miscreants should do. Commenting on the third case the show host said that the family buying the house now has nowhere to live. My own opinion is that the teens and their families should pay twice the cost of doing deluxe repairs plus any attorneys' fees involved, or five thousand dollars per party goer, whichever is greater. These kids were from well to do suburban families. Their parents could certainly afford to shell out the money and have the teenager earn it back over the next few summers.
What's wrong with the police departments and district attorneys? They aren't pressing charges strongly enough. The prospect of a criminal record that would result in denied admission to college should get these kids and their parents to willingly come up with compensation for the homeowner without asking questions or hiring attorneys.
Simple example: You damage the bumper of a relatively rusty car. You should pay for a brand new bumper or you should do the shopping for a secondhand bumper, not the car owner. If the repair shop down the street cost more than one twenty miles away, you pay for the repair at the shop down the street.
Other home examples:
The miscreants should pay to have the carpets removed and laundered and the spilled beer cleaned up from the pad underneath, not just shampooing the carpets in place.
The miscreants should pay for a brand new stone countertop, not just to repair the chip with a patch that is not quite invisible.
Cost-Conscience Scientists Think Small
from USA Today, (on the web) Jan 28, 1999, "Weird News"
HENNIKER, N.H. - Size doesn't matter in college science. At least that's what Zvi Szafran, Mono Mohan Singh and Ronald Pike believe. The trio have developed what they call microscale chemistry. The idea is to shrink the size of the beakers and flasks that students use so experiments can be done using the least amount of chemicals. Students at Bowdoin College in Maine first sparked the idea in the 1980s with their complaints about smelly chemistry labs. The school calculated it would cost $300,000 to improve the air circulation. Then along came Singh, Pike and Szafran. They thought small.
The men say their idea for teeny science saves money while making labs safer for students. ''If you're using teeny, tiny amounts of a chemical, how big of an explosion would you get?'' Szafran asks.
(above article copyright 1999, USA Today)
My Own Comments:
1. Toy chemistry sets come with test tubes and beakers much smaller than those in school or research labs. This has been true at least continuously going back into the 1950's.
2. In most college advanced chemistry courses, there are (or should be) student projects where extremely small amounts of chemicals and materials are used. When I was taking college chemistry, if I had to get another sample because the first was seemingly insufficent, the maximum grade attainable for that project was scaled down a notch. In real life chemistry it is not uncommon (particularly in crime and forensic situations) for only a tiny amount of material such as hair, blood, or semen to be available to do the tests.
A Policeman Was Sued (10/98)
I saw it on the TV evening news while visiting Dallas Texas on Friday, Sept. 4, 1998. It went something like this. Times and places are to the best of my recollection.
"(Los Angeles) A man opened fire, killing X and injuring X. He then fled. After a dangerous police chase the man was cornered and opened fire again, this time on police. Police returned fire, taking down and wounding the man. Officer X was told to stand guard over the man while help was summoned. The man died.
The family of the man sued the city and also sued Officer X. They claimed Officer X did not use his best effort to get medical care to the man. Officer X was identified through news photos while no other police officer was immediately identified."
What happens next? Is the city supposed to cover Officer X's legal bills?
Morally the city should pay Officer X's legal bills. However can you imagine the following:
(Everything below this point is hypothetical)
Supervisor: "Sorry, we cannot cover your legal expenses, but:
1. If you need copies of court briefs and other papers, use the copier in the station rather than go across the street to Copy Cop(1).
2. Before you go to court hearings, come here and punch in first. The station will still be open for you to punch out after court is over.
3. You deserve the key to the city for your heroic deed. Hmm, here it is. Gets you into the cabinet where we keep the restaurant vouchers we use on our beats. Also the account number for using the services of the city's defense attorney. The lock combination for the gas pump behind the Public Works building, swing by with the family car any time. Bring the kids in on Thanksgiving to get the turkey, show them around, they can call Grandma over in Ireland(2) from the conference room.
4. I know you are an avid Internet surfer. I'll assign you to the I-495 median for a couple of hours most days, take the laptop and cellular modem. Tape the radar gun trigger on to confuse the motorists. Gives you more quality time with your kids after work.
5. You're still going to Disney World over Christmas? I told payroll you are not on vacation that week. Your Christmas paycheck will be direct deposited while you are gone."
Let's imagine that two years later we hear this on the news:
"Officer X has just been acquitted in the wrongful death suit of a man he stood guard over, a man who, moments before opened fire on police and was wounded by return fire. The family of the man claimed that the police did not summon medical aid. Officer X had concerns over who would cover the legal defense which was said to total $45,000 but was not available for comment."
"In other news, an audit of the city police has uncovered mismanagement. The audit was triggered when a passing trucker's partner stuck in traffic got a glimpse of a nude lady showing on a laptop computer inside a patrol car parked on I-495. Not only were officers alleged to be goofing off on their shifts, but there were double dipping incidents too, with officers drawing sick pay but found working overtime details or golfing. So far the cost to the taxpayers has been estimated at $25,000. Capping it all off was a stash of cash, approximately $20,000, missing from the evidence room. A drug kingpin, fortunately one who has not been accused of any violent crime, is likely to go scot free as a result of this. It is unlikely that any action or sanctions will be taken as the police union has been threatening a strike and the city attorney's office has a large backlog of work."
How much did the taxpayers lose? Probably nothing, zero, rien, nada, zilch! The city owed Officer X the money but chose to pay it off in a creative way.
Note: Items similar to the above were mentioned at one time or another over the past ten years in the news in connection with audits of the Boston (Mass.) Police.
(1) A printing shop similar to Kinko's or PIP, with offices in Boston and perhaps a few other cities.
(2) Long long distance.
Footnote: October 16, 1998, 20/20 on ABC TV, "Suicide by Cop". Police, no specific city named, have from time to time been sued for using excessive force when shooting people where there is strong evidence the victim was attempting to commit suicide and threatened a police officer to induce the latter to shoot.
A Policeman Was Sued, Part 2 (1/01)
I forget the time of this New York City event that made the news.
A man was arrested coming out of a nightclub where a party (of homosexual men) was going on. He was taken to the police station where he was severely beaten including having a broomstick stuck up his rectum. It turned out he was an employee of the nightclub and was not connected with any of the party goers and also not involved in any criminal activity.
Here is what the city should do.
1. Hire this person to work a desk job in the police precinct where the officers involved worked.
2. Rent an apartment for him in a safe neighborhood in easy subway commuting distance of the assigned office.
3. Allow unlimited absences from the office to take care of any lingering medical conditions.
4. Pay all medical expenses, past, present, and future.
Saving Social Security (Revised 1/99)
Late September 1998 -- Congress, expecting a big budget surplus, is working on tax cut bills. President Clinton promises to veto these bills saying the surplus should be saved to go into trust funds for Social Security.
1. The government should fund Social Security so that it can pay the benefits as projected in brochures it publishes, such as "Understanding Social Security, SSA Publication 05-10024.
2. The money becomes a trust fund.
3. The government may borrow the money from the trust fund by issuing government bonds.
4. Any "fake IOU's" should be treated as real IOU's bearing interest comparable to government bonds of the time.
(1/99) Whatever happened to the surpluses in Social Security in the days when the amounts collected from taxes exceeded the amounts paid to benefits? If the government used this money for general revenue it should have no qualms of later using general revenue to pay Social Security benefits later.
Mid-July, 1998. Many news articles and radio talk shows have had spanking children as their main topic.
Here is my opinion.
1. If you cause injury then it is child abuse.
2. If you cause bleeding, then it is child abuse. Even if the bleeding starts hours later, it is still child abuse.
3. If you break anything, then it is child abuse.
4. If during punishment the child falls or is pushed into some object and s/he is injured by that object, then it is child abuse.
5. If the child is uner six years old, then it is child abuse.
Anyone who willfully or insanely or while in the act of breaking the law (including traffic laws) causes injury to another person should be subject to higher health insurance premiums. The rationale is that by causing injury, one has imposed a demand on the health care delivery system. An exception of course is made for self defense A person may use extreme force in self defense as soon as s/he feels that by delaying any longer s/he anticipates being unavoidably injured him/herself.
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Commentary by yours truly on July 14, 1998 U.S.A. Today article on proficiency tests for students before they can graduate high school.
Kayeta didn't pass two of these tests and thus did not receive her diploma. She has finished twelfth grade. But someone with just a ninth grade education just below the honors level from a typical slightly upscale suburban neighorhood school could easily pass those tests.
Is Kayeta prepared for the world, the workplace, and living independently? If some exploitive boss docked her pay, would she be able to explain in writing why she thought it was the slightest bit unfair, figure out how much she was shortchanged, and go to court to assert her rights?
Shawn failed the math portion of the proficiency tests. He wanted to go into law enforcement. Do I need to have a policeman give me a speeding ticket unjustly because he adjusted the radar gun incorrectly, because in turn he hadn't learned enough math?
Just in case their schools did not have adequate teachers and curriculum, or in case they had some degree of Attention Deficit Disorder, this is what I suggest:
Both Kayeta and Shawn, together with others who failed the proficiency tests, should be given the opportunity to re-enroll in public school taking their choice of available summer courses, regular term courses, or night courses without paying tuition. Those students who have had to go to work to support families should be permitted to enroll for as many additional years as necessary to take courses perhaps two at a time.
Do these tests discriminate? Maybe, but we are not doing the white kid any favor by letting him graduate high school with his 4'th grade education while catching the black kid and forcing him to get a 5'th grade education before he finally passes.
Are school proficiency tests like Massachusetts' MCAS new? No. I took them back in the 1960's when I was in grade school.
Head and/or Brain Transplants
One of these days they will invent head or brain transplants. Then, given a genius quadriplegic and a well built physically fit not so intelligent person (or jail inmate), we could put the good head on the good body, perhaps transplant some organs, and discard the remaining pieces. (yours truly, a thought from a few years ago)
Early in July, 1998 Salon Magazine (http://www.salonmagazine.com) put a headline on the Internet, "Whole Body Transplants". To explain it simply, if individual organs could be transplanted, why not transplant the entire body? Different things are possible as suggested in their article. For example someone who wants to do a sex change would be able to genuinely do it. The idea of replacing an injured body was mentioned. Ideally people would be able to select the size, shape, or color of the body they want. Of course if the brain was degenerating, say, for Alzheimer's disease, then the body transplant would not work. The article did not pass judgment on where donor bodies would come from.
Workfare should always be an alternative to people whose welfare benefits have expired. Here are the advantages (opinions of yours truly):
1. The people can concentrate on their work without having to worry about exploitive bosses and pay disputes. The people continue to get their checks from the welfare office. The company who hires the people is billed by the welfare office for the services.
2. The employee's only obligation is to show up for the previously agreed upon hours. S/he is not obligated to bring anything besides decent dress and whatever talent and brawn s/he might possess.
3. If the boss does not live up to the agreement, the people just do the job as it was advertised, no more, no less. If all of a sudden overtime is needed but the day care center is about to close, the employee departs anyway to pick up his/her child on time and/or catch the last bus back home.
4. The welfare office may choose to take sanctions against errant employers including such actions as collect unjustly docked pay.
At the place I work, we have a beautifle pond where a flock of geese come to swim and graze. The management would never tolerate dog doodle all over the place, but day after day the lawns and walkways are fouled by goose droppings. We could surely use some ex-welfare people to come and clean that up. School athletic fields are similarly afflicted and football and soccer players get awfully upset when they fall all over that mess.
Women are superior to men. Here is the reason why. God created a man first. Then, when He created a woman, He had learned from His mistakes!
Almost quoting Bernard Meltzer, a radio talk show host in New York City.
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A new group of computer viruses is appearing on the Internet. These are "autodial" programs that hang up your connection and then make long distance and 900 calls while you are on the Internet, and run up your telephone bill. Usually you don't know when they strike because they turn off the computer's speaker.
So far the only infections have been experienced by users downloading "dirty pictures" from sex oriented web sites. But autodial viruses could come from anywhere. When you are done looking at the pictures, possibly hours later, you get an innocent "communications error" message when you go back to another web site since your original web connection was hung up.
Children left alone at home with friends and a PC are especially vulnerable to these viruses.
There is no sure way of knowing if the virus strikes but here are some tips to reduce the chance of being victimized.
1. Instruct your children not to download files. You may also wish to instruct them to stay away from strange web sites, especially pornographic ones, since it is not always obvious when a download is going to start.
2. Call your local phone company and have them block all 900 and 976 calls. There is no charge for this. It is also possible to block all long distance calls but this makes using the phone for normal conversation inconvenient.
3. If you choose to go to a web site that requires a downloaded program, make several very short visits instead of one long visit. If you have trouble going back and forth repeatedly to familiar web sites in between these visits, that can signify that a virus has hijacked your phone line.
4. Unplug the phone wire from the back of the PC as soon as you are done surfing the 'net. Some viruses keep the phone charges running long after you log off.
5. If your web browser or Internet program (Prodigy, AOL, etc.) should get a communications error or disconnect in the middle of your session, don't let it log you back on quickly. Instead, shut down the program completely and start it up again from scratch. Otherwise you could get re-logged on via a strange expensive long distance access number that records your password and a transcript of your session.
6. Every now and then pretend to change the number you dial to access your Internet provider. This will catch surreptitious switches to expensive long distance access numbers a virus program can make.
7. Don't engage in home business and don't subscribe to an internet service provider that has you leaving your computer running with a phone line attached. Several such businesses use computer networks that download things into your computer to execute, and you don't know how virus-free they are.
8. If you are not a computer expert or if you have children, subscribe to a name brand Internet provider like Prodigy or AOL. Don't sign up with little known companies no matter how cheap they seem because they may download files, possibly viruses, without warning.
9. Unfortunately long distance calls to foreign countries cannot be disputed as easily as U.S. 900 calls. But still complain to the telphone company. After all other methods fail, add a complaint that you should only be charged the normal basic per minute rate to that country, not the actual charge that may be much higher because the call is similar to a 900 call. You do have a good chance of disputing most of the charge if you caught it quickly and hung up even if the first minute cost a tremendous amount more than the rest.
10. Don't punish your children if an autodial virus strikes. All such viruses are frauds and very few children (and very few adults) really understand what is going on inside the computer.
The suggested remedy is an electronic device outside the computer that cuts off the telephone line if the call is interrupted, and you must push a reset button manually before the next call can be made. A more elaborate version would flash a readout of any number the computer tried to dial. Unfortunately this device is not on the market and may not even exist yet.
You can still buy telephone pickup coils that plug into a stereo set or guitar amp through which you can just listen to the hissing sound of data communications and, if you have a slight ear for music, you notice if your connection is broken and surreptitious redialing is taking place. If this happens while you are trying to look at "dirty pitchers", you unplug the phone line before the call is answered.
Going on a vacation cruise? Don't bring the laptop!
Since TWA Flight 800 crashed a few yearsago outside New York, airports are stepping up security. Picture yourself at the airport with your family ready to catch the plane to meet your cruise ship. You take out your laptop computer and the security agent passes the bomb detector wand over it and --- beep beep -- the detector flashes all kinds of red lights!
Maybe last week your son got back from target practice and forgot to wash his hands before using the computer, and got gunpowder on it.
Or maybe the detector choked on the new plastic they made the computer with.
But never mind why, that computer "ain't" going on the plane for now and here you are with two choices: (1) leave it at the airport and pay storage fees and hope it isn't stolen by the time you get back from vacation, or (2) go with security to where they can verify you don't have a bomb, possibly having to dismantle the computer and miss your plane. Anyway here is some good advice, at least tell your spouse to take the kids on board and you will catch up with them later. This way the whole family won't miss the cruise ship and be out the thousands of dollars you paid the travel agency.
If this were a business trip, it would be simpler, just place a call back to the company and ask for help. But no, this is pleasure and you brought the laptop for your own personal reasons. Maybe by now you are wishing you had bought a second hand 386 laptop instead of the expensive new Pentium Pro with CD-ROM drive.
Oh, one more reason for not bringing the laptop on a vacation cruise -- the ship might lurch and the laptop slides across the deck and overboard.
You and your family are packing for a vacation cruise. It is early morning and you will catch a plane late afternoon. Your kid already began his approved time off from his job at a convenience store when the boss calls, would he please come in to work the morning shift because someone didn't show up.
Answer (KISS principle used here): No. Politely and apologetically of course. But still "No". Details in a future newsletter.
Incidentally it is a good idea to plan slack in your schedule when attending a convention or flying to meet a cruiseship, for such unforeseen events as cancelled flights.
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United Airlines Customer Relations
I recently read in the news about airlines wanting to restrict carry on baggage starting with economy class passengers.
How easy is it to board the passengers with fewer bags first?
1. This is fairer. There will be no more cases of people with one bag having to check it because people with lots of bags filled up the overhead bins. Therefore this will make more of the business class passengers happy.
2. This will reduce people trying to board before their row number is called. Passengers with one or two bags will have less of an urge to board out of turn when they see a group of people with more bags held back. Later on when the crowd has thinned out, those with lots of bags, because there are fewer of them, can have their row numbers checked more carefully.
3. No federal law is needed. Boarding by row number is your own invention and therefore quickly changeable. Telling people with lots of bags to wait for others to board first is easier than telling people with the wrong row number (you already do this) to wait. People with lots of bags can always change their mind, check some of them (you already do this at the gate), and then board. Previously people with the wrong row number cannot board sooner except by sneaking through or arguing (which happens already).
4. Passengers with just one or two bags usually get seated faster so this may even speed up boarding, or at least not slow things down compared with the present system.
5. If you put baggage sizing frames (you already have these) at the jetway door you can easily set criteria on what is an acceptable two items. An appropriately sized and shaped wood block will enforce the smaller size of the second carry on item allowed for certain passengers, for example a small backpack or a briefcase but not both.
Thank you for your attention.
United Airlines Customer Relations
(actual letter from yours truly)
I would like to request a better method of tracking passengers who volunteer to be bumped from an oversold flight. It is too easy for a volunteer to be treated as missing a flight, and of course a heated argument will occur.
A few months ago I volunteered my seat on a flight (Los Angeles to Honolulu) after a PA announcement was made for that purpose. The gate agent did something on the computer terminal and told me not to board. She also announced later that there was no room for standbys.
(Note: It is very rare for a plane to be exactly filled and there being neither bumps nor standbys.)
I never heard my name called when the agent closed the jetway door. "Ready to receive my bonus", I thought.
A few minutes later I went back to the counter to mill around and "eavesdrop on other passengers' tales of woe". I heard one agent say softly to another what sounded like my name (last name only).
So I walked up to them and interrupted them, asking about the status of volunteers. One hurriedly said I was supposed to be on the plane, ran to open the jetway door, and thanked me for volunteering.
No inconvenience to me. Except moral of the story: When volunteering, mill about the counter where the excitement is and eavesdrop on conversations?
Here are some of my suggestions:
1. Make specific reference to volunteers as a group more than once during the boarding process.
2. When passengers are called individually call them twice. Not in the same breath, just in case the PA system doesn't come on, which happens from time to time.
3. Use the full phrases "volunteer passenger" and "standby passenger" when calling individual passengers in these categories. Use of the word "volunteer" here will satisfy suggestion #1 preceding.
4. When a passenger volunteers, issue him/her a paper voucher as proof of volunteering. It may also state the amount of the compensation. A carbon copy serves as a reminder to the gate agent to retrieve the passenger's paper voucher and get the volunteer on board before calling any standbys.
The volunteer system is a valuable tool for improved customer service. It should not be a hassle. But I am sure you will agree that milling around the counter is a hassle for everybody.
Thank you for your attention.
ABC News article on bumping *
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News Item: Town in Texas wants to give every public school pupil a laptop computer. Save by not buying books, they said.
My comment: Bad, bad idea! Don't do it.
In a nutshell, or, "I'll get right to the point". So many laptops will get lost, damaged, or stolen as to make this a total failure. You simply cannot expect a child or teenager to take care of the laptop going to and from school. 'Nuff said, but read on if you want to.
Here is one way of doing it right. Equip each child's home with a stationary computer (desktop or floor standing style). Also have stationary computers in the classrooms for the kids to sit in front of. The children will just carry diskettes back and forth between home and school, and between classes.
Desktop computers are much cheaper than laptops, so this may even cost less.
We don't need the latest fastest models, even older 486's can be salvaged and put to good use. If the school gave out only older models for home use, those children who already owned faster computers will use their own instead, and the school won't need to give out as many.
Whether the school wants to collect the computers every summer is optional, although in all fairness the child should purchase or give back the computer if s/he transfers to a private school.
The school district or town should be able to negotiate with the telephone company to get a reduced rate for modem lines. This would include having an "unlimited" modem line coexist with some families' still paying for cheaper "measured" service for their regular phone which is normally against telephone company policy.
Some homes with more than one child will need more than one computer. No different than what we do today, giving each child his/her own books.
o The Readers Digest recently had a story whose writer said he was a "person who could not be trusted". The writer related an incident when, coming home from church, his father told him to change his clothes before going out to play hockey. No, he disobeyed, and an hour later came crawling back home with his pants torn.
o Picture this: A child walking home from school decides to stop at the park and play with his friends. He puts down his backpack with the laptop and joins in a lively ballgame. Then, time to go home and the backpack is missing.
o Then there are all these little news stories about kids being robbed at knifepoint on the bus, having their neck chains, or jackets, or sneakers taken.
o Even lost, stolen, or damaged textbooks are a small but not trivial problem.
o More suggested reading: "Life with Father", by Clarence Day. One section, about a watch, has been reprinted separately under the title "Father teaches me to be prompt"
I say it again: Don't spend tax dollars on laptop computers and hand them out to schoolchildren.
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