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Wednesday, August 14

Conceptual art
Through Rational Corsair, I discovered it's possible to buy origami boulders made of wadded paper direct from the artist. For an extra $5 you can get one with a haiku inside, such as:
Buy wadded paper
from very famous artist
and then you like it
Don't miss the "letters from dumb dumbs" either.

Dark Side vs. stupid side
The surgically enhanced Moira Breen unleashes her Inner Klingon on the health insurance system.
One calls, for example, one group in order to get authorization for surgery. They carry a disclaimer warning that authorization for surgery is in no way a guarantee that any claims for payment for said surgery will be honored. . . . An associated business of the nebulous Insurance Company was, at the time of Monday Morning Phone War Round Four, refusing to certify the In-Network rate for physical therapy, despite my having, before treatment, verified that the therapist in question was indeed In-Network, and despite the fact that her office manager not only did the same but had a written "In-Network" authorization from the PPO entity, which is also not part of the Insurance Company. So in end, the PPO entity, contrary to its name, ostensible function, and earlier confident verifcation of In-Network-itutde, disavows any final expertise in the gnostic craft of distinguishing preferred providerhood. Thus I believe that Authorizing Surgeries, Inc. exists sui generis, isolated, inscrutable, unanswerable, to "Authorize Surgery" under some guild defintion of "authorize" - perhaps they light candles or say prayers for you, or something.
The actual insurance company behind all these phone numbers, she writes, is like YHWH -- unseen, unfathomable, omnipotent.

My application for individual health insurance is being processed; my Cobra coverage runs out Sept. 1. So I'd just like to say: I venerate health insurance companies but will never use my coverage and have no pre-existing conditions whatsoever, nosiree.

Moira also takes on polygraphic perversity. Read the comments too.

Anthrax bumbling
FBI agents are showing a photo of a man to Princeton merchants with shops near a postal box that tested positive for anthrax spores. They're asking if the merchants remember seeing the man last fall, when the anthrax letters were mailed, the Washington Post reports.

Surely, this is terrible investigative technique. People like to please. Ask them if they recognize a photo and some will say "yes," whether they've ever seen the guy or not. That's why police show a photo array to witnesses, not a single photo of the chief suspect. Once you've shown the suspect's photo, you've tainted the witness.

There's a second point I haven't seen answered anywhere. How come it took this long to get the test results on the postal box?

A stranger is danger, said the Cat in the Hat
Here's a new, modern perspective on "The Cat in the Hat" from the LA Times.
(Two very young children) have been left home alone by their mother who, with her trip "out of the house for the day," clearly is due for a visit from child protective services.

Suddenly, a huge and very weird stranger bursts through the door (imprudently left unlocked) and proceeds to ransack the house on the excuse that he's an expert in having fun. The children, though leery of the cat, obviously have received no training in stranger safety because, as the boy narrator explains, they "did not know what to say." The children make no move to call 911, and the cat breezily overcomes any objections by assuring them their mother won't mind at all. Only the family goldfish proclaims that the cat belongs out of the house while the mother is gone, but the killjoy is roundly ignored.

. . . On the closing page, Dr. Seuss offers an even scarier glimpse of how separate a child's life is from the adult world as brother and sister wonder whether to tell their mother about any of this, and ask the reader, "Well, what would you do if your mother asked you?"

. . . Parents can't help but wonder: Does this book subvert my efforts to teach children not to give in to strangers' demands? Shouldn't today's child be warned never to keep secrets at the behest of potentially dangerous adults?
Just kidding. I think.

Sensible awe
Common Sense and Wonder is a blog devoted to the aforementioned qualities. One of the bloggers is Max Jacobs. No known relation to me, but perhaps indicative of the general high quality of Jacobsian thinking.

This story on an Oregon initiative to label genetically engineered foods should be grist for CS&W's mill. It seems the proposal is written so broadly it would include virtually everything in the supermarket. This is a good thing. Let's slap a label on every food, so consumers will see it's meaningless.

Years ago, California voters passed Proposition 65, which requires a warning label everywhere that some substance linked to cancer might occur. Like in every gas station. I guess it's not healthy to drink the gasoline or snort the fumes. Stores too, because they sell cigarettes. Californians continue to fill up their cars and buy food at supermarkets.

Or perhaps it's time to turn genetic engineering into a plus. After all, new products will be coming that will be healthier for consumers -- allergen-free nuts, for example -- and already the environmental benefits are clear. Pork is "the other white meat." Why not an ad campaign for "Genetically Enhanced" food?
Be sure to look for the label that says it's Genetically Enhanced!

Food designed for me: Genetically Enhanced!

Old, moldy food is grown with pesticides and insecticides. Who needs that? My kids eat modern GE food designed to be healthy and safe for my family -- and the environment!
My father's ad agency did the "Got milk?" campaign. I guess it's in the blood.

Tuesday, August 13

This is your teacher on drugs
Robert K. Sites III showed up at Brentwood Middle School in Florida last year agitated and babbling. Teachers suspected he was coked to the gills; a blood test confirmed it. But Sites has a right to return to Brentwood, a judge ruled last week, confirming an arbitrator's ruling. Because he's a teacher.

An arbitrator ruled in March that Escambia County Schools had to rehire Sites with full pay and benefits once he completed a nine-week rehab program. Superintendent Jim Paul was upset:
"We are expelling kids for taking aspirin or No-Doz. Now we are talking about someone taking cocaine, and that's OK," Paul said.
The teacher's union supported Sites' return to his job as technology coordinator, said executive director, Bob Husbands.
"There is nowhere in board policy, law or contract where zero tolerance for employees is referenced," Husbands said.
So, if zero tolerance isn't the rule there must be total tolerance? No use of judgment at all?

Facing an expensive court battle, Escambia County cut a deal with Sites, Education Intelligence Agency reports. He'll resign but the reason won't appear on his record, allowing him to seek work in other Florida school districts.

In El Paso, however, the police chief believes in zero tolerance for Officer C. O'Kane. Drugs do make people stupid, don't they?

Journalism as theft
American University student Ben Wetmore criticizes AU administrators and student leaders on his web site. Wetmore tried to videotape a public speech and photography show by Tipper Gore; he'd heard she was being paid tens of thousands of dollars to appear and wanted to see if the university was getting its money's worth. Wetmore now has been convicted by a university disciplinary panel of five offenses, including "possession of stolen property." That would be Gore's intellectual property.

FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) has taken up the case:
In a revealing response to a letter about the case, AU Vice President and University Counsel Mary E. Kennard criticized Wetmore for ignoring the University's "admonitions" not "to post derogatory materials about staff on his website"—as if it were a crime to be publicly critical of the University. Kennard's letter confirms what AU's behavior already revealed: the appalling treatment of Ben Wetmore was due to his political speech and journalistic activities. . . .

Wetmore was placed on disciplinary probation for one year, ordered to attend a conflict resolution workshop, assigned forty hours of community service (cleaning the auditorium), told to write several papers on "the topic of 'Conflict Resolution,'" stripped of an elected student position, and warned that another such incident may well result in his expulsion. The judgment, written by Kurita, added, "The board is concerned that you are choosing to utilize confrontational tactics to address your personal agendas"—making Wetmore's website criticism of AU part of the proceedings against him.
American University responded that it "does not regard this matter as a First Amendment issue."

Oh yeah?

AU claims it was upholding its no-recording contract with Tipper Gore, who was showing off some of her photographs. (Witnesses agree a ban on videotaping was not announced.) Gore told the Washington Post the issue was between the student and the university.

Monday, August 12

Don't try this at home
"Saddam's Cubs" are training to defend Fearless Leader, according to a gaggle of Associated Press photos linked by Little Green Footballs. This photo makes me wonder about Iraqi military tactics. Has Saddam repealed the law of gravity?

In case you haven't already, read the Ares/Athena discussion on Instapundit. (Is this what the prof does when he's trying to save his wrist from repetitive stress?)

It reminded me of an argument by (I think) John Keegan, who wrote A History of Warfare and The Face of Battle. (Keegan's books are excellent.) In the Homeric battles, a great warrior is supposed to go berserk, as in the "wrath of Achilles." He was fighting for his personal glory -- his loot, his boyfriend -- not for the common good. The invention of the phalanx made it necessary for fighters to work together to maximize their power. Honor was in the service of the army. Now we look down on the glory-hound who goes nuts in combat and admire the soldier who stays cool under fire. The bloodthirsty Ares is the god of the old warfare, while shield-bearing Athena is the goddess of the phalanx.

Well, let's see what Dr. Weevil, classical scholar of the Blogosphere, has to say.

21st century civics
Tongue-piercing is more popular than voting for today's 18-year-olds. (Warning: Hyperbolic statement not based on actual fact.) Teens can't be tricked into thinking that voting is cool. Can they be inspired to vote anyhow?

Last summer, a few weeks before Sept. 11, I talked with a brand-new teacher who was looking for a way to get his students to think about what it means to be a good citizen. It's more than obeying the laws. It's about keeping democracy alive. Cynicism is for wimps.

The University of Virginia's Center for Politics has a gutsy motto: "Politics is a good thing." And it's got a pretty good youth initiative with civics lessons for teachers and an online mock election -- customized for local races. Will Vehrs of PunditWatch says: Check it out.