The Missouri State Highway Patrol is going to start patrolling for road rage now. They will patrol in unmarked cars but in uniform so that you know it's a police officer pulling you over. I think this is a good idea, and a leap ahead in police patrolling. Up until now, the Highway Patrol has concerned itself with enforcing speed limits. Either they sit on the side of the road and cause accidents when people slam on their brakes as they go by, or they drive a little under the speed limit and cause accidents when people slam on their brakes as they come to the back of the traffic jam. And frankly (this is speeder talking), I don't see a lot of value in enforcing speed limits without also enforcing all the other rules of the road - lane changes without signaling, weaving, passing on the right, going slow in the left lanes, cutting people off, tailgating, reading a book, putting on makeup, shaving, using both hands while talking on the car phone -- the stuff that actually causes road rage and accidents. The speed limit on the nation's highways really are set at an arbitrary number by our elected representatives first in Washington, and now in our very own state capitols, and what one day is legal is another day illegal. But all those other rules, they stand on their own. They are the ones that should be enforced with such zeal. I know this is America, where the individual is king, and I'm all for that (some of my best friends are individuals, heck, I'm an individual), but when it comes to driving, we are all in this together. We need to share the roads with one another, we need to be nice to each other, we need to be tolerant when someone makes a mistake so that others are tolerant with us when we make one (closest I'll ever come to admitting that I might actually make a mistake). We are all equally important on the road, trying to get somewhere swiftly but safely. Let's not make a statement, teach others a lesson, take it personally, or show who is boss. Remember, just stay out of my way, and you won't get hurt.
The slow news days have moved from summer to fall. The asian tigers a/k/a the pacific rim are having problems these days. What do you read about in the newspaper or hear on TV? That's right, some bride in New York was stood up at the altar but went ahead with the $ 65,000 reception. What a spunky gal. Or does she crave too much attention? Hey, what about that bum going to Tahiti on the Honeymoon without her. Meanwhile, South Korea has asked for 55 billion dollars from the IMF. I know, 65 grand is a lot for a wedding reception (even in New York City), but 55 billion is a lot of money for a bailout. My only interest in the bride story was how in the heck you can spend 65 grand on a wedding reception -- the only angle not covered as far as I can tell. At least she has the decency to have her dad pay for her folly, unlike South Korea. And can you believe it, Japan let a major financial corporation go belly up. What happend to the 10 foot tall asian economic giants? Why is it that news (gossip, these days) organizations are only interested in negative stories. I guess complacent people don't make sure they keep informed, but nervous people do.
Here in the sovereign state of Missouri, we have "Riverboat" gambing. Why it was originally sold that way, I don't know, but the constitutional ammendment that allows gambling is specific. It means you have to operate a boat, on the Mississippi or Missouri rivers, and it has set cruise times. My personal feeling is, if you're going to have gambling (which I'm personally opposed to both as a private or public endevour), what difference does it make where it takes place? Anyway, casinos are more profitable if you can cut out all that nautical stuff, and safer too, especially on the Missouri river, which can be pretty wild (for a honkin' big river, that is). The first boats were actual cruising boats, mainly run by smaller players. But the big boys wanted to come to town and spend on a big scale, only they weren't going to do it unless they could run a real casino, not some stinkin' boat. So the gaming commission bowed to casino pressure and allowed "boats in a moat" -- well, barges really -- that sit in river water and have notional cruise times at best. If you don't walk around the back of the property, you don't even realize you're on water. Their fig leaf was a law passed by the state legislature that allowed boats in moats within 1000 yards of the river, a law that was passed before the constitutional ammendment and therefore declared unconsitutional by the Missouri Supreme Court. So, big surprise here, an opponent of gambling filed suit over the issue, and when the appellate court summarily dismissed the suit, the Supreme Court re-instated it and told the appellate court to consider the fact that the Missouri constitution, as amended, clearly states that gambling is legal only on boats on the Missouri or Mississippi river, not nearby, and that there should be no theorizing or hairsplitting (well, words pretty much to that effect). So now, these new expensive casinos may be illegal (the tone of the Supreme Court's decision was such that it is clear if the appellate court doesn't outlaw them, they will, so really, it's just a matter of time). The gambling interests are hopeful, since the last time they ran into problems, the state legislature bailed them out: The original definition of gambling ruled out slot machines because only games of skill, and not chance, were to be considered gambling -- and since the bulk of the profits are from slots, an emergency session of the legislature was held and, voila, gambling could now be a game of chance. It's good to have friends in high places. I just don't know if the voters of Missouri are ready to amend the consitution once again at the behest of the casino companies, since many of us feel that the benefits of gambling were oversold in the first place. It will take friends in low places to help the boats in moats -- that and lots of advertising.
I read an article off the internet about an MIT professor (I assume, as he is founder and director of the MIT Media Lab), Nicholas Negroponte, who said in a speech that "Access to the Internet should be a right, like breathing clean air. I don't care if you [the taxpayer] have to pay through the nose for it". I am not a director of a multi-million dollar lab, or a technology guru, but I do understand the difference between a right and a service. A right is an activity you can do, a service is something that is provided (something somebody else does). The right to peaceably assemble is in fact a right (as in really a right and in the Constitution of the United States) - it is something that you can do. The right to free internet access is in fact not a right, but a service that must be provided to you. The right to internet access is by itself a right, as in by meeting certain criterion, you cannot be denied internet access. But when you throw in who is going to pay for it, it is no longer just a right, but a service, and a service must be provided by someone. Rights can be freely exercised for nothing, but a service costs. Last time I checked, the Constitution has a Bill of Rights, and not a Bill of Services. Similarly, free or low cost daycare is not a right, but a service. Now, it may be a good idea for a government to provide free or low cost daycare, (just as it provides free schooling in the US) but it is not a right, just like free municipal trash pickup is not a right, but a service. The right to bare arms should not be confused with subsidized guns. The rights of a free press doesn't mean that newspapers are free (at government expense). The right to pursue happiness should not be confused that the government should provide me with whatever I want until they make me happy. Of course, Mr. Negroponte is not the only one who confuses rights and services. Just remember, when someone wants to make a service a right, hold on to your wallet, because it's going to cost. And once it becomes a right, there's no going back. You can argue the merits of services (should it be provided at all, who should pay, just how much service should be provided at common expense), but a right is absolute and must be provided to its full extent. Let's keep rights rights, and services services.
I read in the newspaper that a brand new gentleman's magazine -- Perfect 10 -- was guaranteeing that the naked women in the pictures were not surgically enhanced. I think this is a good thing for several reasons. As a physicist, I am happy that our youth will no longer be led astray on gravity; as a closet feminist, I am happy that our youth will appreciate what real women's bodies look like; and as a purist, I am happy that our youth will be consuming a product that is 100 percent natural with no artificial additives. Of course, the guarantee doesn't go far enough -- it doesn't prohibit digital enhancement. With today's technology and a modest investment, I could take the photographs of normal women and turn them into physical goddesses. Or, I could take pictures of several women and combine them into a single woman with the best features of each. Frankly, any picture today isn't worth the one's and zero's its made of. So until they guarantee that not only is the model unenhanced, but so is the picture, I'm unimpressed.
I saw an add for Helzeberg Diamonds the other night. In it, an attractive woman happens to look under the bed while her husband, who is built something like me, which means not well, is in the bathroom. She finds a small present which, of course, she opens to discover a diamond tennis bracelet. Just then her husband comes out of the bathroom, and instead of her flabby hubby, she sees a hunk with big shoulders and washboard abs. I think this ad pretty much captures one view of a man's attractiveness to a woman - money. I guess they weren't interested in the other - power. Since the ad was meant to persuade a man to buy, they had to translate the woman's reaction into one a man could understand, i.e. physical attractiveness. For the ad to work for a woman, I don't know what the woman would see, you'll have to ask my wife. Somehow, I can't see it working the other way - good looking man finding expensive jewelry and suddenly finding slob of a wife attractive. Still, this is definitely a male ad, aimed at men and using male imagery and theory. Sadly, the underlying "point" theory is false. Men figure that every gift has a certain number of points, with bigger, more expensive gifts earning more points (more points are better). This may be true of more mercenary relationships, but I've been informed that every gift usually is just one point, and the only way to earn bonus points is to give not an expensive gift, but an intuitive gift, i.e. exactly what she wanted without her having to tell you. So men, if you really want to score points, don't send her a dozen roses, send her a rose a day for a week. And let me provide this warning on intuitive gifts: if it wasn't something she wanted, you'll earn negative points, and if you didn't keep the receipt, you earn double negative points. So remember, be careful out there.
A couple of high profile cases came to a resolution recently. Well, the first round anyway. Our legal system is so good and grinds so fine that no decision is final until doesn't matter anymore. First, the judge in the "Au Pair" trial reduced the jury's verdict of second degree murder to manslaughter and made her sentence imprisonment for the amount of time already served (when we say innocent until proven guilty, we mean the prosecution must prove guilt during the trial, not legally innocent until the verdict is reached, since we are otherwise locking up innocent people awaiting trial). I have to agree on the reduction in verdict, but the reduction in sentence to time serviced was wrong and showed that the judge was identifying with the defendant as a daughter, but not the victim as a son. A judge with small children would have given her the chair, even with a manslaughter verdict. I didn't follow the trial much, and my first take was that the (white) jury didn't believe Barry Scheck, who was such a jerk doing the OJ trial. But after a little more paying attention, I have to agree with the jury that found that it wasn't credible that a baby would receive a terrible injury that would not affect behavior and go unnoticed for days until suddenly the baby died, which was the defense's version. I don't care how many "experts" you put on the stand, you have to make a believable case.
And in the St. Louis versus the NFL case, the trial judge threw the case out shortly before it was to go the jury. This was another funny judicial maneuver since if the case wasn't strong enough to go to the jury, why wasn't it thrown out either before the trial started, or after the plaintiff rested. Especially when the plaintiff had just demolished Paul Tagliabue, the NFL headcheese, on cross examination (his memory was worse than Bill Clinton's). The jury afterward said they would have awarded about 100 million bucks to St. Louis. During the trial, my father (a lawyer who has tried cases in front of that judge) told me she was a pleasant lightweight from a well connected family; after the trial the local newspaper characterized her as a hardheaded deep-thinker. Of course, my father is pretty hardheaded and smart, so maybe his reference was himself. I have to wonder about this one as the NFL's defense was not that St. Louis didn't get screwed, but that we got screwed by the Rams and not the NFL. My opinion is that we got screwed by both, but that the Rams were much better negotiators in a superior position -- as in if you want OUR team, it's going to cost -- while the NFL simply used their monopoly position to extort money -- as in if you want A team, it's going to cost. Anyway, two more cases that make you think there is a better way to adjudicate lawsuits than the one we are using now.
I saw this on the cover of "Cosmopolitan" magazine the other night while in the supermarket checkout line: "What makes a woman "bedable"". I know, a pulse or a sixpack comes to mind. Still, you have to wonder about a magazine that figures its readers want to be "bedable". How to attract men, I could understand. How to make yourself more desirable, I could understand. But how to make men want to have sex with you and then leave you, which frankly is how I view "bedable", I can't understand. Of course, I still haven't figured out why you can buy "Cosmopolitan" in the checkout line of your local grocery store, since it is just pornography for women. They give more sex advice than the Playboy Advisor, and have a bigger breast fetish than Playboy as well. I base the last remark strictly on the covers of Cosmo which, for the last several years anyway, have featured as their primary visual display a lovely set of hooters threatening to spill out of their skimpy containers. I think that they could connect better with their target audience better if they renamed the magazine "Slutty", since most of their target audience doesn't know what cosmopolitan means.
(You can tell I don't go the supermarket regularly, or I would have a separate web page devoted to magazine covers.)
The Justice Department has hauled Microsoft into court this week over an alleged breach of the consent decree Microsoft signed in 1995. Microsoft agreed to not force any vendor to carry a separate product in return for the license to any of their operating systems. Based upon documents furnished by the Justice Department, Microsoft yanked Compaq's Windows 95 license when they installed Netscape Navigator rather than Microsoft Explorer and restored it when Compaq switched to Explorer. Microsoft's excuse is that explorer is a part of Windows 95 and not a separate product. If you believe that, I can sell you some wonderful beachfront property in Arizona or the Brooklyn bridge, take your pick. Some argue that this is just big brother bullying and poking it's nose in where it doesn't belong, and that the market place should decide if Navigator (am I the only person in America who calls it Navigator rather than Netscape?) or Explorer "wins" the browser war. What this analysis conviently overlooks is that Microsoft is the bully here, telling its customers (not suppliers) how to act, and that Microsoft's actions are designed so that the market place doesn't even have a choice. You, the paying customer, would have no choice as to the browser pre-installed on your system. Of all the litigation in the high tech world, this is easily the most clear cut. But that doesn't mean anything if the recent performance of the judiciary is any indication.
John Denver died in a plane crash (just in case you happen to live on Mars) a couple of days ago. I don't have much to say about that other than I'm sorry to see anyone go. What caught my attention was the media coverage itself. First was the bit about his plane being "experimental", which really refers to the kind of FAA certification (minimal, but does include a safety inspection of the actual plane) and restrictions on its use (only to be flown be the person who built it, no fees for passengers). This was pounced upon as showing that the plane itself was somehow inherently unsafe. The fact that this model (EZ Long) was designed by Burt Rutan, who is to aircraft as Einstein is to science, seems to have cooled this line of thinking. Then came the examination of aircraft safety in general, which no doubt is a logical outgrowth of the media's desire to make you nervously identify with any story (you know: man shot dead today in his house, just how safe are you in yours? Less than you think!). I especially liked one station's approach, which was to show a list of celebrities killed in plane crashes over the years, starting with Knute Rockne. I guess somehow I missed the list of celebrities killed in auto accidents after Princess Diana's death. Now comes the observation that Denver shouldn't have been flying at all since he didn't have a valid pilot's license since his was yanked after a couple of drunk driving convictions. So, it's really all his fault. The goal to be first usually means that every story is wrong -- breathlessly reported by someone who has no idea what he or she is talking about. Maybe we should have a one week delay on reporting a story. Then it could be properly researched and presented. Yeah, and if frogs had wings, then they wouldn't bump their behinds so much.
PS If any of the facts are wrong in the above story, it's not my fault, I'm just relying on the media.
I heard this on the radio the other day: A woman in Scotland goes to bed with a headache and wakes up with a different sounding voice -- one with a South African accent. Personally, I think she came out behind on that trade. She had suffered a stroke and her voice changed as a result. They even have a name for it, which I don't remember (what, do you think I'm Mr. Know-it-all or something?) other than it ends in Syndrome. Twelve other people have been diagnosed with this same Syndrome, which just goes to show you how the medical profession likes to name everything. Apparently it's required to get federal grant money.
There was a huge news story last week but given the ineptitude of the press you're forgiven if you didn't notice it. Our ongoing trade process with Japan suddenly became a shooting trade war. We (and most every other country) have been having a dispute with Japan over the non-Japanese shipping firms access (or lack thereof) to the loading/unloading process at Japanese docks for container vessels. Awhile back, an obscure U.S. maritime board imposed four million dollars each in fines on the three largest Japanese shipping firms as part of this dispute. Last week the Japanese firms didn't so much refuse to pay as to simply indicate that they couldn't believe they were expected to pay and so had no intention to pay. In retaliation, this maritime board was going to refuse entry to U.S. ports to the three Japanese firms until they did. The NASDAQ plummeted on fears that high tech firms would be sorely hurt in the new shooting war. The popular press blamed the losses on the tenth anniversary of the '87 market crash, which is one of the most ludicrous explainations of stock market activity I've ever heard. The Japanese government quickly agreed to solve the problem of access, the maritime board revoked their embargo, and the NASDAQ rebounded. Now, the last time we embargoed Japanese ships, it lead (in part) to World War 2. So, what is going on? Is the president in charge of foreign policy or some unelected board? And why so little attention? Oh, yeah, there was no video for the 10 o'clock news.
A few years back, St. Louis built a new football stadium. This was after the Cardinals had left town in part because Busch stadium was too small. Better late than never. Still, the Los Angeles Rams decided to become the St. Louis Rams and move here. The NFL, however, decided they couldn't move. So, St. Louis put ex-Senator Tom Eagleton in charge of our efforts, and the old time liberal was in his element as here was a problem that could be solved by throwing money at it. Ultimately, the Rams were assessed a 35 million dollar relocation fee (most of which St. Louis paid) and the NFL then approved the merger. Some might ask if it was extortion or simple highway robbery. Well, that's for the courts to decide since St. Louis is now suing the NFL to get the money back.
For some reason, it seems that no high profile trial, except Timothy McVeigh's trial, is without controversy. First, Judge Jean Hamilton ruled that the fact that the three teams after the Rams moved weren't assessed a relocation fee was inadmissible. Then during cross examination, Tom Eagleton pretty much ignored the defense counsel's questions and made his points, including that bit about subsequent teams not paying a relocation fee. It was, of course, stricken from the record, which is only further evidence of the crazy approach to truth the courts take: he said it, but if we don't write it down, then he really didn't say it. (The Russians used to do that with people, only when they erased you from a picture, they pretty much made sure you were out of the picture, if you know what I mean.) Now St. Louis County Grand Poobah Buzz Westfall is in trouble because he apparently leaked, from a sealed deposition, that the NFL commissioner (Paul Tagliabue), who from all indications has an irrational dislike of St. Louis, made the remark "F*** the people of St. Louis". The remark was widely reported here, which is significant mainly because the trial is being held here, in St. Louis. So now Buzz is going to be questioned about this alleged lapse in judgment, as it is illegal to divulge anything from a sealed deposition. Buzz got into similar hot water a few years back when as St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney he made the remark that a certain judge was "a little bit less than truthful" in response to a ruling over a botched prosecution. I guess the censure over calling a judge a liar wasn't too painful, so now he's willing to break the law to help the cause. Anyway, I just hope the court case turns out better for St. Louis then the Rams have.
A man filed a lawsuit against an exotic dancer for fraud recently. No, it wasn't for surgical enhancement, but for taking 70 grand over the course of a year under the pretense that they were going to get engaged. He provided her with rent, a new car, tuition for accounting classes, travel expenses to move to Arizona to take an accounting job, and other sundry expenses. He claims that they had agreed to go steady (exclusive date arrangement for those under 50) and that they had discussed marriage, and that she was going to give up exotic dancing to become an accountant. She says the money was just tips for her dancing, and that other girls got mink coats and the like. It was her turn. Somehow, the jury didn't see it that way and awarded him 80 grand - his original 70 plus 10 in interest and penalties. Maybe it was the fact that she was married this whole time and in fact moved to Arizona to take another exotic dancing job. Who can tell with juries? Frankly, I'd like to be able to spend 70 grand on top of what I make in a year. I just wonder how he's going to get the 80 grand back out of her. He has to hope she was thrifty as well as greedy, which (in my limited experience) is not the usual combination.
The press no doubt was disappointed in the swiftness of the trial of Marv Albert. No rating machine like the OJ trial (which will, let's all hope, be the measure of all future legal sagas). Still, the titillation factor was high, as we heard testimony about either a full, diverse sex life or a disgusting pervert, depending on your view. Some pundits have called on Marv to get counseling, without making it clear exactly which part he should get the counseling for (biting? crossdressing? a new hairpiece?) There has been some controversy over the judge's handling of the trial (now there's a surprise) -- excluding much of the defense's evidence not at the start of the trial, but at the start of the defense's case, based on the state's rape shield law, by citing a previous ruling (by the same judge) that was in fact overturned by the appellate court. I am always amazed (which, I suppose, does me little credit) by how little our court system treasures the truth and routinely excludes relevant evidence for one reason or another (usually a second guessing of the jury). I, for one, am glad that it's over and hope we won't be seeing a civil case. Yeah, right.
I saw this on the cover of "Seventeen" magazine the other day while in a supermarket checkout line: "10 guys to avoid". What, do they name names? Did they add a makeweight or remove a real menace just to keep it at ten? I wonder if Marv Albert and Mike Tyson made the list, but I don't want to be caught reading "Seventeen" magazine.
Enough already. Princess Diana died a tragic death -- rich, young (by my standards), and beautiful. I was shocked and saddened at the news. But over a month later the TV (if only on cable) is still buzzing over her death. Was there a second car? Did the paparazzi kill her? Here with us tonight is someone who has been in the tunnel where she died. Here with us tonight is a waitress who once served her a cup of coffee. PLEASE STOP IT! Let her go. I'm amazed at the outpouring of interest in a woman who's main accomplishment in life was to show the world just what a dull, stupid lot the House of Windsor is. I know she was embarking on a career of using her fame for good works. Still, this morbid fascination with her death ignores what she held dear and trivializes all the rest of us who pass without notice.
And with that, I will turn to the other titan who died -- Mother Theresa. Of course the story isn't so much her death -- the death of an 86 year old with heart problems isn't big news -- but her life. Here was a woman to inspire. An Albanian school teacher who at the age of 36 received her calling while riding on a train. She joined an obscure order of Catholic nuns and began to minister to the forgotten and despised. Through many long years her order and she labored in obscurity but with increasing effect as it grew in size and the number of people it was able to help, until only late in life did she gain fame. As I am fast approaching my 36th birthday, her life helps me appreciate that rather than my life being half over, if I act it can really be just beginning.
Thank you sir, and could I have another please?
Take me back to The Murphy NexusTM, please. I've had enough of this.
This page last updated 28 November 1997.
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