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Should we talk about the weather…

At some point, I’m going to talk about GaFilk.  But right now, I want to talk about ice and snow, and Atlanta, and how the two cope with each other.

As many of you have heard, we had a spot of weather over the weekend of GaFilk.  Planes were grounded, roads were closed, and entire counties were shut down.  This predictably leads to folks who live in more northern climes, who are used to this sort of thing falling on their heads throughout the dark months of the year, to make incredulous, snickering comments about those wacky southerners and how they can’t handle a little snow.  And you know, I forgive you, because you don’t really understand any more than folks who live down here understand the way weather works up there. 

(People who actually live here making sanctimonious  comments about how they don’t see what the fuss was about can go **** themselves.  No, seriously, go take a long walk off a short pier, you insufferable, self-important pinheads.  But I digress…)

There are a number of factors which contribute to Atlanta having fits over a big snowstorm like this.  The first is that they are relatively rare.  I’ve lived in the north Georgia region for twenty years, and I can count the number of significant snowstorms on my fingers.   I can count the number of snowfalls of this calibre on one hand.  Even when the perfect conditions occur to create a major winter storm, its usually only a couple of days before things are back to relative normalcy. 

But in truth, the real reason folks up north deal better with the winter is not because they’re more hardy, or more accustomed, though both of those things contribute.  No, what folks in other parts of the country have that we lack is infrastructure.   In New England, or Minnesota, or other places where this sort of thing happens all the time, you can’t afford to just stay home until everything melts.   So you make investments in things like salt trucks, and snow ploughs, and shovels and rakes and implements of destruction.  You get special tires, or chains to put on your tires for extra traction.  You expect that frozen stuff will fall from the sky, and you make arrangements to get it off of the roads and your own driveways.  These things all contribute to being able to keep going when everything is frozen.

Atlanta has almost no winter infrastructure, and what little it has has been largely depleted by recent budget cuts.  According to an article in the Atlanta Journal-Consitution:

DeKalb has two plows and 10 salt spreaders. Cobb has six spreaders and no plows. Fulton has seven salters and no plows. Gwinnett has 18 spreaders and six plows. The city of Atlanta has 11 plows.

In comparison, Charlotte, which suffered citizen anger from slow response several years ago, expanded its fleet to 36 plows.

There was also (noted in that same article) a woeful lack of coordination between state and local officials, and the end result was that very little was deployed to get the roads clear.  This prolonged the situation for days, to the extent that major highways were still in poor condition four to five days after a storm.

If you want to have a discussion about how folks could have prepared better for a large winter storm they knew was coming, that’s a discussion that is worth having.  But given the lack of both history and infrastructure, don’t be so quick to judge the people of Atlanta for how they dealt with the icy roads.  The only safe sane, and sensible thing to do was stay home as much as humanly possible until sun and warmer temperatures made things more passable.

(For a more amusing take on Atlanta and the weather, enjoy this video posted by Megan McGlover, which made my day when I first saw it last night:

Yearbook Blacks Out Kids’ Eyes for Fear of Porn Potential – ParentDish

this is officially the dumbest thing I’ve seen in a month.

Yearbook Blacks Out Kids’ Eyes for Fear of Porn Potential – ParentDish

What would you do if you got your kids’ yearbook and all the eyes had been blacked out with magic marker?

Personally, I’d try to wake up. But at a school in England, the principal is very much awake and behind this whole thing. Apparently, she was so worried someone might cut out the kids’ faces, paste them on child porn pictures and post them on the Internet — yes, that’s really her concern — that she ordered the teachers to manually black out all the children’ eyes.

Let’s pause for a second to consider how lovely an illustration this is of what I call “Worst-First” thinking. That is, thinking up the worst, most perverse explanation for something first, instead of assuming a less dramatic, but far more likely, rationale.

My Helical Tryst: Review of the TSA X-ray backscatter body scanner safety report: hide your kids, hi

I’ve been reluctant to weigh in on the TSA scanners because there simply wasn’t enough data, pro or con, to really make a decision about their safety. Jason Bell goes a long way towards giving us more hard data to consider, and it’s somewhat alarming.

I still maintain that the real problem with this sort of thing is that it doesn’t actually improve the safety of air travel to any meaningful degree, unless the object is to make flying so onerous that no one bothers to do it anymore.

My Helical Tryst: Review of the TSA X-ray backscatter body scanner safety report: hide your kids, hide your wife

Last spring, a group of scientists at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) including John Sedat Ph.D., David Agard Ph.D., Robert Stroud, Ph.D. and Marc Shuman, M.D. sent a letter of concern to the TSA regarding the implementation of their ‘Advanced Imaging Technology’, or body scanners as a routine method of security screening in US airports. Of specific concern is the scanner that uses X-ray back-scattering. In the letter they raise some interesting points, which I’ve quoted below:

  • “Our overriding concern is the extent to which the safety of this scanning device has been adequately demonstrated. This can only be determined by a meeting of an impartial panel of experts that would include medical physicists and radiation biologists at which all of the available relevant data is reviewed.”
  • “The X-ray dose from these devices has often been compared in the media to the cosmic ray exposure inherent to airplane travel or that of a chest X-ray. However, this comparison is very misleading: both the air travel cosmic ray exposure and chest X-rays have much higher X-ray energies and the health consequences are appropriately understood in terms of the whole body volume dose. In contrast, these new airport scanners are largely depositing their energy into the skin and immediately adjacent tissue, and since this is such a small fraction of body weight/vol, possibly by one to two orders of magnitude, the real dose to the skin is now high.”
  • “In addition, it appears that real independent safety data do not exist.”
  • “There is good reason to believe that these scanners will increase the risk of cancer to children and other vulnerable populations. We are unanimous in believing that the potential health consequences need to be rigorously studied before these scanners are adopted.”
  • Adam Savage: TSA saw my junk, missed 12″ razor blades

    Ok, this is both hysterical and illustrative of why I dislike the TSA security protocols. I don’t personally care if they see or touch my junk. I would happily strip naked and walk through the scanner if it just meant getting through the line faster.

    I dislike the TSA security protocols because they don’t actually work. There’s a reason the term “security theatre” was coined, and why it’s appropriate here.

    Adam Savage: TSA saw my junk, missed 12″ razor blades

    The TSA isn’t the most respected of governmental agencies right now, but at least it comes by the poor reputation honestly. The lack of standards, inconsistent application of searches and policies, and occasional rude agent all combine to make flying an unpleasant experience. It’s often derided as “security theater,” which describes the experience of Mythbuster Adam Savage before a recent flight.

    Savage was put through the full-body scanner, and while he joked that it made his penis feel small, no one seemed to notice the items he was carrying on his person. The video tells the rest of the story.

    Jon Stewart interview

    This is 50 minutes long, but I think it’s absolutely essential viewing.

    Stephen Colbert quite obviously plays a character named “Stephen Colbert” on The Colbert Report, and I think it’s quite interesting to realize that, in many respects, Jon Stewart plays a character named “Jon Stewart” on The Daily Show. Every so often, like here, or in the Crossfire interview a few years ago, he drops the jester act and lets you see the very serious, passionate, and concerned person behind the comedian.

    Take the time for this. It’s fantastic.

    The Supreme Court tries to figure out what Madison would have thought about Postal 2. – By Dahlia Li

    Dahlia Lithwick writes one of the funniest recaps of a Supreme Court session ever. I’d pay good money to get a recording of this being read outloud by Nina Totenberg.

    The Supreme Court tries to figure out what Madison would have thought about Postal 2. – By Dahlia Lithwick – Slate Magazine

    The state of California is attempting this morning to defend a 2007 law banning the sale or rental of violent video games to anyone under 18. Offenders may be fined $1,000 for each game sold. The law was struck down on First Amendment grounds in both the district court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. So much for the legal angle. The more profound story playing out in court today goes something like this: Gamers: Meet the old people. Old people: Try to find the power-on button. Everyone else, search for James Madison’s avatar and ask what he thinks of Grand Theft Auto.

    Lawrence Goodwyn: The Great Predicament Facing Obama | News & Politics | AlterNet

    Progressives (and centrists) discouraged by last nights election may take comfort in the context the historical long view has to offer. Excellent interview with historian Lawrence Goodwyn on today’s theme, “What does it all mean?”

    Lawrence Goodwyn: The Great Predicament Facing Obama | News & Politics | AlterNet

    Jan Frel: It seems there’s quite a bit of disagreement about what kind of president we have on our hands.

    Lawrence Goodwyn: Well, Jan, we are in the midst of the shakedown cruise of an historic presidency. If I may risk understatement, it has taken quite a while for Barack Obama and his diverse constituencies to begin to understand one another. I believe both still have some distance to travel. Early on, things were pretty wild, but many people have learned many things and a measure of calm can finally be seen around the edges of the national anxiety that engulfs us all.

    In general, it is quite apparent that the politics of the Obama era has been far more volatile than most observers remotely anticipated. But as a historian, I bring to this confused setting the hopelessly long view that is endemic to my calling. Long views are by definition remote, distant and therefore tending toward a measure of calm. They are by no means inoculated against error, but they provide room for engaged reflection not easily found in the heat of battle.

    So let me present a calming conclusion. In my opinion, the energy among the democratic faithful to make the journey is still there. While ordinary folks have been put through a lot, do not underestimate the resolve that remains for the long haul. Unanticipated poverty is an enormous energizer — and most of all for people who understand their own fate to be utterly undeserved. In due course they will see through the sleight of hand and empty content embedded in corporate sound bites. I am talking about millions of Americans, many of whom wavered and many who did not. It will take some more time for this to become clear. But it will happen.


    On my lunch hour, I popped down to the polling station and cast my ballot. There was almost no one there, which I found surprising for the noon hour, but given that Georgia is now a state that allows early voting, that may be the trend going forward. I forgot to ask the poll workers what number I was.

    Election Day In America

    Every time an election rolls around, you’ll hear a lot of people remind you of your right to vote. This is not one of those posts, because I have a somewhat more philosophical point to make, and one which gets an unsurprising amount of pushback from the cynical.

    Today is Election Day in America. If you are an American citizen and of legal age to do so, you have a responsibility to vote.

    We live in a participatory democracy, with a government made up of fellow citizens. Both the representatives that we elect and the civil servants who actually execute the business of government are our neighbours and fellow members of society. There is not, in principle, a “ruling class” from which our leaders are selected. (There certainly seems to be in practice, but that’s not an ideal situation.)

    Because this is a participatory citizen government, you have the ability to be a part of it. You can run for office, or work for someone who is. You can speak to your representatives in the government, and discuss the issues that are important to you. You can go to town meetings, raise awareness of issues, and generally make the wheels turn. If there are no candidates to your liking, you can encourage like minded peoples’ campaigns by supporting them, raising awareness of them, and generally boosting the signals that correspond with your worldview. The only thing that limits the amount of involvement you have in your government is the amount of time and dedication you’re willing to commit.

    Given all of that, actually getting off your duff and voting on Election Day is quite literally the least you can do.

    I will not say, as I’ve seen others suggest, that if you fail to vote you forfeit your rights to free speech, or that you don’t love your country or care about it. No one is going to force you to go to the polls and cast your ballot. You certainly have the right to forfeit your turn at the lever, if that’s your desire.

    But you shouldn’t, because voting in elections is one of the most basic and fundamental responsibilities of being a citizen in a participatory democracy.

    So if you are able, take the time….make the time…to go to your polling station and vote for the people who will best represent you in the coming years.

    It’s the least you can do.

    All Patriots ‘Know’ that Moses Wrote the Constitution – Garrett Epps – National – The Atlantic

    If you ever hear stuff about the Constitution emanating from the fringe that makes you think “WTF?”, here’s a peek into where (some of it) is coming from.

    All Patriots ‘Know’ that Moses Wrote the Constitution – Garrett Epps – National – The Atlantic

    But what’s striking is how much these people hunger to understand America and its Constitution. “I have a master’s degree,” one man said to me, “and nine-tenths of this information I never got in any formal education. That’s not good when you live in a country that you don’t understand.” There’s a palpable yearning for tools to understand and change the terrible mess we’re in.

    Given that curiosity, it’s quite striking that the seminar, which begins at 8:30 a.m., takes until 1:30 to get to the actual Constitution.

    That’s because we have to learn the basic truth about the Constitution: God wrote it. It comes directly from the government instituted by Moses when he led the Children of Israel out of Egypt. That system was re-instituted in England around 450 A.D. by the Anglo-Saxon rulers Hengist and Horsa. The Founding Fathers, led by Thomas Jefferson, copied the Constitution directly from the “ancient constitution” of the Anglo-Saxons.

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