Monday, June 30

first victim of new Dallas City Council policy?

Just thirty days ago, I predicted it wouldn't be long before someone dies as a result of the recent Dallas City Council vote to tow vehicles if they're uninsured. Today, this article landed on the local paper's website:
A woman died this morning after she drove off the road while fleeing during a traffic stop, Dallas police said. Lillian Volk was pulled over around 3 a.m. in the 18100 block of Preston Road and sped away in a 2003 blue Ford pickup before receiving her ticket, according to police.

The officer did not chase her but found her vehicle about 10 blocks away in the 17000 block of Preston Road where she had driven off the road, struck several trees and flipped over, Dallas police Senior Cpl. Kevin Janse. Ms. Volk was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Dallas County medical examiner's office. A cause of death was not immediately available.
Coincidence? It will be interesting to see if Ms. Volk had insurance, or if this was caused by something else (warrants, blood alcohol, drugs, etc.) Sadly, she's dead so she won't be able to provide her side of the story except via autopsy, or a media reporter who's willing to do some digging.

Saturday, June 28

100% green electrons

For the third time in five months, I have a new electricity provider. I switched because my last provider's promotional rate of $138/mwh zoomed to $168 in June -- that's the highest I've ever paid, although still far from being Texas' most expensive ($206).

I now look back to 2005 with fondness, when I was paying $92/mwh!
In Texas, the market's deregulated, which means you're not stuck with the default provider (TXU @ $159). All your choice really means is (a) who you pay and (b) who feeds The Grid on your behalf. None of the infrastructure (cables, meters, repair crew) changes.
My last provider's business model is: "attract new customers with a low initial price, and hope they're too oblivious/lazy to change when we raise the rate after 30 days". It's not like I wasn't warned; the contract terms said:
"The promotional month-to-month electricity rate is for new customers enrolling for the first time beginning May 1, 2008. This rate will transition to a variable rate at the end of the Promo month period. Current variable rates for service are published on our website."
The good news is that their contract was month-to-month so no early termination penalty applied.

Electricity rates in Texas are among the highest in the country - typically 10th. The highest are (in order) Hawaii; New York; Connecticut; Massachusetts; Rhode Island; Alaska; New Hampshire; California and Vermont. Is deregulation working here? Since The Texas Republic Party has been in power (and lining their pockets with oil money) for the past 20+ years, it's obviously their fault. But, they are the party of Never EVER Taking Responsibility, so .. the high prices will continue until they're thrown out - probably in 2072 or so, given the stupidity of the electorate.

Given the wild fluctuations in the energy market, I decided to seek a fixed rate for a year. There are 27 providers (!) and 80 different plans (!) available for my ZIP code .. lots of companies want my money, apparently. Of those 80 plans, fifty (50) are fixed rate contracts.

The choices

The cost/megawatt hour ranged from $138 to $220, and I could choose between fixed and variable rates; 0-100% renewable; 1-60 month contracts; and a $0-399 (!) early-cancellation penalty. The ideal contract doesn't exist, of course:
  • lowest rate/kwh
  • 100% renewable
  • 60 month lock-in
  • $0 early cancellation penalty
In the past, renewable providers charged significantly more than traditional providers (coal and lignite; natural gas; nuclear) but the fixed rate plan difference is now $146 vs $153, so I'll pay the few extra quid to be 100% Green.

Twelve (12) providers matched my criteria (fixed rate, 100% renewable, 12+ months) with rates ranging from $153 to $206/mwh. So, my new provider is Gexa (JEKS-uh) Energy. The Gexa Green 12 plan is 100% wind energy.

There was a matching company: YEP Energy (same criteria and price) but Gexa will give me AAdvantage Miles (!) so that clinched the deal.

Also, Y.E.P. sounded like a funny name .. which wasn't in my criteria. Their tagline is "The Official Sponsor of Absolutely Nothing" (keep rates low by not sponsoring sports stadiums, etc.)

Now, I've locked in a fixed rate of $153/mwh for a one year term -- with a $150 early-cancellation penalty. My usage troughs in April (<1 mwh) and peaks in September (>3 mwh), so .. keep those wind turbines turning.

Thursday, June 26

there's nothing to see here

It's not often I have trouble with my DirecTV satellite service. The most common problem is when there's Weather in the southern sky, interrupting the signal. That results in temporary pixellation of the image, and when the storm passes everything's back to normal.

With that in mind, I'd never seen this Error Message before today .. as far as I know there wasn't any storm activity when the show was being recorded, and the message doesn't look at all like anything from TiVo*, so ...
*although there was an automatic TiVo software upgrade a few nights ago. I know this because there's a new folder: [Recently Deleted] now lets me recover stuff that I recently watched/deleted. The only documentation on this feature is a screen that says "Here you'll find a list of programs that have been deleted and may be recoverable" .. but that's it.
Naturally, this error ("there is no need to call us") came at The Most Critical Part of the show, and disappeared soon thereafter. Murphy's Law strikes again.

Wednesday, June 25

Legislating from the bench

It's no secret that when White Christian Republicans (led by Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and James Dobson) disagree with the ruling of a court - any court - they scoff and pound their fists, saying that the court is "legislating from the bench". This is obvious code for "voted the other way".

That said, I have to wonder how each side feels, given that the Supreme Court [SCOTUS] voted twice (already) today .. one liberal verdict and the other conservative. I'm sure opponents will accuse the other of "legislating from the bench".

The first ruling cut the damages from the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska to 20% of what a jury awarded as punishment. Environmentalists will say that the R-SCOTUS (Republic Party Supreme Court) caved (5-3) to the interests of Exxon Mobil and sent a clear signal that it's okay for other companies to spill oil and pay a fine, then go about their merry way.

The second ruling outlawed (5-4) the execution of men convicted of raping a child. This case was set in Louisiana, but Texas and three other states (Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina) allow an execution when the defendant is convicted of raping a child - presumably any such verdicts will be commuted. The majority from the D-SCOTUS [Democratic Party Supreme Court] apparently feel that death is not a proportional punishment for this crime.

Regardless of which side of either issue you're on, odds are you think the SCOTUS overstepped its boundaries and is guilty of legislating from the bench. Welcome to The New World Order.

Monday, June 23

Voluntary Simplicity

A few weeks ago, I participated in an eight (8) week discussion group: "Voluntary Simplicity". This is the one created by the Northwest Earth Institute. While there was certainly too much information to cover in a single blog entry, suffice it to say that it reinforced many of the things I've taken to heart in the past several years: reduction of clutter; efficient time planning; being green; and the Evils of American Society.

Okay, so I made up that last one .. at least, renamed it. That's because the terms used in the reading material sugar-coated the phenomenon: egregious American consumerism, where we're trained to be lifetime gluttons about most everything. So many people fall into the lifetime trap of buying/buying/buying stuff they don't need to impress people they barely know. And guess what - many of us that are the potential impressees come away with the opposite impression: that you're an IDIOT when you live above your means and buy Stuff just to have More Stuff.

I've seen truly amazing (read: disgusting) examples. One friend-of-a-friend lived in a ~5000 square foot house which was not only packed wall-to-wall with Stuff but also floor-to-ceiling. There were precarious paths leading from room to room, and I felt as if I was in an Antique Mall that was designed to pack items so close together that the patrons couldn't avoid breaking something (ca-ching!).

Some families have 5+ children (gag) and need an SUV to transport them, but many don't .. and have large, wasteful vehicles that are used for everything. Those families each need a Smart car, or a Honda Fit, or something equally gas-friendly for 98% of their trips. I've never bought the argument that Big Vehicles Make You Safe, since my theory is that they make you into a Sloppy driver who takes excessive risks because You're The Big Dog and who cares if I crush The Little Dog?
Noteworthy-but-unrelated: as I've driven around the past few weeks, I notice that few drivers are bothering to slow down to conserve fuel. Many of them are either incapable of changing their leadfoot habits, or have the same moronic attitude I saw with snow/ice drivers here - the idea that if you drive faster, you'll get through the ordeal faster. As a rule, the larger the vehicle, the more likely it is to be going 20+ miles over the limit. Dallas remains The Place To Be if you want to speed anytime and never be pulled over - enforcement here is a joke.
To be sure, even I (gasp!) have room to improve, but I'm trying. Example: my CD rack hasn't been touched in a couple years, ever since I dumped everything to the iPod. My book collection's still massive and I'm coming to grips with the concept of giving away books (to a charity such as a local Veterans Administration hospital) rather than let them languish on the shelf, never to be re-read. I no longer buy trinkets of any sort, since those are destined to be dust collectors. Yes, I take lots of photos, but carefully organize them on my home network -- without taking up more physical space (I almost never get prints - aside from samples I printed years ago so my walls wouldn't be blank).

Via the local Freecycle group, I've given away some specific things but surely need to advertise Stuff I'm no longer using. The alternative is a Garage Sale, but I don't need the hassle involved with that, since my goal is merely to get rid of excess Stuff. You know, to Simplify.

Sunday, June 22

Boycott the AP!

In case you didn't hear, the Associated Press will now charge you a minimum of $12.50 if you use more than four of their words in a blog posting, even if you give them full attribution.

That's easy to address: just use any different source. Henceforce, the AP does not exist (AND I removed all AP articles - I always attributed them - from this blog).

Thursday, June 19

BANNED: The Christian Discount

Despite my NO SOLICITORS sign, somebody left a copy of a telephone directory (you remember, those quaint paper books of a bygone era -- before the Internet). This one - "The Shepherd's Guide" - is a bit different as it proclaims that the bulk (all?) of the advertisers are guaranteed to be Christian. Advertisers must affirm that they are "born again" and clients must be treated with respect and integrity. Translation: hold onto your wallet.

If you go to their website, you'll find the publisher has been at this since 1980, although the Dallas version is only vintage 1992. The local edition has a Roanoke, Texas return address - about 30 miles west of me.

Before I pitched it in the recycle container, I thumbed through it (for amusement sake). On page 11 of the Greater Dallas County edition, there's a full page which warns against asking for The Christian Discount:

The reason that The Shepherd's Guide has worked so well is because it has provided a means for honest and reputable business and professional Christians to advertise their services to other Christians. Please do not expect any of them to provide their service free or at a reduced rate unless they feel led by God to do so, and not because you have pressured them for the discount.

Stop and think about it this way — Would you want to pay a business more because they felt that you, as a Christian customer, should feel compelled to help other Christians by paying them more for their services?

We feel that God wants us to treat each other in love and esteem. The advertiser's purpose in this guide is to do their best at a fair price. They deserve the opportunity to serve you and to be paid for their services.

  • 115 pages
  • Approximately 6x9 inches
  • non-revenue pages: a LOT (including about 30 White pages for churches; ministries; Christian schools)
  • most amusing concepts: Christian lawyers; Christian plumbers; Christian pest control
At least it didn't contain any toxic chemicals - my recycler will like that.

Deep thought: I wonder if there are directories for other religions: Jewish; Muslim; Catholic (as John Hagee reminds us: Catholics ain't Christian). Me, I'll probably stick to my favorite secular online directory:

Tuesday, June 17

Firefox 3 will have to wait

Dear Mozilla:

I appreciate your desire to rack up the numbers, as you release Firefox 3. The problem appears to be that you didn't spec a wide enough pipe for us.

Why do we want it? Well, this hype (from
"According to Mozilla's performance tests, Firefox 3 is twice as fast as Firefox 2 and nine times as fast as Internet Explorer 7. Mozilla's memory usage tests found Firefox 3 twice as efficient as Firefox 2 and more than four times as efficient as IE7."
And finally, in the Excuse-Me-Maybe-I'll-Stick-With-Firefox2 Category: Google Browser Sync Discontinued, No Firefox 3 Support

McCain McMedicated ?

Is it just me, or has everyone else also noticed that John McCain has been near comatose the past few months? I suspect he's on some sort of medication to control his blood pressure (and legendary temper) so that he doesn't explode during the campaign.

I'm surprised that someone hasn't (yet) broken into his "medicine cabinet" to find out what drugs he's taking to keep him calm.

Monday, June 16

Texas Schoolchildren Am Doomed

Just for the record: Texas State Board of Education member David Bradley (R-Beaumont) is an embarrassment to Texas.

Why? He is a biblical creationist who rejects the science of evolution, and now he wants to shove his asinine views ("the world is 6000 years old, dinosaurs and humans coexisted" and other stupidity) into Texas school children's heads. Good luck with any of them ever getting jobs outside a fast-food drive-thru window, with that kind of "knowledge". Employers: please do yourself a favor and hire science graduates from ANY other state .. the ones here will be a waste of your time.

Honestly, it's a shame that anyone who can fog a mirror (without so much as a literacy test) -- without any education credentials AT ALL -- can get elected to the state board of education. The chairman (Dr. Don McLeroy) is a dentist, for cryin' out loud .. and another creationist.

The morons of Bradley's district (Texas SBOE #7) elected this moron to the State Board of Education in 1996, then moronically re-elected him to the board in 2000, 2002 and 2004. I hold each of them personally responsible for the damage this moron is about to inflict.

Sunday, June 15

red BBQ in a blue city

I didn't know there were any overtly Republic Party barbeque places in Dallas, but I just discovered one -- near downtown Dallas. It is Sammy's BAR-B-Q; I know it's owned by Republics because they're hosting a fundraiser for John McBush tomorrow night, when The Presumptive Republic Party Nominee comes to town (7pm).

Note to self: cross Sammy's off my list of restaurants to ever dine in

Then again, it may not be well-attended because the tickets donations are so cheap (only $230 versus the $2,300 ticket to see McBush at the 5pm soiree at The Belo Mansion). For those of you who don't live here, Belo is the local media magnate, controlling the only daily newspaper, one of the TV stations, and whatever else they're allowed to own under FCC rules. No surprise they're backing the Republics because of their greed, desire to maintain power, etc.

I suspect the McBush Party's food will be prepared by undoc'd Mexican waitstaff, and served by $5.85*/hour Africans, while their Bentleys and Rolls-Royces are parked by White Teenage Republics (can't let the Darkies or the Wetbacks touch Their Cars, you see).

Related: Bill Moyers' latest show explores the growing divide between rich and poor in this country. None of the attendees at The McBush Fundraiser will have seen it, because to do so would have to admit that their whole lives are little more than a sham -- to con the middle class into paying the bulk of the taxes.
* only recently raised from $5.35/hour, after the Democrats pushed the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007. Also worth noting: Bill Moyers made the point that if The Minimum Wage had kept pace with inflation, it would now be $9.88/hour instead of $5.85 (after all these years of Republic Party rule).

Saturday, June 14

why Bubba can't analyze

Once again, an article in the local newspaper proves to me that the disparaging name "Dallas Managed News" is wholly appropriate.

Today, they printed an article titled "Plane, train, car or bus: What's the best way to go on your summer trip?". The premise sounded like an interesting experiment: send four people from Dallas to Austin (about 200 miles) in time to attend an 11am meeting, then return. Had they not proceeded to compare apples-to-kumquats, they might have succeeded. Once done with their inadequate comparison, they proclaimed that even though gasoline is ~$4/gallon, it's cheaper to drive than to plane, train or bus your way to Austin. I'm half-betting this article was funded by the Texas Oil Producers Federation (or whatever name they're hiding behind), because their conclusion was dead wrong - by a factor of two.

Honestly, where do these people get their education - a Texas Home School? Anyone who has ever taken a class in costing (I did that in 1982 or so) would understand this easily. Rather than make a fair comparison, The Managed News went out of their way to avoid defining their methodology, and the hurdles they faced (example: trains run only once every 3 days; buses run twice/day; airlines have 8 flights/day). Had they done their job, they would have easily reached the correct (and obvious) conclusion: the bus is the cheapest way to get around.
paper's total$60$96$432$223train is most expensive
round trip time7:397:0017:006:55 
transportation only$60$64$62$160reality: air is most expensive, all others about the same
assumptionsyou own a carfree transportation to the bus stationfree transportation to the train station; you must spend two nights at a downtown hotelfree transportation to the airport (although they did stipulate $10 to park)they assume everyone owns a car, or has free transportation to the choice of conveyance
what they should have donefactor the IRS' 2008 Standard Mileage Rates - 50.5¢/mile for business
changed outcome$202$111$97 (due to infrequent train schedule, hotel is needed)$238bus is cheapest
I assumed an equidistant 30 mile commute to the alternate transportation, which added about $15 to each mode.

Bottom line: the article left me with more questions than answers:
  • Did they get the best deals on public transportation by buying 21 days in advance?
  • Why did they choose a "downtown hotel" for the train - was that cheaper than alternatives?
  • Was there a way to optimize the meeting time so that only one hotel night was needed for the train option?
  • What about mixing modes? (e.g. taking the train but returning on the bus. Since the three alternates already included taxi fares, this shouldn't have been a stretch).
  • What was the Carbon Footprint for the various modes? (to their credit, they touched on this by showing that the train was least efficient with fuel and the bus was most efficient)
  • Why did four people travel in the car, and only one in the other modes?
  • Why the variation in lobby wait times for air travel; train; bus?
  • What was the price of the "free car" they used for the automobile mode?
  • Did they consider renting a car?
  • Was there free parking at the meeting site?
Many of the problems I had with the article relate to normalizing the data. Certainly, there are issues of scale .. you can't hire a train for one person, and demand that only one car be used to reduce fuel usage. Ditto for the air travel - why didn't they compare a regional jet versus the (Southwest Airlines) 737? You get the idea.

And yes, let's talk about issues such as personal safety at the bus station; the risk of terrorism at the airport; the impact on societal isolation when travelling by car .. there are a host of things left unconsidered. Maybe they were just trying to save on newspaper ink - that's the only success I spotted.

Thursday, June 12

weathering the blame game

Okay, I'm confused.

I haven't been following it that closely, but know that the "upper midwest" has been hammered in the past few days .. rain, floods, tornadoes. What perplexes me is that the televangelists haven't been on the air telling the rest of us that these folks are on the receiving end because they haven't been Christian enough.

Why is it that it's okay to blame predominantly black parts of the country for their sinnin' but predominantly white sections get a pass from the Christianists? I found it very unusual that yesterday's tornado took direct aim at a Boy Scout Camp (killing four), but not one of the ministers explained that it was their god's wrath because the Boy Scouts won't admit homosexuals.

How is it they're allowed to eat both ends of the cake?

I asked a friend for comment before posting; she replied:

Exactly. And at the opposite end of the scale, why aren't all the politicians being blamed for it happening?

Another question: why is it somehow worse that an individual lost all their possessions in Katrina than it is if they lost all their possessions in some other weather-caused event? On an a total size perspective, absolutely Katrina was worse. For any given person, whether they lost everything in Katrina or lost everything in the floods happening now elsewhere, they still lost it all ... poor person in New Orleans or poor person in Iowa/Indiana ... gone. Shouldn't matter what color they are. Politicization of race happens on both ends of our lovely political system.

So one one end, there's the far-right weirdos saying it's god's wrath in the New Orleans (but nowhere else). On the other end, it's the far left saying that a poor black person who lost everything in New Orleans needs our sympathy/help/resources more than a poor white person in Iowa. Neither instance is fair.

Wednesday, June 11

Olbermann goes pun'ing

"I will veto every single beer -- bill with earmarks."

-John McCain, at the National Small Business Summit (10 June 2008)

"McCain's slip - if not a hint at reinstating the 18th Amendment - was possibly a Freudian reference to his wife's wealthy family which owns a beer distributorship, occasionally propping up his ale-ing campaign when trouble brewed. Wine-ing aides were at lagerheads when his speeches got booze, even among crowds that were mostly sub-bourbon. Today McCain is still struggling to convince voters that the economic plan of a candidate so close to Busch will be full of Schlitz."

-Keith Olbermann, MSNBC Countdown, that night

Monday, June 9

Take Me Home, Country Roads

June is an odd time of year to start the TV season, but .. one of the items on my TiVo Season Pass came to life: the [30 Days] season opener. This episode, Morgan Spurlock personally explored the life of a West Virginia coal miner (most of the time he acts as director, but this time he was in front of the camera).

As usual with Morgan's documentaries, I learned many things, but was left with more questions unanswered; this episode could easily have been two hours instead of one.

Several of the scenes had to be subtitled, due to the miner's mumbling. With that in mind, I was amused to see The Onion delivering this audio item: West Virginia Holds Its First Pronunciation Bee.

Also, none of the miners were minorities; perhaps that's why Clinton did so well there .. one of the few places in the US where it's nearly impossible to find someone who isn't white. West Virginians are clearly terrified of half-black people! I suspect the same is true for all other minorities, too. Worth noting that John Denver's epic song about the state doesn't mention anything about "darkies, Jews, gays, Asians, Latinos ...", none of which apparently exist Up In The Hills.

Saturday, June 7

Texas' two hack Senators

"I can see states like Texas having not one but two hack Senators. People who never propose or cosponsor any significant legislation while in office. People like Hutchison and Cornyn, who are the worst type of go-along-to-get-along lackey for the Bush administration. People who view their role as doing anything to preserve their own power and who never have an original or courageous idea while in office."
- Alec Baldwin
The odds of his comment (directed to the people of Minnesota regarding their candidates) being published in any of the right-wing Texas newspapers (like The Dallas Managed News) are Z-E-R-O .. but he wasn't talking to us. Still, he's spot on.

I have yet to understand Texans' fascination with Kay Bailey Hutchison, who will undoubtedly run for Texas Governor at the next opportunity. Still, she's revered by her Republic Party although she doesn't hold a candle to the late great (Democrat) Ann Richards*.
*slandered by Karl Christian Rove in order to get George Dubya Bush elected Texas Governor .. and how did that work out for ya?
And don't get me started on the Texas Junior Senator, John Cornyn .. a lackey of The John Twins (Hagee and McCain) - what an embarrassment. As I've blogged before - only A Chosen Few White Oil Barons have any real representation here - the other 99.9% of us are saddled with political hacks.

Alec - I'm gonna send you a Valentine's Day card.

Thursday, June 5

DFW thanks NYC and ORD

There's a lovely article in Forbes magazine: "America's Most Time-Draining Airports" .. which ranks 100 US airports on delays. Apparently it's based on 2007 Bureau of Transportation statistics.

Good news: DFW is less delay-prone than the three (3) NYC* airports (LGA JFK EWR) and the country's worst: Chicago O'Hare. After that, it's all downhill for the local "big airport", beaten handily by six other airports in Texas. There's a direct correlation with the amount of traffic, so none of this surprises me:

12. ELP - El Paso
46. DAL - Dallas Love Field
58. HOU - Houston Hobby
59. AUS - Austin Bergstrom
61. SAT - San Antonio
80. IAH - Houston Bush Intercontinental
96. DFW - Dallas/Ft. Worth

The lower the number, the less likely you were to encounter delays in 2007, so says Forbes.
* multisearch is a truly wonderful thing. Pity there are only a handful (5) of these in the USA (CHI; NYC; QDF; QHO; WAS)
Forbes used seven (7) criteria to achieve their rankings:
  • Security-related delays
  • Late-aircraft-related delays
  • National-Aviation-System-related delays
  • Cancellation-related delay
  • Carrier-related delay
  • Weather-related delay
  • Percentage of flights arriving on time
  • Percentage of flights departing on time
To be sure, there are other airports in Texas, but they're smaller than any of those listed above. No offense intended: AMA; CRP; GLS; HRL; LBB and MAF.

Sunday, June 1

Republic Party vocabularie lessin

How the Word ‘Elite’ Became a Slur, by Susan Jacoby
I asked my new BFF (Arianna) if "elite" was destined to be the Radical Right's word of the year and she didn't think so. I'm still not so sure, since So Many voters are determined to Vote For Stupid this fall.

After they Voted For Stupid* in 2000 and 2004 ("how did that work out for ya?") I won't be surprised with a repeat this year.

*George W. Bush, you idiot