Archive for September, 2009

Sometimes Stupid Is Just Stupid

September 30th, 2009

It’s tempting to write off the hapless businessmen who fell for this Australian money doubling scheme as naive or gullible. But if you look at the details, it’s pretty clear they were just stupid. And as comedian Ron White says, “You can’t fix stupid.”

It seems four different business owners were conned out of between $10k and $120k when they fell for what amounts to a cheap magic trick to duplicate currency. The trick made it appear to these rocket scientists that soaking a $100 bill in a chemical bath caused the bill to undergo some sort of monetary mitosis, resulting in two identical $100 bills. Not be be complete buffoons, they did at least have the good sense to have a bank verify the authenticity of the “duplicated” bill to be sure it was not detectable as counterfeit. Yet it never occurred to any of them that soaking an inanimate object and magically getting it to replicate itself was technically dubious.

This is why science education is important. Heck, I think a little common sense would have sufficed.

Advice If You’re Planning a Crime

September 29th, 2009

Should you be contemplating any criminal activity, rule one should be to travel first to Wellford, South Carolina. The reason you ask? Police there are forbidden from chasing you. The mayor has ruled that police chases are resulting in excessive worker’s compensation claims that are an undue financial burden on the town. So no chasing criminals, even on foot.

Mayor Sallie Peake was questioned about the odd policy by a local reporter, where she seemed to reveal that she hadn’t really given this as much thought as her constituents might have hoped. As near as I can tell from her relative incoherence, police are still empowered to stop a crime in progress, as long as it doesn’t involve any sort off chase whatsoever.

Reporter: “Are you telling your officers if they witness a crime – they witness someone commit a crime on someone else and they’re ten yards away – they can’t go stop that person?“
Peake: “Is that in there?“ (referring to policy)
Reporter: “It says no chases whatsoever.“
Peake: “Well, that’s what I said, no chases, didn’t I? I didn’t say nothing about a crime. If you see a crime, this that and the other -“
Reporter: “Well, that’s what a chase is – “
Peake: “Well, I told them no chase on foot, and (the police chief) know exactly what I mean, so you’re trying to twist what I -“
Reporter: “No, I’m not. You said no chases. No chases means no chases.“
Peake: (claps hands) “You got you a story, thank God! You are so sweet! You got you a story on a woman in Wellford! Hallelujah! I’m so proud of you, Mr. Cato!“

I can’t shake this mental image of a thief running out of a liquor store, sprinting 20 feet down the sidewalk and strolling slowly away. Turning occasionally to taunt his would-be pursuers with a rousing chorus of “Na na, na na, boo boo!”

Update: It seems that based on the advice of a local prosecutor who is a personal friend of Peake, the mayor has rescinded her no-chase policy. She went so far as to say officers can now “run, jump, climb trees, tumble, wreck cars, whatever they want to do.” At least it’s refreshing to know the mayor has the emotional development of a six-year old in addition to the reasoning power. (No offense to six-year olds intended)

Check That "Can Do" Attitude at the Door

September 28th, 2009


Just because there’s a statistical correlation doesn’t mean there’s a cause and effect relationship. Nonetheless, researchers in Japan have published a study showing a correlation between your attitude and your ability to lose weight. The result claimed is that excessive optimism is bad for your waistline. Apparently, optimistic people have more trouble sticking to a diet.

Minimally, this trashes the whole fad of visualizing your success and believing you can succeed to make it happen. It seems if you’re trying to lose weight, it’s best to adopt an attitude of doom and imminent failure. Given this postulate, one would expect that Eeyore should be thinner.

Obama’s Forked Tongue

September 27th, 2009

Mr. Obama can’t have it both ways. He said during his healthcare speech to Congress that he was going to call out those who spread false information. Turnabout is fair play.

During Thursday’s speech to the United Nations, Obama reiterated some of the things he’s done to restore America’s moral position and international credibility. Specifically, he said:

On my first day in office, I prohibited – without exception or equivocation – the use of torture by the United States of America. I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed, and we are doing the hard work of forging a framework to combat extremism within the rule of law. Every nation must know: America will live its values, and we will lead by example.


He did do those things, and I think the message about America living by its values is an important one. One that we desperately need to heed. However, at nearly the same time, the Obama administration made another decision which it has kept pretty low-key. The New York Times buried it on page 23.

The decision was that the administration will continue to hold detainees currently in Guantanamo without bringing them to trial based on the power it says it has under the Congressional resolution passed after 9/11, authorizing the president to use force against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. There was no word on where they would be held, and presumably he could skate on some very thin ice by still closing Guantanamo Bay and holding them elsewhere, but that would be more than a little disingenuous.

Clearly the moral message of his decision to close the Guantanamo prison was not to get the prisoners out of Cuba, but rather to get them out of Limbo. Treat them as criminals and prosecute them. Treat them as prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention. Or let them go.

I do recognize this is problematic. Many of the prisoners cannot reasonably be prosecuted under U.S. law because the Bush administration collected much of the evidence against them illegally. The cases would fall apart. I too, would hate to see truly guilty people set free based on legal technicalities. Yet our justice system is based on the notion that better 100 guilty people go free than a single innocent man be convicted. (It’s hard to tell that from the percentage of our citizens we currently imprison, but it is our stated principle.)

It seems conceivable that there must be some way to handle these prisoners that are truly guilty. Prosecute them in another country. Pass legislation allowing them to be tried under special rules. Use military tribunals to try them. Something. But continuing to exploit the overly broad post-9/11 powers to detain people indefinitely is not being true to our American values. Congress should move to repeal those powers so that no President has to deal with the temptation to exploit them.

Morality is not viable without courage. It is not tenable without risk. It’s easy to be moral when you feel invulnerable. Maybe the hardest thing to be is a better person than those who would seek to harm you. No one said this would be easy.

Hold on to Yer Butts

September 26th, 2009


In case you don’t look goofy enough riding a Segway, Honda has introduced a self-balancing unicycle of sorts. It’s kinda clever with its fold-out seat and foot rests. In theory you could ride it to work, then carry to your office and stuff it under your desk.

Or in my case, I could just ride it in from the parking lot, which inexplicably seems to get further from the office door every day. I wonder how it handles curbs and winter sidewalk salt?

All of this assuming of course, that your self-esteem quotient is so high that you’d be willing to be seen tooling down the sidewalk with a hand on either butt cheek while precariously perched atop what appears to be a Sesame Street announcement that today is brought to you by the number “8”.

Video of this bad boy in action is available here.