January 28, 2011

Cassandra Complex: Challenger

There's really not much point to this post.  This is just my recollection of the Challenger explosion.  It's not a pleasant recollection, and in the scheme of things, it's completely unimportant.

But this is my memory of the day, as I lived it.

I was living in Lake Worth, Florida.  I remember the TV was on, the shuttle launch was delayed again, because of the cold.  I remember I was running around getting ready for work, when they interviewed some of Christa McAuliffe's students about the upcoming launch.  The students were all disappointed that it hadn't launched yet.

I remember my snarky comment to the tube:  "You'll like it less when the damned thing explodes because they lifted off in the cold, dumb-ass."

It was two hours before the explosion.

There was about five minutes where I swear I was having a vision of the shuttle exploding.  "SHIT!  I have to call them!"  But as I realized that 1. I had no idea who to talk to about stopping the launch, and 2. who the hell would believe me and 3. I was being ridiculous, there was no way I could possible know the shuttle was going to explode.

Besides, I was going to be late for work; the experts surely wouldn't launch it if it wasn't safe; they'd already held the launch.  Of course they'd wait until it was safe.   Like anyone would listen to an assistant manager at Rent-America "rent to own" about visions of disaster.

When I got to work, all the TVs were tuned into the launch that still hadn't happened.  Still too cold.  It was my turn to run to the bank to do the deposit.  I drove down US1 to Barnett Bank (which would be my own bank until they held a cash deposit back for five days), and took care of business.  It was a gorgeous day; crystal blue sky, with not a cloud in it.  I'd only been living in Florida four months, so what's cold to me now was simply invigorating.

Finishing at the bank, I turned north onto US1, and saw a strange cloud on the horizon.  Just another sudden Florida thunderhead, I thought.  Kinda freaky, the way it's forked.

As I walked back into the store, my manager looked at me from the desk in the back.  His eyes were really, really wide.

"Did you see it?" he asked.

"See what?"

"The shuttle just blew up!"

I could not believe it.  Then the image replayed on all 58 color televisions in the store.

I remember walking up to one of the consoles, to see it larger.  At one point, I pointed to a corner of the expanding cloud and said "That's the cabin, right there.  I think they were alive, then."  The news said otherwise, but months later they found evidence that the crew had indeed survived the initial blast.

There was no way I could have known it would actually explode, but I did.

There was no way I could have known the cabin remained partially intact, but I did.

And despite the reassuring words of NASA officials, I'm certain that most of the crew didn't die until the cabin hit the ocean.  That's not at all reassuring or comforting.

Don't forget, I didn't believe me, either.

January 25, 2011

As Quoted by The POTUSA?

For years, I've been saying that newspapers firing reporters to save money is like cutting the engines off of an airplane to save weight.  Reporters are what drive newspapers. It's an example of taking desperate measures to solve a problem, but the solution only makes the problem much worse.

So imagine my shock when President Obama said the following in his State of the Union address:
Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may feel like you're flying high at first, but it won't take long before you'll feel the impact.
Did we just come to the same analogy, or has some of my commentary found its way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?  What do you think?

January 17, 2011

Mayor Redd Seals Camden's Doom

In 1968, my grandfather was mugged in broad daylight on the corner of Third and Stephens Streets in Camden, NJ.  His skull was fractured, and his neck was broken. He lingered, bedridden and unable to talk, until he succumbed to his injuries two years later.

I'd say it was a horrible way to die, and it was.  But worse, it was a horrible way to live; fully aware, and unable to communicate with anyone,  being fed through your nose, and suffering bed sores that went to the bone.

No one was ever arrested for this crime. Indeed, the police never had any suspects.  It's pretty certain they did nothing in terms of investigation; they reported that they had no idea where his car was; my father went to the spot where they picked him up, and it was parked 10 feet away.  With a parking ticket on it.

Things have not improved in Camden since then.  Crime rates have skyrocketed, earning Camden the title Most Dangerous City in the United States in 2004. It has consistently been in the top ten highest crime cities since 1998.  Currently, it's number two behind St. Louis.  In short, Camden has become hellish slum.

So, in a time of crisis, the very last thing you'd cut in a city with the highest crime rates in the country would be the police force.  Unless you're Camden Mayor Dana Redd, who is reducing the police force by 44%.

From CNN Money:
The mayor's office says that the cuts will not affect public safety.

"We're still going to protect our residents," said Robert Corrales, spokesman for Mayor Dana Redd. Public safety "will remain our top concern. We'll shift our resources to be more efficient with what we have."
Which only proves that Corrales is either an idiot, or a liar.  The city can't protect its citizens now.  It certainly can't do it with any less, let alone half.

Since the city is also laying off a huge chunk of its fire department, it's obvious that the mayor and the city commission doesn't give a rat's ass about the safety of its citizens. They might just as well fire everyone and set off firebombs and burn everything to the ground; the end result will be about the same.

From CNN Money:
One local business owner, David Brown, said he was anxious to see how the cuts unfold Tuesday.

"I don't understand how you can do more with less," he said. "I don't want to be a pessimist, but I can't be optimistic."
Yep, David.  You're fucked.  The Mayor and the Council have decided that it's time to put a lock on the title "MOST Dangerous City" once and for all.

The Philadelphia Inquirer
sums it up eloquently:
For longtime residents, who have watched the city change over the last half-century from a bustling manufacturing center to one of the nation's most- dangerous cities, the pending loss of almost half the city's police force felt like the beginning of the end.
Thanks to Mayor Redd and the city commission, it is exactly that.  Perhaps Camden residents can find nice safe homes in Detroit or St. Louis.  It's damned certain that businesses won't consider Camden - unless it's to dump toxic waste.

January 16, 2011

CBS4: Cheese BrainS 4 South Florida

This is what the editorially challenged CBS4 news team posted on their home page Sunday evening:

There are three glaring flaws that anyone who knows anything about South Florida would catch:
  1. The Broward clinic in question is not in Miami.  It is not even in Miami-Dade County.  It's in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, in Broward County.  It has no business being listed under "Miami News." 
  2. "Broward Center" is not a generic term in South Florida.  It names a specific place.  The Broward Center is the performance venue in Fort Lauderdale, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, and there was no explosion there, no one died there - at least not in the last few years - and it hasn't been closed for a year and a half.  The article is in fact about the NEUBAUER Center, more formally the Neubauer Hyperbaric Oxygen Neurologic Center.
  3. Lake Worth is also not in Miami.  In fact, it is farther outside Miami than either the Broward Center or the Neubauer Center.
So, within a couple of inches, CBS4 got two locations wrong, and made a completely false statement about a venerated institution with a 20 year history in South Florida. 

I wonder what other really basic and easy to confirm facts these cheese-for-brains have put up on their site?

January 12, 2011

Dictionary Fun with Miami Police Chief Miguel Exposito

Miguel Exposito and the City of Miami Police Department has been making the papers by seizing and destroying video games that he claims are used for gambling.

The Miami Herald quotes Major Alfredo Alvarez:
"People get addicted to them, especially the senior citizens who live on social security,'' he said. It's immoral to have these machines out there the way they're hurting the lower to middle class.''
Note that he didn't say "criminal."   I find that fascinating.  "Immoral."  My grandma tells stories about bathing suit inspectors, who would measure the gap between the hem of her bathing suit and her bathing hose, because it was immoral to show more than 3 inches of your knee at the beach.  When someone is enforcing morality, I see them leering at young women, clammy hands gripping a measuring stick, looking for an excuse to prosecute someone who isn't doing  damned bit of harm.

I'm from Atlantic City.  I had a neighbor who was addicted to gambling; she cost her family everything.  Literally.  When they moved in next door to us the year before the casinos opened, her husband had parlayed hard work into apartment buildings in Philadelphia and Atlantic City, homes in both cities, cars for all the adults  (he drove a Cadillac that year, and so did she), and a boat.  25 years later, he died a pauper, with the clothes on his back and a  beater truck to his name.  She lives with her granddaughter, now.

I remember well the day that her husband discovered that she had taken out second and third mortgages on their last property - their house - to settle her debts.  She hadn't told him.  (There's a long and complicated story on how that happened, but that's for another time).  He thought he'd cut her off by not letting her have money.  He never dreamed that she'd simply sell everything out from under them to get a stake.

So, when Major Alvarez talks about the harmful effects of gambling, I know full well what the effects of gambling addiction really are.

So what exactly, are the stakes on the machines?  After all, the thrill of gambling comes from the rush of wagering a small amount against the possibility of winning a much larger amount.  The longer the odds, the bigger the rush.  So what can you win for your coin?

According to The Miami Herald:
Players insert money, receive credits and win when they land certain icons like a cherry or star.
Uh, say what?  They get... credits?

Well, maybe I misunderstand the word "Gamble."  So let's look it up, shall we?
gam·ble: intransitive verb -  1. to play a game for money or property 
- Merriam Webster
OK, so you put in your coin, and you get... well, a number.  A score.  How is that considered gambling?

Do you know what else you put a coin into, and at the end all you have is a numerical score?  A pinball machine. So why aren't the cops seizing pinball machines?

Because, apparently, pinball machines require skill, and it doesn't take skill to win anything at a video slot machine; you just pull the lever and pray.  Games that require skill are legal.  Games of chance require no skill, and so they are illegal.

That's it.  That's the big crime the cops are protecting us from.  Whoop-dee-fucking-doo.

I've never understood this reasoning.  If it requires no skill to win, if it's all random chance, doesn't that level the playing field?  "What does it take to win this game? DUMB LUCK!"  Why is are games that require a skill, games where a skilled player can clean out an unskilled one - why are they "better" than a game of chance that relies on, well, chance?

And frankly, the money being tossed around these things - CHUMP CHANGE.  Gran-dad lost his cigarette money - oh, no, now he's not going to kick off from lung cancer!!

But when you have a City police force full of thugs who shoot people at the least provocation, I guess arresting people who aren't actually doing any harm is more important than, I don't know, ticketing all those insane motorists who pose a real danger to life and limb by running red lights in this city a hundred times a minute.  Or pulling over aggressive drivers before they shoot someone.  Or shooting people who spit their gum out on the sidewalk.  You know, actual criminals.  They could be seizing guns, or drug paraphenalia, things that KILL people.  Instead, they are protecting, for lack of a better word, our virtue.

I hate to say it, but Mayor Regalado is actually right on this one; license the machines and tax the owners.  If people want to throw away their hard-earned money, who the fuck is Miguel Exposito to stop them?  He should quit wasting taxpayer money on something so mind-bogglingly stupid, and go stop some real crime.  It's not like we've run out down here in Miami.

And then you get pinheads like Bob Sertell.  He's a "gaming expert."  Which I'm pretty sure means that prosecutors pay him to tell juries that gambling is bad.  Nice work if you can get it. 

Here's an example of his so-called expert advice, again quoted from the Miami Herald:
"The `application of skill' is bull,'' Sertell said. "In actual practice, none of the machines do that.''
See, because someone decided that random chance, the guiding force of the entire fucking Universe, is wrong, they've decided to define gambling not by its proper actual definition, but a made-up one, where it's OK if it takes skill, but it's not OK if it doesn't.

Do you follow that?  Me either, but that's because we're not puritanical assholes. 

Let's look at it another way:
  • GOOD: working hard to save up $100,000,000,000
  • BAD: winning $100,000,000,000 in the lottery.
Why is playing the lottery bad?  Because for every person that wins $100,000,000,000, there are about 200,000,000,000 who simply lost a buck.

Oh, wait, the Lottery isn't illegal!  Which is odd, because 1. it takes no skill to play the lottery, and 2. it is actually gambling because you are risking a small amount of cash to win a large amount of cash.  (remember, the video games being seized do not pay out anything - you earn a high score).

If gambling by laying a game that takes no skill to win is a crime, and the police must seize gambling machines at any cost, why hasn't Exposito seized a single Lotto machine?   Lotto exactly fits both the actual definition of gambling - putting out a little money in hopes of winning lots - and fake priggish gambling - there is no skill whatsoever involved, it's all dumb luck.  Why isn't Alvarez storming every Publix and 7-Eleven in town? Is there any way that this isn't a hopeless double-standard? 

No.  That's exactly, precisely, all it is.

What this tells us, ultimately, is that Chief Exposito and Major Alvarez aren't interested in catching criminals so much as enforcing arbitrary moral standards codified by a bunch of prudes onto the citizens of Miami, who largely don't give a rat's ass.

Which is why gang members are free to drive by people's homes and fire guns into them, assholes are free to run red lights, and none of us are safe in our own homes.

Exposito is supposed to be protecting us.  He isn't.  Instead, he's doing something else on the taxpayer dime:
GAMBOL: intransitive verb - to skip about in play : frisk, frolic
Hmm, sounds like just the crime he likes to prosecute....

January 6, 2011

Adler Tells an Old Tale

As I've been following the Rothstein ponzi scheme story, something about the the defense by the partners at Rothstein-Rosenfeldt-Adler Law Firm  seemed familiar.  And then when I read the article in The BizJournal about Russel Adler, I realized that I did know the story.

Charles, Lord Lichtman, is solicitor general for His Royal Majesty, The Emperor.

He is no fan of Russell, Lord BlackAdler, and his fiendish companion, the blackhearted Baldrickstein.  Lord Lichtman has been biding his time, knowing that Lord Russell's swagger will lead him to the scene of the crime.

But BlackAdler is as slippery as his venomous namesake, and in the timeworn tradition of thugs and thieves, has arranged matters so that his henchman, Baldricstein, will take the fall for the foul crime.

Lord Lichtman:  Lord BlackAdler, the Emperor has ordered that be you held for trial and face charges for defrauding the Crown by selling His Majesty imaginary clothes, while insisting they were in fact real clothes.

Black Adler: Oh, yes, Scott Baldricstein had me completely fooled.

Lord Lichtman: Excuse me?

Black Adler:  Oh yes, I had no idea that the clothes weren't real.

Lord Lichtman:  Do you expect us to believe that you didn't know that the clothes didn't exist?

Black Adler: Well, the governor and the sheriff didn't know.  Why should I have been expected to know?

Lord Lichtman: Really?  This is your defense?

BlackAdler: My dear Lord Lichtman, I assure you that I am as innocent as a suckling child.

Lord Lichtman:  Didn't you work on the clothes?

BlackAdler: Well, not as much as Baldricstein.  He sewed them together.  He's quite skilled.  I've little talent for manual labour, as you may know.

Lord Lichtman:  So what was your part in the affair?

BlackAdler: Management and administration, mostly.  Tried to modernize the old place, cut the red tape, go green, all of that - I made the firm paperless.

Lord Lichtman: In fact, did you not accomplish your "paperless office" simply by burning all of the firm's records?

BlackAdler: It was cold; I recycled them into heat.  Waste not, want not, that's what I always say.

Lord Lichtman: But getting back to the Emperors non-existent -

BlackAdler: - situationally invisible -

Lord Lichtman:  - NON EXISTENT - wardrobe, did you not have an active part in that?

BlackAdler:  Well, I did cut them to the pattern of course.

Lord Lichtman:  You... cut them to pattern.

BlackAdler: The pattern Baldricstein created. Yes.

Lord Lichtman:  You took scissors to the cloth....

BlackAdler: Yes.

Lord Lichtman:  ...and then you cut the cloth....

BlackAdder: Yes.

Lord Lichtman:  ...even though there was no cloth to cut.

BlackAdler: Well, I had no reason to know that.  I know, in hindsight, I suppose it does look rather foolish.  But you must understand, Baldricstein was so caught up with the styles and colours, and sales were so good...

Lord Lichtman: Sales?  You mean the sales of clothing that didn't exist?

BlackAdler:  The customers were always so pleased with their purchases.

Lord Lichtman: But you weren't selling them anything!

BlackAdler:  How was I to know that?  Everyone seemed to think they were buying stylish clothes, everyone has their own tastes, who am I to say different?  "To Each His Own."

Lord Lichtman:  In fact,  your firm never purchased cloth of any sort. Or thread.

BlackAdler: We had a sewing machine, and I used the scissors myself.

Lord Lichtman: On non-existent cloth.

BlackAdler:  So you say.  Baldricstein said it was "situationally invisible."

Lord Lichtman:  "Situationally Invisible."

BlackAdler:  Exactly.

Lord Lichtman:  And what does that mean?

BlackAdler:  In certain situations, you can't see it.

Lord Lichtman:  "Certain Situations."

Black Adler: Exactly.

Lord Lichtman:  Such as?

BlackAdler:  Well, this is according to Baldricstein, you understand,  if you were stupid, incompetent, or unfit for your position, you wouldn't be able to see the cloth.  That's what he maintained, anyway, and he was running the show.

Lord Lichtman:  And you went along with this?

BlackAdler: Well, I didn't want to appear stupid.  After all, the Governor liked them well enough.  He spoke highly of their fine textures and draping.  I'd like to believe that I'm at least as smart as the Governor.

Lord Lichtman: Wasn't the Governor an old friend of Baldricsteins?

Baldricstein:  You know, I do believe you're right.

(With apologies to Hans Christian Anderson and Rowan Atkinson)