An ugly job, but it’s a living

Random Rants

Thank you, Oh Pharaoh, for the gifts you have bestowed upon us.

So, I’m car shopping for more than one vehicle.  With the kids mostly grown and driving themselves places, we no longer need the SUV that was the Princess’ Mom-Taxi.  That’s one car.

And for the same reason I need to buy another vehicle for one of the kids so he can drive himself to school and all his extracurricular stuff (plus off to college next year I hope).   That’s two cars.

While I was working I always had a city car, and so I never even owned a car until the last few years of work when I bought a pickup to take to the ranch.  But driving a F-150 everywhere around town is a pain just on parking issues alone.  I would love to have something small and fuel efficient that’s easy to park.  That’s three cars.

Even though I grew up in and around the car business, and I know the ins and outs of buying and selling cars, I still hate the process.  Mostly because I hate spending money to buy a big hunk of metal and plastic that is a liability rather than an asset.  So it brought a smile to my face when I read how poor August car sales were going.  Sucks to be a dealer or salesman, but I can get behind a buyer’s market when I am a buyer.  Especially when I am a triple buyer and only plan on selling one of the current vehicles.

Except there are some twists and turns to this that are making it a sucky process.

First, I am in the market for three cars, but two of them will be well used cars.

And a bad market for new car sales is not turning into a bad market for used car sales.  All thanks to cash-for-clunkers, or the Car Allowance Rebate System, as the government called it.

Anybody with half a brain knew that cash-for-clunkers was economic idiocy in the making. It didn’t save any jobs, cost the taxpayers billions, was so poorly designed and administered that dealers were dodging participation left and right, and now has raised the cost of used cars thanks to all the good used cars that were destroyed. From the Boston Globe Clunkers a Classic Government Folly.

According to Edmunds.com, a website for car buyers, a three-year-old automobile today will set you back, on average, close to $20,000 — a spike of more than 10 percent since last summer. For some popular models, the increase has been much steeper. In July, a used Cadillac Escalade was going for around $35,000, or nearly 36 percent over last July’s price.

Part of the increased prices for used cars is that the economy sucks so much that people who would normally be buying a new car are now buying used cars because they are afraid they will be the next one to lose their job.

But an even bigger part of the answer is that the supply of used cars is artificially low, because your Uncle Sam decided last year to destroy hundreds of thousands of perfectly good automobiles as part of its hare-brained Car Allowance Rebate System — or, as most of us called it, Cash for Clunkers. That was the program under which the government paid consumers up to $4,500 when they traded in an old car and bought a new one with better gas mileage. The traded-in cars — which had to be in drivable condition to qualify for the rebate — were then demolished: Dealers were required to chemically wreck each car’s engine, and send the car to be crushed or shredded.

This explains why there are almost no decent late model used cars for sale by private owners, and most of what I’m finding on car lots are old lease vehicles that have been dogged to death and have outrageous prices.   I can make a hell of a deal on a new car, if I want to hose off 20% of it in depreciation the second I drive the car off the lot.

It’s time to face reality – the government we have today is comprised of people who don’t have a clue how business works.  This successful program took money from hardworking taxpayers on a budget and pissed it away so the foolish could get a new car at a discount price and government workers could get paid to process the paperwork.

I’m ready for the Great Half White Father Who Camps By The Potomac to stop helping me out so much.  I don’t think I can afford it any more.


They need to be told?

Texas lawyers are going to vote to decide if it’s wrong to have sex with a client.

The committee decided that lawyers are not immune from the effects of sexual attraction on human judgment.

“It’s pretty sordid,” Eads said. “We had a hearing. A number of women said we needed an absolute prohibition. Lawyers will say, I want to have sex with your daughter or your son. Sometimes on the eve of trial they’ll say, you owe me $10,000, but if you have sex with me I’ll reduce it to $5,000.”

Doctors and psychologists have long understood the conflict of interest in this kind of relationship, but lawyers are still working on it.

And they wonder why people hate them so.


She Lied?

So, I’ve been working my way through the Supremes’ most recent 2nd Amendment case, McDonald vs. City of Chicago, and I find Sonia Sotomayor was on the losing team.  No big thing, I think we all know she was going to be to the left, and her votes would follow.  But the interesting part is that she joined, with Ginsberg, in Breyer’s dissent.  The dissent that says, the court got Heller wrong, and now that,

“In sum, the Framers did not write the Second Amendment in order to protect a private right of armed self defense.”

Wait a second.  Is this the same Sonia Sotomayor who swore to the Senate that Heller was valid law, settled law?

I’m still working on McDonald, but it seems to be quite similar to Heller in one important respect.  It opens the door for all kinds of new cases as to what restrictions can be put on gun ownership under the 2nd Amendment.  Fat Tony really left the back door wide open in some respects when he wrote Heller.

So, does anyone believe Elena Kagan is a friend of the 2nd Amendment?


Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!

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One day, while I was in the police academy, we had to attend a speech by the Comandante del Policia of Mexico City. He was in town on some official visit and part of the giant dog and pony show was his speech to the cadets. He spoke about law enforcement being an honorable form of service.

A year later he was in prison after they discovered that he was one of the biggest crooks in Mexico.

It is a recurring theme:

McALLEN, Texas — A former Mexican police commander accused of playing an active role in guiding drug shipments served as a tax collector for the Gulf cartel, a witness testified Thursday in a federal drug smuggling case.Carlos “El Puma” Landin Martinez collected pisos, or tolls, from smaller drug gangs crossing through the cartel’s turf in Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, said Daniel Zamorano Marchant, a Chilean restaurant manager who once smuggled marijuana and methamphetamine for the cartel.

Anyone wanting to run drugs or transport illegal immigrants between the Mexican cities of Diaz Ordaz, south of Sullivan City, and Rio Bravo, had to pay tolls to Landin, Zamorano said. Landin is accused of running a drug smuggling operation for the Gulf drug cartel while also working as the state police commander in Tamaulipas, Mexico.

There may be honest cops in Mexico, but I never actually met one.   The odds against an honest man making it to a position of authority in Mexican law enforcement are simply astronomical.


I want to thank my chemistry professors

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My youngest son asked for help preparing for the semester final exam in chemistry. It’s an honors class, so the information is somewhat advanced, and more than a little beyond what my liberal arts education prepared me for. My week has been spent deciphering babble of this sort:

The more electronegative species gains a full negative charge while the other gains a full positive charge. The bond is purely coulombic, and as our theme of opposite charges predicts, the plus-minus is low energy and the attraction holds the two toms together.

When I first read that, my eyes crossed and I wondered why it wasn’t written in English.

I have discovered that chemists, while incredibly smart at all things chemical, are ignorant of how to explain such things to the chemically challenged. I’ve overcome the obstacles by reading two books, reading websites, and watching/listening to several informative podcasts. Not only do I actually understand this stuff, but I can teach it. After a fashion.

The boy’s textbook was simply horrible, and given the tax dollars expended it is criminal. It covers a scads of material, but it does a rotten job of explaining many concepts. This seems to be a recurring theme in academia. The oldest son is a freshman in college and he waits a week or more after a class has started to see which required books he needs to buy, because, as is the case with the high school kid, many instructors find it much more effective to teach from lectures and handout materials from other sources.

So, the textbook was little help, and I was able to counter some of its weaknesses with a copy of Chemistry for Dummies. Yeah, I know – how appropriate. But still, there were some concepts that weren’t explained very well and I was finding myself in the weeds too often. I started searching the internet and found thousands of websites, many of them for schools and colleges.

What I was looking for was something comprehensive, that didn’t assume I already knew a lot about chemistry but explained the material in depth from A to Z.

What I found were sites that were either too elementary – A, B and C were explained and it stopped there – or too complicated – X, Y and Z were detailed and it was expected that the reader knew everything that came before “X”. It was taking, on average, 8 – 10 websites and both books to understand a single concept.

I began to harbor a deep hatred for a number of college and high school chemistry instructors. At one point I realized that you didn’t need to know chemistry to blow things up, and I fantasized about being the next Unabomber. Chemistry profs and teachers across the country would run in fear at the sight of their friendly postman.

But foolish fantasies, while briefly enjoyable, were not solving my problem.

At one point I placed my hopes in the audio podcasts from some community college chemistry classes. After all, what were once known as Junior Colleges are for all the people who weren’t quite ready for real college – right?

I teach a community college and I can say unequivocally that I teach at a more basic level, even though our credits transfer to “big name” colleges and universities. I know someone that almost lost her job because students bitched and moaned that she “taught like it was Yale.” She had to dumb down and break down her courses to meet the needs of her less skilled students.

That’s a quote from Rate Your Students, a site for professors to bitch about rate the simpletons darlings that are their students. There is a debate there at the moment on the quality of community college students and professors.

If I didn’t instruct community college students on a more basic level than university students, my community college students would drop out at an even more alarming rate than they already do (I sometimes lose half a class over the course of a semester–this is standard in our neck of the woods). I do have some intelligent students who would do better with more focused and higher level instruction. I am grateful for them every day, and I try to push them to excel in their work–many of them have thanked me for doing that.

Unfortunately, all of the profs who are dumbing their lectures down are evidently too busy to make a podcast or a website that doesn’t suck suffer from being babble that only chemistry geeks understand.

Nearly at the point of losing all hope, I ran across some podcasts for chemistry class lectures at UC Berkley, which has a phenomenal reputation for its college of chemistry. At least four elements on the periodic table were first isolated by Berkley researchers. I downloaded a few on to a flash drive and popped it into my truck’s stereo so I could listen while I was driving. Honestly, I have to say that I had little hope, and I was sure that it would be wasted time because I believed that the material would start out over my head and get more complex. In fact, what I found was that I started to understand the material. The only thing missing was being able to see the visual aids being used in the class.

I was so close.

Then I found MIT’s Open Course Ware website.

MIT was an early adopter of providing an open university of sorts on the internet. The same lectures (as video/audio podcasts), lecture notes, test materials, and related links, as on campus students receive, are all available for a variety of courses. The only thing missing in most cases are the textbooks. You can check it out by clicking here to go to the MIT Open Course Ware site.

Ultimately I watched all of the lectures for about half of a semester of two different chemistry classes (actually, one was a engineering materials class for solid state chemistry)

Professors Sylvia Ceyer and Donald Sadoway’s lectures were phenomenal and my comprehension of chemistry skyrocketed. If you consider MIT’s reputation, the caliber of the students and instructors, and the complexity of the course, it’s amazing that I understood anything. Not that I understood everything, there was always a point at which it became very complicated and my eyes glazed over – “So, the attractive energy is simply Q1 times Q2 over 4 times Pi Epsilon zero R…” – but, up to that point I was in the groove. And besides, I didn’t really need to know how to measure the energy, I just wanted to understand the basic behavior of electron energy in chemical bonding. Unlike the 9th grade textbook, my Chemistry for Dummies book, or a dozen tutorials on different websites, at MIT I found the material I needed to know and understood it.

Youngest son has been complaining about not being able to understand his chemistry teacher. So have a number of other students, and the drop rate in the class has been pretty high. I’ve talked to the man several times and he does speak with an accent, and since English is not his first language he does occasionally use some awkward wording. It’s not that big of an impediment, but I think that when it’s coupled with some difficult material presented at a rapid pace that communication problems do account for some of the kids’ lack of understanding. Or, you could choose to believe what my son believes is the problem – “He’s not that good of a teacher, Dad. All of the kids in class agree that nobody understands half of what he is teaching.”

After my recent experience with chemistry teachers I can sympathize with the little darlings.

But when I was having difficulty translating a point, I resorted to sharing part of an MIT video with him. It was short, just a two minute segments of an hour lecture, but he got the point I was trying to make – and he had a sudden epiphany on another point I didn’t know he was having problems with.

That’s how you calculate those! I tried to get Mr. (Teacher) to explain that to me three times, he talked about it for thirty minutes in class, and I still didn’t understand it.

Junior is taking physics next semester, a subject that I enjoy and know a few things about, and I am looking forward to helping him. But if I stumble, I know where to go to fill in the blank spaces in my knowledge.


I’m Alycia and I’ll be your Emmy Award winning waitress

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I‘m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that not only did Alycia Lane win an Emmy for reading the news from a teleprompter, but that she was being paid an estimated $700,000 a year to do that. Wow America, let’s try to get our priorities straight.

Anyway, Alycia may be coming soon to a Denny’s near you…

A TV station fired a local anchorwoman who has been off the air since she was charged with striking a New York City police officer, only the latest dust-up for the telegenic brunette.Alycia Lane “has been released from her contract effective immediately,” KYW-TV said in a statement Monday, the day she had been due back on air…KYW, a CBS affiliate, had Lane start a previously scheduled vacation a week early and pulled her from station promotions during her absence.

“After assessing the overall impact of a series of incidents resulting from judgments she has made, we have concluded that it would be impossible for Alycia to continue to report the news as she, herself, has become the focus of so many news stories,” station president and general manager Michael Colleran said in the statement.

See ya girlfriend…wouldn’t want to be ya!

The other thing that bothers me about this story, is that this low class broad who seems to have problems keeping her paws off other womens’ husbands, was probably fired not because she made an ass out of herself and assaulted a police officer, but because she called the female officer a “dyke”. Being a complete tool and flagrant lawbreaker is not a problem, but violating the mandates of political correctness is a felony.


Dumbass or Liar?

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There is a huge zillion-page biography of Teddy Roosevelt on the night table next to my bed. It’s about the size of a Manhattan phone book, and while I love TR, this thing goes into interminable detail that can often be boring. It’s what I reach for when I’m having hard time dropping off to sleep. A few pages of a fifty page discussion about the election of 1904 and I’m off to the land of nod.

Sometimes a few pages of TR is not enough to put me out and I have to reach for stronger medicine. My current heavy-duty sleep inducing read of choice are the blogs of police executives. The writing in a Chief’s blog is about as genuine as the chasteness of a daytime hooker, and as boring as any policy memo I ever read.

The Chief of SCPD started a blog a while back and it is a guaranteed snoozer. A few minutes reading what some staff member with too much time, too little imagination and too many flips through the pages of a thesaurus has turned out would make a speeding meth freak nod off in mid-tweak.

Then I read the blog of Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom of the North Wales Police. I think the man might actually write his own entries rather than delegating it to some house cat on his staff. Some of it is actually interesting and he is not afraid of taking a stand on an issue as opposed to the usual PR drivel that is churned out in other chief blogs. But then, last night, I read his most recent entry and I was wide awake as I read what can only be described as a controversial stance that Brunstrom has taken:

I have spent much time recently trying to inject some sense into the drugs debate. My latest foray was on the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme broadcast on New Year’s Day, in which I stated that ecstasy is safer than aspirin, a comment which has attracted much attention in the media – particularly from those sections of the tabloid press which, sadly, seek simplistically to demonise drugs rather than face the facts.

Well, isn’t that interesting. Richard, old man, I have to say that I agree with your general conclusion about the collective simplemindedness of the media. However, given the general degree of harm that comes to society from illegal drugs, I’m not sure that they are too terribly far from the mark in pointing an accusing finger.

But we could argue that sort of thing all day and I suspect that neither of us would be won over by the other. And I am not going after Brunstrom for his policy choice, as much as I really take great offense at this statement:

…UK government figures from the Office of National Statistics show that between 1993 & 2006, ecstasy was ‘mentioned’ on death certificates in England and Wales 456 times (and mentioned on its own, without other drugs being present, less than half that number of times – 234) , whereas aspirin was mentioned on 504 occasions (on 285 occasions in the absence of other drugs)¹. So in the last 14 years, as a fact, aspirin has been formally associated by the government with the death of more people than has ecstasy. That’s why I said on the radio that ecstasy’s safer than aspirin.

Police agencies love to collect data and produce statistical reports. Good managers use metrics to evaluate effectiveness, but they also are smart enough to see through someone who is misusing numbers to hide the truth. Here in the former colonies we like to say that there are lies, there are damn lies, and there are statistics.

Figures lie and liars figure.

“I say, Cerberus”, you might ask me, “…are you calling Richard a lying bastard?”

What other choice is there? The only other possible explanation is that Richard Brunstrom is a complete dumbass who can’t see through the lies inherent in the bullshit figures he tossed out in his blog, and which are apparently the basis for the utter nonsense that claims Ectsasy is safer than Aspirin.

Why is it bullshit? Because he is comparing apples to oranges. He’s doing some mathematic slight of hand and expects people to fall for it. And it’s not even good magic, but more along the lines of Uncle Frank pulling a quarter out of your ear. You know, the kind of thing you stopped falling far by age ten.

The most recent figures for total Ecstasy use in the UK is from 2002 (right in the midst of the period Brunstrom uses), and indicates that about 2.2% of the population aged 16 to 59 (about 730,000) are Ecstasy users and that they are estimated to consume between 500,000 to 2 million pills each week. That’s 26 – 104 million tabs each year. So, the average is anywhere from .6 tablets to almost 3 tables each week per user. Using a total UK population of 60 million, the per capita per annum use is 1.73 tablets of ecstasy – at the most.

I’m using per capita per annum for the total population because finding extensive data on aspirin use is more difficult. And to be fair, Richard’s statistics are for the entire population.

Aspirin? Sales are pretty static over a long period of time and estimates for total annual sales in the UK range from a minimum of 300 million tablets to 780 million. The range is because the sales figures I found were for packages (or bottles) of pills and used a range of between 25 – 65 tablets per packet/bottle. It works out that the folks in the UK use from 5 to 13 tablets of aspirin per capita per annum.

At least three times as many aspirins are consumed in the UK as compared to Ecstasy, and the number could be as much as ten times greater again. And while I don’t put forward any statistics on how many people use aspirin over there, I will kiss your butt if it isn’t more than the 730,000 odd X takers. A lot more.

The total number of deaths in a population of 60 million is similar between the two drugs over a thirteen year period, but a lot more people take a lot more of one drug than the other. Maybe I don’t know to do European math, but over here those numbers easily add up to Ecstasy being a hell of a lot more deadlier than Aspirin.

If you go to his blog and read his post, you will notice a link at the bottom for an Excel spreadsheet on death data in the UK for the period he referenced in his statement. Interesting to note is that the annual number of Ecstasy deaths have been trending up (up at least fourfold in 13 years), while aspirin deaths have trended down (cut by more than half).

So, Chief Constable, are you a liar or just shitty at math?