The Occasional Joke

Nurse: Patient's name?

Centurion: Marcus Licinius Crassus

Nurse: And his date of birth?

Centurion: 115 BC.

Nurse: All right. And what is he here for?

Centurion: Cataphract surgery.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Oops and oops

So much for the Stadium bridge repair

Cutting federal spending and earmarks sounds like a great idea until it's your ox being gored, huh?

Update: we didn't lose all the money.  The original article suggested we did, but actually, it's just a piece of it.

Update: again: I badgered Councilman Chris Taylor into stating that a start date for the bridge repair would be in May, 2011, with an 18-month duration. Neither Kunselman nor Heiftje bothered to reply.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

And while we're talking about ...

... not worrying about the law, the Feds finally got around to dropping a RICO indictment on ex-Mayor of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick, his dad, and some friends.  They're calling the group, collectively, the Kilpatrick Enterprise. (Good name for a band, at least for a few months.)

For no good reason at all, I'm reading the actual indictment, which is a 91 page PDF.  I have far more time on my hands than most of you, so I won't be upset if I'm the only one who can talk about "Company L" and "Subcontractor DC" at cocktail parties.

Fittingly, 100% of the accusations (so far -- I'm only on page 24) have to do with sewer work.

Update: well, I finished it.  Kind of a sorry tale.  The actual amounts of money involved in the various hand offs or kick backs aren't all that large, but I assume they only include what the Feds believe they can prove, and consequently are a subset of the actual scammage.  Not a lot of humor, either; $300 stuffed into a gum package in order to "temporarily pacify" Bernard Kilpatrick; the repetition of the phrase "... for which no work was performed."  No thigh-slappers, just a picture of a corrupt little group, fiddling while Rome burned.

Don't worry about the law ...

... what do the ranchers want?

Some wildlife researchers claim the US Fish and Wildlife Service ignored the legal requirement "to make decisions about listing species solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available" when they removed the Grey Wolf from the endangered list.  Instead, they relied on local human opinion (and, you want to bet, pressure from those humans' elected representatives?)  This is so unsurprising that it's hardly worth posting except that it mirrors so exactly the behavior of other agencies, like, say, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, which suppressed studies about speed limits it didn't like.  Fact is, Grey Wolves don't pay taxes or vote, so we can hardly expect a tax-funded agency to hear their opinion.  However, if the only opinion it hears is that of the local folks who believe, wrongly by the way, that a handful of canids are responsible for stock losses, then that's another matter.  Because the rest of us who don't live in Idaho or Montana or Wyoming might have an opinion, too.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Another bad college slogan

Everybody got a snicker last month when Drake University augmented its marketing materials with the symbol "D+."  Now Texas Tech University, touting its new PhD in Wind Engineering, takes out a full page ad in New Scientist to say: "An education that will blow you away!"

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rick Snyder: clearly not afraid ...

... to stick his neck out.  Like a number of first time politicians, Snyder is promising fast action, although so far, he isn't really saying action on what.

"We are going to lay out a plan — a very aggressive plan. In the first six months of this administration, we're going to try to achieve incredible things … that you would think would take years or decades."

Some of his initiatives are to cut taxes ... and to have government focus on customer service.  Interesting mix of objectives there; I'm not sure how you'd go about that, given that taxes are not especially high now, by comparison, and customer service from state government is not very obvious at any level.  Not saying it can't be done, especially with those vague user stories, but I'm not sure how well we'll like it, if it does happen.  
One concrete proposal from Snyder has been to lower state employee salaries to comparability with the private sector. Great idea if, in fact, there is a disparity -- haven't seen any numbers, myself, but that doesn't mean anything.  More to the point, though, is that many, many state employees are represented by unions such as AFSCME, the Michigan Education Association (the teachers' union,) and others.  Nothing involving sweeping changes in compensation will be quick -- certainly not in six months. 

More interesting is Snyder's stated desire to rid the state of divisiveness and to foster a culture of cooperation.  Anyone who's lived in Michigan any length of time will hear that and kind of cock their head to one side, like a dog who'd really like to understand you but doesn't.   The reality of Michigan is that it consists of a vastly incompetent Detroit-focused Democratic party and the rest of the state, which is represented by vastly incompetent Republicans.  Divisiveness is practically taught in school. We are so short of real political talent here that ... well, that we elected a political outsider as Governor.
So, we'll see.  Snyder appears to be making good initial moves, staying closer to the center of the road than the other GOP candidates, and cooperating with the outgoing administration.  But real changes in six months?  Good luck with that. Let's see how it goes.

Update: Snyder says  that cuts were needed but that he "wouldn’t take away anything that’s already been earned by anyone." He dismissed the suggestion that previous cuts were sufficient and suggested he wants to institute long-term reforms.

But he also says: Fighting to eliminate collective bargaining rights is "probably not a viable option in the Michigan system."

I just flat don't get it.  Maybe I'm missing something.  Or Ann is confusing me.  I suppose, sigh, I should actually read what Snyder's saying rather than rely on the local press interpretations thereof.  But that would be work, and I'm not supposed to be working right now.  It was work enough reading the Kilpatrick indictment.


You think Obama's in a tough spot

How'd you like to be Silvio "Bunga Bunga" Berlusconi right now?  He survived a no-confidence vote by three votes -- 314 votes to 311 -- to continue to cling to power.  But his chances of getting anything passed in what the Italians like to call a legislature are on a par with the Obama administration passing, oh, say, a nationwide ban on beer.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

It's been far too long

Since I posted anything about our eponymous rodent, Marmota monax, the Woodchuck and family.  Now there's a study about ... wait for it ... social networking in marmots.

"Marmots don’t have Facebook yet, but animals living among clusters of burrows in Colorado do interact enough for observers to plot networks with each marmot as a node. An exchange might be friendly, such as a marmot grooming a neighbor or settling down tranquilly nearby. Or a social interaction might go sour, with one marmot nipping or chasing another. “Marmots are grumpy with each other,” Blumstein says, but rarely cause serious injuries"

It's these so-called incoming social interactions, those initiated by another furry little rascal, that were studied and that may, possibly, have a genetic basis. The suggestion, somehow torturously arrived at, is that having lots of connections (being a social animal) brings with it a share of snubs, bites, and kicks-off-the-rock, and if you're genetically predisposed to putting up with that level of snarkiness in your life, that may somehow be adaptively advantageous.  I guess.  If I'm reading it right.

“I am completely blown away by this paper,” says James Fowler, professor of medical genetics and political science at the University of California, San Diego, who is clearly short of a social life himself.