Insomnia Log

This is what keeps me awake at night???

Who needs sleep? (well you’re never gonna get it)
Who needs sleep? (tell me what’s that for)
Who needs sleep? (be happy with what you’re getting,
There’s a guy who’s been awake since the second world war)

-- words and music by Steven Page & Ed Robertson

Location: Boulder, Colorado, United States

Everything you need to know about me can be found in my posts

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Did You Brush Your Teeth?

Boulder has now installed a new crosswalk safety device that, I kid you not, vocally warns pedestrians to look before crossing. I'm pretty sure they hired my mother to record the warning. "Stop! Look both ways! Clean your plate!"

Ok, maybe not the last one.

We have a number of crosswalks where the pedestrian waiting to cross can press a button and lights start flashing, warning drivers that someone is crossing. Except, some people are not smart enough to look to make sure the cars are stopped before stepping out into the street. So now, my mom is going to remind them.

Then there are the folks who abuse these signals by barreling through on their bikes, completely surprising drivers who are looking for pedestrians traveling at walking speed. I guess Darwin had a word for this type of behavior.

Anyway, how about someone designs a new device to actually enforce these crossing areas. Something like, when the pedestrian presses the button, after two seconds a series of spikes comes up out of the roadway to pierce the tires of anybody trying to drive through. Or maybe something with a giant magnet.

Actually, I have an even better idea. When the pedestrian has the right of way, a cell phone disruptor could be turned on that will cause anybody driving through to lose their signal and drop their call. That would get their attention!

Here's a (semi-)serious question about this new device. Suppose a pedestrian presses the button, steps out into the street, and gets run over. Does the fact that the pedestrian was warned to use caution provide an argument that could be used in court that the pedestrian was at fault?

Luckily I don't often have to cross that particular street in that particular location, so I won't be the one to test out my question. Anyone want to volunteer?

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Wild Foods: Mixing Trust with Antitrust Leads to Total Annihilation

I can't believe what John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, said. I'm not the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company. Yet, my employer makes sure that I understand antitrust law well enough to know when to shut up, and what not to put into writing. Whole Foods is trying to buy its biggest rival, Boulder-based Wild Oats. And Mackey actually wrote in memos that the merger would eliminate competition and prevent a price war. Doesn't the man understand that while in the middle of an attempted merger all of these documents are discoverable and will be seen? He may have created and grown a hugely successful business, but he clearly needs to either hire some better lawyers or start listening to the ones he already has.

Full disclosure, not only do I shop at both stores, I also own stock in both companies. I have not offered my Wild Oats shares for sale to Whole Foods, but if the merger does go through I will have no choice. Also, the merger is likely to have a big local impact in Boulder -- in addition to the Whole Foods (already slated for expansion), there are three Wild Oats stores, plus the brand new Wild Oats corporate headquarters. Undoubtedly, at least one of those locations will close after the merger, reducing our shopping options.

Here's what I don't understand about this merger. Wild Oats shareholders have already tendered (as of a few days ago) about 58% of the outstanding shares of the company to Whole Foods. That's enough to make the merger happen, absent legal issues. Whole Foods is now under an injunction against acquiring any more shares, and injunction is in effect until July 31. They have recently extended the deadline to tender shares until July 20 -- but the company will be under injunction against proceeding with the merger past that date. Whatever will they do?

Unfortunately, although there may be some downsides to the planned merger, it is probably far enough along that it would have a huge negative impact on Wild Oats if the deal is killed. If Mackey can't convince the FTC that his anti-competitive comments were just meaningless bluster, it will probably be left to someone else to come in and pick up the pieces.

Anyone want to buy a health food chain cheap?

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Is It True They Eat Their Own Young?

Anyone who has lived in Boulder for a while knows about Jon Caldara and the Independence Institute. Jon had a column for a while in the Daily Camera in which he enraged local liberals with his very conservative views. Jon is president of the Independence Institute, a local "non-partisan" think tank that promotes a libertarian view point.

That's why I was shocked to read a study published by the Independence Institute highly critical of Bill O'Reilly and his coverage of the Boulder High School/Conference on World Affairs controversy. I found the study after following a link in a comment to my earlier post on this topic (yes, I read the comments).

There is also a podcast of Caldara discussing the study with its author, Dave Kopel. It was fascinating to hear Caldara struggle to make sure we all knew he was true to his conservative base, that he still thinks Boulderites are clueless, while attacking one of his own for Michael-Moore-like tactics.

Of course, never mind that Jon Caldara uses one of Michael Moore's worst tactics: creating a caricature of some of the people you disagree with, and then attacking all people who disagree with you based on that caricature.

In any case, I thought Dave Kopel did a good and fair job in his analysis, and was much better at leaving his own opinions out of it (or at least presenting the other side along with his opinion).

Some of the highlights of the report:
  • O'Reilly lied when he said that all Boulder High students were required to attend the panel discussion.
  • O'Reilly lied when he said the same people have been invited back next year.
  • O'Reilly's crew committed a felony home invasion as part of their investigation, and then broadcast that crime on television.
  • O'Reilly is being hypocritical, in that in his own book he advises middle school and high school students, "I’m not going to tell you to avoid sex, because in the end you’re going to do what you want anyway. ... Sex is best when you combine sensible behavior with sincere affection.”
  • O'Reilly took quotes out of context to completely change the meaning of what some speakers said.
    • For example, he used one quote to show that a panelist was telling kids to not use condoms, when in fact the speaker was telling the kids just the opposite.
    • Same thing with 12-year-olds having sex: The speaker in fact said there was never any good reason for 12-year-olds to have sex, while O'Reilly's quotes out of context imply otherwise.
    • Same thing when O'Reilly claimed that the speaker was promoting homosexual experimentation.
    • A panelist's warnings about drug use were presented as promoting drug use.
If you think you know what happened at the panel and you are outraged, I suggest you read this report, rather than blindly following the outrage-on-demand factory that is Bill O'Reilly.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Tenure's After

So, a bunch of Republican state legislators got together and demanded (yet again) that Ward Churchill be fired. That seems rather stupid to me.

It's not that I'm not sympathetic. Apparently Professor Churchill has proven himself a terrible scholar and probably should be fired. It's just that, by demanding that the University bypass its own policies, they are encouraging the view that this entire thing is merely a political firing. That will only increase the likelihood that Churchill's inevitable wrongful firing lawsuit will succeed.

If we're going to fire people for making up facts and taking credit for other people's ideas, then I think we should take it further. We need to apply the same standard to our politicians. Let's investigate the lies by State Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany and his buddies casting stones at the University's glass house. Let's make a list of all the times they have taken credit for someone else's work. Then, we'll pick someone who knows nothing about the situation to publicly demand the ouster of the offending politicians.

Oh, and while we're at it, we should also demand the firing of any media pundits who are doing similar things. That means you, Bill O'Reilly.

Or maybe all we need to do is admit that, whether you are a university professor, a politician, or a pundit, being self-righteous does not make you right.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

End of the Family Programming Hour

Apparently, David Chase filmed several versions of the final episode of The Sopranos, so that nobody would find out early how it ended. Well, I wrote up several responses before I actually watched the episode, but I at least am willing to share them with my loyal readers.

1. You know, I always suspected that Uncle Junior was faking. But, when he retrieved his hidden stash and used it consolidate his power and to make good on his earlier failed attempt at killing Tony, I thought that was brilliant. What better place to run the crime family than from the state mental hospital. And who knew that Janice had it in her to help plot such a thing -- getting Phil Leotardo to kill her own husband. And then, using that murder as the incentive to get Tony and Phil together to shoot each other, well she proved her brilliance and earned her new number two spot under Uncle June.

2. I always thought Tony's relationship was a bit close with FBI Agent Dwight Harris. But I never guessed that Tony was an FBI agent all along. And when he finally came out and arrested all of the (surviving) members of his gang, it was perfect. They were all in such shock, nobody could do a thing in response. Seeing Tony put the cuffs on Paulie, well that was priceless; I thought he had it coming for at least two seasons.

3. What a cop out! Phil Leotardo, with a gun pointed at Tony, then a fade to black. Then a woozy return to consciousness, and we see Tony lying on the ground next to his pool, with a flock of ducks flying by. Yes, it turns out that all six seasons and 86 episodes were a dream that Tony experienced while he was blacked out. One can only hope that his imagined sessions with Dr. Melfi would have some impact on Tony's real life. But of course, in real life it turns out that Tony is not a gangster, but merely a salesman. And I suppose that his dream is merely the fantasy that we all share that our boring lives would become HBO-worthy.

4. I knew she was manipulative. But it came as a big surprise to me to find out that Dr. Melfi was actually the driving force behind most of Tony's big actions. Using the power of subliminal suggestion she was able to drive him to her goals so easily. She must have been watching The Manchurian Candidate. But seeing her gunned down by the FBI, well, that was pretty hard to swallow. I would have thought she'd be smart enough to find the listening device in her office -- under her own chair!

Oh, well, maybe I didn't quite get it right in any of my predictions, but who did any better? I invite any of you to submit your fantasy series ending in a comment to this post.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Pains, Trains, and Automobiles

I had occasion last week to travel to the east coast. Over the course of four days, I flew to Washington, took the commuter light rail to Alexandria, VA, took Amtrak to Philadelphia, then the commuter rail to the suburbs, caught a ride back to the airport, and then flew back to Denver.

It continues to amaze me how unpleasant it has become to fly in this country. And I was surprised at how much nicer it was to take the train. Time wise, it wasn't even that much different.

I used to like to travel. Going different places, navigating airports, seeing different cities, exploring. But over the years, especially after 9/11, it has gotten more difficult and uncomfortable to fly.

I don't fly enough to earn upgrades, nor to get bumped in the more legroom section (nor do I want to travel that much). And now I have to pay extra money just to avoid having my knees smashed by the seat in front of me. That's right, $40 one way and $44 the other (not sure why the difference) just to avoid injury. Yes, I have longer than overage legs, but I shouldn't have to plead with the person in the seat in front of me not to lean their seat back. I swear, the amount of legroom seems to get less each year.

I understand and agree that there needs to be security. However, some of what they do in the name of security is ridiculous. For example, making you take your shoes off. The least they could do it put an area where you could sit down and put your shoes back on after getting through security.

Every doctor, hospital, pharmacist, insurance company, and employer is required to take extraordinary steps to protect the medical privacy of people in this country. But once you get to the airport you have to put all of your most personal items (toiletry liquids, prescription drugs) into a clear plastic bags for the TSA employees and all of your fellow passengers to see.

Unless you are a baby or a diabetic, you can't bring your own liquids onto the plane. Now you can at least buy something after you get through security, if you have time to wait in line and they happen to sell what you need. But, even with water, on most flights the flight attendants are reluctant to give you any significant quantity. If you want to stay fully hydrated on a flight (which you should for health reasons), you need to bring an empty water bottle and electrolyte drink mix, and fill and mix it up after security before getting on the plane.

Contrast that to the train. I went to the station, I bought a ticket (much cheaper, by the way), I waited on the platform, I got on board. No security check. I found a seat, threw my bag in the overhead, and sat and watched the countryside go by. On the train, time goes by much quicker, you are more comfortable, the scenery is nicer, and you can move around. You see all sides of America, from the beautiful back country to the squalid inner city slums.

My suggestion to the airline industry, the TSA, and the U.S. government? Be careful, the airline business is in bad shape already. By making it harder and more unpleasant to fly you are going to continue to drive away customers. Business travelers will find ways to do business without flying. And everyone else won't be able to afford to pay what you are going to have to charge to make up for the difference.

Have a nice trip!

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

Only In Boulder

Well, it's happened again. The Denver and national media is focused on Boulder, and what nut cases we are. People in my office are accosting me with facts about how outrageous we are. And that just makes the people of this town, well, to be honest, it makes us feel morally superior.

I can't begin to list the number of times it has happened over the years. Mostly the Denver shock jocks. This time it started with the KOA Denver radio host, Dan Caplis, but then even Bill O'Reilly got into the picture.

Yes, Mr. O'Reilly is up in arms about Boulder -- specifically Boulder High and the local school board. It seems that the Conference on World Affairs held a panel at Boulder High and invited the students, which they do every year. In fact, they held four panels, three of which generated no controversy: "Latin America: Political Forecast," "Marijuana Policies," and "Borat - Humorous or Hurtful."

But the fourth panel was titled "STDs: Sex, Teens and Drugs," and included a frank discussion of safe sex and drug use. One student complained to his parents, who complained to the school board. The school board initially apologized, and then back pedaled, saying the only error was that some students were required to attend the panel.

Now most Boulder residents don't know who Dan Caplis is, since he doesn't host the World Music hour on KGNU (the local left-of-Ward-Churchill public radio station). And they have only a vague idea that O'Reilly is a slim version of Rush Limbaugh, or perhaps just some weird half man/half bear that Stephen Colbert idolizes.

But now these media celebrities, who don't live in Boulder and who don't have kids at Boulder High, are pronouncing that students were forced to go to a seminar where they were encouraged to have wanton unprotected sex and use illegal drugs. Not the only lie foisted on the listeners and viewers eager for the next outrage. For example, O'Reilly stated that the school has invited the same folks back next year. While Boulder High will continue to host CWA events in future years, the same panel and the same speakers are not on the schedule (which of course doesn't even exist yet).

And now the principal, the superintendent, and the school board president are cowards because they refuse to talk to the O'Reilly and Caplis media machines and their loony followers who are harassing them non-stop.

There was a letter in today's Camera that made me laugh. Jack Strichman, upset about the panel, questioned whether the school district would be the subject of lawsuits when an attendee of the panel died of AIDS or an overdose of drugs. Amusing, when the panelists were encouraging responsible behavior, while Mr. Strichman clearly believes that children should not be taught responsible behavior. If his child were to suffer such a fate, I might not hold him directly to blame, but I would say that he could have done a better job for preparing that child for the realities of life.

The critics of this panel are quick to say that our children should be protected from such talk. In fact, the students we are talking about are not children, they are high school students, almost adults. If you as a parent have not instilled your moral beliefs in your children by that age, I would say that you have failed. If you can't trust your child in a discussion of beliefs that are different than yours, then you have lost your child. High school students are exposed very day to ideas just as "radical", on TV, on the Internet, from their friends, at the mall, etc.

So, Bill O'Reilly and friends, please keep it up. We Boulderites are all into feeling good about ourselves, and disapproval from you only helps!

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