Tuesday, March 31, 2009

More evidence for stuff CC thought anyway and one surprise

-Keith Olbermann is a schmuck who is someday going to be more trouble to liberalism than he's worth. He named twitter "the worst person in the world" because there was a twitter account in his name that he hadn't made. He made vague suggestions that Fox News might be behind this conspiracy without, you know, asking his own network if they were running it as a PR thing, which they were. You think he will apologize to Fox News for the false allegation? Me neither.

-Old people in love are the cutest thing ever

-XKCD is at its most brilliant when it is at its most depressing.

-Weddings seriously bring out the weird in some people.

-U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan doth sucketh mightily. Ok, that's not entirely accurate, she's very good at what she does, she just fights expensively for things I abhor such as vigorously enforcing obscenity laws and going after pain doctors who over-prescribe. Also, she was in the middle of the US Attorney firing conspiracy.

On the upside, she went to University of Pittsburgh School of Law, which should give everyone out there at a third-tier law school hope that they, too, too still have a shot at becoming powerful enough to be a major force for injustice. (MEOW!)

-PETA folks are nuts.

-As crazy as Americans are when it comes to anything involving terrorism the Brits will always be crazier.

-Jim Webb is one of the few actual mavericks in politics today and it would be awesome if he were vice-president rather than Biden

And the surprise:

Some people in the Maryland State legislature are at least willing to look at the "police departments overusing SWAT teams" issue.

The relevant portion of the article:

"Delegates adopted a bill, on a 126 to 9 vote, that would require law enforcement agencies to report every six months on their use of SWAT teams, including what kinds of warrants the teams serve and whether any animals are killed during raids. The bill was prompted by the case of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo, whose two black Labrador retrievers were shot and killed during a botched raid by a Prince George's County Sheriff's Office SWAT team in July.

Calvo has said he was surprised to learn that police departments use the heavily armed units far more routinely than they once did but that it is difficult to get reliable statistics about SWAT raids. The Senate has passed a similar measure. "

Correction/Clarification: Mary Beth Buchanan goes after pain doctors who are almost certainly innocent of over prescribing anything. Read all about it. I knew that I didn't approve of going after doctors criminally for being fooled by patients, I knew about how hard it is for the Chalicerelative's best friend to get her oxycodone prescription filled already. I didn't know that Buchanan was quite this bad.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Minor Lawbreaking

Since the bar looms in front of me, albeit two years in front of me, but seriously, nothing has loomed quite like this since I was planning my wedding, I've noticed that I have way cut down on minor lawbreaking. I was telling someone this this other day and they looked at me like "What? When you rob convenience stores, you no longer carry a firearm?"

No, actually, I meant various minor driving infractions, also now if I'm at a party and people start using drugs I feel I have to leave, and if somebody says "Sorry about your headache. I don't have any ibuprofen on me, want to try a Tramadol?" the answer is "No." Or should have been that one time. But anyway, never, ever do that.

Part of this is just getting older, but part of it is the clear and ever-present knowledge that if, say, theCSO and I get it on in a park and get caught, I'm going to have to explain it in my bar applications. Not a happy thought.

Anyway, there's a large and fairly amusing discussion of minor lawbreaking here.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Yes, I know about the e-mail that went out at 1:51 p.m.

And I bet that if you got it and you're a frequent reader, you have a decent idea of why it is relevant to my life. Insights and advice welcome to my private e-mail address.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, either you will know soon enough or it doesn't concern you.

Sorry to be rude about this, but it's a weird situation.


Ps. Still no news on the opportunity, which doesn't at all mean I won't get a yes at some point. But for now, I'm back.

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

I wasn't sure about this whole "computer" thing the first time my parents brought home a Tandy 1000 from Radio Shack. They set it up in the basement and told me to type my homework on it, something I sucked at doing.

I really didn't get into it until they brought home King's Quest, a very early adventure game where you were played a little animated knight named Sir Graham wandering around having adventures in a fairy tale-type kingdom and recovering treasures in hopes of one day inheriting the throne of the aging king.

And you died when you screwed up. You died A LOT, which horrified the Chalicerelative.

Unlike previous text games, this was like a cartoon that you were involved in. You could control what Sir Graham did and watch him walk where you told him to. You didn't proceed through a linear adventure arcade-style. You could do a lot of wandering around, and indeed, had to. To little CC, it was awesome, though it sounds completely ridiculous to be praising this stuff more than twenty years later.

King's Quest was produced by the team of Ken and Roberta Williams, and written by Roberta.

Roberta Williams had been a housewife when her computer programmer husband brought home a game called "Colossal Caves," a very popular text adventure game that Roberta started playing constantly. She realized that she could write something similar, and better.

So she did. She wrote a game called Mystery house at her kitchen table. And then she took her husband out for a steak dinner and convinced him to program it for her. It was the first computer game to ever use graphics and its colossal success gave Ken and Roberta the capital they needed to start up their own game company, Sierra, which would be one of the most influential game companies of the 1980's and early 1990s.

Mystery House was released in May 1980. By 1982, Roberta was writing King's Quest, which would also prove to be one of the most important video games of all time.

Roberta wrote and produced so many influential games that ten years ago, Sierra released the "Roberta Williams" anthology, which includes fifteen of the eighteen titles she wrote, excluding two she had written under contract for Disney and her last game Phantasmagoria, which was huge by the standards of the time. (And sold a million copies, which was great at the time, but of course sounds sort of pathetic now.)

Roberta Williams has retired from gaming. She won't comment on other people's games, though every time one plays World of Warcraft, one is doing a bunch of things that people didn't do in video games before Williams. Now, she takes a lot of vacations and she is working on a historical novel.

But her work and her innovations paved the way for the video games we have today.

And they showed one little girl that computers could be pretty cool.


Ps. So far, and Ada Lovelace day is almost over, only one other person has written about Roberta Williams. Here is that post.

And here's one more.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Bleg: RE internet policies

I know, I know, lots of blegs and little content recently. Sorry. Life is really, really stressful.

Anyway, my church is putting together an internet policy for RE to handle issues like:

1. YRUUer writes "I had the worst day ever! I'm so depressed!" on facebook. Do you:
a. Send them a private message of concern (which might come off as creepy, particularly if they are of the opposite gender)
b. Post a "hey, hope tomorrow is better" or "you can talk to me" message on their wall (and wonder if their friends start asking who the dorky adult who hangs out on their facebook page is.)
c. Ignore it until Sunday and check in with them then (But they are hurting now, unless they are just being melodramatic, which is always possible with some teenagers)

2. If a YRUUer looks like they might be bullying another kid online or being online bullied themselves, at what point do you intervene and how?

3. When, if ever, is it appropriate to private message/IM/Text a youth? (Goodness knows being able to text "Bring your permission slip to the retreat" to the one youth who keeps forgetting makes life easier, but if we make it seem normal for youth and advisors to be having one-on-one conversations over private mediums, aren't we opening the door for something hinky to happen at some point should a conversation turn intimate?)

4. Should an advisor ever "friend" a youth or should that always be the youth's choice?

5. If an advisor starts posting to a youth's page in a way that makes them uncomfortable, is there a way to set up things to make it easy for the youth to ask them to "back off" that minimizes the intimidation factor?

6. If a youth is posting pictures or text that suggests underage drinking or drug use or sex, at what point is it the advisor's duty to talk to the youth's parents?

7. If Janet, a YRUUer, makes her status "Janet is horny," is it the advisor's job to talk to her about how that's a really bad idea, which she almost certainly knows on some level anyway? If so, what's the best way to do that to minimize the embarassment all around?

8. What about other adults in the congregation? Where do these lines differ for them, particularly in their interactions with the youth?

So basically, it's the essential YRUU advisor question "What is the proper balance between parent and friend?" applied to cyberspace, facebook in particular. One of the awesome things about being an advisor is that you are supposed to have the judgment of an adult but not the parent-child dynamic. But that's a really tricky balance sometimes as youth do sometimes get into situations where parental intervention is appropriate, yet if the youth view us as "spies for their parents" then they will be reluctant to reach out even if they really need to*.

Anyway, do any of you guys' churches have such a policy drawn up? If so, can I have a copy?



*I had a wonderful conversation a bit ago with a youth who was really concerned that this youth's Mother didn't trust him/her and constantly accused him/her of using drugs. The youth, who certainly doesn't have any of the external signs of drug use and has always seemed like a responsible kid to me, was embarassed and offended and wanted to know how best to talk to his/her mother about the mother's fears and get mom to cut the youth some slack.

It sure seemed like this conversation really helped, but it's not a conversation you can have unless the youth really believes that you're not going straight to their folks with anything they tell you.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Now I know artists have to pay the rent before they become famous...

But it still kinda blows my mind that Marc Chagall painted scenery for
theatrical productions.

Good on the Philly museum for having this and I'm sorry my picture
doesn't do it justice.

Friday, March 20, 2009

My take on class within UUism

I had a conversation yesterday with a guy in my church who is worried about losing his house.

It came up pretty naturally, I asked how he was doing and he said "Well, other than I might lose my house, great." He explained how he and his wife and his kids got into the situation, which isn't terribly relevant but you'd be sympathetic if I told you.

"Ya know," I said, "My impression is that the mortgage companies aren't in any hurry to take houses. The last thing they need is another one. If you call yours up, you might be able to work something out."

He allowed as to how he was planning to do this and someone else he knew had made a deal with a mortgage company that would work for him and he hoped he would be able to do something similar. I said I hoped so too.

At that point, a lady who had been nearby chimed in with how she was dealing with HER debt. The whole time I was fighting the urge to pull out my checkbook. But what theCSO and I have to spare isn't enough to help anyway and I'm defining "spare" somewhat loosely in that context anyway. The conversation didn't go on too much longer than that, but we talked about the tough economic times and how they were affecting the people we knew. I feel closer to those two people now than I ever have before.

This is one thing I don't get about the whole "class within UUism" debate. People draw those "white collar vs. blue collar" lines with such enthusiasm, but as far as I can tell, a lot of the problems are the same or similar when we actually start talking to each other. Especially in this economic climate. A law firm in my area has had six rounds of layoffs. Tell me white collar folks and blue collar folks don't have something to talk about these days.

I read on another blog about people saying that questions like "what do you do for a living?" and "where do you live?" make people who have less classy jobs and live in less classy neighborhoods feel insecure. I have no idea what to do about this because as far as I know, this is not intellectual snobbery, this is the human condition. I have a job that requires brains but not a college degree and I live in an unremarkable neighborhood in a nice zip code. There are lots of people I know with fancier jobs and houses and lots of people with less fancy jobs and houses.

The point isn't who does what and lives where as a matter of social rank, the point is that I know at all what they do and where they live because it gives us things to talk about and local concerns to discuss and bond over. We have to know something about the lives that our fellow congregants are living to really connect with them.

Besides, I bet if your answers to those two questions are "I'm a tax lawyer to the wealthy" and "I live in the fanciest neighborhood in town," half the listeners are thinking "I bet you don't get any time with your kids and you WAY overpaid for your house."


Monday, March 09, 2009

Five to Ten Percent Retention


We hear this figure bandied around a lot, but how accurate is it?

In the last year, seven visitors have darkened the doorstep of my UU church who came there with me. At least a few of them signed the guestbook as visitors.

-One of them didn't join because he went home to Ohio mere hours after the service.

-Two of them didn't join because they are already members of CLF. (They came for a social event, not a service, but they still visited.)

-Two of them didn't join because they are presbyterians and were just coming to see me give my lay service.

-One of them didn't join because she's perfectly happy to attend Sunday services in her old folks home, except for the one sermon on a topic of great interest to her that my church happened to have.

-One didn't join because he refuses to join a UUA church because of its stands on political issues. Also, he likes to sleep in on Sundays. He also came to see my lay service and work on the church bazaar.

Yep, my church has a zero percent Chalicechick friend retention rate.

But not one of those visits-without-return was the church's fault. Indeed, my church could have put years of effort and planning into increasing their retention rate, and it would not have made one tiny bit of difference to whether those seven people joined the church.

Similarly, when I had moved back to my area and was choosing a UU church I visited at least ten of them in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia before chosing the one I wanted. So for 2004, DC-area churches had something like a ten percent retention rate of me alone.

That sounds silly, but think about it. For something like nine churches, I attended between one and one dozen times, then left and never came back, in most cases because I'm really picky about the kind of preaching I like, though there were in many cases hundreds of people attending a church with preaching I thought wasn't first rate, so clearly my taste is far from universal*.

And I ended up not chosing the church with the best preaching because that church takes an hour to get to from my house on Sunday morning.

Are we taking stuff like this into account when we bemoan our admittedly tiny-appearing retention rate? Goodness knows that people do sometimes leave churches and never return because of reasons relating to the church itself.

But that's far from always the case, and even if it is, sometimes they just end up at a different UU church.


* Let's not forget, I once walked away from a church because the people were TOO NICE.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

A couple of quick points on the Merchant of Venice from a contract law perspective

Joe-the-Math-Guy is taking a Shakespere class from one of the professors at the small liberal arts college where he teaches. They are doing the Merchant of Venice and he asked for my take on a couple of the questions it raises from a contract law perspective.

So I figured I'd put a copy of that here, too.


First of all, to reiterate what I said in the discussion in the car, the contract would absolutely be void if it were written in America today. Selling body parts is illegal in every state and it is a basic tenet of contract law that you cannot contract for illegal products or services, or rather, you can, but the courts will not help you if there’s a dispute.

I have no idea what the common law looked like in Venice at the time of the story. Given than transplant surgery was not a reality at that time, it is unlikely that the issue of body parts as a commodity was something the courts had addressed before. But there are plenty of what us law folks like to call “policy reasons” for the court to declare the contract invalid. “Policy reasons” are justifications for a law or decision that are based in the public policy and based on what the person doing the reasoning believes is best for society as a whole. “If people were allowed to sell their organs, poor people would become organ factories for the rich” is a policy justification for a law.

Given the state of medicine at the time, for the court to allow the contract to proceed would be essentially legalizing contracted murders. That alone is a reason why the contract wouldn’t fly.

For what it’s worth, from a legal perspective, Portia’s argument is as absurd if not more so. It’s a basic tenet of the common law that any granted right must also entail any incidental powers necessary to its exercise. For another example, I can’t offer to rent you my car, have you sign a contract and pay me, then announce that you can not use any of my gasoline, even if you replace it because the contract you signed had no provision for you being allowed to use any of the gas. If this sort of thing were allowed, contracts for even the most minor deal would have to be much too long and detailed and nothing would ever get done in this world.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

HfH 3: Desperate laryngitis bleg

Ummm... I can't freaking talk.

This has happened to me twice before as I was getting over being sick. (As I am now.) Both times it was gone within a day.

We're starting day four.

And I'm through being positive about it. I hate it. I realize that the clever thing to do here is to be all mature and reasonable about it and view myself as a little island of silence in a noisy world. Or use this as an opportunity to really listen to people.

Unfortunately, I have a job, and things to do at that job and after days of this I feel like I'm just annoying people with the notes and the whispering and the "Would you mind if I got someone else to make this call today? I'm happy to do the followup next week" I think my lawyers are really trying to be nice about it, but the vast array of simple tasks I suddenly can't do is as annoying to them as it is to me.

Whispering is bad for my voice and ineffective on the phone. But I do it anyway because I'm so desperate to get a message across without writing it and/or because somebody calls me on the phone and it's the best I can do.

Sometimes my throat has phlegm in it, sometimes not. Sometimes I cough, sometimes not. Some coughs turn into staggarringly painful little coughing fits. Most don't. But my voice is never there.

Anyway, stuff I have tried:

-tea with honey
-tea without honey
-gargling water and baking soda
-Gargling mouthwash
-gargling water and lidocaine
-brushing lidocaine on the part of my throat that hurts, which turned out to be my gag reflex (NEVER do this. Trust me.)
-Dozens of cough drops in three varieties
-Chicken soup
-Vomiting (not a remedy I chose, mind you, though it did do a good job of clearing out my throat.)
-breathing steam in a hot bath
-Going to the Dr. (No, I don't have strep.)

I really have slept a lot. I really shouldn't miss anymore work and I refuse to miss anymore class.

Does anyone have any more ideas?