Archive for August, 2011

Change We Can Believe in, XXI

August 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: Fiddle While the Economy Stalls

I awoke this past Sunday to several blog posts about Binyamin Appelbaum and Helen Cooper’s NYT article on internal White House debates about how to approach the economy. I’m a little late with my own. Let me quote from the article:

Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Plouffe, and his chief of staff, William M. Daley, want him to maintain a pragmatic strategy of appealing to independent voters by advocating ideas that can pass Congress, even if they may not have much economic impact. These include free trade agreements and improved patent protections for inventors.


A series of departures has left few economists among Mr. Obama’s senior advisers. Several of his political advisers are skeptical about the merits of stimulus spending, and they are certain about the politics: voters do not like it.

Mr. Plouffe and Mr. Daley share the view that a focus on deficit reduction is an economic and political imperative, according to people who have spoken with them. Voters believe that paying down the debt will help the economy, and the White House agrees, although it wants to avoid cutting too much spending while the economy remains weak.

As Calculated Risk points out, “It sounds like the debate is between doing nothing and doing very little.” Krugman’s summary: “Plouffe and Daley, macroeconomic theorists!”

For this installment of “Change We Can Believe In,” I have replaced the image that has graced the top of the previous twenty installments with Ted Rall’s latest cartoon. Need more be said?

Categories: Economy, Politics


August 16, 2011 Leave a comment

[James Martin/CNET]

I mentioned last night that Joel headed off to North Carolina yesterday to live there for a while. This meant he would have to deal with the dreaded cable company, which in this case is Time Warner. We went online a week ago to set up an appointment to have cable TV and internet set up in his new place, only to get word a couple of days later that his two choices for an appointment wouldn’t work. Things went downhill from there.

Perhaps there will be some good news tomorrow, the best possible news at this point probably being that he can get internet and cable before the end of next week. In the meantime, the lack of internet access (except on his iPhone) is a huge inconvenience, not just for news and entertainment, but to shop and get his new place set up. At least I imagine so. I shouldn’t speak for my son.

What to do? I suggested over the weekend that he might want to take advantage of the tethering feature of the iPhone. Tethering, as you probably know, is the process by which you take advantage of your smart phone’s internet connectivity to hook it up to your computer and connect the computer to the internet as well. It’s not a new idea, and the iPhone has been capable of tethering since iOS 3.0 came out a couple of years ago. At the time, AT&T chose not to permit tethering in the US, no doubt for fear of being overwhelmed by the data demands on its network. That changed a year ago

Of course, one pays more. Plus, in a cruel twist, AT&T announced that if you had an unlimited data plan and added tethering, you would have to give up the unlimited plan. This was part of a larger change, in which AT&T stopped offering unlimited data plans to new customers, allowing those who had contracted for such plans in the past to keep them. We, for instance, pay $30/month on our iPhones for unlimited data. We can switch to the $25/month plan for 2GB of data monthly, paying $10 for each additional 1GB or part thereof. I suspect I don’t use anything close to 2GB (I know, I can easily check), so I could save the $5 by switching. On the other hand, you never know, and once I switch, there’s no going back.

For tethering, one has to make the same sort of decision. Tethering costs $45/month, and with it you get 4GB of data monthly. Thus it’s on a par with the $25/month plan for 2GB plus $10 extra per GB. But again, once you switch, there’s no going back to unlimited. You can switch from tethering and $45/month to the ordinary 2GB data plan at $25/month. But you can’t return to unlimited for $30/month. So even if you just want to test tethering for a week or two, then switch back, you’re locked out of unlimited.

It’s a risk, but life is full of risks, and this isn’t such a huge one. In any case, the option offered Joel a way out. While he waits for Time Warner to schedule him, he can tether his iPhone to his laptop and get internet access. We spoke on the phone tonight and he said he was ready for tethering. As we spoke, I went online and made the change.

I have to give AT&T credit. They make it extremely easy. Up comes our family plan on my computer with our three phone numbers, I click on Joel’s, all the plan options are listed by category, with the current choice in each category marked. I mark another choice, click a couple of next buttons to see and confirm what I’m doing, and that’s it. Within moments, he has a text on his iPhone saying he has tethering and I have an email confirming the change to the account. And moments later, his computer is connected to the internet. He’ll have to be careful how much data he uses on his computer. But in a week or two (yes?) he’ll have his cable modem, at which point he can turn off the tethering feature.

Now I want tethering too. It sounds like fun. Except that I don’t actually need it.

Categories: Computing

Good News, Bad News (cont.)

August 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Last night I wrote about effort to fly from Seattle to Raleigh-Durham on JetBlue yesterday. He got into Boston an hour and a half late — the bad news — but his flight down to RDU was delayed 5 hours — the good news, since otherwise he would have missed it.

Time for today’s good news, bad news. The bad news is that, as one might have anticipated, the length of last night’s delay grew. The flight out of Logan to RDU was initially scheduled to depart at 7:04 PM. Early in the day, that was revised to 12:02 AM. Ultimately, it left around 1:00 AM. Six hours late! Can you imagine? With no clear explanation offered.

The good news? Today, unsolicited, Joel received email from JetBlue informing him that he had received a $50 credit toward future travel. No doubt he’ll have the opportunity to use it. But he may confine his Seattle-RDU travel to other airlines from now on. JetBlue doesn’t have the best set of options.

Categories: Travel

Stupid Trick of the Week

August 15, 2011 Leave a comment

The performer of this stupid trick, alas, was me, and I did it a week ago, so I’m a little late in reporting.

Where to begin? Well, first you need to know about sharps containers. If you don’t have one at home (and why would you?), you will at least have seen them at your doctor’s office. They’re those plastic colored containers attached to the wall that used needles get dropped into.

It turns out you can buy them at pharmacies for home use. Unlike the ones at the doctor’s office, the home-use ones are free standing. No need to attach them to the wall. You can see one in the photo above. Over time, you drop needles in, and eventually the needle pile reaches the line that says the container is full. At this point, you put the handy container lid on and bring the container to a place that accepts it for disposal. The crucial point here is that the containers are not meant to be re-used. Rather, you dispose of a full one properly, buy a new one, and repeat. As for disposing, it seems that some pharmacies will accept the full containers. Failing that, hereabouts, one can bring them to the county transfer station.

Okay, so, that’s that. Now to my story.

Until twelve days ago, I didn’t know about home sharps containers, or care. But then, for reasons I won’t go into in this post, I found myself in a class in which we were given blood glucose meters (free!) and the associated paraphernalia with which one can measure one’s own blood glucose level. I had no idea what I was missing all these years. It’s the coolest thing, getting this instant feedback about what’s going on in your blood. But you can’t get that feedback without sticking the tiniest little needle into your finger first and coaxing out a little drop of blood.

That little needle, or lancet, comes under the heading of sharps. You can’t just toss it in the garbage. You need to put it in a sharps container. The odd thing is, at the class, we were given those blood glucose meters but not sharps containers. We were told that we can’t throw the used lancets in the garbage, that we should get a sharps container, and that we should eventually bring it to the county transfer station. I can’t imagine the first thing every student does after class is buy his or her own container. I imagine, more precisely, that some students never buy a container. There must be a lot of those lancets in the garbage stream.

Not my lancets. Gail bought a sharps container. She brought it home, I examined it, and I wondered what to do about the fact that the container lid was attached by a thin strip of plastic that was sufficiently stiff that the open lid kind of hung out at an awkward angle. It was in the way. I figured it was supposed to stay attached for some reason, like maybe to remind you to cover the container between uses. But it really was going to be a nuisance. So I got the scissors out and cut it off.

Now what? Well, if the lid was meant to cover the container, I may as well cover it. Which I did. That was the moment when I realized the lid, now firmly shut on the container top, had no grasping point, no place to get your finger under in order to flip it off. Yup, that sucker was on for good. I had just put the permanently locking lid on an empty sharps container.

Good job, Ron.

It all made sense after the fact. Once you’ve filled the container and need to dispose of it, you put the lid on. There’s no reason ever to take it off again, and good reason to make sure it doesn’t come off, so once it’s on, it’s on. A permanently locked lid goes hand-in-hand with safe transport and disposal of the sharps. I then saw, too late, that there was a label glued on the side of the container with instructions, and sure enough it explained that you put the unremovable lid on when you’re done.

There you have it, my stupid trick of the week.

Except that I really couldn’t bear the thought of wasting the four dollars it cost to buy the container. I decided to experiment, and discovered that you can get the lid off after all, with a little prodding. I won’t say how. I’ve said enough.

Categories: Medicine, Stupidity

Good News, Bad News: Travel Dept.

August 15, 2011 Leave a comment


Joel is flying JetBlue to Raleigh-Durham Airport today, via Boston. The connection was pretty tight: due in to Logan at 6:39 PM and due out at 7:05 PM. Normally he travels with just carry-ons, but since the point of the flight is that he’s moving to NC for a while, he had a little more to take along than usual. We were speculating last night about the odds of the checked bag making it on the second flight.

This morning, before we headed to the airport, the flight out of Seattle was listed as on time. After we dropped Joel, when I checked on my mobile phone, it was listed as an hour late. Then, when we got home, Joel texted that he was sitting on the plane, just a few minutes past departure time, and indeed JetBlue had revised the online information to show that the flight was just 20 minutes late. A little later, I got another text that the plane still hadn’t taken off. It spent about an hour on the taxiway. Hours later, when I checked to see where the plane was, it had reached western Massachusetts. I then watched — through periodic updates of the map — as it made a big circle over the western and central parts of the state. Finally, it landed about an hour and a half late.

That’s the bad news. The good news? Joel’s connecting flight out of Logan (where he is now) is scheduled to depart five hours late, at midnight, landing in Raleigh-Durham at 2:00 AM. How about that? Is he lucky or what?

We’ve been spoiled. Not counting his three and a half months in Grenoble, Joel has always lived a non-stop flight away from Seattle. This connecting flight thing is going to take some getting used to.

Categories: Family, Travel

Tiger, Tiger, Not so Bright

August 12, 2011 1 comment

I said just two posts ago that I wouldn’t be writing about the PGA golf championship, now at its halfway point. But now that I’ve been looking at some of tonight’s coverage, I just have to say: Enough already! I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care. Spare me!

Yes, Tiger Woods played terribly yesterday and today. Historically poorly. Yes, he won’t play again this year on the PGA Tour. Yes, he may never win another major. His swing is a mess. He can’t putt. I get it. Is there anything more to say? Can we just let it go until the Masters next April? I realize you don’t really want to write about co-leaders Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley, or D.A. Points and John Senden, just a stroke back. Okay, then, don’t write anything at all. As for me, I’m done reading about Tiger for 2011.

Categories: Golf

Blame Both Sides

August 12, 2011 Leave a comment

John Maynard Keynes, wrong again


I’ve been enjoying the columns of the NYT’s newest columnist, their erstwhile restaurant critic Frank Bruni. It was with great disappointment, then, that I found he had joined the “blame both sides” bandwagon in his column last Sunday.

Taking off from the prayer rally in Houston the day before at which Governor Perry spoke, Bruni writes that

it presented a spectacle that — let’s be honest — most of us in the news media don’t really get. Seeking relief from the country’s woes through a louder, more ardent appeal to God strikes us as too much hope invested in too magical a solution. It suspends disbelief and defies rigorous reason.

But if we stick with this honesty thing, don’t we also have to admit that to varying degrees and with varying stakes, there’s magical thinking in secular life, and that it springs from a similar yearning for easy, all-encompassing answers? Didn’t the debt-ceiling showdown show us that?

That battle was defined largely by the unshakable, grandiose convictions of low-taxes, small-government puritans in the House, for whom Cut, Cap and Balance wasn’t so much a three-pronged wager as a holy trinity, promising salvation. While it’s inarguable that government has a tropism toward waste, and while tax increases should indeed be preceded by an inquiry into other options, the adamancy of the puritans’ position flew in the face of what many economists say, and it brooked no dissent. It felt more like theology than science.

Okay, I’m with him so far. But here’s the passage where I lost him.

Faith-based is right. We all have our religions, all of which exert a special pull — and draw special fervor — when apprehension runs high and confusion deep, as they do now. And if yours isn’t a balanced-budget amendment and a government as lean as Christian Bale in one of his extreme-acting roles, it might well be a big fat binge of Keynesian stimulus spending. Liberals think magically, too, becoming so attached to a certain approach that they wind up advocating it less as option than as panacea.

Huh? We’re now comparing a belief in Keynesian stimulus spending with the faith-based madness of drastic budget cuts, continuation of Bush tax cuts, and protection of military spending? What if the approach the liberals are attached to just happens to be correct? What if all evidence points to the original stimulus being inadequate, as unemployment remains high and demand low. What if we are repeating the history of the depression despite having the means and the knowledge to avoid it?

I stopped reading the column at that point. Now, returning to it, I see that Bruni concludes with a call for “a full range of extant remedies, a tireless search for new ones and the nimbleness and open-mindedness to evaluate progress dispassionately and adapt our strategy accordingly. Faith and prayer just won’t cut it. In fact, they’ll get in the way.”

Yes, sure. But Frank, why are you dismissing one of the extant remedies? What is the point of your seeming even-handedness? A dispassionate evaluation of our progress should lead Obama to the realization that he screwed up in 2009 with his too-small stimulus. The adaptation he needs to make is to fight like hell for a new stimulus package to get the country moving again. Instead, he and David Pfouffe have made the political calculation that they should cave, setting re-election rather than economic growth as their priority.

One side is wrong here, not both, and Obama has joined that side. Or at least he is trying to, even as they run farther to the right. Pathetic.

Categories: Journalism, Politics