Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Music to Flood By

Do you suppose their album includes "New Orleans"?

Monday, August 29, 2005

On to Pluto

Col. Alan G. Haemer, USAF, was the first comptroller of the 1st Missle Division. He helped open Vandenberg AFB, America's first, operational, missle base. It's right that his name should go on our first mission to Pluto.

If you want your name to accompany his, go here.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

What's the Difference Between DIA and O.J. Simpson?

From a few years back:

Q: What's the difference between Denver International Airport and O.J. Simpson?

A: O..J. pays for his own lawyers.

Not only was the airport's opening months late, because the OS/2-based, baggage-handling system turned out to have (now, don't be too surprised) bugs, but the months of delays cost taxpayers $1M/day.

In the end,
  • Mayor Federico Pena was appointed Secretary of Transportation by President William Jefferson Clinton.
  • Cronies of Wellington Webb are said to have gotten rich doing real-estate deals for the land on and around the abandoned, Stapleton airport.
  • My 45-minute trip to the airport turned into a drive to somewhere out by Kansas. This, plus an increase in security, now mean that the bulk of any airplane trip travel between home and DIA. Well, as long as gas prices stay low ...
Oh, and now they're abandoning the Denver Airport automated baggage system.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Real Reporting, for a Change

Contrast the Associated Press can't with Michael Yon does.

Michael Yon is in Iraq, reporting on his own dime. Mine, too, now: I just contributed to his PayPal account. You know, if tsunami relief deserves my money, this guy does, too.

Been wondering where the real Iraq-War reporting is?

The guy's good. No, no .... Better. Go look. If you haven't read him yet, read to the bottom of the dispatch linked to in the title. The writing will knock your socks off.

Addendum: Day-by-Day makes the same point (but funnier, of course).

The Brick Testament

Like the Bible? Like Legos?

This site should amuse my sister, Nan, who neither dances ballet, nor lip synchs, but is still banned in Turkmenistan.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Picking Nits. No, the Other Kind.

Teaching preschool means never needing to say you're healthy. Having a girlfriend who teaches preschool means phone calls that start, "You have head lice."

I was taught that head lice, body lice, and pubic lice -- crabs -- were different species. There's now dispute about that, and also some interesting work using louse DNA to ask just how friendly Neanderthals and Homo erectus got.

This latest encounter leaves me wondering a few new things:

Is "protection against head lice" a selective pressure that helped establish male pattern baldness? Lack of facial hair in orientals/amerinds?

Do head lice live in beards? Is that a reason people started shaving? Removing body hair is common in Eastern cultures: did lice help drive this?

Why aren't lice important disease vectors? Fleas certainly are. To generalize it a little, insects generally are, why aren't arachnids? Or are they?

A quick google raises another surprising question: why are there too many female lice?

Monday, August 22, 2005

Death by Caffeine

I once strung up a Mayan hammock in my office. Before long, everyone had something: a couch, a sling chair, a bed, .... The only exception was Ning, a young, Chinese engineer who probably couldn't imagine doing such a thing.

One day, I brought in a camera and some film (remember film?) and began taking pictures of my co-workers, asleep in their various contrivances. I capped off the series with a picture of Ning, eyes wide open, staring into the camera, holding a coffee pot.

Counters and maps

David Aitken alerts us to maps from sitemeter. Check out, also, their Location by Time Zone.

You don't have to have your own sitemeter, you can look at anyone's for this stuff. Click, for example, on the hit count at the bottom of the left-hand column of this blog.

Thanks, David.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Why Do Teachers Say What They Do?

An old friend says his wife, a teacher, has this objection to merit pay: "If a teacher's bosses didn't like her, her raises might not be as big as the other teachers'."

Well, yeah.

We all reason by introspection. To understand eduspeak, and where it comes from, try putting yourself in the shoes of a typical elementary or secondary school teacher:
  • I'm a successful teacher. I always got poor grades on standardized tests. If they meant anything, how could I have gotten where I am? Standardized testing is bad.
  • I didn't get great grades before I became an education major, and it always made me feel bad. I worked hard, and think grading on effort would've been fairer. Maybe I'll even use student portfolios and let the parents do the evaluation.
  • I get raises and promotions based entirely on the amount of time I've been working at the district. If a student's attended class, why shouldn't I promote him to the next grade?
  • I've advanced my career by getting advanced degrees in education, like an M.Ed., or an Ed.D. Okay, these aren't academically challenging, but they require time, and money, and jumping through well-defined hoops. Education is about credentials, not knowledge. High school graduation rates are more important than making sure our graduates know stuff. My job is to get my students a degree.
  • The government runs my job and most of my friends' jobs. Why would anyone object to the government's running theirs?
  • Money comes from the state and from federal grants. How much I'm paid depends on politicians, not my achievement in the classroom. State and national politics are part of my job, and the bigger government is, the better off we all are.
  • It's not hard to get a teaching certificate. There's a glut of people who want my job, so in a free labor market teachers' salaries would be lower. Of course obligatory, collective bargaining is the right way to set salaries.
  • Lots of people out there want my job. If they compete with me for it, I'll spend my whole career having to prove myself. I've never been very competitive. Tenure makes complete sense.
  • I've had summers off my whole life. How could your job only give you two weeks' vacation a year?

I honestly don't mean this as a criticism of the average teacher. I do think there's plenty to criticize, but I'm suggesting this as a Darwinian -- selection-based -- explanation of something: teachers say what they do because they got where they are in very different ways from the rest of us.

To change education, we have to change the way teachers think. To change the way teachers think, we have to change their jobs.

Linda Seebach

Last night, at Rocky Mountain Blogger Bash 4.5, I had the great pleasure of drinking beer with Linda Seebach.

Follow the link in the title and you'll see that Linda works for the Rocky Mountain News. The News has a no-blogging policy, but she comes to the bashes because she thinks blogs are important. And she likes the people. I've already forwarded her latest article, from this morning's Rocky Mountain News, to a friend who's an educator.

Linda, widow of topologist Arthur Seebach, is a charming conversationalist, who cheerily says she's reached an age where she'll see a picture of an old bag and then realize that the old bag's wearing her clothes. She let me take her picture anyway.

Party on, Linda.

Saturday, August 20, 2005


I've now met a professional blogger. (Well, as much as you meet anyone while riding the electrons.)

This morning, at the tail end of an email exchange about Eastern Europe, Adriana let drop that she blogs for a living and sent me pointers to some of her work: here and here.

For a while, I've been telling friends (or, really, anyone) that blogging is the long-sought-after pass through the great computer mountains.

I've been programming since 1966, and using the Internet for work, almost every day, since 1983. (It wasn't even called "the Internet" then.) For nearly that whole time, computers have been a boys' club. The statement "most bloggers are women" tells me that, with blogging, computers and the web are finally transparent. Invisible. The big-name bloggers are folks like Glen Reynolds and the Powerline boys. Not engineers, lawyers.

Even though no one remarks about it, it's this change that I find remarkable.

And the first professional blogger I meet is a woman. Yep.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Faster Than a Speeding Flatpick

I play American Appalachian dance music -- on stage, I'd be right at home in the 1700s. Last night, I put a small mpeg of a dance my band played for, onto our band's blog. The mpeg was taken by one of the dancers, with his shirt-pocket, digital camera. After I was done, I sent email to friends, far away, pointing at the post. I did all this from a local coffee shop, from my laptop computer, over a wireless connection.

If you're younger and reading this, you may be saying, "And? What's your point?"

My father told me that when he was a boy, his sister was killed by a horse cart, in New York City, and when he grew up, we sent a man to the moon.

It's how I feel all the time.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

I Look Mah-vel-ous

I started this blog in order to play with blogging software. I'm a guy who learns by doing. Most of my early posts were things like "tried such-and-so." I haven't blog-blogged recently, so here are some changes I've made to the blog, in no particular order.

I made most of them just because I wanted to know if I could.

(1) I changed the look of the hit-counter. Long ago, I grabbed a hit counter from sitemeter, I think on Hugh Hewitt's recommendation. I picked a look that seemed okay, but then I saw someone's hit counter that I thought was more attractive. Turns out, it's just another sitemeter configuration option -- either one I'd originally overlooked, or something new since I originally picked.

(2) I changed the colors in my title, just to play with CSS.

(3) I put part of my subtitle in Yiddish. Wanted to know if it'd display the characters.

(4) I put a link in my subtitle.

(5) I began photoblogging -- first using Flickr, now using Blogger itself.

(6) I have a gast in shtib: the enjoyable, Ron Coleman, Esq.

(7) I added audioposts, via Audioblogger.

Content? As Fernando says, "It's better to look good than to feel good."

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Ave Atque Vale

First, Scotty, and now this.

If you don't have to look up "enisled," your vocabulary is as big as Peter's.

Permalinks for Kausfiles!

Mickey Kaus started using permalinks this very day!

A welcome technological breakthrough for the man who took my the place of Andrew "World to End; Gay Marriage Dealt Setback" Sullivan as my Big Time Slightly to the Left of Me Blog. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Accordions Don't Play 'Lady of Spain' -- Accordion Players Play 'Lady of Spain.'

The first day of my data structures course, I went around the class asking each student his name. One, a big, corn-fed kid, said "Dale Floren." I stopped, thought a second, and asked, "Any relation to Myron?"

"You betcha," said Dale. "He's my uncle."

The other students wondered what in the heck we were talking about.

Me, I thought it was wunnerful, a-wunnerful.

Electronic Hollywood

Another proof-of-concept for the future of the film industry.

In 20 years, will Graumann's Chinese Theater be asking any of these folks to press their keyboards into the concrete? Stay tuned.

let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth

On the one hand, the Federal Government exhorts us not to use Internet Explorer. On the other, it asks whether we'd mind if they required us to use it.

I wonder which one's the right hand and which one's the left.

Vanity Perma-Press

Here's an unexpected service: Print-on-demand meets the web. I'll be interested to see whether it floats.

Kleagle Annan?

Okay, I'll bite: why do all the Annan names start with a 'K'?

Some sort of West Virginia/Ghana connection that we don't know about?

Carnival of Carnivals, redux

A better 'Carnival of Carnivals'.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Vote for the Crook. It's Important

My mother, born and reared in Haynesville, LA, used to say "There is no other state in the union with as long a history of thoroughly corrupt government as the great state of Louisiana. (Well, except, of course, Massachussetts.)"

Her father, George Henry "Nub" Sherman, held, at various times, a wide variety of local civic posts: fire chief, a member of the local bank's board of directors, the head of the cotton warehouse. When demagogue Huey Long was assassinated, he held a parade down main street to celebrate. The mayor, at the time, spluttered, "You can't do that!" Nub said, "You hide and watch me."

Huey's brother, Earl, died of tertiary syphillis; before he did, he got around term-limit laws by having his wife elected. Voting machines there used to have a lever that let you cast your vote for all the Democratic candidates with a single lever pull. It was marked with a rooster so that even the illiterate could know what lever to pull.

When Buddy Roemer was governor, I listened to locals tell one another, "Old Buddy's not near as corrupt as his daddy."

Four-term governor Edwin Edwards said, "The people of the Great State of Louisiana will not turn me out of office until they catch me in bed with a dead girl or a live boy." Caught taking suitcases of cash to Las Vegas, he smiled and said, "What do you carry your money to Las Vegas in?" Edwards was convicted of racketeering, conspiracy, and extortion.

Everything's relative. When Klansman, racist, and virulent anti-semite, David Duke, was the Republican gubernatorial nominee, my mother had the embarrassing experience of exhorting her friends to vote for Edwards. Bumper stickers read, "Vote for the Crook: It's Important."

Edwards won, but Duke is still out there plugging. Here's his latest bandwagon.

Update: Some people will laugh at anything. Me, for example.


It's cheering to learn that some folks who have time on their hands know what to do with it.

(This site was posted by Benny Alon as a comment on an earlier entry; I decided it needs more exposure than that.)

They Laughed at Einstein

They laughed at Columbus. They laughed at Bozo the Clown. (Thanks to Ron Sommers.)

Friday, August 12, 2005


... means "You Haven't Been Reading My Blog." It's my new answer to, "Hi! How are you?"

The response I get is uniform: "Of course not. Have you looked at your hit counter lately? Why should I be the only one?"

I have a truly remarkable proof this is a conspiracy, but the margins of this post are too small to contain it. (De conjuratione demonstrationem mirabilem hanc marginis exigiutas non caperet.)

Smoke Screen Media

A Romanian pal once explained to me that her European friends believed Americans were idiots because we consistently play them on TV. "Then how is it," she'd ask them, "that the technology you use is American? Who do you suppose made it?"

"But why," she went on to ask me, "do you make movies and TV shows like that?"

And this was even before Michael Moore.

The answer, of course, is that "we" make those movies because people buy them. It's capitalism.

And we'll stop when people start buying something else. If blogs can do a better job than CBS News, why not a better job than Barbra Streisand? It's not like that's aiming high.

I now want the new movie, Blowing Smoke, because I want to see the blogosphere's first attempts. If it doesn't show up on soon, I'll just buy direct.

Izzy Urieli Gets Me to Read About Solar-Powered Sterling Engines

A few years back, Israel Urieli -- Dr. Iz -- showed up at our local, klezmer jam with his harmonica. Izzy turns out to be a good musician, a nice fellow, and a very interesting guy. He and his wife were visiting from Athens, Ohio, where he teaches thermodynamics, at the University.

Izzy's technical interest is Sterling engines, which are external combustion engines. You heat them from some external source, like a wood fire, and they generate power.

His true love is recumbent bicycles. He brought one recumbent, which he'd designed and built, that fit in a rucksack. It was carry-on baggage.

I hadn't been on a bicycle since I was a kid, but he got me out there on one of his recumbents. Encouraged by that, I bought a bike and biked all over, until a bicycle accident sent me to surgery and crippled me for about a year. Izzy himself had had an accident, early on, test-driving one of his creations. "That's what graduate students are for," his colleagues explained.

At one point, he entertained us both by explaining that he was designing a hybrid, touring recumbant that would be powered by a Sterling engine, which is an external combustion engine. "Hybrid" bikes are power-assisted bikes, that help you up hills with a power boost of some kind. They let normal people cycle for very long distances because they keep your body from exceeding some sort of elastic limit.

In his case, the power assist would be electric. The batteries were to be charged by a little, portable Sterling engine. Putting it all together, you'd get on your bike, cycle down the road for a while, then stop to eat. You'd get out your camp stove, heat both your dinner and the Sterling engine with it, at the same time, and then recharge your batteries as the engine recharged your bicycle's.

I thought of Izzy when I saw this article, which describes plans to build a huge solar array, to power Sterling engines. The folks doing it think they can make money generating energy without a bunch of subsidies.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


When FedEx pursues FedExFurniture, they'll hire a top-dog, trademark lawer, like Ronald Coleman, who'll leave the guy without a pot to piss in.

Which, I'm thinking, will mean he'll have to build one ....

It's wrong. Don't do it. Google says so.

ZDNet says,
We can only encourage our readers to make up their own minds about what may really be going on inside the company — while abjuring them from using a search engine in their quest.

To see why, follow the link.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Live Long and Prosper

Colorado permits common-law marriage: if you represent yourself as married, you are. (Bonnie Phipps used to say she never got a wedding, but she still had to get a divorce.)

Looks like Texas has common-law marriage, too.

What's the Capital of Canada?

Q: What's the capital of Canada?

A: Mostly American.

As a courtesy to our Canadian readers, we offer this translation:

Q: Qu'est-ce que c'est le capitol du Canada?

R: Moi, je pense que c'est la ville de Denver, au Québec, où on trouve les Nordiques, eh.

Despit the similarities, there remain some differences between the two countries. See for yourself:

The United States


All the News That's Fit to Blog

The mainstream media continue to caricature bloggers as pajamahadeen incapable of the sort of high-quality, careful, professional fact checking you get from, say, the New York Times or CBS News.

It's hard for me to see how they can continue to make such claims in the face of blogs like this.

Lunch Hour in Mid-August

You need a good laugh:

LILEKS (James) :: Flotsam Cove:
This was an essential part of all late-60s moonbase scenarios. People would live on algae. Why we would want to build houses on the Moon so we could eat algae and suffer from gas-alien-induced coos was never completely explained. I think this is why the space program suffered that fatal stall - at some point someone said 'stop and think, just a minute. We're going to send a man to live for six months in a tiny box underground with nothing but algae cakes to study the effects of eating algae cakes in a tiny box undeground for six months.'

Heads nod around the table.

'Okay, well, leaving aside the questionable objectives of the study, why do we have to do it on the moon?'

Eyes roll - oh, Christ, here he goes on that 'why can't we drive to North Dakota and do it' routine again. But eventually he makes his point forcefully enough, and when NASA draws up plans to build a network of undeground Waffle Houses on the moon, enough people say hey, wait a minute to call the entire enterprise into question.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Autism and the Times

When this article says, right up at the top, "But Mr. Summers was wrong to imply that these differences render any individual woman less capable than any individual man of becoming a top-level scientist,"
my first reaction was, "Where? Where did Summers say that? Is Baron-Cohen an idiot?"

Then, I thought, "Wait. Given the NYT's editing policies, I have no reason to believe Baron-Cohen wrote that sentence." Really.

The paper of record, indeed.

I'll move the Times and observe that Baron-Cohen walks up to the edge of maternal effect mutations, then backs off and waves his hands about assortative mating.

"Assortative mating" means (genetically) non-random mate choice. For example, people mate assortatively for things like height and hair color -- tall blonds are more likely to mate with tall blonds than would happen at random, which demonstrates that bags go over heads much less often than the popular expression would suggest. (In contrast, I've seen data that indicate feral cats mate randomly with respect to coat color.)

I'm surprised that Baron-Cohen doesn't even mention the solid, beautiful work of Charles Laird.

From Charles, we understand the genetics of Fragile-X syndrome (which, like Asperger's, overlaps with autism). Both its genetics and the biochemistry are surprisingly well-worked-out. That's usually a synonym for easy-to-understand, but not in this case. I will simply say that Fragile-X has a strong, interesting, and widely known, maternal-effect trigger.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Spirituality, Man

Finally, embedded in this terrific excerpt, is that definition of "spirituality" I've been seeking:

[Q]. My friends laugh out loud when they read Deepak Chopra's posts [on]. But I find the posts deeply spiritual. Is that normal?
[A.] It is normal if you're a rich, well-educated but confused individual who finds organized religion too difficult to fit into her schedule and far too demeaning to her ego-driven intellect. While real faith requires sacrifice and a willingness to look outside yourself, 'spirituality' alone is internal, ego-based and easy to do. Spirituality without religion is like pretending you won the game without playing. Instead of contemplating God, you contemplate your navel. 'And it's an endless, ever-expanding navel,' Deepak might say.

Hat tip to KausFiles.

Phil Hendrie has a blog???

This is very unexpected.

Well, what about Phil Hendrie isn't?

Tim Blair describes him as "Radio genius Phil Hendrie, a liberal who declines to align with idiots."

Left Behind: A Novel of the EUC's Last Days

If you've ever trapped a field mouse, you'll know they behave differently from the mice you see in pet stores. Mouse breeders routinely, casually, and effectively select for good behavior.

Larry Sandler used to tell a story about visiting famous mouse geneticist, Eva Eicher, at the Bar Harbor Labs, in Maine. Eva was showing him a special mouse she'd spent many generations breeding, that she was going to use to answer an important question. The mouse, which she was holding by the tail, twisted around and bit her. Without thinking, she instinctively smacked it against a hard surface and killed it.

Then she realized what she'd done.

The up-side, however, is that you can handle lab and pet mice easily, and not get bitten.

Sometimes you see it argued that the American character is shaped by the genetic predispositions of the folks who escaped Europe to settle here.

Our citizens trace to ancestors so hostile to crowding and tyrrany that they left their homes and cultures to come here.

This argument usually forgets to note that such migration also affected the character of the land they left behind.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Bashing the Bloggers

I'm sure we all have a few Rocky Mountain Bloggers we'd like to bash.

Let me know if you want to car-pool to the RMBB from the PRB. Especially if you want to be the designated driver.

Here's your ticket:

Rocky Mountain Blogger Bash 4.5

Good laugh on a hot, hot day

The Dana Stevens review of the "Current," the new Al Gore TV channel (no, no -- wait! That's not the laughing part!) has a passage in it that made me laugh out loud. It goes exactly like this:

Despite its almost serenely dated, retro feel, Current is very interested in graphics and gimmicks that recall computer technology, linking the channel to a world outside the TV screen. As each pod plays, the lower left-hand corner of the screen displays a progress bar that fills up as the clip approaches its end. I guess the point is to keep viewers watching till the end of the pod, figuring, what the hell? I can afford to waste two-and-a-half more minutes on this. Then again, progress bars on a computer screen tend to be associated with some unpleasant or tedious task—waiting for a download to end, for example, so you can get to the good stuff of actually listening to the song or using the software. It's hard to get lost in the content of a given story when you're constantly glancing down to see how much longer it has to go.

I liked this, too:
If there's one thing that ties all this Current programming together, it's the network's self-professed belief that its interactive approach to programming constitutes a radical experiment in democracy. There's a lot of talk of "empowerment" and "freedom"; one blond surfer squints into the camera as he says, "That's what Current TV is. It's freedom television." Another true believer swears that "[Current]'s going to do for passionate storytellers what the airplane did for travelers."

No, you can't make this stuff up. I mean, you can't make it up again. They already made it up.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Walk Like an Egyptian

When I went to Kuwait, to help put together the first Gulf Unix Conference, my friends were worried. I figured I was totally safe because Kuwait hadn't blown up a U.S. embassy in, like, a decade.

Of course, I was right. Saddaam Hussein invaded six months later, but I was long gone by then.

I knew that it would be different, but I figured at least I could read the numbers. That one, I was wrong about. Turns out Arabs don't use Arabic numerals. I felt so disillusioned. Next, I figured, someone would tell me the Romans didn't speak Pig Latin.

One of the local organizers was a successful, Lebanese businesswoman. The first day, she was sitting at the registration table, handing out packets. Luckily, I sat down to talk to her. Men with long dishdashas and full beards would walk up to the table to register and be at a loss. They simply couldn't talk to her.

I figured that having to deal with Condi Rice would improve matters substantially. This makes me think I was right.

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

When all you have is a nail gun, everything looks like a messiah.

Trails of Tears, again

This article reminds us that the "Trail of Tears" isn't an isolated, 19th-century event.

Times change, but people stay the same.

One thing that's changed is the PR. Now, the fashion's to tell the relocatees that they're going to a better, more exciting home. P.J. O'Rourke wrote a piece in Rolling Stone, "Deep in the Heart of Siberia," about a train trip across Russia. On the way, he passes through Birobidzhan, where Stalin coaxed Jews from all over the world, telling them that this was their new, promised land. O'Rourke notes that the ones left are "The Frozen Chosen." (For the military-ignorant, he's making an allusion to this.)

In an earlier day, the approach was more direct.

Jumping To Conclusions: War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is Strength. Mandates are Choice.

David Nieporent explains how George Bush is actually a great pro-choice president.

Best-Laid Plans, Eh?

This site seemed like a great idea, but it looks like it's not working out.

Space. The Final Frontier.

I run Knoppix and live off of web services like Bloglines, Backpack, and Gmail.
One service I've wanted for a while is general-purpose, web-based, storage.

Here's a site that Jeremy Hinegardner just pointed me at that seems worth a look.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Lying Your Ass Off

I'm a huge fan of Elizabeth Loftus, who studies human memory. Early on, she made a splash by showing that eyewitness testimony wasn't necessarily accurate. Then she moved on to false memory syndrome. Now she's moving on to practical applications of FMS, using it to treat obesity.

I'd love to have a dinner with Elizabeth Loftus, Joel Hayes, and Susan Johnson, just to listen to the conversations. Joel, the fiddler for my band, is a trial lawyer. Susan, his poopsie, is a professor of nutrition in the Department of Pediatrics at the CU Med School. Her specialty? Pediatric obesity.

If you're reading this and can talk Dr. Loftus into coming, I'll feed you, too.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Cheesy Details

Well, the Google guys are at it again. Not only do they have all the Apollo landing sites marked, if you pick one and zoom all the way in, you see some remarkable details.

Monday, August 01, 2005


Matthew David Brozik writes about an important new publication, presumably out of Pueblo, Colorado:Government Manual for New Superheroes.

This is another reason I'm not a libertarian. We need these things.


"Do you need something?" I asked her. "Is there something I can do to help?"

She used her hands to pull up one leg, which had flopped down, and put it back up on the seat of the scooter.

"I just need a ride."

She was a little hard to understand because her voice was so weak.

"What's your dog's name?"



She shook her head, slowly, tipping it back and forth as she did. Like you'd see from a drunk, but you could tell she wasn't. "Rowdy," she said again.

A minute before, I'd pulled alongside her, stopped, and rolled down my window to ask if she was okay -- if she needed help. She'd waved me on. Rowdy climbed off the scooter and barked at me or my car, I didn't know which. He kept running out of my line of sight, and I was worried that I'd run him over,
but I pulled over, parked, and walked back to her.

"Do you live around here?"

"Yes." She waved vaguely leftwards. "Down Gillaspie."

"Are you stuck?"

She was stopped next to the curb. I'd seen her as I was driving up the steep climb out of the parking lot. It looked like her scooter had gotten half-way over a speed bump, and not been able to finish the climb. Speed bumps on hills in parking lots.

"Battery's dead."

"Is someone coming for you?"


"Where do you live?"

"At the Mary Sandoe House. It's assisted living."

I pulled out my cell and called information. Once I got connected, I began trying the extensions in their directory. The receptionist? "Please leave your name and telephone number, and we will return your call." The night staff? "Please leave your name and telephone number, and we will return your call." The manager? The assistant manager? Nobody home.

I checked the time: a little after 10:00. Someone should still be up. Maybe they were watching TV and couldn't hear the phone.

"How long have you been here?"

"A hour."

"Have you been here since it was light?"


I might be able to pick her up and put her -- and Rowdy -- in my car, but not the electric scooter. Plus, I had no idea where the Mary Sandoe House was. And I couldn't ask them.

I called 911. "I'm at the Table Mesa shopping center with a woman whose electric scooter has died. She needs a way to get home, and I can't reach anyone at her retirement home."

"I'll send an officer. What shop are you in front of?"

I told her I'd wait.

"What's your name?"


"How old are you?"


She was at least 75.

The police car arrived in a few minutes.

"I'm sorry to bother you with this, but I don't know what else to do."

"No problem. You did the right thing."

He turned to her. "What's your name?"


"Do you have ID, Judy?"

She really was sixty-one.

"What's wrong, Judy?"

"Polio. I had polio."

She said she'd spent time in an iron lung, and learned how to walk again. Then she got rheumatic fever. That was worse, she said, because it went to her heart. I told her my father had had rheumatic fever as a child, too. Thinking back, I'm pretty sure it was actually scarlet fever.

"Your ID says you're from New Mexico. How long have you lived here?"

"A year."

"What time did you come down here today?"

"This morning. I come down to visit the shops and to buy cigarettes."

I told him about trying to call the home, and not getting anybody. He said he thought he could take her and her dog, but couldn't take her scooter. Two great minds.

"Do your children live here, Judy?"

"No." The slow, exaggerated, head shake again. "Colorado Springs."

"I'm going to call an ambulance for you, Judy. They can take you and your dog and your scooter."

He said I could leave. I said I'd wait.

"You're a good person. This time of night, most people would be eager to get on their way."

"I doubt it."

"You see anyone else stop for her? Even slow down to ask?"

I asked him if he could talk to the staff about answering the phone. He said, "It's remarkable how much more carefully people will listen, just because of this uniform."

As we waited for the ambulance to come, he told me he'd just come on shift, and this was his second call. The first was a complaint about a barking dog, whose owners hadn't been home.

A bum went down the street, nearby, pushing a shopping cart. Rowdy climbed off the cart and began barking at him. The officer smiled, and then said, quietly, "But he didn't bark at me." Mostly talking to himself, but me, too, if I was listening.

I squatted down and told Rowdy it was okay. He climbed back on the cart and
closed his eyes. I stood back up.

Judy looked up at us. "Are your parents still living?" I said mine weren't. "Did your daddy die of rheumatic fever?"

"Smoking. He smoked himself to death."

She nodded and then looked at the officer. His turn.

"Yes, both my parents are still alive.

That seemed to satisfy her. He kept talking, now to me. "I'm going back to Ohio next month to visit my dad. My dad's in Columbus."

"There's a lot of nice architecture in Columbus. I drove through there earlier this year, on my way to Cincinnati."

"I wouldn't know. Dad only moved there a year ago."

I wondered how old his father was.

Former Banker Is Awarded $7 Million In Damages From LASIK Eye Surgery

I can't see very well, and even then among the four oldest members of my household I might see best. (The very little ones, well, so far so good.) We're a bunch of four-eyes.

But laser surgery scares us. It seems that it's well-established to be very safe; a jillion people have had it; you have eyesight like Ted Williams (well, Ted Williams when his head was still attached) when you're finished, which is like ten minutes after they start. And yet, what if?

Here's an exceprt from a rare 'what if' story. You need a subscription to the online National Law Journal to read it, so if you're a normal person chances are this will have to suffice:

A Manhattan jury has awarded a former investment banker $7.25 million in damages for vision impairment he claimed resulted from LASIK eye surgery.

The award — $4.5 million in lost income and $2.75 million in pain and suffering — is the largest to date in a suit over the popular vision correction surgery. It is against one of New York's leading LASIK practitioners as well as the corporation that has become the nation's largest provider of LASIK surgery.

Mark Schiffer had LASIK surgery on Oct. 6, 2000, a week after he first visited an optometrist affiliated with the TLC Laser Eye Center, which operates LASIK surgery centers with affiliated doctors nationwide.

The surgery was performed by Dr. Mark Speaker, then-medical director of TLC, who also has his own practice. One of the most well-known LASIK surgeons in New York, Dr. Speaker has performed thousands of procedures and has been a frequent media commentator on the practice.

In his suit, Mr. Schiffer, 32, claimed he suffered distorted and blurred vision, particularly in his left eye, because the TLC-affiliated doctors failed to determine that he had keratoconus, a degenerative corneal condition that made the laser surgery unsafe.

[The highly-credentialed] Mr. Schiffer claimed his vision impairment forced him to leave his highly paid Wall Street career and take a job with his father's Long Island banking security company. [At trial,] his lawyer argued that the failure to diagnose keratoconus was a result of TLC's high-volume practice, which he called the 'McDonalds of LASIK surgery.' He said TLC had placed Mr. Schiffer on a 'conveyor belt' of LASIK patients, noting that Dr. Speaker performed procedures on 10 other patients the same day he operated on Mr. Schiffer. In the rush, Mr. Krouner argued, the TLC doctors ignored signs that Mr. Schiffer was not a proper candidate for LASIK.

. . .

Lawyers for TLC and Dr. Speaker took issue with Mr. Schiffer's claim of keratoconus and argued that all tests and medical records at the time showed Mr. Schiffer had a healthy cornea. They also took issue with the severity of his impairment, noting that he drove himself to the trial.
Yeah, there's more going on here than meets the, er... than it seems. But I don't need to many of these stories to stick with my Clark Kent look. So what if I have to keep the specs on even after I do the phone-booth thing? Besides, in my line of work, four is the number of eyes most Supermen have anyway.