30 June 2010

$4 fortune: 30 June 2010

It is a nice day.

29 June 2010

Bilski and McDonald on the books

So the Term is over and the results are in: patents on computer software and business methods are here to stay (PDF), and "Send lawyers, guns, and money" is now the law of the land (PDF).

Driberally tonight

Drinking Liberally is a weekly social gathering where progressives talk politics and get to know one another. In Center City Philadelphia, we meet on Tuesday nights at José Pistola's upstairs bar, where there are drink specials from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. And the more we tip the bartender, the more frequently he hands out free dishes of chips and dips. I hope to see you there!

José Pistola's is at 263 South 15th Street (15th and Spruce) in Center City, near the Kimmel Center and the Academy of Music. There's a parking garage across the street, but as filthy liberal hippies naturally we suggest public transit; both SEPTA and PATCO will get you there in two shakes of a lamb's tail.

This week's topic: Is the World Cup over yet?

"Come for the beer, stay for the check"

24 June 2010

More like "higher price project," amirite?

My local supermarket has been promoting its "Lower Price Project" for some months now. It's Orwellian, though. They're calling it "a complete resetting of [their] prices" through "comprehensive price reduction," but now a pound (half-kilo) box of pasta is $1.65. Insane.

Never mind that a lot of the brands have been hit with the grocery shrink ray, and the pound boxes have become 14.5-ounce, 13.5-ounce, 13.25-ounce or even 12-ounce boxes.

They've reduced the frequency of the deep-discount sales, too, when you could get five or six boxes for $5.00. When they have discount sales now, it's four boxes for $5.00. But as far as I'm concerned, $1.25 for a pound of pasta is still unreasonable, and even more so if the deal is for the smaller weight boxes.

My supermarket also upscaled a little bit recently, updating the look of its stores and discontinuing some cheaper items. Like family-size loaves of 100% whole-wheat bread. Here's the deal. The family loaf and the regular loaf cost the same, and they're the same weight, 24 ounces. But the family loaf has more slices, so it makes more sandwiches (and shaves a few extra calories, too).

The dollar store at Suburban Station carries full pound boxes of pasta, and I pass through that station frequently enough that it wouldn't be inconvenient for me to stop there from time to time.

"It's all everywhere"

It's raining oil in Louisiana:



Ugh.

23 June 2010

Nonsense NYT Op-Ed suggests the Pill should be available over-the-counter

Kelly Blanchard of Ibis Reproductive Health, a women's health research group, has published a ridiculous op-ed piece in the New York Times asserting that the Pill should be available over the counter, without a prescription, because it's safer than acetaminophen. Blanchard explains the problems with requiring a prescription for the Pill:
[The Pill's] usefulness has been limited because it’s available only by prescription. As every woman who has run out of pills on a Sunday or forgotten to take them along on vacation knows, refills are not always easy to come by.
This is not a problem most easily solved by eliminating the need for a prescription. This is a problem most easily solved by women watching their medication supply and double-checking their luggage before they leave the house. Blanchard's message here is not particularly empowering.
The pill meets F.D.A. criteria for over-the-counter medications. Women don’t need a doctor to tell them whether they need the pill — they know when they are sexually active and want to avoid pregnancy. Pill instructions are easy to follow: Take one each day.
Ease of use is not the sole, or maybe even the most important, criterion for whether a medication should be available without a prescription. After all, heavy-duty sleep aids are also once-a-day pills, and some anti-osteoporosis drugs are once-a-month pills. To suggest that their dosing schedule should control their over-the-counter availability is absurd.
It’s true that the pill could be dangerous for women with certain conditions. Women who are 35 or older and smoke, and those with high blood pressure, are at greater risk of a heart attack or stroke if they take oral contraceptives that combine estrogen and progestin. But these are not complicated conditions to identify[.]
Huh? The author checks her blood pressure at home? In fact, there is a lot of undiagnosed hypertension among adult Americans. It's inconceivable to me how Blanchard could advocate letting a drug be sold over the counter to literally millions of women who would then have an increased risk of death or permanent disability.

Blanchard analogizes the Pill to cold remedies and condoms. But drugs that affect sex hormones are way different than antihistamines or barrier contraception. A woman should absolutely see some kind of health practitioner before starting on the Pill, so that they can talk about the options as to dosages and as to which type of hormone or combination she'll use. The health practitioner should check her blood pressure, remind her that the Pill won't protect against STDs, and discuss the risks of blood clots, depression, and negative sexual side effects. There are way too many medical issues with the Pill for me to agree with the suggestion that it should be available over the counter like a cough suppressant or a contraceptive sponge.
[T]here are no special health risks for younger women on the pill[.]
Well, that depends how "special" you think your sex drive is, I guess. I spent a year on the Pill when I was in my mid-20s, and it killed my libido dead. It took me several years and a pregnancy to get it back, and I'm not alone . . . says The New York Times itself, in a 2006 article that notes the lack of a warning about that particular possible side-effect in birth-control paperwork.
The United States has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the developed world, and better access to the pill is part of the solution to this problem.
I don't disagree. But Blanchard is not a medical doctor; she's a sociologist. Sociological and economic research is an important way to figure out how populations are barred from getting the healthcare they need. And sociological and economic strategies are important ways to try to remove or at least lower barriers to getting needed healthcare. But there are some important medical reasons for requiring a prescription for the Pill, and it's not helpful to the discussion to minimize those reasons by saying the Pill is safer than Tylenol, or to equate a doctor's prescription with "a doctor's permission," as Blanchard inexplicably does in the last paragraph of her op-ed.

A more important barrier to eliminate is that not all health insurance plans cover the Pill. Almost half the states do not require health insurance companies to do so (PDF). (This is one reason why your health insurance company should not be allowed to incorporate in whichever state it darn well pleases.) Let's focus on this real barrier to reproductive equality. It's a straw-man argument to characterize doctors as paternalistic, permission-granting gatekeepers standing between women and their birth control pills. If any entity stands between a woman and the Pill, it's a health insurance company that's choosing to not fully pay for women's healthcare.

$4 fortune: 23 June 2010

Strong and bitter words indicate a weak cause.

22 June 2010

Driberally tonight

Drinking Liberally is a weekly social gathering where progressives talk politics and get to know one another. In Center City Philadelphia, we meet on Tuesday nights at José Pistola's upstairs bar, where there are drink specials from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. And the more we tip the bartender, the more frequently he hands out free dishes of chips and dips. I hope to see you there!

José Pistola's is at 263 South 15th Street (15th and Spruce) in Center City, near the Kimmel Center and the Academy of Music. There's a parking garage across the street, but as filthy liberal hippies naturally we suggest public transit; both SEPTA and PATCO will get you there in two shakes of a lamb's tail.

This week's topic: It's a good thing we aren't trying to meet in Chester, Penna.

"Come for the beer, stay for the check"

17 June 2010

Henry Louis Granju, 1991-2010

Katie Allison Granju, one of the earliest American lay proponents of what's now somewhat well-known as attachment parenting, recently lost her oldest child to drug addiction. He'd been an addict for about four years. Granju was summoned to the hospital one night and found her son in the ICU, hooked up to a ventilator and in a drug-induced coma; he had been savagely beaten up after buying or selling some drugs. He lingered for about six weeks, seeming to improve a little, and then passed away on 31 May.
I was with him, holding his hand, stroking his hair and loving on him as he died. He struggled in his final hours to let go, and just as I birthed him into this world, I tried to help him move peacefully into the next one. It felt like the most important mothering task I've ever undertaken. More important, even than growing him in my belly.

So I pressed my lips to his ear, and I whispered to him over and over that it was okay to go, and that he was going somewhere wonderful with no more pain, and that I would follow him there and see him again when the time was right. I told him over and over to just trust me and let go. I sang to him. I recited Goodnight Moon. I told him not to worry about me, or his father, or his sisters and brother, because we would be okay.
Henry was 18.

I've been raising my daughter on attachment parenting principles, and Granju's writings have influenced me and a lot of other moms who've sought to balance "natural family living" ideas with the exigencies of modern, urban lifestyles. I think a lot of attachment parenting types smugly assume that they've inoculated their kids from drug abuse and juvenile delinquency by hitting all the right practices on the checklist: unmedicated childbirth, co-sleeping, breastfeeding and late weaning, carrying baby in a sling, cloth diapering, avoiding vaccinations, homeschooling or unschooling, reading radical parenting zines, and using only all-organic, unprocessed foods. Granju's loss is tragic and sobering and it's hit me hard.

I never talk about the possibility of losing my daughter. I call it the unspeakable and this slim paragraph is likely the most I've ever written about it, and ever will. I can't imagine what Granju -- who is anticipating the birth of her fifth child in just a couple of weeks -- and her family are going through right now.

16 June 2010

$4 fortune: 16 June 2010

You are a bundle of energy, always on the go.

Univ. of Delaware engineer answers the question of just how much oil is 30,000 barrels

Split the difference of the estimates of how much oil BP is spewing into the Gulf of Mexico every day, and you get about 30,000 barrels of oil. There are 42 gallons in a barrel, so that's 1.26 million gallons of oil that BP is killing the Gulf with daily.

Professor James J. Corbett of the University of Delaware asks, what's that in other units? If you refine 1.26 million gallons of oil into automobile and shipping fuel, how many vehicles could you power, and for how long? Answer: 69,000 cars, 6,200 trucks, and 3,200 ships for an entire year.

Dig the link to calculate the amount of what Prof. Corbett calls "lost transportation energy" based on other estimates of how much oil is flowing. Or dig another link to see a different calculation of "lost transportation energy."

Income, Claudia! Income!

President Obama woodshedded Tony Hayward today and made BP set up a $20 billion fund to pay damages claims from the spill (MSNBC).

That figure is similar to what BP has netted every year for the past 3 years.

15 June 2010

Driberally tonight

Drinking Liberally is a weekly social gathering where progressives talk politics and get to know one another. In Center City Philadelphia, we meet on Tuesday nights at José Pistola's upstairs bar, where there are drink specials from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. And the more we tip the bartender, the more frequently he hands out free dishes of chips and dips. I hope to see you there!

José Pistola's is at 263 South 15th Street (15th and Spruce) in Center City, near the Kimmel Center and the Academy of Music. There's a parking garage across the street, but as filthy liberal hippies naturally we suggest public transit; both SEPTA and PATCO will get you there in two shakes of a lamb's tail.

This week's topic: The new SEPTA Fare Guide (PDF) includes a system map that (finally!) indicates the Regional Rail zone limits -- now you can see at a glance which zone fare you'll have to pay to get to the 'burbs and back. To pay for this change in convenience, SEPTA will be eliminating mid-day, counter-commute, and off-peak fare discounts: fares are now "weekday" versus "evening and weekend," rather than peak versus off-peak. Base fares on the buses and trolleys will stay at $2, but a transfer will be $1. Oh, and my monthly TransPass is going from $78 to $83. Dammit. Changes will implement Thursday 1 July 2010. Happy Independence Day weekend!

"Come for the beer, stay for the check"

14 June 2010

Reminder that BP's "good news" is only half the news

BP's siphoning kludge is "capturing about 15,000 barrels of oil a day," plus "methane and natural gas [that] is burned off [before the crude is] transferred to tankers and moved directly to refineries" (MSNBC). Yay! That's like 630,000 gallons of oil every day! That'll make a huge dent in America's daily oil consumption of 19.5 million barrels -- 819 million gallons -- per day.

But wait! Now that BP cut the kinked pipe, which was restricting the spew's flow like a kinked garden hose, in order to install their Rube Goldberg siphoning apparatus, the pipe is now releasing some 30,000 barrels (1.26 million gallons) of oil every day.

So remember that when BP crows about how much oil it's siphoning up (for refining and sale) through its dome contraption, BP is giving you only half the news. When news media report only BP's numbers, they're reporting only half the story. And it's also only half of what's continuing to flow into the Gulf of Mexico.

BP is keeping the oil it's siphoning. At this writing, crude is selling for USD 75.80/bbl (Bloomberg). If BP has a contract on this oil, it's making BP about $1.2 million per day on the recovery. The U.S. government can and should force BP to put all of this money into escrow. Call yer Senators and stuff.

11 June 2010

Friday jukebox: Bruce Springsteen

For a friend who's been getting himself into city ward politics:



They blew up the Chicken Man in Philly last night
Now, they blew up his house, too
Down on the Boardwalk they're gettin' ready for a fight,
Gonna see what them racket boys can do . . .

Music tonight: Super Devils! Tomorrow: Shady Grove Arden Music Fest

Tonight:



Rockabilly by the Super Devils at Tritone, 1508 South Street, 9:00, $6.

Tomorrow:


Hie thee down to Delaware (or "Smellaware" or simply "the Illadel") for the Shady Grove Arden Music Fest tomorrow, Saturday 12 June 2010, at the Arden Gild Hall. For a mere $20, you'll enjoy 8 hours of 5 local bands, including headliners The Joe Trainor Trio, New Sweden, The Knobs, Kombu Combo, and Caterpillar. Intermission grooves by DJ Zip.

Buy tickets in advance and save $2!

From Philadelphia, the Arden Gild Hall is easily reached via I-495 (don't take I-95 -- "you can't get there from here"), at 2126 The Highway, Arden DE 19810. Buzz me if you'd like to carpool.

10 June 2010

09 June 2010

An IP lawyer's existential crisis

I want to use a particular cartoon from New Yorker in a slideshow presentation for an educational institution, but I don't want to pay the license fee.

There are plenty of clean copies of this cartoon on the Internet -- that is, copies without the "all rights reserved" watermark along the top -- of questionable legal provenance. (Some justify themselves with shaky educational or fair-use language; others, including an IP lawyers' blog, don't even bother.) I could just use one of these versions. After all, I'd be using it in a school, in a classroom, where I'd be talking to students. In an unpaid capacity.

What to do?

OK, so the crisis is not so much "existential" as it is "financial." Unpaid is not equivalent to not-for-profit, and leading a panel for law students or prospective lawyers does not make me a teacher.

Maybe I'll compromise and use an unlicensed clean copy with a good-faith intention to pay for a licensed copy when I can afford it.

08 June 2010

Driberally tonight

Drinking Liberally is a weekly social gathering where progressives talk politics and get to know one another. In Center City Philadelphia, we meet on Tuesday nights at José Pistola's upstairs bar, where there are drink specials from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. And the more we tip the bartender, the more frequently he hands out free dishes of chips and dips. I hope to see you there!

José Pistola's is at 263 South 15th Street (15th and Spruce) in Center City, near the Kimmel Center and the Academy of Music. There's a parking garage across the street, but as filthy liberal hippies naturally we suggest public transit; both SEPTA and PATCO will get you there in two shakes of a lamb's tail.

This week's topic: Are the Stanley Cup finals over yet?

"Come for the beer, stay for the check"

04 June 2010

Bangladesh: multi-use zoning without the pesky "zoning" part

News from the libertarian, no-city-zoning paradise of Dhaka, Bangladesh: an exploding electrical transformer ignited a city block where chemicals were sold in shops below multi-story dwellings that had iron security bars over the windows and no fire escapes. Oh, and a wedding was being held on the roof of one of the buildings.

"Scores" of people died; not all of the bodies have yet been recovered; and Saturday will be a national day of mourning (BBC).

I've spent much of my post-college years as a small-business owner, and so I'm in total agreement with other entrepreneurs and businesspeople who get irritated at local regulations, zoning laws, and licensing and insurance requirements. It's a pain in the ass to spend a lot of time filling out paperwork and filing quarterly taxes when you'd rather be out making money. But just off the top of my head, I'll list the zoning laws or principles that this news article makes me really, really appreciate:
  • Fire exit rules: fire doors, emergency stairwells, lighting that comes on automatically when the power goes out, multiple fire exits, smoke detectors

  • Hazmat licensing rules: for vending, transporting, storing, disclosing (e.g., MSDS sheets)

  • Highway rules: the width of lanes, laws for yielding to emergency vehicles, fire lanes around commercial buildings

  • Rules for operating a business: licensing, bonding and insuring, permitting

  • Building occupancy rules: limits on the number of people allowed to live in one dwelling or occupy a place of business at any one time

Horrific, tragic, and totally unexpected. Except that an apartment building elsewhere in Dhaka collapsed two days ago -- the owner was putting a new story on top of the building, which was located in a neighborhood of tiny streets, had been built on a former canal, and stood next to shanties, which it "toppled" onto. Nobody is sure how many people lived in the shanties or the building, but probably at least 25 people have perished (BBC).

I'm all for multi-use zoning. One, it makes for a full-service neighborhood, where you can run a bunch of disparate errands -- groceries, bookstore, dentist, hardware store, facial tattoo -- without having to walk too far, or to have to leave the neighborhood altogether. Two, it's funny to hear people thumping up and down the stairs to access the apartments above my neighborhood coffeeshop while I'm reading my most recent $4 fortune. But the operative word here is, of course, zoning. The business paperwork is irritating, and my condo fees would be lower if we didn't have have a city building code to deal with. But I think my neighbors are probably pretty happy that I'm not running "Glomarization's Corrosives, Wholesale to the Public" out of my livingroom.

02 June 2010

$4 fortune: 2 June 2010

Time is the wisest counsellor. Cf.:
Since BP's Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank more than five weeks ago, scientists said they have found at least two sprawling underwater plumes of what appears to be oil, each hundreds of feet deep and stretching for miles.

A plume reported last week by a team from the University of South Florida[] was headed toward the continental shelf off the Alabama coastline, waters thick with fish and other marine life.

On Sunday [30 May 2010], BP's CEO Tony Hayward disputed the existence of the plumes, saying testing by the company showed no evidence that oil was being suspended in large masses underwater. Hayward said oil's natural tendency is to rise to the surface, and any oil found underwater was in the process of working its way up.

However, the researchers said oil in the plumes had dissolved into the water, possibly a result of chemical dispersants used to break up the spill. That makes it more dangerous to fish larvae and creatures that are filter feeders.

Responding to Hayward's assertion, one researcher noted that scientists from several different universities have come to similar conclusions about the plumes after doing separate testing.

No major fish kills have yet been reported, but federal officials said the impacts could take years to unfold.

"This is just a giant experiment going on and we're trying to understand scientifically what this means," said Roger Helm, a senior official with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

01 June 2010

Driberally tonight

Drinking Liberally is a weekly social gathering where progressives talk politics and get to know one another. In Center City Philadelphia, we meet on Tuesday nights at José Pistola's upstairs bar, where there are drink specials from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. And the more we tip the bartender, the more frequently he hands out free dishes of chips and dips. I hope to see you there!

José Pistola's is at 263 South 15th Street (15th and Spruce) in Center City, near the Kimmel Center and the Academy of Music. There's a parking garage across the street, but as filthy liberal hippies naturally we suggest public transit; both SEPTA and PATCO will get you there in two shakes of a lamb's tail.

This week's topic: All right, we've passed Memorial Day. It is now officially okay for you to wear white clothes, straw hats, and open-toed shoes. (Unless you're reading this below the Mason-Dixon line, in which case you were good to go on Easter, and even Maundy Thursday for straw hats.)

"Come for the beer, stay for the check"