Lunaya Pravda

31 May 2006

Vive le Resistance!

Smokers find refuge in secret nicotine dens

Almost six months after the nation's toughest statewide smoking ban went into effect in Washington, smoke has virtually disappeared from all bars and restaurants in Seattle.

But in places reminiscent of speakeasies from the Prohibition days, smokers are still finding opportunities to take a drag in between sips of their favorite libations.

Smokers say the locations of smoke-easies are spread by word of mouth and usually involve a swearing of secrecy. In most of the five smoke-easies visited in neighborhoods across Seattle for this story, the transformation from otherwise-law-abiding bar to underground nicotine den happens late in the evening. There is no official witching hour, just the sense that for the most part only the regulars are left.

I'm not even a smoker, but this warms the cockles of my little individualist heart. Good for them.

And from the P-I's published list of smoking violations, one location really stood out to me - Diwan Hookah Lounge. I mean, how exactly does one run a hookah lounge with self-deputized Seattlites (I won't pretend that this law was pushed by all Washingtonians) looking to rat them out?

I've patronized a hookah bar down the street from my office in the past, an enjoyable experience. But, because of soured lease negotiations and the effect of the new law, that hookah bar is no more. And, sadly, this one will likely follow, all because a bunch of paranoid control freaks can't stand being told to make a choice where to spend their dollars on a Friday night.

There's another bar near my bus stop where the tiny sidewalk patio is always jammed with smokers - even in inclement weather - not 5 feet from the entrance. (I won't reveal its name or location lest one of the aforementioned control freaks reads this.) I'm still in amazement that this little dive hasn't been reported by some nosy, prissy passerby. Because this hole-in-the-wall seems to be patronized solely by smokers, I wonder if some ultimatum has been handed down by the bar's owners, something along the lines of "We'll close if we receive even one complaint." Smokers or not, the patrons certainly aren't tattling.

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26 May 2006

New summer fashion

As you can see, I'm in the process of giving Lunaya Pravda a bold, dramatic, daring new look. Okay, melodrama aside, it's at least a change, but I welcome my readers to comment on how bold, dramatic, and daring it is. If you think it sucks, feel free to visit this link for my response.

Joking aside, I'm nearing completion of the task, there are just a few more things I need to tweak once I get access to a computer with Photoshop. At this point though, any feedback - yes, even negative - would be greatly appreciated.


24 May 2006

Homesteading in an urban setting

Family Lives Throwback Life in Modern Setting
(link to NPR audio, no transcript)

May 24, 2006 · Reverting to a lifestyle of living off the land isn't so unusual. But one Massachusetts family is living that ideal in a less-than-bucolic setting. The family of four is gardening, living by candlelight and forgoing most modern conveniences in a low-income, inner-city neighborhood in Springfield. Karen Brown of member station WFCR reports.

Definitely worth a listen. Honey from bees, avoiding the washer and dryer, growing their own vegetables - much of interest to the modern gulcher who's still living in an urban center.

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23 May 2006

Now we can concentrate on the REALLY evil criminals

Illinois Woman Fined for Getting Puppy Drunk

WOODSTOCK, Ill. — A McHenry County woman has been fined $100 in a bizarre incident involving a glass of red wine and a Chihuahua named Chico.

A judge Monday found 50-year-old Diane Marcotte guilty of the misdemeanor charge of failing to provide humane care and treatment for a pet.

What a waste of resources. Though the article doesn't say, it sounds like they nailed her on pet abuse because they couldn't make the drunk driving charges stick.

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Pandemics, police, and procedure

Never use police, army, US pandemic expert says

Henderson, who likes to describe how he was vaccinated thousands of times against smallpox to demonstrate the immunization's safety to wary villagers, says it is much easier to halt epidemics by winning the trust of community leaders and making use of gossipy schoolchildren.

He is critical of parts of the U.S. national pandemic plan that call for the use of quarantine and other imposed types of enforcement should influenza or any other infectious disease bring on a pandemic.

"Never use the police or the military," Henderson told a meeting organized by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Center for Biosecurity, where he works.

"Once we brought military or police in, we found many citizens retired to the woods," Henderson told the meeting on Tuesday.

And when the health teams tried to quarantine families, they found a similar response. "People hid," he said. "They didn't want to be quarantined so they hid cases."

But if the government's objective is not to stop the spread of infection, but rather to protect its own interests, and it sees force as the necessary means, then such advice is useless.

It sure seems to me as though Bush is itching for a reason to declare marshall law, given how many times we're seeing it recommended as a disaster response. While I don't believe that an avian flu epidemic is imminent, or even likely, I have little doubt that the first response would be deployment of American troops on American soil for law enforcement.

Hiding in the woods, though... a wise plan to avoid the plague (of soldiers or infection, take your pick). All the more reason to have a designated place for retreat.

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22 May 2006

We make no apology for screwing you

Mix-up brands innocent citizens as criminals

The British government, already under pressure over a series of blunders in its immigration and prison services, has confirmed it wrongly branded around 1,500 innocent people as criminals due to a computer mix-up.

It said the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), which carries out checks on people who have applied for jobs working with children or vulnerable adults, had confused the innocent people with convicted criminals because they had similar or identical names.

The names were stored on a police database....

"We make no apology for erring on the side of caution. We are talking about the protection of children and vulnerable adults," a Home Office spokesman said.

So (not surprisingly) no apology is offered for screwing over innocent, vulnerable job applicants. Sorry, but the CRB didn't err on the side of caution - it simply erred. Big-time. The CRB has just as much obligation to the job applicants as it has to those more vulnerable citizens it's supposedly trying to protect. A greater obligation, actually, when one accounts for the tax dollars those job applicants provide to fund such a service.

How much more evidence condemning the idea of government-controlled national databases is necessary before people stop believing that this time there will be no mistakes? These kinds of people-tracking services are NEVER mistake-free, not even in the private sector where quality is often notably better than government performance.

What really ticks me off is the complete lack of apology combined with a glaring absence of acknowledgment of the possibility that other errors were made. You know, the kind of errors that would, say, put a child molester to work at an elementary school. Unstated is the admission of bad data and data handling policies, and the simultaneous insistence that the CRB's performance is A-okay. Again, none of this is astonishing, but that doesn't remedy the irksome level of smug incompetence wrapped up in one little quote.

The government is here to screw protect us. Now was it wearing a condom when we all grabbed our ankles?

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15 May 2006

Yay! Boneheads are back

Bonehead Of The Day Award

Among today's offerings are NY police who write parking tickets to drivers before the valets park their cars, and a supermodel who fell out of a moving bus at 50 MPH after mistaking an emergency exit for a bathroom door.

Glad to see Jerry back after a long hiatus.


13 May 2006

Music Meme

Lewlew over at Yak Attack posted a Music Meme, and after giving it much thought, here are my responses:

What 3 sad songs make you feel happy anyway?
Janie's Got A Gun, Aerosmith
Mandolin Rain, Bruce Hornsby and The Range
Maxwell's Silver Hammer, The Beatles

What is the silliest song you enjoy?
I Am The Walrus, The Beatles

What song are you almost embarrassed to admit you like?
Stayin' Alive, Bee Gees

Who put on the top three concerts you've ever seen?
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (at Red Rocks Amphitheater, no less)
Nine Inch Nails

* What is the weirdest album you've ever owned?

The Annoying Music Show CD

What song gets your blood racing?
Stand Back, Stevie Nicks

* If you have a favorite band from your region, who are they?

Foo Fighters

Name one song from the year you were born that you like:
(Don't Fear) the Reaper - Blue Oyster Cult

Name one song your whole family enjoys:
The Boxer, Paul Simon

Name one song that reminds you of a good friend:
The Freshmen, The Verve Pipe


10 May 2006

Landlords, renters take heed

Tacoma extends ban on group housing

The change in course means that private landlords won't escape notice and that social service providers won't necessarily be penalized for trying to help people, Lonergan said.

"What we've been doing really is aiming the land-use cannon at some entities that are really part of the solution," he said.

City Manager Eric Anderson told council members last week that a solution could include:
  • Licensing every landlord in the city.
  • Requiring regular inspections of rental properties and paying for the service with fees charged to landlords.
  • Getting tougher on property maintenance and paying for the enforcement with fees.
  • Requiring "good neighbor" agreements between landlords and the surrounding community.
  • Changes in land-use regulations.
(emphasis mine)

Suddenly everyone should need a license to own real estate and rent it out? Give me a break. If I were a landlord, this would certainly give me pause to continue the practice.

It'd be fitting if, in its zeal, the city caused a rental property shortage by pushing landlords to sell or convert their rented properties to owner-occupied ones.

Could this also be a ploy to increase acceptance of warrantless searches? Were I still renting, I'd balk at the idea of having strangers coming into inspect my home without my authorization, even ostensibly to check for landlord violations. Who cares to wager city inspectors wouldn't report any signs of child abuse or drug use to the "proper authorities"?

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09 May 2006

Playground hysteria

Is litigation taking the 'play' out of kids' playgrounds?

Is there real danger on the modern playground?

Safety advocates say yes and want to eliminate it.

Their first target: swing sets.

They've convinced Portland Public Schools to remove all swings from elementary schools playgrounds.

But even a playground inspector finds the removal of swing sets a little over the top.

He says that swinging creates motion and is an important part of childhood development.

But the safety advocates don't stop there.

Portland Public Schools have also rejected merry go rounds, tube slides, track rides, arch climbers, and teeter totters.

But wait, there's more:

Now, it seems, anything with moving parts is a lawsuit liability, and in some places, that even means moving legs.

In Broward County, Florida, there's a new rule on the playground: no running.

A parent there commented that "no running on the playground, that's kind of like no playing on the playground" and another called for a review of what exactly was "safe" or unsafe.

So what can kids still play?

Not dodge ball or tether ball, that's still too dangerous. And in Beaverton, at Barnes Elementary School, rules there forbid the game of tag.

The more I read about ridiculous things like this, the more I look at my own childhood in amazement. If we took all this at face value, it's a wonder my generation made it past our elementary school years with all our appendages. All the sharp edges, tetanus-causing metal, and wood splinters! My god, what WERE our parents thinking, sending us to the Playgrounds of Death?!?

Occasionally, I'll drive past my old elementary school during a hometown visit. Most of the fun playground equipment has long since been removed. I once fell off a concrete retaining wall on my school's playground, skinning my knee and face. Surely the school has been negligent in banning retaining walls - that retaining wall is one of the few features I still recognize about the playground today. Another child could fall off it at any second!

Maybe we should ban bicycles, too. Learning to ride is just an accident in the making. I remember crashing squarely into the back of a parked car when I was first learning to ride and hadn't quite mastered the concept of steering. Or maybe it was the parked car - that's it, ban parked cars.

This begs to be a South Park episode.

If I ever become a parent and turn into one of these overprotective nitwits, I hope someone will slap me.

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07 May 2006

The free market at work

For all those people whining about the high prices at the pump, this is an intersting, market-driven approach to buying gasoline.

First Fuel Banks bills itself as the only retailer in the country where customers can buy gasoline for the future and hedge against rising prices. It advertises no service charge and no storage charge, just a $1 lifetime membership fee.

Altrichter said one of his neighbors got in at First Fuel Banks several years ago and is now is withdrawing from a reserve that cost him 99 cents a gallon. "How about that!" he said.

While I've never bought into the price-fixing and opportunistic pocket-gouging allegations against Big Oil (price-fixing is from OPEC, if anyone), it has always bothered me that the price I pay at the pump is based not upon the cost of the crude necessary to produce it, but on the price of crude oil at some point in the future. Big Oil has the opportunity to hedge their bets against the future price of oil by locking in a fixed amount of crude at a fixed price. Though prices quickly respond when the per barrel price of crude futures increases, they never seem to adjust as quickly in the downward direction.

First Fuel Banks gives every consumer that same option to place a bet that the price of refined gasoline will be higher in the future and to lock in a given amount at a given price. It removes much of the volatility at the pump currently experienced by most of us. If the prices at regular gas stations are high, withdraw gasoline from your fuel bank. If prices at regular stations are low, fill up there and reserve your bank for times when the current prices are out of reach. Account administration costs are nearly nil. And I can't help but think that gasoline might be worth having for barter in a shit-hits-the-fan scenario, assuming you can still access it.

I heard Friday on NPR that Southwest Airlines has managed to keep their prices lower by securing fuel prices some two years ago, which, among other strategies, has enabled the company to weather the current airline market better than its competitors. I plan to research this more, but I'm finding this a fascinating free market solution that gives consumers options previous limited to large corporations, wealthy investors, and government.

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05 May 2006

A glimmer of uncommon sense

From Steven Milloy, publisher of Junk Science:

The U.S. Government has finally begun to reverse policy on the insecticide DDT. Let's hope that this policy shift represents the beginning of the end of what can only be called a crime against humanity: the decades-old withholding of the world's most effective anti-malarial weapon from billions of adults and children at risk of dying from the disease.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) told the Washington Times this week (May 3) that it endorses and will fund the indoor spraying of DDT in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria kills more than one million Africans annually, mostly children under five and pregnant women.

The policy change is timely given a recent commentary published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet (April 25) in which a number of researchers accuse the World Bank of deception and medical malpractice in the struggle against malaria.

The researchers charge that the World Bank reneged on its promise to spend $300 million to $500 million for malaria control in Africa; concealed the actual amount of its expenditures; reduced its staff of malaria experts from seven to zero shortly after promising to do more to fight the disease; published false epidemiological studies to exaggerate the performance of its projects; and funded clinically obsolete treatments, against the World Health Organization'?s advice, for malaria in India.

As many environmentalists are quick to point out, DDT was never officially banned. However, the U.S. policy of denying aid to any country still using DDT is nearly as effective a prohibition as an outright ban would have been.

No evidence was ever found to support the allegations portraying DDT as a deadly agent - not the egg shell thinning, not the human health risk. Indeed, bird populations were seen to increase during the DDT years, contradicting the claims of scientific journals and environmental organizations antagonistic to DDT.

Additionally, there's evidence to suggest that the World Health Organization viewed overpopulation of Third World nations as a threat, and saw no alternative but to increase the number of childhood deaths through malaria. As one worker for one health agency put it: "Rather dead than alive and riotously reproducing."

In short, the malaria epidemic, because of its direct causation by international health agencies and their political motives, appears to have been used as the means to the most significant genocide the world has seen.

The cynical part of me wonders if the existence of a biological population control tool more effective than malaria accounts for the shift in DDT policy, but that remains to be seen.

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03 May 2006

Majority: from super to simple

The Heartless Libertarian brought something to my attention that Washingtonians should be aware of - and frankly, I, too, am astonished that this is completely below the radar of state tax protest groups.

Doing research for my post below, I came across something, and I have to wonder why the anti-tax crusaders in Washington state aren't making a bigger deal about it. That something is the undermining of I-601, which limited the ability of the Legislature to increase spending beyond specified growth limits and to raise taxes. The Legislature accomplished this undermining through the enactment of SB 6078. 601 required a supermajority to raise taxes without sending the issue to the voters in a referendum,which basically means that any tax increase must have bipartisan support; 6078 reduces the requirement to a simple majority. Furthermore, 6078 was declared to be 'emergency' legislation, meaning it couldn't be challenged by voter referendum.

From the bill's summary:

Effective immediately and continuing until June 30, 2007, the Legislature may enact legislation increasing state revenue by a majority vote. After June 30, 2007, legislative actions increasing state revenue will require a two-thirds vote of each house of the Legislature.

This doesn't just undermine I-601 - it guts it completely. Pretty convenient since the state legislature, and particularly the Democrats, have been enacting new taxes and spending like a bunch of drunken sailors ever since Gregoire took office. Moreover, anyone with half a brain and ANY memory of history will take no comfort in the fact that it supposedly sunsets in two years. Nothing that benefits government spending EVER sunsets.

Wake up, Washington!


02 May 2006

Nothing like losing AND having to go home to Detroit

I don't usually get all torqued up over sports, but hockey - particularly playoff hockey - never fails to get my blood pumping.

Yes! The Detroit Red Wings lead most of the season, clinching their division and the Western Conference fairly early. And now that most-despised team, the number 1 seed in the west, has suffered a devistating upset and early elimination by the 8th-seed Edmonton Oilers. Words cannot adequately express my glee.

And my beloved Avalanche came through to crush the Dallas Stars 4 games to 1. Now if only Jose Theodore can show that he's capable of some playoff-caliber goaltending, then I'll be satisfied.

During the lockout bitterness, I'd forgotten how much I really missed this game. Given my love of hockey and fascination with curling, is it possible I was Canadian in another life?


01 May 2006

Coquille St. Jacques

serves 6

1½ lb. fresh scallops
1 Cup dry white wine
¼ Cup snipped parsley
½ tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. butter
4 oz. sliced mushrooms
2 chopped shallots or scallions
3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. flour
½ Cup half and half
½ Cup shredded Swiss cheese
1 Cup soft bread crumbs
2 Tbsp. butter, melted

If scallops are large, cut into smaller pieces. Put scallops, wine, parsley and salt into saucepan. Add just enough water to cover the scallops and heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered about 8 minutes, until scallops are done. Remove scallops with a slotted spoon, reserving liquid. Boil reserved liquid until reduced to one Cup. Strain and reserve.

Melt 2 tbsp. butter in saucepan. Sauté mushrooms and onion until tender. Remove from pan. Melt 3 tbsp. butter in pan; stir in flour. Cook on low heat until smooth and bubbly. Add reserved liquid. Cook and stir one minute. Stir in half and half, scallops, mushrooms, onions, and 1/4 Cup cheese. Heat through.

Toss bread crumbs in melted butter. Put scallop mixture into lightly buttered ramekins. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and remaining cheese. Broil until bread crumbs are toasted, about 3-5 minutes.


Thoughts on immigration protests

Later today, traffic in downtown Seattle is expected to be snarled beyond belief due to the second immigration protest in three weeks. And I'm extraordinarily angry about it.

First, as my political leanings go (somewhere between libertarian minarchist and anarcho-capitalist), I support their cause. On fundamental levels, I'm opposed to restrictions on movement and limits on the rights of individuals to enter consensual contracts with each other, including contracts involving employment and wages. And I truly believe that federal and state minimum wage requirements have roped the U.S. into the precarious position it currently holds.

But not a single one of these protests serves to inconvenience or punish government for its meddling, overbearing position. The biggest burdens of these protests are born by the private citizens and business owners. Businesses must scramble to adequately staff their operations. Workers, legal and illegal alike, face commutes that take hours longer than normal because of streets closed to traffic. And the taxpayers foot the bill for the traffic revisions, police presence, damage to public property, and other incidentals.

Unlike the bus boycotts of the 60s civil rights movement, these rallies strike at the heart of private enterprise, inclusively punishing those who support the rights of undocumented workers and even provide them with jobs. Government doesn't suffer because government isn't heavily staffed by undocumented workers in the first place. Government doesn't care about 15,000 screaming protesters throwing a tantrum on its doorstep and the ensuing traffic problems. Government doesn't have to scramble to meet staffing needs.

If the objective is a strong show of support numerically speaking, then rallying in a place capable of accommodating thousands is far more appropriate, and far less likely to raise the ire of those who are otherwise supportive of the motivation for protest.

The war protesters typically reserve their actions for the weekend, when more people can attend and less harm is done. It's too bad the immigration protest organizers can't grasp the same concept - making nice with the neighbors. And if any actions are to be successful, they must strike at the organization that benefits the most from illegal immigration - the government.

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