The Gross National Debt

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I hope you dance

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Planned dance routines, such as those which require a choreographer but not limited to that, is a form of protected free speech and can be copyrighted.
Wow! Now that's a pole dancer!

Didja know that? Well know you do.

Despite these protections, an appeals court has ruled that free form dance is an inappropriate form of public speech when done at certain national monument sites.


http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/30/jefferson-memorial-dancing-arrests_n_868719.html

Look at the videos.

Was it THAT necessary to lean on the guy's head as he was arrested?

Before you say yes or say now, unless you are a police officer can you adequately answer that question? Not being a police office, I cannot adequately speak to that. I can tell you I have interviewed officers who went to make a mundane arrest-traffic stop-whatever and wound up fighting for their lives.

Not all the officers survived such encounters for me to be able to interview them.
Use of necessary force is justified.

That aside, I think dance is appropriate event at the national monuments. Cultures around the world use dance as a form of expression. Some dances are a form of introspection, reflection and contemplation. Some dances are for praise, some to express sorrow. Dance can be used to pay tribute to honor and in rare cases insult and denigrate. Some dances, yes, are designed to draw attention. Some dances are just a free form expression of the mood the music inspires.

I have been known to engage in an activity that can be called dance only in the very loosest of terms, and almost always under the influence of a byproduct of yeast growth. Full body muscles spasms is a more apt description of the body movements which overtook me at those times.
Nor should yours be negotiable.

To say it was not pretty is to say our current president has not kept all his promises.

Regardless, it was me, it was mine and it was a form of free speech.

As dance is a silent form of communication, it's pretty hard to know what the dancer is trying to communicate unless you know what music is driving the dance - if there is any music.

By saying people cannot dance at the national monument sites, the appeals court has ruled free speech at these places is not allowed.

I can't support that idea. Free speech means free speech, including dance even at the nation's monuments.

I hope you dance.

Some personal vanity

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A website for authors and writings has asked for an interview with me. In a continuing effort to bore you out of your skulls and annoy you to no end, I give you the advance copy of the interview so far.

Complete and utter vanity on my part, because I doubt any of you will be interested in this.



Ben Baker is presently a full time newspaper editor, syndicated columnist, author and evangelist living in S. Georgia. He has 4 books in print, several more in the wings and has edited, produced and designed books for other authors.

  1. What was the first book you read that inspired you to become a writer?
He's Your Dog Charlie Brown - a Peanuts collection by Charles Shulz. When I "moved beyond" that book, Havilah Babcock and Gordon MacQuarrie were instrumental in forming my love of outdoor writing. Other influential writers are Voltaire, Swift, Douglas Adams, Jerry Clower, Terry Pratchett, Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert and John Brunner.

  1. Did you try the traditional publishing route before going indie and if so, what was that experience like?
For books, yes. It was a waste of time. I spent money, time and effort trying to get my first book "Origins of Hawgin" into the hands of a traditional publisher and got precisely one response, this from a firm in Nashville after I called 'em six months after the query. The reply was "No, we don't think this book will sell."

I sold more than 1,000 copies of it on my own.

Traditional publishing houses are getting ever harder to break into with my line of writing - humor, outdoors, religion and philosophy. Other fields may be easier to get into.

Jim Butcher, author The Dresden Files, said he got into a publishing house on a stroke of luck. His series has since made a ton of money and is into 10 books (I think). He said one thing that DID help was he had more than one book finished and outlines for others. The publisher knew, if the book took off, this was not going to be a one shot deal.

Now my stuff is indie work. It does not give me the market reach I really want, but I take what I can  get.
  1. Besides the genre you currently write in, what other genre would you like to try?
Science fiction & fantasy, horror and Butcher's work which combines the supernatural with detective novels is massively appealing to me. Most of my personal library is S.F. and Fantasy. I've got a 3/4 completed S.F. novel in a drawer, had it for 20 years now.
  1. What do you think are the basic ingredients of a story?
Characters in conflict.

The conflict does not have to be two people facing each other with broadswords. But there has to be an issue to be resolved for make a god story. This is true even in my philosophical and religious work.

Characters come first. They have to be believable. While you may say a 3 foot female dwarf with a beard wearing lipstick and having to reconcile her female side with the dwarfish view that a dwarf is a dwarf may be unbelievable, it does strike a chord in the people who read Terry Prachett's work. We're willing to mentally search our list of friends and acquaintances (whether we do this consciously or not is beside the point) for some gender confused person we know.

Gimme someone I can see and believe.

Then gimme a problem they have to work through.

You gotta have a conflict. It gives people something to believe in. They need to see themselves in that conflict, then they can relate to the story. Havilah Babcock's problem was fighting through the briars to get to the covey of quail he was hunting. Been there! Done that! Jerry Clower's character's problems were some Good Ol' Southern boys trying to make their way in their world that just didn't always cooperate with them.
  1. What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?
I started a blog a few years ago. I write at least each weekday in the blog sometimes twice a day and rarely thrice. This is the biggest challenge to my writing and schedule. I have no set time to do this, but I do it. Every day. Finding something that appeals to me enough to write about is sometimes REALLY tough.

I also have a Noon Friday deadline to get my syndicated humor column written, proofed by a fellow worker, and emailed to the papers who run it. This is increasingly the hardest writing task before me. Having penning a humor column now for more than 20 years, I have written about almost every subject I can think of. Fresh material is getting harder and harder to come by. I could drop into formula writing like some fellow humoristas I know, but that is abhorrent to me. It works for them, but it doesn't work for me.

The other writing I do, it happens when it happens.
  1. Dogs or cats?
Why choose? I remember years ago my half-Lab Tip laying on the floor with our new kitten Hiss hanging off his jaw as they played together. Archimedes my late bird dog and my late male calico Ocelot (OC for shirt) used to hunt together.
  1. Do you think people DO judge books by their cover?
Oh absolutely. I do unless it is an author I know or a genre I want to read. I know when I have book signings, people look hard at the covers before they ever pick up a book. The cover of "A Dog Named Nekkid" drawn by my daughter always makes people look.
  1. What's the best and worst things about being an author?
Writing.
  1. What are you working on right now?
Aside from this list of questions, this week's newspaper. Book wise, I'm culling and editing and revising "A Hunter's Dictionary" for my "Dictionary" series, a humorous and often satirical look at common terms in various jobs and hobbies. I also have 4-5 religious works I still (yeah, yeah I know) shopping around to traditional publishing houses. I have a friend compiling 3 years worth of blogs into my new blog location http://porkbrainsandmilkgravy.blogspot.com/ and when that's done, I'll be pulling select stories for additional books.
  1. Besides writing, what other hobbies or interests do you have?
Reading obviously. With the book "A Dog Named Nekkid" discovered I am a good enough artist to illustrate my own books. N.B. - a chief complaint of "Origins" was there were no cartoons. Consider illustrations in your works.

I hunt and fish. I have recently resumed reloading my own ammunition and am increasingly drawn to black powder firearms and hunting. In December I shot a bison with a black powder rifle.

I am an evangelist and presently preach several times a month in the state prison in my community. This is a later in life passion for me.

I am a passable graphic artist and enjoy building ads and ad campaigns for newspaper customers. I have also designed a LARGE number of logos for various businesses.

I genuinely enjoy my work at the newspaper I run. It will not bother me in the slightest is some day I end my tenure in this realm of existence and I'm still the editor here.

In my community I serve on several boards of directors.

www.southernhumorists.com
www.thewiregrassfarmer.com
www.porkbrainsandmilkgravy.com

Monday, May 30, 2011

Psychobabble

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Or conservative P-B. And I don't drink coffee any more.

Apocryphal: When Ted Bundy was finally put on death row and a time set to light him up like a Christmas Tree a restaurant in Florida advertised "free fries if Bundy fries."

Own it. Read it. Like it.
The late and much unlamented Ted Bundy is only one of a number of psychopath killers which were finally caught and met with justice. Others may remain at large, probably are still loose in fact and others yet are in jail and hopefully will remain there until it is their time to push up some daisies.

Why the field and practice of psychiatry is only better than the field of phrenology because the shrinks have a license to dispense drugs (through which they can cover up their inability to actually do anything helpful because it's damn near impossible to determine ANYTHING useful from a drooling heap), they do have something to talk about where psychopaths are concerned.

Consider the Hare Psychopathy test. http://www.minddisorders.com/Flu-Inv/Hare-Psychopathy-Checklist.html

This test purports to tell whether or not a person actually is a psycho.

But, according to a series of news reports including some extensive investigative journalism, getting a "false positive" on the test is easy.

In other words, it's nothing to fake test results so you can appear to be a psycho.

It works for shrinks.
No surprise there. Shrinks are pretty much a clueless lot from what I can see and are only interested in supporting their own preconceived notions. The above book and a detailed study Brutal Antipathy pointed me to (I have lost the link. He may post a comment with the link if you're lucky) illustrate exactly why I link the field of psychiatry to phrenology.

The author of the test is even on the record that his test is being misused and is condemning people who are not psychos.

Everything I have learned about the test includes this warning in a varying amount of verbiage: "When properly completed by a qualified professional..."

I could not find a copy of the test to share with you and I'm not forking out $300+ to get a copy. I can tell you the test considers these 20 items:
  • glib and superficial charm
  • grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
  • need for stimulation
  • pathological lying
  • cunning and manipulativeness
  • lack of remorse or guilt
  • shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
  • Hi! He's Ted Bundy and he's compost.
  • callousness and lack of empathy
  • parasitic lifestyle
  • poor behavioral controls
  • sexual promiscuity
  • early behavior problems
  • lack of realistic long-term goals
  • impulsivity
  • irresponsibility
  • failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • many short-term marital relationships
  • juvenile delinquency
  • revocation of conditional release
  • criminal versatility
20 items to tell if a person is a psychopath.
 
If you just look at the above items I'm sure you can point to a huge number of people who could be psychopaths. Aside from the issue of marriages, the items in the list can describe a lot of teenagers. Many of the items also describe excessively stupid people.
Must get bumper sticker...
The actual test contains a lot more than 20 questions. Regardless, here's a simplified version of the t20 items and a brief, if sarcastic, explanation of each. http://www.psychforums.com/antisocial-personality/topic50384.html

The answers come on a sliding scale. The higher the score the more likely the person is a psychopath, at least according to the test.

You probably now get an idea of why it is so easy to fake the test and come out a psycho. Some criminals do fake the test in order to NOT be sent to prison but instead be sent to shrink wards. They believe the shrink ward will be easier than prison and easier to get out of.
A psychiatrist grasps absolute proof his science is correct.
The down side of this is once branded a psycho, shaking that label is just this side of impossible,
something the criminals don't bother thinking about. A shrink will point to this as further proof of psychopathy because the person is not willing to change to avoid future consequences.
Psycho or world leader?
Most like you are now wondering how you would rank on the Psychopath test. I'm certainly wondering how I'd come out and who among us would rank high. Some folks probably think I rank very high. I withhold my own opinion of myself as it would be considered unreliable.

OKcupid.com has some sample psychopath tests. They are probably just as reliable as a test given by a shrink. Maybe moreso.

Here's a surprise for you. In the investigative research on this test, some people who scored high on it are also leaders of industry and business. What the shrinks see as unhealthy behavior, the very successful people see as the drive that allows them to succeed.

So how about it? How do you think you'd rank? How about the people around you? How would they rank?

You’re readin’ my mind you won’t look in my eyes
You say I do things that I don’t realise
But I don’t care it’s all psychobabble rap to me
Psychobabble all psychobabble
Psychobabble all psychobabble
You’re lighting a scene that’s faded to black
I threw it away cause I don’t want it back
But I don’t care it’s all psychbabble rap 

The Alan Parson's Project

Friday, May 27, 2011

Suffer the little children

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The program is called Backpack Buddies. http://backpack-buddies.org/

In short, it sends food home each Friday with elementary school children who probably would not get another meal until school takes in Monday morning.

Peanut Butter. Not just for snacks any more.
In my community, this program costs $202 for the whole year. That is: Friday night supper, breakfast, lunch and supper Saturday and Sunday, two weekend snacks and a jar of peanut butter once a month with a weekly sleeve of crackers for the peanut butter. There's also enough to supply younger children who are not yet in school.

The food is sent home each Friday with the student in the backpack. Backpack comes back Monday for a refill on Friday.

Excuse me while I calm down. I'm gonna need to calm down several times as I write this piece. Not for the reasons you now think. I know where this column is going and it's that which makes me need to periodically pause.

When this program was brought up at the Chamber of Commerce meeting this morning, I immediately wondered how many backpacks would get back to school on Monday morning. Considering the children this food goes to, I would expect the backpacks to disappear.

Break time.

Ok. So in addition to my thinking the kids would wreck the backpacks I also know the parents would have no problem in taking the backpack to a flea market, getting a buck or two for it and pocketing the money.
The way it should be.

A few years ago, one child in our school system stopped coming to school. Teachers went to find out why.

Child had no shoes.

Teachers went and bought shoes for the child. Next day in school. Then, out again.

Another check at home.

The entity which birthed the child took the shoes for itself.

break time

I was not told the name of the entity in question. The people who told me of this child knew better than to tell me the entity's name. It probably would have not had feet if I'd been able to get ahold of it.

Anyway, that's what I was thinking when I wondered about the backpacks making it back to school.

Then, the lady who was presenting the program and asking for donations said the kids in the program

break time

Ahem.

Anyway, the kids in the program take steps to make sure the entities in the home do not get to the food. She enumerated ways this happens. As I took notes, Ray Jordan suggested I not write that down as it would tip those entities off the backpack food. I marked my notes out.

While I do not believe those entities are capable of reading, must less finding and understanding this commentary, I shall not provide any additional detail.

I will not provide you with pictures of starving children here. You can go get that yourself.

Since the kids have sense enough to do as suggested above, I also believe they are smart enough to keep up with the backpack and make sure it gets back to school on Monday.

While I do not have enough money to "adopt" a kid for the year, I would do so if I could. 47 children in my town are so identified as being at risk of not having food over the weekend.

It is also a good idea for me to not know who these children are.

If I knew them, then I'd take steps to inform the entities in these children's lives about how actions have consequences and sometimes those consequences are in the form of a very large, rather intelligent redneck fully capable to making necessary adjustments to such an entity.

Anyway, my personal thanks to all who are "adopting" a kid in the Backpack Buddies program. I encourage you to try and set one of these up in your community. If you need more details about ours, please let me know.

This'n is about local politics so feel free to skip

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The Ashburn City Council discussed a plan to do away with property taxes last night. In place of that, the Council would set up fees. Two fees Stormwater and Fire Department fees.

Judging from the reaction last night by the Council, this one ain't gonna pass. More meetings are planned, so this could change if enough people lobby the City Council members to pass the proposal. What follows is my opinion.

Because it ain't gonna pass and because of declining property values, the Council is gonna raise taxes this year.

Property taxes account for about 10 percent of the Ashburn budget, if I remember the meeting correctly (notes still in saddlebags on Purple Haze.) But that 10 percent is necessary to fund City services at the current levels and rates.

So why won't it pass?

Running it down the line by Council member:

Cebo Bateman - He's gonna vote against it because it would require him to pay. As a disabled veteran (according to the US government) Bateman does not pay property taxes on his home, thanks to a Georgia Constitution amendment. The idea that he might have to go back to paying something to support the City services is something he objected to.

James Burks - I expect Burks to vote no after School Superintendent Ray Jordan delivered a well-thought and rational argument against the fee system. (more in a moment). Burks was, to my thinking, looking for something he could hang a no vote on.

Sandra Lumpkin - Former City Clerk, Lumpkin asked how the City could get by with the monthly income of fees v. the annual income of property taxes. She should know very well that the City banks those property taxes and runs off them, as reserves, until taxes come in again. The fee system would merely move the income to coming in monthly instead of annually. How she will vote, I do not know.

Algenard Bryant - I think Bryant is looking for answers that cannot be found outside of a policy decision by the City Council. I think he's looking for a clear cut and definitive answer as to whether the fees are a good idea or not. That is a decision he's gotta make. Mayor Jim Hedges said the two guys who are doing the property study for this fee based system won't have all the answers. Bryant is going to have make a decision based on the information, what he thinks is best for the City and what residents want him to do. Like Lumpkin, I don't know how he'll vote but if last night's meeting is any indication I expect him to vote no.

Art Eld - Art is gonna vote yes. He likes the idea and his support is only growing. He sees the fee system as a way to shift the burden of supplying city services off the shoulders of just property owners to everyone in the city.

Mayor Jim Hedges - The mayor won't figure into this unless there is a tie vote. Then he gets to vote. He'll vote yes as this is his proposal. He can veto a Council decision, but that can be overridden with a 4-1 vote. As this vote will be to implement a new program, a veto won't have any effect.

Ray Jordan - Not a member of the City Council, Mr. Jordan spoke as the School Superintendent. Eloquent as usual and rational as usual, Mr. Jordan's cogent arguments caused Burks to grunt what I took to be an affirmative noise several times during the meeting. I'll have the details of Jordan's words in next week's newspaper.

After the meeting Ray and I briefly debated the fees. He argues that the fees, which will be assessed on County and Board of Education property inside the City, will require everyone in the County to pay for City Services.

I don't have a problem with that. Those City services are supplied to the BoE and County facilities. Why should those two agencies get a free ride?

Jordan argued everyone, including me, is a resident of the County but not everyone is a resident of the City. He further said the only way those two boards could raise the money to pay those fees is through property taxes levied on everyone.

Granted. I still don't have a problem with that.

The County charges the City $80K a year for radio dispatching services through 911 (not 911 calls) and charges $30 a day for City prisoners.

Further, the County spends a considerable amount of it's budget on items which I and other City residents do not derive any benefit from.

Jordan pointed out we all live in the County.

Granted. But refining my argument, to my thinking I do not receive an adequate return from the County for my property tax dollars. My tax dollars, to my thinking, subsidize County services which are far less available to me, as a City resident, than if I lived in the County.

Examples? Fire Department and Sheriff & Jail. These items account for nearly half the County budget. If I call for emergency help, within the City I will get the Ashburn F&R Dept. and the police Dept. I have to specially request a deputy or the County fire department.

If this is gonna be a completely fair equation, I should not have to make that special request.

Further, since we are ALL residents of the County, then all crime takes places in the County so why does the City pay the County to house City prisoners? You may argue the City collects all the fines received from people so incarcerated. OK. The City can hand all that fine income over to the County.

The County Commission, in the past, has said NO! to that proposal. Why? The County gets a LOT more money by housing prisoners.

Since we are ALL in the County, why does the County charge the City 80K for radio traffic (nearly all law enforcement.) I remind you all the crime in the County happens in the County and all residents of the County (including in the cities) are County residents.

As for the BoE stuff, School Board property is afforded the exact same protections and services of every other piece of property in the City. BUT! Not everyone in the City receives benefits from the Board of Education. While this is a tired and old argument and I can argue it either way, I do believe that the school system benefits some at the expense of all. To wit: people who do not have children pay school taxes.  But as I said, this argument has been debated for years and will continue to be so with no end in sight.

To sum all this up, the present tax structure ain't fair. Too many people are getting a free ride or a discounted ride on the backs of other people.

If you want to make it fair, you charge people for the service they receive. You want the service, you pay the fee. You don't want the service, you don't pay the fee.

Asking me to pay for your services is just wrong.

Comments, including those calling me a complete idiot, are welcome. Cogent arguments with reason can be debated, if that is your wish. If not, all comments will be posted without reply from me.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dead man walking

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Well, is the old Turner County jail http://www.jailmuseum.com haunted? I'll get to that in a minute. Have to dispose of some details first.


Editor's note: When I say "we" henceforth in this column I refer to the museum's Board of Directors, of which I am a member and the default director to let people in after hours to do ghost hunting or spend the night if so inclined.

I call them ghost hunters. They prefer the term paranormal investigators. If they object to my terminology they can write their own column.

We are now into double digits of ghost hunter groups who have come to investigate the old jail. A few groups have been more than once, but even setting those aside, we're past 11 groups who have investigated the jail.

So is it haunted? That depends on whom you speak with (and I also split my infinitives in case yer wondering).

Here's what you wanna know. Sort of.

To date, all except the outfit which was here Saturday have uniformly reported "phenomena" in the jail. Saturday's outfit based in Valdosta is still reviewing their evidence. The leader, Claudia, a tall German lady with a decent accent, told me they had to examine their EVP (electronic voice phenomena) to see if they had anything there. She said initial checks revealed some activity.
Coolest logo to date!

Look at 'em yerself. - https://www.facebook.com/pages/VAPIR-PARANORMAL-VALDOSTA-GA/117394838275009

All the other groups reported evidence. 

None have reported the same evidence or phenomena.

What I can recall I present here without editorial comment. That will follow:

A picture taken by the first group showing a shadow, fog or something else in the shape of a hand at a cell door.

Another picture taken from the parking lot showing a shadowy image upstairs which the investigators told me was a woman.

Dowsing rods were used by one group. Questions were asked and "answered."  An answer was the rods crossing or moving apart.

Some EVPs, some of which contain profanity. Sorry, don't recall what the words were.

One guy had a pretty healthy scratch down his back. He said he was in the middle of a room when it happened. How it was caused, I do not know as I was not there when it happened.
http://www.entities-r-us.com/tag/ghost-hunter-tv-shows/

Another guy reported something tugged at his pants.

The pants guy and a partner reported widely varying temperature anomalies in one room. The temp spiked for a brief instance into triple digits while I was with 'em which visibly startled them both. They both said heat was an indicator of malevolence

Another guy reported a small object was moved in one room.

My daughter said a dollar bill left flattened on a bunk upstairs was crumpled up when she got back.

Commentary now.
Or a unitarian cemetery

"You think the place is haunted, Baker?"

I'm gonna waffle on you. Call me agnostic.

There are things which take place which I cannot explain within the realm of current scientific knowledge. This does not mean there is no scientific explanation. It means science is either not advanced enough to explain it OR it is beyond the realm of the Newtonian physical sciences.

For that matter, science can't explain everything about science. The search for the Unified Field Theory continues.

Anyway, I have not encountered anything at the jail which I cannot explain. Even the temperature anomaly is explainable, to me anyway. These guys were using some fancy electronic equipment to check air temperatures. Electrons are funny things and one of those things science cannot fully explain either. A few electrons flying into a the wrong orbit could explain that.

Now THAT'S funny
The Heisenberg Uncertainty principle at work. Schrodinger's Cat if you prefer. If neither of those make any sense to you, this won't either.
http://www.someecards.com/2011/03/24/engineers-and-physicists-fight-over-coffee-machine but it leaves me gasping for breath I laugh so hard.

Considering the history of the facility, if any place can be haunted, the old jail certainly should be one of those places. Two people were put to death by court order in the old jail, hung from the gallows hook upstairs. (In case you are wondering, I have hung 2 people from the gallows hook. Yes. Live human beings. I hung them at their request and they enjoyed it immensely. I have witnesses.) I am certain other people died there over the years. Births took place there. Much pain and suffering of all kinds took place there.

It's a jail. As far as the human condition goes, it is a place where every conceivable human status took place.
The old jail. Come visit us. Tours Tues-Fri.

None of which answers your question, but I told you I was going to waffle.

So to answer your question - I do not know if the old jail is haunted.

Some relevant information you may or may not find interesting:

After the first group came through, I stopped giving them a tour. When groups come in now, they come in cold or at least with only what information they can get from other sources. I do answer any questions they have.

I don't tour 'em because I do not want to prejudice their investigations. To me, their line of work is discovering the unknown. If I fill them in on the jail history, I load them with information which they may attempt to corroborate or use to guide their investigation.
FREE psychic reading. Just send me $100. Really.

They don't need this information. They should start cold and present me with what they find and I'll tell 'em if it adds up to what we know about the old jail.

I think that's fair. My reasoning is charlatan "psychic" readers gather information from victims prior to a read and use that information to con the victims. A real psychic doesn't need any information to start with.

So far precisely 2 groups have come back as promised to present us with their evidence. Two.

All have promised to come back and present evidence. The first group to come was the first to come back. They brought pictures, audio and a DVD. They left these records with us. The other group came back and presented their evidence as they geared up for a second investigation.

Two groups booked a time to investigate and never showed up, never called, nothing.

Bad ghost hunters, bad! Time out for you!
The ghost hunters' batting average on followup is about the same as our current president's.

Some MAY have put up their evidence on their websites. I have not checked. Regardless, posting the evidence on their website is not the same thing as coming back to present said evidence.

I hope they have posted the evidence. Most of 'em come down with some paperwork for us to sign. I do so. The papers include a release on whether or not they are allowed to publicize their findings.

Some people who have the ghost hunters come into their houses are having problems they attribute to ghosts. They want the ghosts gone and don't want anyone else to know about their paranormal problem. Such investigations are kept secret.

Not ours. I write on each release that we want them to post and publicize their findings widely. Free publicity you understand. Whether or not you, I and the Board of Directors agree with the ghost hunters is irrelevant. It's free publicity for the jail museum. We need it.

All that said if you are in a paranormal investigation group or know of one and want to come run your own investigation, get ahold of me and I'll set it up. If you'd like a regular tour of the jail, we'll be glad to accommodate you as well.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hell, NYC and bad examples

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If you are like me, I pity you. Aside from that if you are like me, you look back on your days in High School differently than you did when in high school.

I could have given him lessons.
My first book is dedicated to three teachers, two from college and one from high school. The high school teacher is Margaret Traylor, an English instructor. The battle of wills and minds was epic. She is now retired, but in the years after I graduated, she told her classes there was pretty much nothing they could do which she'd not already seen. I covered that ground.

A favorite example of hers was my use of Playboy magazine as a source for some class assignment.

Margaret left the private high school where I was educated to go to work in the public school system.

"I am tired of defending my methods," she said as we talked in her classroom while she packed her personal belongings those years ago.
Cash = Influence. Every time.

The problem was at the private school, a few influential parents could determine how teachers would be able to work in their classrooms. PHS finally closed its doors, owing far more to the arrogant attitude of a select few students than parents, but that's another story.

Margaret's problem (at least when I was in high school) was she expected to teach, expected the students to learn and brooked little interference from any direction.

Such teachers are pretty much a thing of the past now. Teachers these days are cowed into meeting impossible performance standards.

Means what it says. Lower the standard for all.
Rather than let a student's grade stand as it is earned, teachers round up the grade to a D or D-. A failing grade, at least for the subject, is the same as my steaks - extremely rare. I have personally talked to school administrators who have told me school policy is no one fails a subject.

Literally.

A student can not turn in any assignments, score a zero on all tests and yet still pass the course.

I am not kidding.

This person never failed a HS class, according to the grade book.
In the case of students who are from "important" families, the child is pushed through public school. Come time for college, when Momma and Daddy can no longer wield an ICBM of influence, Junior or Juniorina promptly flunk right out. Momma and Daddy then are aghast, stunned and so forth and then sometimes explode into irrighteous anger when their "influence" is told to get the hell off the college campus and take their idiot child with them.

Enter New York City, a place Bocephus compared to Hell.

NYC is planning to test teachers. http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/24/what-are-your-thoughts-on-tests-to-grade-teachers/

Unions are good for protecting the bad teachers. That's it.
I am all in favor of this and performance based standards for teachers. I believe in holding teachers accountable for their classroom performance. Fire the bad teachers. Immediately. As a newspaper a editor I see firsthand incompetent and functionally illiterate teachers in the classroom. They need to be fired.

But they can't be fired.

The good teachers are instead pushed down to the level of the incompetent teachers by school administrators more interested in passing rates than student achievement.

If you'll allow me an aside, in the Deep South where I work it is next to impossible to fire a teacher of a certain ethnicity unless criminal offenses are involved.

At the same time, I strenuously object to performance-based anything where teachers are concerned.

There is no contradiction.
Quit blaming other people for your failures.

Until teachers are allowed to teach again, as they were when I was in school, then performance-based standards are hollow, empty and devoid of meaning. Not useless. They can always serve as a bad example.

Let teachers run their classrooms, let them teach and let students earn the grade they get. Then performance-based tests will mean something and can be used to sort the good from the bad.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Goats on fire may be what you deserve

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Some eons ago when the internet was just a new thing, I heard a comedian say the internet is greatest thing ever invented.
I am not kidding. But I only searched "goats on fire."

He said you could type in a search "sex with goats on fire" and the internet would come back and ask you which kind of goat you were most interested in.

I have never bothered to check on this. I suspect some readers are now doing so tho.

Which brings me to the point of this Information Superhighway commentary.

Do a simple search on goats. Look at your top 10 results. Compare them to my top 10 results.

I get in this order:
Wikipedia’s main piece on goats
www.goats.com
www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds/goats/ a link to an Oklahoma State website on breeds
News for goats (with 3 siblings)
    Something to do with sports and the Galaxy and SuperClasico
    See-eye sheep, goats and a blind horse
    Another sports piece on the Red Sox
A 4-H link about goats
4 images of goats (Google Images)
www.goatworld.com
2 links for fainting goat videos
www.goatwisdom.com
www.boergoats.com
www.mountain-goats.com

The chances are very very high that your search will not turn up the same results. Your search may turn up a few of the same links.

Google and other search engines used to base their searches on algorthims which generally looked at the websites which got the top hits for that search term.

That meant pretty much everybody got the same hits when they looked for something.

Now the search engines are moving away from this model to user-modeled.

In other words, Google et al use your past search history to decide what links are the ones you are most likely to choose. In net jargon this is called "The Filter Bubble."
Nothing really. Seriously.

It has some of the intelligensia in an uproar. Why? 'Cause when search engines start tailoring results to fit their preconceived notions of what you want, the search engines are also eliminating what they think you do not want.

"So? What's so bad about that Baker?"

Disclosure: I am not of the intelligensia. I am a redneck and so am permanently excluded from their ranks.

What's bad about it is that you are being directed, by an outside source, to information to the exclusion of other information.

"So?"

Take your political persuasion. Whatever stripe that may be. Instead of giving you a broad spectrum of ideas, concepts, opinions and facts about an issue, search engines increasingly are pointing you ONLY to websites that you agree with. Websites which offer perspectives you disagree with won't show up.

"Again, so?"
I learn more from people I disagree with than people I agree with.


If you only intend to get information from people you agree with, then you will miss a great deal and you very likely will miss information that will directly affect you. At least until it's too late for you to do anything about it.

"I don't believe you. I'll find out what I need to know."

And the world is gonna end Oct. 21 according to Harold Camping.

On this point you'll either agree with me or not. So be it.

Opinion 2:

I also like this idea. For those of us who know this is going on and refuse to accept it, the search engines force us to be work harder for the information we know we need. By doing so, we retune the SE parameters for ourselves to make it provide the broad sources of information we want.
Now for your mind as well!

Furthermore, this is private industry at work, doing what it does best - providing the customer exactly what the customer asks for.

The fact that what most people ask for is not really what they want and absolutely not what they need is ... well, see above. You may consume and digest whatever you wish, even if that is watered down milk.

But when you get what you asked for and find out it is neither what you really wanted and really not what you needed, don't come running to me.

If you are not willing to work for what you need, then you deserve what you get.

1981

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I'm coming in late with this because I genuinely found out about it only this morning.
Make your own picture.

Well. Not entirely true. I sort of knew about parts of it. I just didn't connect the dots to make the big picture.

What did I know and when did I know it?

Damfino. My memory is not that good.

"Get to the point or tell us a story, Baker," you say.

http://www.popsci.com/cars/article/2011-05/new-federal-rules-could-require-cars-black-boxes-record-driver-activityhttp://www.popsci.com/cars/article/2011-05/new-federal-rules-could-require-cars-black-boxes-record-driver-activity

Lemme just point out this is ANOTHER instance of a federal agency creating a de facto law. So much for representation in Washington, eh?

No. 15 on the Google Image search for "black box"
Anyway, the idea of these "black boxes" in vehicles dates back to the late 90s when GM was putting them in some vehicles. The "black box" concept comes from airplanes. The box is a device which records what is going on in the vehicle. When recovered after a crash, the box helps investigators determine what happened, when and why.

The black boxes have become far more advanced for wheeled vehicles over the years. The new boxes the federal jackboots are proposing are almost exactly the same as in the planes, sans the actual audio recording.

Pull the box, hook up the reader and you'll be able to tell pretty much exactly what the driver was doing up to the time the box was yanked. On cell phone? It's in the box. Speeding? Ditto. Pick something.

Yer not paranoid if you have proof.
Wanna bet government is gonna use these things to track people?

But as I said, the BB tech has been around for more'n a decade. It's just getting fancier and better.

But that kind of surveillance has been around for a while and some people are actually paying for it.

OnStar.

If you have this, you are actually paying a private corporation to keep tabs on you, to keep records on where you go, how long you stay and so forth.

And some people accuse me of being crazy.

Married folks don't need to hire private detectives to see if their mate is running around. All they have to do is subpoena the OnStar records.

You may think if you cancel yer OnStar service, it will be cut off. Those giant corporations are not going to let the major information haul OnStar represents get away from them just because you don't wanna pay for the service. They'll keep collecting information, but won't tell you about it.


I expect the same thing to soon happen with the black boxes.

Some states do not allow information taken from these BBs to be used in court. But with a federal regulation coming down to require 'em, it's only a matter 'O time until the sinators and reprehensibles in Washington pass a law allowing the use in all courts in the land.

Ah. Big Brother is not only being welcomed into our lives, but we are demanding he speed up the surveillance.

What does this have to do with 1981 you ask?

I drive a 1981 Ford F100. No black box. No computerized stuff. Old technology. I have rewired parts of it, rebuilt some and given time, could rebuild the entire myself.

If you intend to find out where and when I'm driving you will have to follow me in person.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Can I get a witness?

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Jon rolled up to the newspaper that day in a Jaguar.

It was used. He told me what he paid and I was more than surprised. Even in my improverished condition, I could have afforded it.
Not this jaguar, the car. But can you imagine how cool it would be to drive one of these?

Doesn't matter, he said. It's a Jag. That's what matters.

Jon Dize, my friend out in Nevada, worked for NASA, National Geographic and ran the premiere photo studio in Las Vegas at the time. Most of the the time he drove a US car or a truck, I forget which. It was not a real new car/truck either.

He told he bought the Jag to make an impression. He explained when he'd go to a location to do a photo shoot, he drove the Jag. When he pulled up, the people say the car and automatically assumed he was a very successful photographer (which he was). By driving the Jag - never mind the cost because he never told his customers what he paid for it - he was able to jack his photography rates up a good bit.

Line graph chart that probably has something to do with this column.
People, he explained to me, are willing to pay a premium for what they perceive as the best. The actual quality matters less than the perception, he said.

Can I get a witness?

'Nother story.

He showed up at the church driving a Mercedes or a Beamer, I forget which. Regardless it was a $60K vehicle.

He musta heard someone muttering about it because in one of his sermons, he mentioned it.

"The car? Someone gave it to me," he said.
Pass the buck this way, why doncha?

A short while later he was asking for money to support his "ministry."

He didn't get any from me. Won't either.

I did not ask him, and feel free to heap derision and scorn on me for failing to do so: Why don't you sell the car, get something economical and use the money from the sale to support your ministry?

Yeah. I wussed out. Can't say it won't happen again, but I can say I have not listened to that man speak since then.

Saying so little in so much. She's an evangelist!
The next "prosperity minister" I come across, I hope I have enough guts to pin him down and ask the kinda questions which so endear me to the churches in my community these days. (and dammit, the internet NEEDS a sarcasm font doncha know!)

Can I get a witness?

I wanna ask him - If I give you X amount of money, are you gonna visit me when I'm sick? Counsel me when I'm depressed? Bring me food if the cupboard is bare? Help me pay my bills if I'm short some month?

"No," is what he will reply, at least that's the reply when I get done cutting out the verbal diarrhea. He'll fancy it up and quote the Bible and give me all kinds of examples which I can't verify. He won't say no, of course. Can't have that. He'll instead say "God will bless you" along with all the other rhetoric.

If you feel the need to fiscally contribute to the Kingdom of God, then give to a local church, a church that helps people who lose their homes, their jobs, need counseling and in general does the kind of ministry Jesus told us to do. Better yet, do all that yourself.

Arg. Rant off. Got derailed because I read Brutal Antipathy's long overdue blog piece from this weekend.

Follow the dead fish!
Anyway, the simple truth is - Perceptions matter. If people think you are a winner or very successful, they see you as someone they want to associate with. They hope to ride the coattails of your success. They seek to participate in your triumphs.

Can I get a witness?

Another way of looking at this - Winners breed hope.  Where hope abounds, people will be in ever increasing numbers.

That's why prosperity ministers must dress in thousand dollar suits, drive a Beamer and have a Rolex. That's why Jon drove a Jag.

Of course you don't HAVE to "dress for success" but if you don't you have REALLY got to be charismatic. If you are charismatic AND "dress for success" the world will beat you down trying to build you up.

Can I get a witness?

Myself, I'd rather consider people in the light of how well they use what they have. I don't always do this, but I should.

Sorry. Sometimes I can be a lemming.

Considering people in the light of how well they use absolutely levels the playing field.

Absolutely.


It takes false perceptions completely out of the picture. It makes you consider quality as well as the quantity and forget about the thousand dollar suit behind the wheel of the Jag.

All that said, consider me however you want to consider me. I'm not here to impress you, but I am here to try and impart what I see as the truth to you. What you do with that truth is entirely up to you.

I don't need a witness.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Fine Print & vote now! (really)

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You have the chance to vote, NOW! for the most idiotic warning label on a consumer product. I am not kidding.
Must. Touch. Sign. Edge...


http://www.legalreforminthenews.com/wwl_11/wwl_11_2011_finalists.html

Go vote. I did. I chose the face mask warning.

Now as ludicrous as these warning labels are in this most litigious society on the planet the warnings are necessary. (and people wonder why I hate lawyers).

That said, I like the warnings. Even if the warnings were not necessary to estoppel lawsuits, I'd still like 'em. I'd also support the right of such private companies to post those kinds of warnings on their products and their packaging if they so choose.

Yassee, it is a private decision, by a private company taking an action without being ordered to by government authorities.

Which now brings me to today's point.
What's in your wallet?


In my state (of confusion mostly) Georgia, we have laws stating health insurance companies must cover certain procedures. Requirement of the law.

I object to this.

We also have a new law which allows Georgia residents to buy health insurance from companies based in other states with licenses to sell insurance in other states but not Georgia. These other companies do not have to follow Georgia law.

I like all of that.

There are people in Georgia who are objecting to this.

Why?
Believe I'd rather go to New York City.
One of the chief objectors said "People are not accustomed to reading the fine print."

And this is government's fault how? It is government's responsibility to make sure people understand fine print how?

It's the nanny state.

People are not interested in taking care of themselves and prefer to put themselves in the hands of government, let government make the decisions, direct their lives and pretty much run everything.

I object.

Government provides a FREE education to everyone. In Georgia this goes further. If you have good grades, our state lottery will pay for the bulk of a college education up to an including a bachelor's degree. After that yer pretty much on yer own, but still this is an awesome deal. It's even good at technical schools.

That some people choose to ignore this free education is, despite the nanny state's protestations otherwise, not my responsibility.

If you can't read (and YOU can, else you'd not be reading this) then I will go to great lengths to help you. I go so far to say that if you can't read, someone else needs to have a limited power of attorney over you and the ability to make some critical decisions for you. Where the limits are, I'm still deciding.

Now if you won't read, tough. That's your problem, not mine. Don't come whining to me (or government) when your stupidity lands you in deep kim chee. You get through it on your power cause I'm not gonna help you.

Now some of you are not going to see a difference in the above two statements. That's cause you are not paying attention.

A person who can't read is unable to do so owing to some kind of condition or lack. Stating the obvious, you can't read if you have nothing to read. IOW, if you want to read a book, you need a book. Duh.

Sometimes a condition prevents a person from reading. My great buddy Doc (DOC I MISS YOU!) cannot read these words. Doc is also quite literate, has a doctorate and routinely reads text to make audio books.

"Huhn? Baker you just lost me," you say.

Doc is blind. He cannot read these words. He has a computer program to read them for him. He can read Braille. Until he lost his vision to Macular Degeneration, he was a voracious reader of the printed word.

"Well why didn't you say that to start with?"

Can't or won't?
Because I'm making a point. Which I continue - my son cannot read. Much, anyway. He has good vision, albeit he does wear glasses. But he has Down Syndrome and the resulting mental retardation which limits his cognitive ability. He loves to take books and pretend to read. Give him a book with plenty of pictures and he will tell you a story, in great detail, about the pictures and the book.

Following me yet?

I have worked with people in who will not read. Their mental capacity might not be genius caliber, but they function well enough in society to get various licenses and permits, hold jobs and so forth. Yet, they will not read.

At some point they made a decision to abandon education and never pick it back up. They decided to become illiterate.

They will not read.

Spare me the whining about not being able to read now. Every community in the nation has FREE adult literacy programs. If reading is important enough, a person will learn to read. I have volunteered in such programs. Have you?

See the difference now?
Some people need to know this.

Those who will not read are not my responsibility. I will accept some responsibility for those who cannot read.

Those who can read, but have a limited ability to comprehend owing to their capacity for cerebration, I will also accept some responsibility. If I can, I will try to explain it to them in simpler terms, in language they can understand. This includes reading the fine print on health insurance contracts, mortgages and other very important paperwork.

In short, if you are trying and giving it 100 percent, I got yer back.

Those who can read but choose to not understand, they are on their own.

That goes to the power of infinity for reading the fine print.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

When no one is watching

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Didja hear Ahnold owned up to fathering a child outside of marriage? He did. He said it was a bad decision.

That is all you need to know.

The question is: Do you really need to know that?

Short answer, Yes. Long answer on the way. Keep reading.

As to whether or not Tiger Woods was playing in the rough, THAT you do not need to know.

"Uhn uh Baker. Double standard there," you may say.

Nope. Keep reading.

As long as The Governator wants to stay in politics, those people he wishes to represent certainly need to know. Outside that artificial political boundary (Ahnold cannot run for president), the need to know becomes a bit less.

If Ahnold leaves the realm of elected office, who he makes the beast with two backs (and that's Shakespeare if you object to my euphemism), then it is none of your business. You do not need to know.

"Aaaaight Baker, then why do I need to know he had an affair if he's running for office?"

The person you are when you think no one is watching is the person you really are.
Do you trust yourself? Should others?
And? Which is it?

"Huhn?"

Ahnold was married to another woman when he went sowing some wild oats. His wife found out and objected to this and has since filed for divorce (I surmise. I do not know and do not care to find out as I have learned all I need to know). Ahnold has apologized, said it was a mistake, etc.

From this, we can reliably infer Ahnold and Maria did not have what is called an "open" marriage. In other words, they did not have permission to  seek mattress adventures with other people. If their marriage was "open" then the byblow would be far less of an issue.

(I offer no opinion or judgment on those people who do have open marriages. I merely state this is a way some people choose to live.)

In simple words, Ahnold broke a major promise, a critical commitment and a pretty much proved he can't be trusted.

This is why it is important to know Anhold was banging a different drum.

When he announced a decision to enter politics, Ahnold asked for the trust of the voters. His actions in private show he can't be trusted.

The person you are when you think no one is watching is the person you really are.
Ever been there?


"Well, I can't say I totally agree with you, but you haven't explained about Tiger Woods."

Tiger Woods has never expressed an interest in running for public office. As soon as he does, then his promises made to other people become critical. Until he decides to run for office (which ain't gonna
As are all celebs as long as they stay that way.
happen) the boundaries Tiger hits past are none of your business because Tiger Woods does not have the authority and responsibility to create, pass and enact laws which will directly affect your life.

Whether or not Tiger (and all other celebs) can be trusted is irrelevant and not news, unless they decide to enter politics. That's the game changer. Whether or not politicians can be trusted is 100 percent relevant and always news.

One can directly, dramatically and drastically affect your life without your permission and those effects be legal. The other never has that kind of power, unless the game is changed.

The person you are when you think no one is watching is the person you really are. So tell me, who are you?