Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Bike Not Stolen

This morning there were two things odd about Josh coming downstairs. (A) we didn't have to wake him. And (2), he made a beeline for the garage. When he came back in he was mumbling something about his bike.

Josh had received a phone call from a friend telling him that he, the friend, had just seen someone riding a bike that looked like Josh's. Josh has at least $70 tied up in his Schwinn so he got right up to check on his prized possession.

Now I just had to ask Josh a couple of questions. The first being, "Have you looked at your bike and compared it to the other bikes in the garage?" Yes, that was more of a rhetorical question to set up the next one.

The second was, "If someone were to steal a bike from our garage, would they take yours?"

That got him laughing.

Yes, Let's Take A Hard Look

There's an editorial in today's Spokesman Review in which they criticize Rep Christopher Hurst of Enumclaw and Sen Jim Kastama of Puyallup. Hurst has introduced HB 2780 and Kastama introduced SB 6410 concerning the use of automated traffic enforcement systems. The Review editorial board, along with most of the media, have focused only on the reduction of the fines.

There is no evidence that cities are raising huge sums, but the lower fines would ensure that the costs of installation and operation would exceed the amount collected. From Nov. 1, 2008, through Oct. 31, 2009, the city of Spokane netted $103,000 from Photo Red. The “profit” went into an account for traffic safety.

It’s too soon to tell if public safety has been improved. We believe greater publicity and promotion would help deter drivers. Certainly something needs to be done. A total of 5,690 tickets have been mailed to red light runners. That’s an alarming number of dangerous acts, and it’s absurd to equate them with something as benign as a parking violation.

If the program does not meet the goal of improving public safety, then the city can decide to discontinue the program. Cities can also act if the “cash cow” charge is proved to be true. But legislators shouldn’t be dictating the future of red light cameras based on suspicions.

Funny how their belief in greater publicity doesn't require the same level of evidence they demand of the legislators. But let's set that aside and read the bills instead. Doing so will show there's much more to them than lowering the fines.

Under current law the registered vehicle owner must pay the fine regardless who was driving the vehicle unless it was stolen, sold, or it was rented/leased as a part of their business. The house bill would let registered vehicle owners file a statement or testify that the vehicle was under the control of another person which relieves them from the requirement of paying the fine. The bill requires a minimum duration of four seconds for the yellow light at intersections using photo red enforcement. It changes the fine from not exceeding "the amount of a fine issued for other parking violations within the jurisdiction" to not exceeding $25.00.

By the way this remark by Officer Theresa Fuller is disingenuous at best.

The Spokane program is about safety, not revenue, Fuller said, although she questioned the comparison to a parking fine: “You’re not going to kill somebody not paying your parking meter. You can kill somebody running a red light.”

True, but the photo red fine is based on the maximum parking fine in the jurisdiction and we're getting off easy. More on that down below.

The senate bill would restrict the use of automated traffic safety systems to two-arterial intersections, railroad crossings, and school speed zones. Photos taken by the systems are restricted to showing only the vehicle and license plate. They must not reveal the faces of vehicle occupants. The senate bill does not modify the vehicle owner's responsibility that can only be overcome if the vehicle is stolen, sold or rented. And the fine for automated traffic safety camera systems is changed to "... not exceed the average amount of fines issued for other parking infractions within the jurisdiction." The problem I have here is that the method for determining the average is not spelled out.

The maximum parking violation is $250 for parking in a designated handicapped parking spot. Under the current law, this is the amount vehicle owners could be fined for photo red violations. The photo red fine in Spokane is $124. A normal parking violation is $15. Just taking the $250 and the $15 fines and the average is $132.50. In that case, the senate bill could raise the fine in Spokane, although under current law it could be raised a lot more. Granted, my figures are based on the only two parking fines I'm aware of and I would appreciate it if anyone has more to add. However, since the senate version doesn't state a method for determining the average, cities would be allowed to come up with the most creative--and lucrative--means for doing so.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Dad/Daughter Mall Trip

Today I combined something enjoyable, spending time with my kids, with something I thoroughly detest--shopping. Kathy's day was pretty well spoken for so I was elected to take Steph to the mall to buy some jeans. I go to the mall about twice a year so this would give the mall cops an extra opportunity to stare at the goofy guy wearing sandals in the winter.

Kathy gave me clear instructions. The jeans were not to be low cut or skin tight. And no wild stuff either. Got it. Low cut, skin tight, and wild.

I woke Steph up this morning with my most excited voice. "Hey, you and I are going to the mall. We're going shopping!"

"Oh, God," she groaned.

"Yeah, I'm hoping none of my friends see me there either," I said.

So we headed off on our big adventure. And it was nothing less than amazing. I'm the type of shopper that goes to one store in the mall, gets exactly what I want, and leaves. No wandering around. No window shopping. No food court.

And Steph did exactly that. It was great! She found some jeans that fit in no time. After I paid for them she said, "Now let's get out of here before somebody sees me."

Okay, so maybe her motivation is a little different than mine.

Barefoot Running - Don't! Buy Shoes From Us

Recently, Road Runner Sports sent this email to their subscribers from the Chief Runner, Mike G.

In Mike G.'s eyes people don't have the sense to not step on rocks and broken glass. He actually has to tell people not to step on glass. Geez, now I know why I've been sidelined for weeks. I'm an idiot.

And as a part of my idiocy, I've done a three-mile and a four-mile run barefoot each week for the past two weeks. What a difference a mild winter makes for that. I finished my nine-mile run to work (wearing shoes) on Thursday morning five minutes faster than ever. (I've been slacking on running to work for the last month.) Regardless, Hank G. thinks Mike G. is right. This barefoot running is killing me.

Cathy McMorris Rodgers Wants Your Feedback

Our fair congresswoman wants to know, "How would you rate President Obama's first state of the union address?" (Watch it again if you need to.)

Here are the numbers as of this post.

Interestingly, the question is very ambiguous. What are we rating? His delivery? The content? The number of standing ovations and applause outbursts? The butt chewings?

I don't see a feedback form for president Obama's performance at the House Republicans retreat.

A Light-Hearted Moment In The News Day

An example of the state of mainstream media from the CBS Early Show.

Yes, at least one person fell to the street--the one on the left. But it also looks like the person nearest the collision point, just slightly on the right, also went down in horrible fashion.

But, hey, it still provides great material for Erica Hill and Dave Price to add some humor on the show.

Price: "I heard a noise. Lower the volume."

How right you are, Dave.

Don't Drive-Don't Park

A week ago Jim Kershner wrote about receiving and using a parking receipt that granted him free parking until July 27. He asked for feedback from his readers and his follow up is in today's Spokesman Review (must log in).

Keep sticking it to the parking lot moguls: 83 votes.

It’s just plain wrong, dummy, and stop it right now: 22 votes.

Not sure/indecipherable/I’m suffering a Hamlet-like bout of anguish and indecision: 8 votes.

While most of the responses he received were in support of using the receipt, he decided against that.

I have a suggestion for the many who have various complaints about downtown parking. Support Complete Streets. Designing our roadways for safe use by all users encourages other uses besides driving. But even without that, today it is possible for many in Spokane to take the bus, ride a bike or walk. And when you do, parking is one less thing to worry about.

Friday, January 29, 2010

For Who's Convenience?

I happened across this interesting link on the San Antonio News site. I guess it's better than saying, "Sorry, we're not coming out. Call your insurance company."

Yeah, it's really tiny and hard to read. Click to enbig.

Who has $500 in gas, beer or cigarettes lying about? Oh, so this is for businesses, too.

That's The Spirit!

In his State of the Union address, President Obama gestured towards House Minority Leader John Boehner and said, "Let's meet." Now Congressman Boehner is having second thoughts.

But on Thursday morning, Boehner (R-Ohio) cast serious doubt on any show of bipartisanship from the president, saying it is incumbent upon the White House to bring Republicans back into the fold of governing.

“[T]here was nothing last night in the president’s speech to indicate that there was any willingness to sit down and work together,” Boehner said to reporters Thursday morning.

Boehner – standing alongside House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana, Reps. Cathy McMorris Rogers of Washington and David Drier of California – slammed Obama’s first State of the Union, brushing him as a disingenuous partisan with the wrong agenda for America in a time of economic peril. Dreier said it was the most partisan State of the Union in his 30 years in Congress.


House Republicans said they were open to bi-partisanship on a host of fronts, including the environment, health care and revival of the economy. But Boehner fired a warning shot at Democrats who may use Obama’s speech to reach out to the GOP to govern.

“I know who I am, I know what my principles are, I know what the principles of my members are and I’m not going to sacrifice my principles just by sitting down and negotiating,” Boehner said.

What a telling message to someone who says, "Let's meet." No wonder Congress is working so well.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Walkabout At Lunch

A bishop and a pawn stand guard over a table.

A Huffy and a Columbia bike trying to maintain a low profile.

Out of time.

I was lucky to take this shot before the disturbing police showed up.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Obama's State of the Union speech was just as well crafted as it was presented. I liked how he expressed his disapproval to nearly everyone in the chamber. He is a very good speaker, but the jury--well, at least my jury--is still out on his leadership.

He has had a funny way of taking on health care reform. Instead of presenting a bill, he allowed three different committees to formulate their own. The sausage making process was allowed to move forward and he essentially sat on the sidelines while congressmen, senators and lobbyists chopped away until health care reform looked nothing like what this country needs. And now, months later, he's serious about it. I don't know.

His proposal to freeze spending is missing a huge opportunity. Thanks to our fear, and those who take advantage of fear mongering, our defense budget has become the third rail just like Social Security used to be. It's bloated and free wheeling. To do something about it is not politically feasible because anyone doing so would be characterized as wanting to invite terrorists into the country with nuclear weapons. So while Obama may have chastised members of Congress for being primarily interested in staying in office as opposed to doing what's right for this country, this is one point where I think he's not stepping out, too.

If we were serious about reigning in government spending, we would take a hard look at our defense bill. Otherwise, this proposal is akin to a homeowner cutting back on water, food and electricity while spending freely on guns, ammunition, fencing, cameras, motion detectors--well, you get the picture.

If This Plane's A Rockin'...

Sorry, I couldn't resist when I read this.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

They're Doin' It Wrong

The United Kingdom has one of the highest, if not the highest, number of closed circuit television cameras per capita keeping an eye on everyone and everything. They have taken the fear of terrorism to a point that would be comical if it weren't so ridiculous and sad.

And now they're going to do even more.

Police in the UK are planning to use unmanned spy drones, controversially deployed in Afghanistan, for the ­"routine" monitoring of antisocial motorists, ­protesters, agricultural thieves and fly-tippers, in a significant expansion of covert state surveillance.


The problem here is obvious. If a government wants to keeps tabs on the people, it should do so in secret. If the secret is leaked and the lawsuits begin, it provides a copy of the secret phone tap records to one plaintiff in a madcap moment of incompetence and then demand the document be returned. Everyone else's cases are dismissed because they're merely a general grievance.

In the U.K., the plethora of cameras remind everyone that their every move is being recorded. The police routinely stop people taking pictures of buildings for fear they're planning a terrorist attack.

At least our government isn't so obvious about it so we still think we have some semblance of privacy.

Ban Dirty Books

A school district in California is banning a dictionary.

The Menifee Union School District is forming a committee to review whether dictionaries containing the definitions for sexual terms should be permanently banned from the district's classrooms, a district official said Friday.

The 9,000-student K-8 district this week pulled all copies of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary after an Oak Meadows Elementary School parent complained about a child stumbling across definitions for "oral sex."

And keep our 12-year-old children from having memories like this? (Warning: f-bombs galore)

Barefoot Running - Don't! Buy Our Shoes

Jim Walker, CEO of Brooks, published an open letter yesterday to the running community expressing his concerns about barefoot running. Well, he says it's all about running, but it's really about running with the shoes his company makes.

Let’s call a spade a spade. We make running shoes: High-quality, biomechanically mapped, performance running shoes calibrated for runners’ unique needs. We hope runners buy our shoes and we’re confident they’ll enjoy them. But this isn’t about selling shoes. And, quite frankly, this isn’t even about running barefoot.

So what are we talking about here? First and foremost, we’re all talking about running, and that’s a great thing because we believe to our core that running is a positive force in our world. We want everyone to run and be happy. But to get there, whether you should run barefoot is not the great debate. We are all unique. The focus should be on how you run and train, and then finding the right shoe that addresses your unique biomechanical needs. "The Perfect Ride for Every Stride," as we say at Brooks. Let’s look at a snapshot of the running population:

* At one end of the spectrum, we know there are runners who lack foot strength leading to severe pronation. They may strike heavily and need a great deal of support to run injury- and pain-free. We hear repeatedly from them that the Brooks Beast "saved their lives."

* At the other end of the spectrum are the biomechanically blessed (and/or conditioned through training) who have natural healthy gaits and enjoy great efficiency. These gazelles may wear shoes, they may not.

* The vast majority of runners (including this middle-of-the-packer !) fall in between. And for us, we strongly believe most of our mileage should be logged in a performance running shoe, not barefoot. For us, supportive, cushioned footwear is not only beneficial, it also plays an essential role in delivering a comfortable, injury-free running experience.
(Emphasis in the original)

It's all about running, not whether or not you should wear shoes. Which you should. And they make them.

"At one end of the spectrum, we know there are runners who lack foot strength leading to severe pronation. They may strike heavily and need a great deal of support to run injury- and pain-free."

Running barefoot strengthens your feet and legs. When you run with the proper stride, you don't strike heavily. As a result, you run injury and pain free. It takes patience. It doesn't happen overnight. But it has worked for me and I am not a biomechanically blessed gazelle. I mean, really, have you seen me?

Running barefoot is a huge paradigm change that goes against the grain of what we've been taught for many years. Most people think I'm crazy or make fun of me when they find out I run barefoot. I usually get a different reaction when they see me running barefoot because what they imagine it's like is not matching what they see.

Last Friday, during a four-mile barefoot run, I ran alongside a guy who asked me serious questions about what I was doing. He complained that running always hurts him but that he needs the exercise. So I explained the process I went through, how I differently I run now as compared to before and how well it has worked for me. I explained that you can learn to run comfortably with shoes on. I do it all the time although I prefer not wearing them. But running barefoot forces you to run comfortably because it hurts when you do it wrong, which is how most people run when they're wearing shoes.

Speaking of running, yesterday I did 4.4 miles at lunch and kept up a 7:40 pace. Since it was so cold and wet I only did the last mile barefoot. I wouldn't characterize a 7:40 pace as that of a gazelle. But during that last mile I felt like it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Happy Birthday, Kathy

My trophy wife's age is a closely guarded secret. This photo is from when she was Stephanie's current age--fourteen.

Since I'm posting embarrassing photos, I might as well include a picture of the luckiest man in the world. I look much better today--especially from a distance.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Lesson In Morality And Character

In today's Spokesman Review we have a piece by Jim Kershner (log in to get the full story) in which he admits to stealing from a parking lot company. He paid $3.00 for his parking and the receipt spit out by the machine has an expiration date of July 27, 2010. Based on a previously unpleasant experience he had with a parking lot company he has justified using the receipt twice, allowing him to park without paying.

Let's say it was $3.00 each time so the parking lot is out only $6.00. What's the harm, right?

Still, there’s a little voice in my head that says, “Is it right to take advantage of what was obviously a mistake? Shouldn’t I throw that receipt away and pay my parking fees like everyone else?”

So far, another little voice has replied, “Nope.”

Still, I want to know what you think. Should I keep using that receipt? Or not? E-mail me with your vote at

Meanwhile, I urge all downtown parking patrons to take a good look at their dashboard receipts. One kiosk out there believes it’s a slot machine, and it’s issuing jackpots.

When a cashier gives you too much change back do you bring it to their attention?

If you see someone drop a five dollar bill, do you keep it or return it to them?

Mr Kershner asks a very good question: Is it right to take advantage of what was obviously a mistake?

So far the answer hasn't stopped him.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Occasional Bad Apple

Thomas Porteous is a federal judge in Louisiana who was recently investigated by the House Judiciary Committee. The committee unanimously voted that the judge be impeached.

Porteous' attorney, Richard Westling, denounced the task force recommendation.

"We are saddened that the task force has ignored both the Constitution and more than 200 years of precedent in recommending articles of impeachment against Judge Porteous largely based upon allegations that relate to the period before Judge Porteous became a federal judge," Westling said.

Westling noted that a lengthy federal criminal investigation ended with no charges being filed against Porteous, 63. [Rep. Adam Schiff, D-CA] said the Justice Department probe found evidence of criminal conduct, but concluded that much of it couldn't be prosecuted because of statutes of limitations.

In light of that, Mr Westling's comments don't exactly inspire us with confidence as to the judge's impeachable character. And that is unfortunate because it appears that during his term the judge was involved in resolving some important cases justly.

Perhaps the most serious complaint against Porteous was his refusal to recuse himself from a complicated federal case or disclose that he had been receiving monetary gifts and lunches for years from the Amato & Creely PLC firm hired by the plaintiff. He also shared roughly half the proceeds from the $40,000 worth of court assignments he assigned to the firm -- an arrangement the articles call a "kickback" -- and continued to accept payments of thousands of dollars in cash from the firm while he was considering a verdict that eventually favored the plaintiff, according to the task force findings.


The House of Representatives has voted only 14 times to impeach a federal judge. The Senate has voted to remove seven of them from federal office, with some judges avoiding a Senate-ordered removal by resigning.

Porteous is barred from hearing cases through the fall of 2010, or his removal from office, whichever occurs first. But he continues to receive his $174,000 federal salary until he resigns, or the Senate votes to remove him from office.

Hmmm, decisions, decisions. Keep collecting a paycheck and go down as impeached judge number eight or resign in shame but without the total impeachment stigma.

Vulnerable User Bill Response

Hopefully, you have notified your state senator about supporting SB 5838. I received a response from Senator Chris Marr today.

Dear Mr. Greer,

Thank you for writing in to me about SB 5838, concerning traffic infractions where the conduct is a proximate cause of death, great bodily harm, or substantial bodily injury. I support the bill and was responsible for obtaining a hearing for it last year. I believe that we should take any steps we can to make our roads safer. This bill is a step on that path, and I will give it my support if it comes before the full Senate.

To make tracking the progress of this bill easier, we created the following link:
(Unfortunately, the tinyurl link he sent was broken so I'm substituting the correct link.)

For updates on this and other issues during the 2010 Legislative Session, sign up at to receive my e-mail newsletter at Thank you again for contacting me.

Sen. Chris Marr
6th Legislative District
Majority Whip
Vice Chair, Transportation Committee
417 Legislative Building
P.O. Box 40406
Olympia, WA 98504

Some Corporations Don't Want To Pay

Some of you may be familiar with the Supreme Court's recent ruling that overturned a sixty-three year old ban on corporate money in federal elections. I really don't think this will make much of a difference. Corporations wield immense power and influence over our elected members already. They've been adept at skirting all attempts to reign them in. The money is being spent anyway and it talks.

But I was pleased to see this article about 40 corporate executives sending a letter to Congress...

urging them to approve public financing for House and Senate campaigns. They say they are tired of getting fundraising calls from lawmakers — and fear it will only get worse after Thursday's Supreme Court ruling.

They support the Fair Elections Now Act...

that would allow congressional candidates to run for office using small donations and limited public financing, and not take any large contributions.

Years ago I stopped checking the box on my federal tax form for donating money to the presidential election fund because of the big donations being funneled--legally--into organizations, etc., supporting a candidate. With the court's ruling corporations can be more blatant about it. I'd gladly resume the practice of checking that box if elections were publicly funded.

Of course, that would have no effect on the poor excuse we have for a media.

Family Potpourri

Steph not only bought Josh a Slanket for his birthday but she bought one for herself, too. She decided on the Slanket for two reasons. First, she saw it in the SkyMall magazine when we flew to Hawaii last year. And secondly, Consumer Reports gave the Snuggie low marks for poor quality and construction. In my mind the purchase alone took her out of the "smart shopper" category.

Steph's take on Michael Phelps appearing in Subway commercials. "Subway is using him because he always there when he got the munchies." Oh, what-snap-now-burn!

One of the classes Kathy just started is Pathophysiology. The textbook has all kinds of photos that can bring your dinner meal to a screeching halt. Kathy thumbed through the book on the day it arrived. Now how is a 14-year-old girl supposed to respond when her mother calls her over and says, "Check this out. Have you ever seen a penis with crusted scabies?"

Today is Spirit Day. Did you dress up, too?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hold Drivers Responsible

The Cascade Bicycle Club has a strong advocacy program but they can't do it alone. They need your help in passing the Vulnerable User Bill, Senate Bill 5838 (PDF).

What will this law do? According to the bill report (PDF)

A person may also be found guilty of negligent driving in the first degree if the person (1) operates a motor vehicle in a manner that is both negligent and endangers or is likely to endanger any person or property; and (2) the person's actions are the proximate cause of great bodily harm or death of a bicyclist or pedestrian.

Go to this page, enter your zip code and they'll provide a pre-filled letter for you to send to your state senator. Personalize the letter a bit and show your support.

Quit Wasting My Oxygen

Sometimes I stumble across the strangest things. The late Konstantin Buteyko, a former Soviet-era doctor, developed the Buteyko method to treat asthma and apparently with some success according to a patient who went to the US clinic that opened last year.

While treating asthma has been the primary use of the method, Dr Buteyko apparently believed he could cure just about any disease.

In 1952, Konstantin Buteyko found out that people often consume five to ten times more air than their bodies require. An extensive amount of air creates an insufficiency of carbon dioxide in the lungs and bloodstream, which badly impacts metabolism and the immune system gradually rendering them dysfunctional. Carbon dioxide deficit also affects respiratory gas exchange and diminishes the amount of oxygen carried by the blood to the brain, heart and kidneys. This situation can cause asthma, allergies, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, cardiological problems, growth of tumors, etc. - after a life-long research, Dr. Buteyko came to the conclusion that about 150 out of all known diseases are the result of hyperventilation. Ironically, those 150 diseases are the most widespread.

In order to overcome those diseases and develop health, Dr. Buteyko recommended reducing air consumption. It sounds like an easy solution; however, in actuality, this task was too difficult for most of his patients because they did not apply awareness towards their breathing. Then Dr. Buteyko developed a series of breathing exercises, which, if performed with diligence, have a miraculous power: they eliminate symptoms and restore well-being to the body, mind and spirit. From one healed person to another, the Buteyko Method spread all over the world, often saving lives of those who were sentenced to death by their health conditions.

And even more surprising was his claim during an interview that his method could cure AIDS.

“There are rumours that you can treat AIDS.”

"Normalization of breathing can defeat even AIDS.

“Why did you not announce that to the whole world? That would be an international sensation and could lead to recognition.”

“We do not advertise that because AIDS is the punishment for human promiscuity. If people now find out that AIDS can be defeated, epidemic of wrongdoing and perversion will be catastrophic.”

Hmm, no condom? Then breathe through your nose, baby. You won't catch an STD and your baby will be crazy healthy.

Ludmilla Buteyko, current patent holder of the Buteyko method which cured her asthma and cancer--she was clinically dead three times--and has kept her disease free for 40 years, warns us to beware of untrained and unlicensed imitators, some of whom have ethics that are not up to standards.

Um, yeah, that's what I thought, too.

The Definitively Ambiguous Gray Area

It seems we made a mistake in treating Umar Farouk Abdulmutalib like the criminal he is suspected of being. (There's an article about this in today's print edition of the Spokesman Review but I can't find it online.)

Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair on Wednesday criticized the decision by FBI agents last month to question the Christmas Day airline bombing suspect as a criminal and not interrogate him as a terrorist.


When Mr. Blair was asked more directly whether he agreed with the decision to put Mr. Abdulmutallab on trial, he declined to answer.

The gist of both articles is that Abdulmutalib should not have been advised of his rights and allowed to get an attorney and should have been questioned by the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group who are permitted to use more extensive interrogation techniques than the simple--and yet most effective--tools available to law enforcement.

And this is where we as a country have a problem. Treating terrorists as the criminals they are works. Yes they can get a lawyer, but if we have the evidence to prove their crime, so what? We've successfully prosecuted and sentenced many of them.

Treating them as a vaguely defined participant in a vaguely defined war is and has been very troublesome. Guantanamo is an easy example of that. There are rules for war that we're supposed to abide by, some of which are known as the Geneva Convention. We've created a new definition of war that doesn't fit the rules we claim to abide by which apparently allows us to act in any manner we see fit.

Put the shoe on the other foot and ask ourselves how we would react if one of our CIA agents in Afghanistan was captured and subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques. The hue and cry about inhumane treatment and unconscionable behavior would be deafening. How dare they?


Which City Will Have "The Knights" Team?

From the Augusta Chronicle we have an announcement of a new basketball league being formed.

The All-American Basketball Alliance announced in a news release Sunday evening that it intends to start its inaugural season in June and hopes Augusta will be one of 12 cities with a team.

"Only players that are natural born United States citizens with both parents of Caucasian race are eligible to play in the league," the statement said.

Because nothing says "America" like a whites-only sport played by natural born white Americans.

Don "Moose" Lewis, the commissioner of the AABA, said the reasoning behind the league's roster restrictions is not racism.

"There's nothing hatred about what we're doing," he said. "I don't hate anyone of color. But people of white, American-born citizens are in the minority now. Here's a league for white players to play fundamental basketball, which they like."

Lewis said he wants to emphasize fundamental basketball instead of "street-ball" played by "people of color." He pointed out recent incidents in the NBA, including Gilbert Arenas' indefinite suspension after bringing guns into the Washington Wizards locker room, as examples of fans' dissatisfaction with the way current professional sports are run.

"Would you want to go to the game and worry about a player flipping you off or attacking you in the stands or grabbing their crotch?" he said. "That's the culture today, and in a free country we should have the right to move ourselves in a better direction."

That's right. Because white men don't carry guns or flip people off or attack people in the stands. And they don't grab their crotch...well...unless they're all alone. And that is fundamental basketball.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

More Fund Raising

KHQ (Warning: an extremely irritating advertisement will talk to you) has a posting about photo red traffic enforcement. More cameras are on the way.

* Freya and 3rd
* Thor and 2nd
* Division and Sprague
* Ash and Wellesley
* An additional camera at the Division and Francis intersection

The 30-day warning period for the new cameras (before citations will be issued) is scheduled to start March 1. Citations will be issued beginning April 1.

Now according to the Spokane Police Department...

“Typically, there might be a slight increase (in the first year),” said Officer Teresa Fuller, who examines camera violations before tickets are issued. “But those go down in the second year of the program.”

The increase refers to the number of accidents. So you might want to avoid the above mentioned intersections come March 1. I wonder if anyone has thought of an appropriate prank for the day they begin issuing citations.

But wait, there's more.

A report detailing the effectiveness of the red light cameras is currently being completed by the Spokane Police Department and should be available by February.

The study will review injury severity and changes that have occurred as a result of the traffic safety camera deployment. In addition, the SPD is assessing crashes at the enforced intersections and approaches both prior to and after deployment of the traffic safety program.

I look forward to reading that report.

A Story To Make The Most Censored List

Harper's Magazine has an excellent piece of reportage by Scott Horton about the suspicious Naval Criminal Investigative Service report of the deaths of three Guantanamo prisoners by declaring they had simultaneously committed suicide.

According to the NCIS, each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and T-shirts and tied it to the top of his cell’s eight-foot-high steel-mesh wall. Each prisoner was able somehow to bind his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuff more rags deep down into his own throat. We are then asked to believe that each prisoner, even as he was choking on those rags, climbed up on his washbasin, slipped his head through the noose, tightened it, and leapt from the washbasin to hang until he asphyxiated. The NCIS report also proposes that the three prisoners, who were held in non-adjoining cells, carried out each of these actions almost simultaneously.


The fact that at least two of the prisoners also had cloth masks affixed to their faces, presumably to prevent the expulsion of the rags from their mouths, went unremarked by the NCIS, as did the fact that standard operating procedure at Camp Delta required the Navy guards on duty after midnight to “conduct a visual search” of each cell and detainee every ten minutes. The report claimed that the prisoners had hung sheets or blankets to hide their activities and shaped more sheets and pillows to look like bodies sleeping in their beds, but it did not explain where they were able to acquire so much fabric beyond their tightly controlled allotment, or why the Navy guards would allow such an obvious and immediately observable deviation from permitted behavior. Nor did the report explain how the dead men managed to hang undetected for more than two hours or why the Navy guards on duty, having for whatever reason so grievously failed in their duties, were never disciplined.

Remarkable, isn't it?

This is the official story, adopted by NCIS and Guantánamo command and reiterated by the Justice Department in formal pleadings, by the Defense Department in briefings and press releases, and by the State Department. Now four members of the Military Intelligence unit assigned to guard Camp Delta, including a decorated non-commissioned Army officer who was on duty as sergeant of the guard the night of June 9–10, have furnished an account dramatically at odds with the NCIS report—a report for which they were neither interviewed nor approached.

All four soldiers say they were ordered by their commanding officer not to speak out, and all four soldiers provide evidence that authorities initiated a cover-up within hours of the prisoners’ deaths. Army Staff Sergeant Joseph Hickman and men under his supervision have disclosed evidence in interviews with Harper’s Magazine that strongly suggests that the three prisoners who died on June 9 had been transported to another location prior to their deaths. The guards’ accounts also reveal the existence of a previously unreported black site at Guantánamo where the deaths, or at least the events that led directly to the deaths, most likely occurred.

Please don't tell anyone about this. If too many people know and start asking questions, someone might actually have to investigate four crimes. Three murders and a cover up.

Buff In 180 Minutes

I'm not a huge fan of the Huffington Post mainly because of the plethora of useless stuff amidst the real news and halfway decent commentary. Articles like this bit about 10 gadgets to help you get fit in 2010. Best Fitness Tech? How'd they come up with that?

Many are the Bowflex machines, weight sets, stationary bicycles, shake weights (go ahead and click it, you know you're curious), treadmills, Nordic Tracks, and other exercise gizmos--heck, even regular bicycles--that are sitting around collecting dust because someone thought "That's what I need to get in shape" only to have their enthusiasm decline like their checking account after making three easy payments.

Just as with diets, the latest fad does little to help you out. No single gadget, machine, diet or pill have the effect of a serious lifestyle change. Why do you think the fine print always says "Results not typical"?

Except...except that new workout technology known as Dynamic Inertia just sounds so appealing. Like it really works. I mean, I will sculpt my arms and chest in just six minutes a day. So after 30 days I will be the Hercules Kathy desires so much. And there's a triple money back guarantee so what do I have to lose?

I just hope I don't hit myself in the face with it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Electric Bike Hype

A couple days ago the New York Times published an article about an electric bike.

The Eneloop, priced at $2,300, came to stores in the United States late last year. It operates like any normal bike and, save for the black lithiumion battery strapped to the frame beneath the seat, looks exactly like one as well. But when you press a button on the left handlebar, a 250-watt motor gently kicks in, providing about twice the power as your own pedaling — and making you feel like Lance Armstrong on even the steepest slopes.

“The average auto trip in the U.S. is five miles or less,” said David Cabanban, bicycle business manager at Sanyo North America. “At the end of the day, how do you lower pollution and get people healthy? We’ve got to get people back to riding bikes.”

Mr Cabanban offers two points: lower pollution and get people healthy. That's great, but I have to question the use of an electric bike for achieving both goals. An electric bike must be recharged. Riding an electric bike can reduce auto exhaust. One less car, right? But the power required to recharge the bike has to come from somewhere. An electrical assist that will last for 46 miles--and who wouldn't take advantage of that on a 50-pound bike?--hardly entices one to push their physical capabilities.

In the 1990s, people like Lee Iacocca and Malcolm Currie, the former chief executive of Hughes Aircraft, got into the e-bike business. Their bikes had heavy steel frames and the same lead acid batteries used in automobiles, which themselves could weigh 80 pounds. The entire Eneloop weights [sic] about 50 pounds.

What puzzles me is who is in the target market for a $2300 electric bike that weighs 50 pounds?

The Birth Of An Urban Legend?

I received another forwarded email from someone who constantly sends this kind of stuff.

Just got word that many brave men and women serving our country in Iraq due to start the long journey home last night were delayed because Kelli Pickler, a former American Idol contestant, decided she wanted to leave Iraq right then. GI's already packed and aboard the plane had to disembark as Kelli and her people stood there ready to board. She couldn't wait three hours for the plane originally scheduled for her.

Our service people should ALWAYS come first! They have been away from their family for months, missing holidays and just everyday life. They put their lives on the line every day for our country. How dare some so-called "STAR" push herself and her agenda ahead of our service men and women! How dare our government allow it to happen?!

She was there to perform for the troops. How admirable! She was to perform two shows, only did one, and refused to sign any autographs. It was said by those there that she was snotty.

Please send her a message. Stop buying her music and attending her concerts. Let's instead

The hyperbole, Kellie's misspelled name and an incomplete last sentence indicate a high level of bogus to me. Since Snopes didn't have anything on it I submitted it for them to check out.

They Must've Outsourced Their Voice Jail

Needing to postage stamps this morning, I called my nearby Albertsons store to see what time they opened. Following the instructions on their phone menu, I pressed "1" to hear the store location and store hours. A woman's voice helpfully informed me of the store's address on Hwy 395 in "spo-cane".

Monday, January 18, 2010

Leaves In Boiling Ice

Reaching The Age Of Majority

Eighteen years ago today, a child was born in Montgomery, Alabama. Kathy and I named him Joshua. (We almost named him Creighton. Whew!) Josh has been a fun child.

His imagination knows no bounds. He could have fun all day with a couple of cardboard tubes, a bike helmet, a plastic bat and a pair of gloves.

As you have seen before, he comes up with some clever ideas. He is legend at Farwell Elementary and Northwood Middle School for his quiet yet effective antics. If you got into trouble during recess at Farwell, you were made to stand by "the wall" and watch while the other kids played. Josh would stand by the wall just for the heck of it. When asked what he did wrong he would answer, "Nothing."

"Don't lie to me," the recess monitor would say. "I know what class you're in and I can find out."

At Northwood, his class went to Finch Arboretum where each student had to collect five items with which they were to make a collage with, the idea being they'd gather leaves, pine cones, etc. One of the items Josh gathered was a huge stone. He, along with his classmates, dutifully glued their leaves and such so they could be displayed. While the other students' collages were pinned up on the wall, Josh's became the doorstop. After that his teacher clarified the rules so that all the items had to fit within a zip lock bag.

And now he's all grown up.

Sharing The Road In Texas

The Texas Observer is a great publication much like our own Inlander. They recently published an article about bicycling in Texas.

There’s really only one factor that makes streets safe for bikes—more cyclists. In cities where bicycle infrastructure is embraced, cyclists fair well. After doubling the number of bike lanes in New York City over the last three years (including a lane through Times Square), commuter cycling increased by 45 percent while the accident rate remained the same. Wiley Norvell, communications director for Transportation Alternatives, a group that advocates for bike lanes, said “documentation shows every time you triple the number of cyclists in a city, you halve the crash rate.”

The city of Dallas has pretty much ignored the needs of cyclists and done nothing to promote cycling.

Other Texas cities are riding right by Dallas. Last year, Austin approved a plan to install nearly 900 miles of bike lanes by 2030. The city recently made it illegal to turn right across a bike lane if a cyclist is present.

In Houston, new bike coordinator Dan Raine says, “All I’ve been doing is cutting ribbons.” The city recently installed 15 miles of bike trails and will begin building a bike link from downtown to the Heights neighborhood this spring.

El Paso is a national leader in bicycling. Every Sunday during spring and summer, the city shuts its Scenic Drive for a ciclovia, and the road morphs into public space for cyclists and pedestrians.

As Dallas has fallen behind, citizens have picked up the slack. The city had long refused to build bike lanes in the hip urban neighborhood of Oak Cliff. So last spring the residents did it themselves. Late at night, with spray paint and stencils, the dissenters painted “sharrows,” images of bikes and arrows, along street sides. While not official bike lanes, sharrows indicate that bikes belong in the street. While these vigilante methods can reduce overall public support for bike infrastructure, they tell city officials how frustrated urban bikers are.

Not that I'm trying to give anyone ideas.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Debit Card Skimmer

Saw this on Krebs On Security. It's just as slick as it is scary. I guess you could try prying the card reader off before you use it. I'm sure the banks will appreciate your security concerns.

Terrorism And Our Economy

Geoff introduced me to TED some time ago where you can watch, listen to and learn about a wide variety of subjects. In this TED Talk, Loretta Napoleoni talks about the relationship between terrorism and the world's economy. This will not be a waste of 15 minutes. And kudos to TED for providing closed captioning on their videos.

I love her advice at the end.

"You got to question everything that is told to do, including what I just told you today."

I Bet Somebody's Grandmother...

...or great grandmother played in this versatile group of musicians known as The Ingenues. (If you don't want to watch this clip twice then move on down to the second one.)

As you can tell from the myriad of instruments at their sides and feet, these young ladies were consummate musicians. And this video proves it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Back Home Again

But not before I found the final resting place of those Texican heroes in San Fernando Cathedral.

Mr Anderson would be so proud of me.

This one is for my Aunt Judith.

Aside from the normal security theater we all dutifully play our part in, there was an extra role for one man for our flight departing Spokane last Sunday. While we hovered in our gate area, three TSA personnel rolled a cart our way and positioned themselves near our gate doorway. People lined up to enter as their category was called. I was in the Zone 3 group. The gate agent finally called for Zone 3 and a bunch of us lined up. Suddenly, as if given the high sign by an undercover informant, the three agents swooped down on an elderly gentleman--Kathy reminds me that when I refer to someone as elderly, then they must be old because my point of reference is my age--and pulled him off to the side. One went through his carry-on bag, one patted him down and the third asked him questions. The man's wife waited patiently for her husband to join her.

I felt so safe.

Hey, it's good to be back home again.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Be Very Very Still

After dinner yesterday I went for a walk in the King William neighborhood of San Antonio. Home of First Friday, cool restaurants, and historic buildings and mansions, it's an interesting place to visit.

I didn't bring a tripod with me so I leaned against anything I could find to help me hold still.

The morning fog's weak attempt at hiding the Tower of the Americas.

Granted, this is not a low light shot. The permanent sign begs a question. Just when are event decals enforced?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Careful What You Ask For

Warmer weather isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to me. I did a three mile barefoot run on the River Walk Monday evening. It was still cool out as evidenced by the bundled up walkers--they were just getting over an Arctic cold snap--but it was pretty nice for me. There were parts of the walkway where the surface was brushed aggregate instead of smooth cement. That got irritating after a while. Yesterday evening it was in the 50's which I thought was great so I went for five miles, half with and half without shoes. The "heat" turned out to be oppressive. I felt like I was wearing a wet blanket. I showed up back at the hotel drenched and dripping with sweat. Funny how that works.

After my run I went for a long sightseeing walk. San Antonio has a very dramatic Vietnam veteran's memorial. It's right next to the Korean War memorial and just a short hop away from the Confederate soldier's memorial. Wars, what would we do without them?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Around Town

You can tell by the sign that this drive in is pretty old. It is also still open for business but only Wednesday through Saturday.

Obligatory colorful bike photo.

The setting sun popped out for just a few minutes creating some golden trees for me.

Monday, January 11, 2010

San Antonio Last Night

The San Antonio River and part of the River Walk. This is a very pleasant walkway, but there's something about a river encased in cement that takes some of the charm away.

The obligatory photo of the Alamo, the most hallowed ground from the Republic of Texas days. (Believe me, I know. Llamar Anderson taught me Texas History while I was at Dyess AFB near Abilene, Texas. According to Mr Anderson, and many others, there is no greater state than Texas.)

A homeless person sleeping at the entranceway to the Briscoe Western Art Museum. I've been to San Antonio many times but never in the winter--except for when I joined the Air Force, but I wasn't allowed out back then--and I've never seen this here before. So I don't know if it's a sign of the economic times, weather related, etc. Nonetheless, it's depressing.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Happenings I'm Going To Miss

The Complete Streets organizing meeting takes place this Wednesday at 5:30 pm at the YMCA, 930 N. Monroe.

Also on Wednesday, Michael Pollan is speaking at WSU.

I hope I read about both occasions somewhere.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Is Anybody Goin' To San Antone

Tomorrow I'm off to San Antonio for the week courtesy of my employer to attend a training class. I emailed a running group there and asked if they had any routes mapped out in the downtown area. They advised me to run the River Walk in the early morning hours. They also recommended not doing that barefoot. I'll probably find out why when I do.

Barefoot or not, with the temperature in the 40's and 50's it should be quite balmy for me. I'm bringing some camera gear along so I can play with night shots. According to their web site the river along the River Walk is being drained and cleaned right now. Ought to be pretty.

Kids Are So Entertaining

The other morning Josh helped me take the trash cans and recycle bins out to the end of the driveway. Then he got in the van and apparently wiped his mind clean because be promptly backed straight into the cans and bins, knocking them into the street. He cleaned up his mess and managed to get to school on time.

Last night I had just got my bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream when I dropped my spoon on the floor. Steph started in with "Ew, you dropped your spoon and now it's dirty." So I made a big show of wiping my spoon off on my shirt just for her benefit. Then I ate my ice cream.

Steph made this picture to memorialize the moment.

Friday, January 8, 2010

..ere Seems ... Be ...thing Wrong The ...nection

I always thought the Magic Jack was some sort of a scam product that worked okay in some cases. Of course, the basis for this was that the ad mirrored so many other ads on TV touting wonderful, too-good-to-be-true products that are guaranteed to make your life better. Turns out I was wrong. Consumer Reports did a test of MagicJack and the results were very good. Go figure. (CR also checked out the Snuggy. Skip it. Whoo-hoo! I'm one for two.)

Now Magic Jack wants to let you use their product with your cell phone.

The size of a deck of cards, it plugs into a PC, which needs a broadband Internet connection. The device then detects when a compatible cell phone comes within 8 feet, and places a call to it. The user enters a short code on the phone. The phone is then linked to the magicJack, and as long as it's within range (YMax said it will cover a 3,000-square-foot home) MagicJack routes the call itself, over the Internet, rather than going through the carrier's cellular tower. No minutes are subtracted from the user's account with the carrier. Any extra fees for international calls are subtracted from the user's account with magicJack, not the carrier.

According to YMax CEO Dan Borislow, the device will connect to any phone that uses the GSM standard, which in the U.S. includes phones from AT&T Inc. and T-Mobile USA. At a demonstration at CES, a visitor's phone with a T-Mobile account successfully placed and received calls through the magicJack. Most phones from Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel Corp. won't connect to the device.

No word yet as to what the cell phone companies are going to do about this.

...YMax has sold 5 million magicJacks for landline phones in the last two years, and that roughly 3 million are in active use. That would give YMax a bigger customer base than Internet phone pioneer Vonage Holdings Corp., which has been selling service for $25 per month for the better part of a decade. Privately held YMax had revenue of $110 million last year, it says.

That's not a huge chunk of change compared to cell phone company profits, but you can bet they're not going to take it lightly if the MagicJack starts to siphon some of it off.

A Fifth Of Stitches

A few years ago, Kathy and I were up in Metaline Falls to check out a quilt store. Kathy was heavy into quilting at the time. I was not, although there were times when my eye-for-design talents--also known as lucky guess--were consulted for laying out the blocks. I was excited to look around Metaline Falls--the Cutter Theater is awesome--and figured the torture of browsing in a quilt store was a small price to pay. We entered the store and I went into shopping trance mode where I daydream about being elsewhere and answer "Uh-huh" every time I'm asked, "Isn't this nice/pretty/beautiful/cute?"

Then something caught my eye. Is that a whiskey bottle? With my magnetic field aligned I walked towards the back of the store and lo and behold if this isn't a combination quilt and liquor store. Now I could participate in the shopping process and ask Kathy questions: "Hey, what do you think about this?" and "This is on sale. How about if we try it?" So if your quilting spouse wants to drag you to the Metaline Falls quilt store, it's not like it has to be a trip you have to suffer through. Unless you're a Mormon.

Why do I bring this up?

Well, some bright legislative souls think Washington state would be better off if the liquor stores were privatized.

Aside from the fact that the numbers don't really pan out that much to being favorable to the state's coffers, Governor Gregoire makes a valid point about the effect of privatizing liquor stores on rural areas such as Metaline Falls.

"This idea that we go the way of auctioning off, like West Virginia, let's be clear, you'll get rid of all your mom and pops," she said. "You'll have what they have, which is Rite Aid sells all liquor, is that what you want in Washington state? We contract out now, we contract out to mom and pops in rural areas. What does the auction get you, once every 10 years, possibly a couple hundred million dollars, if you sell high?

So let's keep the trip to Metaline Falls worth making for everyone, okay?

Cha-Ching! Nearly Seventy-Five Cents A Word

Congrats to my niece, Anna, for winning an Honorable Mention and $75 for her entry in the Boise Weekly Annual Fiction 101. Contestants submitted a fictional story using just 101 words. Anna cleverly uses Calculus in a brief story that would make any student at MIT or Cal Tech sigh. Relatives will notice that Anna's last name is misspelled.

BTW, there are lots of other good entries to read there. And it's perfect for those us us with a short atten--um, what was I talking about?

Must Protect Marriage

Last month the district council of Washington, D.C., passed a bill allowing same sex marriage in the District of Columbia. Three days later the mayor signed it and now the measure goes to Congress for a 30-day review. I can't say for sure what Congress is going to do, but I suspect they're going to let it go since there's Democratic party majority.

But the bill doesn't sit well for our very own Cathy McMorris Rodgers who, along with numerous other members of Congress, has signed onto an amicus brief asking that the D.C. Superior Court

...asking the court to reverse a D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics decision prohibiting the same-sex marriage question to be put before voters.

It seems the board issued an interesting decision.

In two separate rulings since June, the elections board has stated that a public vote on same-sex marriage would be discriminatory against gay men and lesbians.

That's kind of different. I'll have to mull that one over.

Regardless, all this fuss over same sex marriage is such a waste. It's not as if not allowing gays to marry makes them go away. They're still going to live together. They're still going to have children and have custody of children. So why shouldn't they have the same legal rights as everyone else?

You Can't Have It All

Over at Publicola they have a preview of an interview they had with Grace Crunican, the outgoing chair of [Seattle's] transportation department.

Crunican also defended the city’s bike master plan, which has built 90 miles of bike lanes and sharrows since it was passed in 2006. Of those 90 miles, however, only 13 are bike lanes —the rest are sharrows, lane markings that let drivers know a bicyclist may be in the road. “I understand that the bike people don’t like sharrows as much as bike lanes, but when we started, people were saying, ‘Why are you taking lanes away from cars?’ … We did bike lanes where we could and sharrows where we couldn’t, and bike ridership has gone up 15 percent.”

Just something to keep in mind for our master bike plan.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Barefoot Running - Studyin' Up

I've been experimenting with barefoot running in the cold weather. If I start out barefoot, then the temperature must be 40 or higher and it must be dry and sunny. If it's colder or wet out then my toes start freezing up quickly and that's no fun.

If I wear shoes for the first two miles, I can go barefoot for two miles if it's wet and in the thirties or if it's dry and in the twenties. The rougher the surface the less tolerable the cold is.

A study was recently published that took a look at the effect of running shoes on the body. The verdict: Bad.

Click to embiggen.

After you get through the statistics and charts and ankle dorsiflexion torque and knee varus torque language, you find this quote.

The design of current running shoes, with various heel-cushioning strategies and technologies to increase medial support to control foot pronation, has become widely accepted as the industry standard. However there is no clinical evidence to support that this design is optimal to promote the long-term health of runners. In fact, the rate of running-related injury in distance runners has not changed dramatically despite advances in footwear design technologies.

It's not the definitive verdict nor the last word. But it's a good point.

Kind Of Creepy

But kind of cool, too. Best to watch it in full screen mode.

Alma from Rodrigo Blaas on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Photo Red - Some Numbers

There's an article in today's Spokesman Review about how the photo red traffic lights have done for the past year. Kudos to the Review for digging into this.

The verdict? The photo red enforcement hasn't made a difference one way or another, except for the collected revenue.

I'd like to know the basis for this statement.

“Typically, there might be a slight increase (in the first year),” said Officer Teresa Fuller, who examines camera violations before tickets are issued. “But those go down in the second year of the program.”

In all the photo red stuff I've read, I've never seen that before. If this is typical then why weren't we told that in the first place? Why are our expectations different? I'm thinking that loud POP we heard was Officer Fuller pulling that out of her--ahem, derriere.

We also hear from Mayor Verner.

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner called the data “interesting,” but cautioned that it’s too early to make a final judgment on camera enforcement.

“The program has been effective in that we seem to have caught a lot of people running red lights,” Verner said. “If we’re not seeing a decline of injury collisions, then we need to figure out why not.”

I think Mayor Verner should have a look at the Spokane Police Departments web site and read about photo red.

This is a safety program. Automated safety systems have been shown to reduce red-light violations and intersection crashes. Numerous studies throughout the U.S. and worldwide, as well as the experience of many other cities, indicate significant decreases in red-light running violations and collisions after cameras were installed. Often times, a spillover effect results from automated enforcement: other intersections not monitored by automated enforcement also see a decrease in violations and accidents because of the presence of enforcement in other areas of the community.

Unfortunately, that means there's one thing missing from the Review's report. How many citations are being issued each month at each intersection? If this is truly a safety program that's going to reduce violations and accidents then we should be seeing a reduction in both. And how about that spillover effect? I can't imagine the difficulty in gauging that, but we'd probably hear more popping.

Spokane issued 5,690 camera tickets that resulted in revenue of $419,000, Fuller said. After the contracted camera company, Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions, is paid and other expenses subtracted, police estimate a profit of $103,000.

In tough economic times it's difficult to turn down $103,000 a year.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cashing In On Debit Cards

Have you noticed that when you use a debit card at some businesses you sign the receipt and at others you enter your PIN? And some places, usually coffee shops, restaurants, etc., they require a minimum charge if you use a debit card.

I always thought that something was costing someone some money--and I suspect it was me, the customer. I wasn't far off the mark. In today's New York Times there's an article about how Visa and Mastercard cash in on debit cards.

When you sign a debit card receipt at a large retailer, the store pays your bank an average of 75 cents for every $100 spent, more than twice as much as when you punch in a four-digit code.

The difference is so large that Costco will not allow you to sign for your debit purchase in its checkout lines. Wal-Mart and Home Depot steer customers to use a PIN, the debit card norm outside the United States.

Despite all this, signature debit cards dominate debit use in this country, accounting for 61 percent of all such transactions, even though PIN debit cards are less expensive and less vulnerable to fraud.

How this came to be is largely a result of a successful if controversial strategy hatched decades ago by Visa, the dominant payment network for credit and debit cards. It is an approach that has benefited Visa and the nation’s banks at the expense of merchants and, some argue, consumers.

My favorite quote from the article:

The fees are “not a cost-based calculation, but a value-based calculation,” said Elizabeth Buse, Visa’s global head of product.

I'm thinking the cost-based calculation would be way less. Otherwise, they would use it.

*** Update ***

I spoke with a coffee shop owner who informed me that he gets charged twenty cents plus a percentage of the sale for each credit card transaction which includes signed debit card transactions. Debit card transactions using a PIN cost him thirty cents. So since his sale transactions are low in price, it's more economical for him to do the signed transactions.

Monday, January 4, 2010

This Could Be Your Lucky Day

I bet you are familiar with those good luck emails our friends and relatives so kindly forward you. Unlike spam or phishing attacks, nobody wants your money. It's just people who mean well forwarding it one just never know. The subject line of FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: You Won't Believe This!!! is not untypical. It's the high-tech version of the good luck chain letter that allegedly had its start back in the 1930's.

Well, I received another one and it gave me an idea. First, here's part of the email.

The email also includes short testimonials attesting to the good luck this email can bring. But there is a warning.
And my idea? Add a testimonial of my own.

Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, doesn't it? Okay, I'll play nice and not send it. Lucky you, huh?