10 September 2004 10:17 AM

New and Improved

Every time that I read those two words, or even one of the two, on any consumer product, I cringe. It has been my experience that new and improved to most companies is not quite as good to me. Perhaps more companies should retain their classic products like Coca-Cola eventually did. Unfortunately, most products don’t have the same passionate following that Coke has.

My most recent example of a modified product is my shampoo. Geoff returned from the grocery store with my shampoo among other items. At the top of the bottle is written:

fragrance and formula

I think, “Uh oh,” and into the shower the shampoo went.

Every morning this week, I have been awoken a bit more than usual in the shower, thinking “What is that smell? Oh yeah, my new shampoo fragrance.”

Often, the other options available to me are no better, so I am just stuck with “new and improved” products that I believe are inferior to the old. However, other times I do find a better product and switch my allegiance. I’m not sure what I’ll do when the shampoo I have in the house is nearing empty, but it might mean a switch after seven or eight years.

Posted by carolyn at 10:17 AM

31 August 2004 10:13 PM

Naperville’s Presence Restriction

In the city of Naperville, Illinois, it is illegal, if you are less than 21 years of age, to be present when alcohol is being illegally consumed even if you are not drinking. If this sounds reasonable, go back and read that first sentence again. Now, IANACL (I Am Not A Constitutional Lawyer), but this law appears to trample on the First Amendment Right of Assembly. I know, that in an age when our Constitutional Rights are being trampled by the Bush Administration, it seems silly to mention this law, but sometimes you have to take a look in your own backyard.

While the more abstract issues trouble me greatly, let’s first consider a very practical one. I hope that we would all agree that what we want, most of all, is our young people to be safe. From a realistic perspective, some under-age youth will drink and some will drink too much. Once this occurs, the most important thing is for them to get home safely. Who is in an excellent position to make sure this happens? Similarly aged, sober young adults. What does this law do? It actively discourages these caring young adults, who don’t drink, from making sure that their friends don’t die driving home drunk. Fortunately, as reported in the Naperville Sun, at least one young adult cares too much about their friends for this ordinance to get in his way. He has pledged to continue to drive a drunk friend home if needed.

From a more abstract perspective, the message that this ordinance sends to the city’s young adults; that’s right, those often cited are adults, is that we don’t trust them. These are adults that we trust to elect the President of the United States of America, adults that we trust to defend our country and die for our country, adults we trust to do anything but have a beer or rent a car or, in Naperville, simply attend a party and choose not to drink.

Perhaps my inference isn’t accurate. Perhaps we really do trust these young adults. If so, what motivates this ordinance? Maybe it takes too much effort to actually prove that an adult that is less than 21 years old is actually consuming alcohol and it’s easier to cite everyone in the vicinity. If this is the case, imagine if this logic is applied to other laws.

Let’s do just that. As an exercise to illustrate the absurdity of this ordinance, let’s apply the logic behind it to other laws. Take the interstate, for example. Does anyone on the interstate believe that everyone on the interstate is following the speed limit? Of course not. When I drive 55 MPH on I-88, it appears that I’m stalled and sitting on the shoulder. So, applying the logic behind this law, rather than the hassle of clocking speeding motorists, pulling them over, and ticketing them, let’s simply cite everyone on the interstate. This would be easy, the tool-booth attendant could simply hand out the citations when you pay your toll. Absurd? Well, yes. But, this example is based on similar logic.

Let’s look at another example. Does everyone who attend a Dylan concert believe that no one is smoking dope? Of course not. So, again applying the logic behind this law, rather than the hassle of finding these pot heads and arresting them, let’s simply cite everyone in attendance. This too would be easy, TicketMaster could process your citation at the time you buy your ticket. I’m sure they would charge an extra service fee, however.

Last example. I’m at a picnic. Somone’s twenty-year-old son is drinking a beer with his Dad. (I know, the horror of it.) The police show up and cite my seven-month-old son since he is at the picnic. Okay, technically, this could have only happened before 2003, since, in 2003, 16 years after the ordinance was originally passsed, the law was narrowed by the restriction that the perpertrator should know that the law is being broken. However, it won’t be long before my son does understand this and would be performing community service on his weekends.

If you would like to share your thoughts on this ordinance with the Naperville City Council, there will be a public meeting on 9 October 2004 at 8 a.m. at the Council Chambers of the Naperville Municipal Center.

Posted by geoff at 10:13 PM

26 May 2004 8:50 PM

Electronic Voting Petition

Democracy for America is hosting a petition to call on Congress and the state governments to require that all electronic voting machines have audible paper records. There are few aspects of a democracy more important than voting and, therefore, as a democracy, it is our responsibility to ensure that every vote is accurately counted. I’ve previously commented on the problems with electronic voting. While California’s Secretary of State, Kevin Shelley, previously decertified all touch-screen electronic voting machines, it is now reported that he will re-certify most, if not all, electronic voting machines for the November election. He is ensuring that some security improvements are made, but a paper trail is not required until July 2006. While much of the focus regarding this issue has been in California, this is a national issue. There are two pieces of federal legislation that will require paper records, House Resolution 2239, which was introduced over a year ago and is stuck in the House Committee on House Administration, and Senate 1980, stuck in the Committee on Rules and Administration chaired by Trent Lott.

If you are concerned about protecting this fundamental aspect of democracy, sign the petition today.

Posted by geoff at 8:50 PM

23 May 2004 9:57 PM

Lasting Impressions

This weekend, two companies made, what I’m sure will be, lasting impressions. One good; the other not so good. First, the good. One of my best friends gave Carolyn and I a really nice Waring Blending for our wedding. In Texas, we used it a handful of times to make margaritas. Since then, however, whenever we’ve tried to use it to make corn chowder, smoothies, or some other concoction, it has been less than ideal. (By the way, I’m trying to use the phrase “less than ideal” rather than “sucks” to set a good example for Dylan.) While we considered the possibility that the blender simply refused to blend any non-alcoholic mixture, we decided there was a more fundamental problem. Remembering that my friend purchased the blender at Williams-Sonoma, on a whim, we stopped in at our local store. We remarked that the blender worked well a couple of times, but not any more. The helpful associate asked if we had received it as a gift or purchased it from Williams-Sonoma. We replied that it was a wedding gift purchased at the Austin Williams-Sonoma. Before we could ask what kind of a warranty it had, she said that we should bring it in and exchange it for a new blender. I was pleasantly surprised. This weekend, I returned to Williams-Sonoma with the blender in tow. I mentioned, to a different associate, that I had been in the previous weekend and had a blender that hasn’t worked for a while. Without asking any more questions, including where I bought it or how long I had it, the associated went in the back and brought out a replacement. Excellent customer service.

Snowdown I also bought a new razor this weekend, a Norelco Quadra 7866XL. While unpacking the razor I encountered the sticker in the above picture and couldn’t stop laughing. This label was stuck to the cord for the razor. This is ridiculous for two reasons. First, who would consider cutting the power cord with a pair of scissors? Is this such a common action that consumers need to be warned not to do it? Second, sticking a label to the power cord encourages people to use their scissors to cut off the label. That is, as far as I can see, this warning label is going to increase the probability that someone is going to cut the power cord with a pair of scissors. The fact that this insane label passed through some engineering quality process without detection certainly made me hesitate before sticking this razor to my face. Fortunately for me, it worked just fine.

Posted by geoff at 9:57 PM

28 April 2004 9:06 PM

News Headlines

As reported by Wired, the California Voting Commission finally recommended that Diebold’s electronic voting machines be decertified. In addition, the Attorney General of California may file civil or criminal charges against the company. I don’t find the recommendation itself surprising, but I’m amazed that others do. The problems with Diebold aren’t new.

The Michigan House passed House Bill 5006 which allows “a health care provider may object as a matter of conscience to providing or participating in a health care service on ethical, moral, or religious grounds.” Muslim? No stitches for you. Gay? Set your own broken arm. Embezzling CEO? Get your triple bypass somewhere else. Hasn’t anyone heard of the Hippocratic Oath?

In my last entry, I encouraged everyone to display their patriotism without disrespecting the flag. I didn’t provide any examples of how to do so. So, if you are looking for an output for your patriotic energies, check out MoveOn.org, originally founded to “move-on” after the Clinton impeachment fiasco, and Democracy for America, the successor of the Dean for America organization. We all have a lot to do before November, and these organizations can help us focus our energies.

Posted by geoff at 9:06 PM

7 April 2004 6:23 AM

Our Flag

While it may be hard to believe, today I won’t be extolling some liberal ideology when I climb up on my soapbox. Yesterday, I instructed my local Scout troop how to respect the flag of the United States of America. We usually meet in the basement of a church that doesn’t have a flag pole; so, we don’t have the opportunity to raise and lower the flag. Yesterday, we took advantage of the extra daylight and walked across the street to the elementary school and used their flag pole to practice. Afterward, we went back to the basement and discussed the various guidelines for hoisting, lowering, carrying, displaying, and saluting the flag. We then discussed one topic which often seems to surprise people: behaviors that are disrespectful of the flag.

The U.S. Flag Code (Title 36, Chapter 10, Section 176 of the United States Code) enumerates these behaviors:

(d) The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker’s desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.

(i) The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.

(j) No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.

After presenting these disrespectful behaviors, one of the Scouters asked why so many companies sold clothing that bears the likeness of the flag. One of the Scouts volunteered that companies are more than willing to take advantage of our patriotism to make money. I couldn’t have said it any better. Although, it’s not just for-profit corporations exploiting our new-found patriotism, it is the U.S. Postal Service as well.

So, this year when Old Navy starts selling their 2004 U.S. flag shirts, just leave them on the shelf. Please do display your patriotism, but don’t disrespect the flag.

Posted by geoff at 6:23 AM

31 March 2004 5:08 PM

Poetry by Our Secretary of Defense

A newsletter from Chicago Public Radio (WBEZ) alerted me to some interesting poetry of Donald Rumsfeld that had been featured on NPR. While my appreciation for poetry is sometimes comparable to that for flowers, I found this worth sharing.

Posted by carolyn at 5:08 PM

10 March 2004 10:36 PM

The Matrix

No, this has nothing to do with the red pill or the blue pill. The Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange (Matrix) is a potential reincarnation of the Total Information Awareness project for which congress finally banned funding. Wired News has a story on the Matrix and Wisconsin’s decision to join the program. Out of the 13 states that started the program, six of the original remain: Michigan, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Florida. The others realized that their citizens weren’t too keen on a company in Boca Raton, Florida collecting all the personal information on which they can get their hands and providing it to various government agencies. This program is especially troublesome since it could be used as a predictive tool. Imagine Minority Report and replace the precogs with database agents. The Matrix web site claims your information is safeguarded through what sounds like an end-user license agreement (EULA). This is not reassuring given how well everyone reads and follows software EULAs.

Want to send a clear message to your elected representatives regarding privacy rights? That may be difficult. As the primaries are held throughout the country, we are beginning to see the manifestation of problems with poorly designed electronic voting systems. Think butterfly ballots are bad? The LA Times reports that in 21 precincts in Orange County, electronic voting machines reported more votes than registered voters. Given how close the 2000 presidential election was and how close Kerry and Bush are in the polls, we, as a country, are setting ourselves up for a disaster.

Posted by geoff at 10:36 PM | Comments (1)

21 February 2004 10:48 PM

Science and the Bush Administration

As reported by Wired News, the Union of Concerned Scientists recently issued a statement and a report criticizing the Bush administration’s consistent disregard for science and the scientific process when making policy decisions. What was the Bush administration’s response? Read on….

Reportedly, John Marburger, President Bush’s science adviser, said the report was biased and that he was troubled. Not troubled due to nature of the allegations, but troubled because prestigious scientists signed the statement. As if these scientists have done something wrong and should be ashamed of themselves. When providing examples of the Bush administration being supportive of science, he cited increasing the budget of the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. If I was confronted with this report and was trying to save face, I’d find a couple of examples of policy decisions based on hard science before I fell back to, “Uhh, we gave science more money.” Which examples could he have cited?

Well, he certainly couldn’t have cited how science influenced the Bush administration’s decision not to strengthen lead poisoning regulations since Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson replaced two members of the panel that was about to do so and replaced them with others tied to the lead industry. Nor could he have pointed to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2002 annual air report since the Bush administration demanded so many political changes that the EPA felt compelled to remove the entire section on climate change rather than risk destroying their scientific credibility. How about the science behind the assertion that Iraq’s infamous aluminum tubes were being used to produce nuclear weapons? This was one of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s more important pieces of evidence presented to the United Nations (UN) to justify invading Iraq. Nope, bad example. Technical experts from the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Laboratories as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) all disagreed with the Central Intelligence Agency’s assesment. Who would you believe, scientists from the DOE and IAEA or a bunch of spooks? Maybe the science behind the Bush administration’s forest-management policies would be a good example. Sorry, the Bush administration took the forest management plan defined by the Clinton administration that was based on nine years of research by 100 scientists and proposed changes that appear to lack any scientific basis.

What kind of example is being set for our children when they learn about the importance of science and the rigors of the scientific process in school only to come home and see the leaders of this country give science as much credit as the horoscopes in the paper?

Perhaps this is all just a big misunderstanding. Maybe the various secretaries and agency heads in the Bush Administration are under the impression that it is their job to do the opposite of what their title describes. Or maybe, they are confused about what their title actually is. If Tommy Thompson was the Secretary of Big Business, jeopardizing the health of children to support the lead industry would make sense. If Donald Rumsfeld was the Offensive Secretary, preemptive invasions, alienation of the UN, and derision of half of Europe would fit his job description. If George Tenet was the head of the Central Ignoramus Agency, mistaking aluminum rods used for rockets for those used for enriching uranium would be understandable. If Michael Leavitt was the head of the Environmental Profiteering Agency, rolling back thirty years of environmental progress would be reasonable. And if George Bush was the president of the …. Nope; I can’t think of a title that would explain his behavior.

Posted by geoff at 10:48 PM

6 February 2004 12:53 PM

ACLU 2004 Workplan and Democratic Candidates

I recently received my copy of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) 2004 Workplan. A couple of the issues resonated with me. Rather than railing against the Bush administration, I thought it more productive to research how the democratic candidates for president opinions on these issues. Al Sharpton, Dennis Kucinich, Howard Dean, John Edwards, John Kerry, and Wes Clark are still in the race; so, I checked each of their positions on these issues.

The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act

As an aside, the brilliant name of this act deserves an entire chapter in a marketing textbook. Even the marketer who came up with Altria is probably jealous. The USA PATRIOT Act is that infamous piece of legislation that allows search and seizures without probably cause. In fact, its definition of “domestic terrorism” would probably include this post. The intention of the Fourth Amendment is that the government doesn’t listen to my phone calls or read my e-mail without probably cause. Yes, I know; Carnivore and Echelon aren’t new, but the USA PATRIOT Act legalizes these abuses. Clark, Dean, Edwards, Kerry, Kucinich, and Sharpton have all expressed concerns and proposed revisions to the USA PATRIOT Act. Disconcertingly, however, both Kerry and Edwards voted for the USA PATRIOT Act. To his credit, Kucinich did vote against it.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Rights

The recent ruling in support of gay marriage in Massachusetts is promising. However, only Kucinich and Sharpton support gay marriage. The rest of the candidates support the “separate but equal” position dismissed by the Massachusetts Supreme Court. Clark, Dean, and Kerry all have somewhat detailed positions regarding LGBT rights on their web sites. Edwards’ site barely touches on this issue. To their credit, Kerry has a perfect scorecard rating from the Human Rights Campaign and Dean has done more than just post position papers on his site; he signed the civil unions bill in Vermont.

Voting Rights

Clark has posted the most detailed proposal for addressing this issue. Dean and Kucinich focus on the problems with electronic voting, of which there are many. Edwards and Kerry briefly mention addressing the voting-rights abuses evident during the 2000 presidential election.


Most of the candidates have relatively similar positions on these issues, which is not surprising after watching their debates. Regardless, browsing the candidates web sites was very interesting. I found that the selection of issues that were not presented as insightful as the candidates’ comments on those issues that were. Of course, in the heat of the primaries, the candidates are going to be promoting their most liberal positions on these issues. Once one of them secures the nomination, he will begin to move back to the center. And then, if he wins the election, we’ll have to see what is actually done. Regardless, as cynical as I am about the past and present, I have to remain optimistic about the future.

Posted by geoff at 12:53 PM

20 January 2004 5:56 PM

Bush in 30 Seconds

The winners have been announced in the Bush in 30 Seconds content sponsored by moveon.org. The ads are great. The winning ad is suppose to air during tonight’s State of the Union and the Superbowl. Well see about tonight, but CBS has reportedly refused to run the ad. Another example, like not airing the Reagan mini-series, of the “out-of-control liberal media.” Good thing we don’t have to worry about the homogenization of the media infringing on free speech; or, in this case, even not-so-free speech.
Posted by geoff at 5:56 PM