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April 29, 2008

Surprise, Mom!

I'm currently on vacation in Arizona. This is the first time off I've had all year so I'm trying to be as lazy as humanly possible, but I thought a little bit of blogging was warranted in this case.

I'm staying at my sister's place. An old friend of mine is moving in with her, temporarily, but this involved moving from Iowa to Arizona. My mother came along on the road trip to visit my sister. Having my friend, mom, and sister all together like this was great timing, because I've been needing a vacation. I decided to make it a little interesting by keeping my vacation a secret from my mom.

I flew in around lunchtime on Sunday. My aunt picked me up at the airport and took me to my sister's house while all of them were out having lunch at the Iowa Cafe. (Yeah, I don't understand either.) I was waiting for them when they got home.

I listened for them to open the door and come in, then I came around the corner to see… my mom facing the wrong direction. So I stood there quietly until she turned around, said, "hi, mom!", and watched her jaw drop. She was speechless and very happy to see me.

Then we all started laughing. Keeping this a secret just barely worked. My family is pretty chatty and it was almost leaked to my mom several times. It's amazing how quickly rumor becomes accepted truth. The only people I told about this surprise were my sister and the friend who was moving. I had also told my cousin that I was thinking about doing it, but that was several weeks ago and before I bought my airline tickets. (She says that she heard I was definitely going from her dad — but how could he have learned?)

I heard about some fun miscommunication, too. The night before my flight I was talking to my friend, mom, and sister on the phone and we were all playing it cool. My friend wasn't sure what time I was getting in and I was able to say 11 o'clock. That caused trouble at lunchtime because my friend didn't know the whole plan. My sister knew I was going to sneak into her house while they were out at lunch, so she knew she had to get everyone out of the house. My friend thought I would arrive while they were home. "I'm hungry, let's go out for lunch!" "No, isn't it too early <wink> for lunch?" "No we should really <blink> go now." "But it's going to be so busy <wink> <blink> right now." "I don't care, we should really go now! <blink> <wink>"

To make things worse, my mom didn't want to go out for lunch at all. And when she got talked into it she wanted my aunt to come along — the same one who was to pick me up at the airport! Aaak!! My aunt was able to free herself without arousing suspicion, they all went to the restaurant, and everything worked out. :)

April 22, 2008

Nerd Nightmare

I woke up a little after 3am Monday morning from a nightmare. In this case I knew that I was dreaming and woke myself up. It was a very nerdy sort of dream — it was about robots.

Robots who kill people in their sleep!

They were after me because I knew I was dreaming. :)

April 19, 2008

Citizen Tickets Cop


Now, using ORS 153.058, Bryant — as a private citizen — has initiated violation proceedings against Officer Stensgaard. Bryant alleges Stensgaard was in violation of state statutes on illegal parking, illegal stopping, obeying parking restrictions on state highways, and illegal operation of an emergency vehicle or ambulance — the violations carry fines totaling $540.

Officer Stensgaard has received a Multnomah County summons to appear in traffic court on May 23. Meanwhile Bryant denies he is just stirring up trouble.

"Citizens should be concerned that he used his status as an officer of the law as justification for breaking the law," he says.

Thank you, Eric Bryant. Unlike my similar situation, Bryant was a lawyer and knew the proper way to proceed. All I got from my complaint was a phone call from an investigator at the police department who said he'd let me know the resolution by mail, then didn't.

Public servants cannot be allowed to abuse their position. Petty tyrants cannot be allowed to become powerful tyrants. (I automatically think of Eliot Spitzer.) "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."

h/t Jacque

April 13, 2008

TV Bleg

Are there any videophiles among my readership?

The combination of being lazy and having an abnormally low time preference mean that despite all expectations, I don't own an HDTV even though it's 2008. I currently have one TV — a 27" CRT purchased over 8 years ago. It's long past time for an upgrade. In fact I had been talking with my co-workers about doing this around the time of the Superbowl… in 2007! Even I have to roll my eyes at such delay.

So, I'm in the market for a new TV. On the technology front I'm biased toward getting an LCD. (The wrinkle there is that I'm sensitive to black levels and I don't want black to look light gray.) I'm not very price sensitive so I'm happy to spend up to about $3000 on this TV. Based on my initial research that puts me at a screen size around 52".

I'd appreciate any advice or recommendations about what brands to consider or avoid, things I should keep in mind when deciding what to buy, etc.

April 06, 2008

Collective Punishment

When I was in elementary school, I got my first taste of collective punishment. Some disruptive student would ignore the teacher, and the teacher would respond by punishing the entire class. It turns out that this dynamic doesn't change, even in college:

Some professors threaten to confiscate students' cell phones if they go off during class. Laurence Thomas has his own approach to classroom distractions. If the philosopher at Syracuse University catches a student sending text messages or reading a newspaper in class, he'll end the class on the spot and walk out. It doesnt matter if there is but one texter in a large lecture of hundreds of students. If you text, he will leave.

Last week, when a student in a large lecture — in the front row no less — sent a text message, Thomas followed through on his threat (as he had done just a few days earlier). And he then sent the university's chancellor, his dean, and all of the students an e-mail message explaining his actions and his frustration at the "brazen" disrespect he had received in class.

The professor's reasoning is that his policy (texting is not allowed) was completely clear. He had told students in advance that he would walk out if he caught anyone texting. His students were not staying within acceptable behavior, so he carried through on his threat to leave. Straightforward, isn't it?

This lecture had approximately 400 students. The counterpoint is that the innocent 399 students paid for the class, didn't do anything wrong, and are not getting what they paid for. This is also straightforward.

The comment thread on that article is remarkable. Both the professor and well-behaved students attract articulate defenders. Most interestingly, in the comments we learn that Professor Thomas was teaching an ethics class. I expect him to know a great deal about the morality of collective punishment. Unlike the gym teachers of my youth, this guy is in a position to know the morality of his actions. He is in a position to know that what he did was wrong.

Collective punishment occurs when both innocent and guilty people are punished for the wrong actions of the guilty people. Collective punishment is wrong; it is wrong in principle and therefore in every possible application.

Let's take a short digression to review the two basic principles of justice:

  1. Guilty people should be punished.
  2. Innocent people should not be punished.

With this elementary foundation it's easy to see what's wrong with collective punishment. While it achieves #1, which is good, it also violates #2, which is bad. Emphatically, collective punishment is not a "shade of gray" somewhere between ideal justice (#1 only) and total injustice (violating #2 only) that we can sometimes accept on a case-by-case basis. Collective punishment is a dangerous mixture of good and evil, but this mixing is totally unnecessary! The fact that we are able to distinguish between the guilty and the innocent means that we can identify people who should not be punished at all, because they have done nothing wrong. It is not gray, it is both black and white, and we can and should reject the black portion and keep the white portion.

(I have absolutely no sympathy for the use of collective punishment in order to "send a message". Messages should be delivered by speech, not by perpetrating injustice.)

The professor's policy instituted the use of collective punishment, therefore the professor's policy was wrong. I agree that it is wrong for students to disrupt the class and that the professor has the privilege to decide what constitutes disruption for his class — but if his response to disruption is to punish the innocent, this professor (of ethics, I have to remind myself!) is wrong.

How could the professor's policy be changed to punish only the guilty? The punishment should be that the guilty student has to leave the class. If they don't leave voluntarily at the professor's request, they should be removed by campus security. I recognize that that could "cause a scene" for a few minutes, but it will only be for a few minutes rather than for the rest of the class period. The other 399 students could continue to learn after the offender has been removed.

(I'm taking no position here on whether the professor's intolerance of texting is reasonable. It doesn't matter to my argument. If you're adamant that texting should be allowed, imagine that the disruption was something else, like two students fighting violently during class.)

The professor's policy is wrong because it institutes collective punishment, which is wrong. The students' argument that they've paid for the class and are not getting what they paid for is correct, and if I ran the university where this occurred, I would be looking for ways to compensate those students for the lost class period. Possibly out of the professor's pay.

Tiny Island