Tuesday, September 11, 2007

put on your new face

From The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are afraid of the wrong things, by Barry Glassner. Excerpt from pages 30-31.
'The myth of Halloween bogeymen and bogeywomen might never have been exposed had not a sociologist named Joel Best become sufficiently leery that he undertook an examination of every reported incident since 1958. Best, currently a professor at the University of Southern Illinois, established in a scholarly article in 1985 that there has not been a single death or serious injury. He uncovered a few incidents where children recieved minor cuts from sharp objects in their candy bags, but the vast majority of reports turned out to be old-fashioned hoaxes, sometimes enacted by young pranksters, other times by parents hoping to make money in lawsuits or insurance scames.

Ironically, in the only two known cases where children apparently did die from poisoned Halloween candy, the myth of the anonymous, sadistic stranger was used to cover up the real crime. In the first incident family members sprinkled heroin on a five-year-old's Halloween candy im hopes of fooling the police about the cause of the child's death. Actually, the boys had found and eaten heroin in his uncle's home. In the second incident a biy died after eating cyanide-poisoned candy on Halloween, but police determined that his father had spiked the candy to collect insurance money. Bill Ellis, a professor of English at Penn State University, as commented that both of these incidents, reported in the press at first as stranger murders, "reinforced the moral of having parents examine treats - ironically, because in both cases family members were responsible for their children's deaths!"

Yet if anonymous Halloween sadists were fictitious creatures, they were useful diversions from some truly frightening realities, such as the fact that far more children are seriously injured and killed by family members than by strangers. Halloween sadists also served in news stories as evidence that particular social trends were having ill effects on the populace. A psychiatrist quoted in the New York Times article held that Halloween sadism was a by-product of "the permissiveness in today's society." The candy poisoner him - or herself was not directly to blame, the doctor suggested. The real villains were elsewhere. "The people who gave harmful treats to children see criminals and students in campus riots getting away with things," the Times article quoted him, "so they think they can get away with it too."

In many of these articles the choice of hero also suggests that other social issues are surreptitously being discussed. At a time when divorce rates were high and rising, and women were leaving home in great numbers to take jobs, news stories heralded women who represented the antithesis of those trends - full-time housewives and employed moms who returned early from work to throw a safe trick-or-treat parties for their children and their children's friends in their homes or churches, or simply to escort their kids on their rounds and inspect their treats.'
You always wanted to know, but were afraid to ask:
Does the average American student have less vocabulary today than in days gone by?

Screw the iPhone, I want one of these:
The Helio Ocean - I don't generally care that much about cellphones, but damn do I like the look of this one ...

God put [dinosaur fossils] here to test our faith!"... I think God put you here to test my faith, dude. - Bill Hicks

Monday, September 10, 2007

should have known I would consume

... property rates have always seemed like a bad idea to me. It's a tax that only falls on a subset of citizens within the council's area (e.g. I, as a renter, pay no council fees, except theoretically through my landlord - though how much my landlord can recover from me depends on the ups and downs of the rental market), it takes little or no account of income (so if your locked-in capital far exceeds your income, you have to liquidate your property and live somewhere else), and if you're a dyed-in-the-wool neo-con, it also ignores your actual usage of council resources.

For my money I'd prefer to abolish rates completely and swap them for a range of targeted usage fees (water, waste water - with appropriate caps or rebates so as to not disadvantage low-income families, development fees, etc) and an increase in income taxes. I haven't run the numbers, but I would expect that the extension of the revenue base would mean that the PAYE rates would not need to be too large to replace property rates income.

This still isn't a perfect solution by any means - once you centralise council revenue under the general income tax take, councils suddenly have lost most of their control over their own finances, and therefore their ability to fund projects of concern to their constituents (of course, some people might see this as an advantage - councils can also no longer indulge in the vanity projects they seem particularly enamoured of. **cough** stadiums **cough**). You also have to work out how to allocate the taxation revenue - as no longer can the money you receive be easily tied back to a geographical area as easy as it was when you were levying the tax on a property which is fixed in space.

What I'm Watching:
The Power of Nightmares, by Adam Curtis. All three chapters (each about an hour long, and 1Gb in size) can be downloaded from here. Bloody interesting, and the kicking-est-ass soundtrack ever (cf the soundtrack to John Carpenter's The Thing).

A great slice of geek legend over at Arstechnica - A History of the Amiga, parts
1, 2 & 3 (it's not finished yet, they've been teasing us by rolling out a new part every 1-2 weeks).

Articles that caught my eye lately:
Reality Bytes: Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked

First kiss can make or break a couple’s relationship - but hey, no pressure ...

Zango tries, fails to sue its way out from under the "spyware" label

Internet use 'can cause insomnia' - colour me surprised. So who should I be suing?

Printer health risk report triggers response from HP, researchers - no really. Who can I sue about this?

See Who's Editing Wikipedia - Diebold, the CIA, a Campaign

Scan This Guy's E-Passport and Watch Your System Crash - Nice. Reeeeal nice.

How do I get myself one of these?
The Great Tennessee Marijuana Cave - I just like secret caverns under houses, that's all. No other reason.

My favorite word today: Algorithm. I've no idea why.

They lie about marijuana. Tell you pot-smoking makes you unmotivated. Lie! When you're high, you can do everything you normally do just as well … you just realize that it's not worth the fucking effort. There is a difference.

Not all drugs are good. Some … are great. - Bill Hicks