Category Archives: Current Affairs


For Transocean Ltd., 2010 was a banner year, safety-wise. The money quote from their Schedule 14A SEC filing is:

…notwithstanding the tragic loss of life in the Gulf of Mexico, we achieved an exemplary statistical safety record as measured by our total recordable incident rate (“TRIR”) and total potential severity rate (“TPSR”). As measured by these standards, we recorded the best year in safety performance in our Company’s history, which is a reflection on our commitment to achieving an incident free environment, all the time, everywhere.

These are the clowns whose oil rig exploded – injuring 17 people, killing 11 – then sank, leaving behind an uncapped oil well that spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico before it was finally shut down, four months later.

But, due to their ‘exemplary safety record’, they’re asking the shareholders to grant them big raises & bigger bonuses. They seem genuinely surprised at the tempête de merde that has descended on them for this.

“But…but…we are executives. We deserve huge bonuses, because our huge salaries aren’t big enough.”

Sidekick, RIP

A while ago, I received a pamphlet in the mail from

This is a class action in which Plaintiffs allege that beginning on October 2, 2009, all Sidekick users were unable to access stored data (contacts, calendar, notes, to-do lists, and some photos) with their Sidekick devices or use the Sidekick’s data services. Plaintiffs allege Defendants Danger, Microsoft (Danger’s parent company), and T-Mobile were responsible for the lost data and service disruption as a result of their failure to adequately provide service and/or maintain the personal data of Sidekick users.

I ignored it, mostly since the proposed settlement consisted of free stuff from the Sidekick store: an alarm clock, a Pac-Man game, a screen saver, two themes, four ring tones and a background. Too bad I bought an iPhone last August, and sent my Sidekick to electronics-recycling heaven sometime last autumn.

The download-free-stuff program – inexplicably named ‘Customer Appreciation Week’ – ran from February 14th through the 20th, which explains today’s news from T-Mobile:

After May 31, 2011, the Danger Service (a subsidiary of Microsoft) used by T-Mobile Sidekick customers for data services will no longer be available on Sidekick devices.

T-Mobile will provide offers for our Sidekick customers before May 31, 2011, to help make an easy transition from their existing Sidekick device to a new device. We will have more information to share about these offers with our customers in the weeks ahead.

Goodbye, Sidekick.

(I hear rumors that a goodly number of ex-Dangerites are at Google, working on Android. So in a sense the Sidekick lives on.)


In Wisconsin: the Republican governor and Republican-majority state legislature want to pass legislation of which the Democratic minority disapproves. The Democrats, being too few in number to oppose the Republicans, have chosen to flee the state. They’re hiding (not very well) in Rockford. The Wisconsin state legislature, lacking a quorum, is stalled.

In Indiana: the Republican governor and Republican-majority state legislature want to pass legislation of which the Democratic minority disapproves. The Democrats, being too few in number to oppose the Republicans, have chosen to flee the state. They’re hiding (not very well) in Urbana. The Indiana state legislature, lacking a quorum, is stalled.

I wonder whether the Democrats-in-exile truly understand the damage their stunt is doing to the Wisconsin and Indiana state governments. How would they feel if the situation were reversed, if a Republican minority shut down the legislature to prevent a Democratic majority from passing legislation? Or if an upstart third party managed to get just enough seats to pull the quorum-blocking maneuver?

(That last probably qualifies as a nightmare scenario for the bicameral oligarchy currently in possession of federal & state governments.)

Those with reading-comprehension difficulties – i.e., the sort who get their talking points from the tv ‘news’ bloviators – might interpret the foregoing as support for / approval of the Republicans and their legislation, even though I’ve expressed no opinion.

The real problem here isn’t the legislation. The problem is the Democrats’ refusal to do the job for which they were elected, and their disrespect for the political process.

What they should have done, in both states:

Debate the legislation: raise objections, propose amendments, compromise. Vote, yea or nay. Accept defeat gracefully, then persuade the voters to elect more Democrats next time. If the Democrats gain a majority, repeal the offending legislation. If the voters choose to return a Republican majority to the legislature, accept that defeat gracefully.

I don’t suppose it will ever happen. Politicians these days seem incapable of doing anything gracefully.

Questionable legislation

In the news:

E____ G_____ … pleaded innocent on Thursday to three misdemeanor counts of tattooing the body of a minor.

Apparently, illustrating teenagers is illegal.

I wondered, though, why the legislature felt the need for so specific a ban. Applying a tattoo to someone without that person’s consent surely qualifies as battery; and minors are unable to give consent. The existing assault / battery statutes would seem to cover this situation.

On the other hand, the legal definition of battery seems to require an intention to do harm, so perhaps the Don’t Ink Teenagers Act was necessary after all.


I remain baffled by events in Egypt. The protesters appear to have no specific grievances against President Mubarak; they just want him gone.

Isn’t that what elections are for?

If Mubarak were a totalitarian lunatic – Idi Amin, Josef Stalin, somebody like that – I could understand the protests. But I’ve heard nothing to suggest that he is.

At least nobody’s blaming the U.S. for anything. (Yet.)


The News-Gazette is running an article that says Urbana is considering whether to install traffic roundabouts at two major intersections: Philo Road & Florida Avenue, and Race Street & Windsor Road. It’s early yet, so they’re deciding whether to pay $15,000 to Ourston Roundabout Engineering for a feasibility study.

I hope they skip the study, and pass on the roundabouts. I hate roundabouts.

A roundabout is a circle of pavement in place of an intersection. The radius is fairly short, so getting through one at normal driving speed involves some hard steering. (Imagine the fun in wintertime, when the roads are covered with ice & snow.) The circle has any number of side roads feeding into it, so there’s a constant risk of being broadsided by somebody running a stop sign (assuming there’s even a stop sign to run). The larger roundabouts are two lanes, so there’s the additional risk of some fool in the inside lane deciding that obviously we’re all supposed to take this exit off the roundabout, and veering into the outside lane.

There’s a roundabout at Wolf Road & Golf Road in Des Plaines. The few times I drove through it were sufficiently traumatic that I made a point of avoiding it thereafter. If Urbana builds any roundabouts, I’ll most likely avoid them, as well.

The article includes a few rather condescending comments from the Ourston people, to the effect that they have lots of roundabouts in Europe, they work great, and if stupid provincial Americans would just give them a chance, they’d work great here, too.

(The real problem with Race & Windsor is that it’s a four-way stop. An intersection that big needs traffic signals, not stop signs. But Champaign and Urbana are both too cheap to install signals everywhere they’re needed.)


Meanwhile, in Washington DC, the Secretary of Health and Human Services says:

Today is the beginning of the end of the tobacco epidemic. You may have already heard about the new dramatic graphic labels that are being proposed for every pack of cigarettes, which are the biggest step forward in 25 years to warn people about the dangers of smoking and help people stop before they start….

As Denis Leary pointed out – seventeen years ago! – the problem isn’t that smokers don’t notice the warnings on the packs.


Much chatter lately about the new high-tech parking meters San Francisco is rolling out this year.

The (nicely done) SFPark web site says:

SFpark will use demand-responsive pricing to even out parking availability and reduce the need for circling. In pilot areas, meter pricing can range from between 25 cents an hour to a maximum of $6.00 an hour, depending on demand. During special events, such as baseball games, hourly prices may temporarily increase beyond the $6.00 ceiling.

They’re also providing real-time parking availability data:

The SFpark data feed allows real-time information to reach drivers directly. In addition to parking availability maps accessible at, information on parking availability will be dispersed via the 511 system, mobile devices, text message, and through new electronic display signs at high-traffic locations in the City.

Why not combine the two, and auction off individual parking spaces?

Imagine finding out that some spud has bid $20 for an hour’s use of the space you just pulled into, and you’ll have to better that to avoid a citation.

Isn’t technology wonderful?

Muddled thinker of the week

If, that is, the word thought can be stretched to cover whatever mental process produced the following:

“We feel it would be more appropriate maybe to build a center dedicated to expunging the Koranic texts of the violent ideology that inspired jihad, or perhaps a center to the victims of hundreds of millions of years of jihadi wars, land enslavements, cultural annihilations and mass slaughter,” Geller said.
[from CNN]

A few thoughts:

If U.S. conservatives want to expunge objectionable ideology from religious texts, perhaps they should start with the Bible, which over the millennia has inspired at least as much violence & mayhem as the Koran. (Or they might start with conservatism itself, which over the last decade or two was taken over by its lunatic fringe.)

Treating jihad as synonymous with terrorism shows ignorance of Islam. Jihad is, by definition, a good thing: if what you’re going is not good, it is necessarily not jihad. The opposite of jihad is hirabah, and that’s what the terrorists are engaged in.

And finally: “hundreds of millions of years”?


Today’s vocabulary word is rescission:

In contract law, rescission (also called overturning) has been defined as the unmaking of a contract between parties. Rescission is the unwinding of a transaction. This is done to bring the parties, as far as possible, back to the position in which they were before they entered into a contract (the status quo ante).

More specifically, rescission is when an insurance company cancels a policy, generally on the grounds of fraud or misrepresentation.

There’s an interesting dustup in progress between the federal government – specifically, Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius – and insurance company WellPoint, Inc.

Secretary Sebelius says:

I was surprised and disappointed to read media accounts indicating that WellPoint routinely rescinds health insurance coverage from women recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Today’s report from Reuters indicating that your company “has specifically targeted women with breast cancer for aggressive investigation with the intent to cancel their policies” is disturbing, and this practice is deplorable.

WellPoint says:

Today’s Reuters story alleging that WellPoint employs a targeted rescission policy for members with breast cancer is inaccurate and grossly misleading. The story incorrectly reports that WellPoint singles out women with breast cancer for aggressive investigation with the intent of canceling their insurance. This is simply wrong. In fact, WellPoint works to prevent breast cancer, to detect it early, and to get our members into treatment. We also work to ensure that all of our members are getting best practice care for breast cancer.

To which I can only say: pot, kettle, black.

Of course WellPoint doesn’t single out women with breast cancer – any policyholder who starts filing big claims will be targeted for rescission. That’s how the insurance industry works. Always has, always will.

It’s mildly amusing, watching the battle of sound bites & talking points. I get the feeling neither side is paying much attention to the other.