Monday, July 31, 2006

On the Road Again . . .

I am going to be gone for a few days helping someone move. . . . to Arkansas. No room for the laptop on the trip, but I'll try and take a few pics to travelblog with.

Friday, July 28, 2006

But I was Only an Understudy . . . .

Thanks to Dweeze for spotting this story, and the blogs linking thereto:

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. -- A decorated sergeant and Arabic language specialist was dismissed from the U.S. Army under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, though he says he never told his superiors he was gay and his accuser was never identified.
. . .

On Dec. 2, investigators formally interviewed Copas and asked if he understood the military's policy on homosexuals, if he had any close acquaintances who were gay, and if he was involved in community theater. He answered affirmatively.
. . .

I'm speechless, other than a very large WTF?!

Theater Blogging

City Circle's "The Music Man" opens tonight:
Stokes promises a fresh look at the story of con salesman Harold Hill in the mythical town of River City, Iowa.

"Expect a high energy, nonstop blockbuster that will blow the cobwebs off of our memories of this great show," he said.

Hill goes from town to town taking pre-paid orders for musical instruments that he promises to teach youth how to play.

He doesn't think of anyone but himself, until he wanders into River City and falls for the single librarian.

With a cast of more than 40, it is a musical not to miss, said Jeff Shields, office manager of City Circle.

"This will definitely be a fun show that everyone will enjoy seeing," he said.

A genuine Iowa classic
The Music Man

by Meredith Wilson
Directed by Michael Stokes
July 28, 29, 30 and Aug 4, 5, 6
Fri/Sat at 8 pm, Sun at 2:30
Englert Civic Theatre
Downtown Iowa City

Tickets on sale now
at the Englert Box Office:
office hours are Mon - Fri, 1 - 6 pm

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Couple of Odds and Ends from the News

The unexplored cycling dangers of "Girls Gone Wild". Just in time for RAGBRAI.

Zombies have invaded the ped mall. Though anyone walking through that area at about 2:00 am on a weekend would question whether this is a) news, or b) an infrequent occurrence.

Relationships apparently work to prevent heart attacks . . . and sleep. But whatever you do, don't date this guy.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Tuesday Quiz

You Are Coke

A true original and classic, you represent the best of everything you can offer.
Just the right amount of sweet, just the right amount of energy... you're the life of the party.

Your best soda match: Mountain Dew

Stay away from:Dr Pepper

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Fringe Blogging II

So after last night's debacle, we got a late start and swung by the guy's hotel around noon. Trivia: we all needed a cheap, good hotel and so we did the priceline thing, punching in $60 per night for a three-star room, and had to take what they gave us. Dawn and I got a nice room at the Marriott with very comfy beds, though internet access is $10/day. The guys . . . well they have free internet access. And their bed looks quite comfy. That's right, bed. For three of them, last night, two the other nights. Dawn and I just giggled. And maybe made a "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" reference or two.

Then we went back to the Royal Mile for breakfast lunch, where we met up with Kevin and Helen:

I had to try the Holy Grail Ale:

And take a photo of the scene of last nights Courtyard adventures:

We then went to a bookstore, very dangerous. I escaped with only two new novels, which is actually quite good for me. Then we hit the space around 4:00 to do a run-through before the 6:00 show. The stage:

The "Green Room" was rather, erm, rough . . . and it had a wall of windows facing the street, without any curtains, something I was reminded of when I stripped down to change costumes and flashed a pedestrian . . .

Another view of the stage, all set up to run Subjugation:

The side view, showing our three-foot "backstage":

After the show, we got some pizza then hurried over to the Pappajohn building to watch Rachel Howell's "Horatio's Purgatory," an excellent show starring Jaret Morland and Kehry Lane. It was completely awesome - go see it as well, if you have the chance (Saturday at 2:00 and 9:30, Sunday at 2:00). Afterward, we joined up with them to present an all-Iowa City front at the reception at Hotel Fort Des Moines. The Fringe people had hired a guerrilla theater group to do a performance. Couldn't get the best pics due to lighting, but for what it's worth, here's one:

They were doing some amazing stuff, although the majority of the crowd ignored them. After the performance, we got free sample DVD's - "Wild Animus: An Art Brut Storytelling Experiment."

After midnight, the guys suggested a poker game, but I declined. We're hitting the Farmer's Market this morning to pass out flyers, then we're supposed to catch a show at two, perform at 3:30, another show at 5:00 (though I'm bowing out on that one and possibly the 2:00, to work on some other stuff from back home), and a performance at 8:00. I'm not sure where we're drinking tonight yet. Oh, and I've gotta call Stefanie (Bob) to see if she can join us for lunch. As far as the blogger bash goes, I won't be able to attend after all, since we're now on for two shows today. Dammit. But Stefanie has my cell #, and although I know she's unavailable afterwards tonight I'd sure like to hook up with any other stray bloggers that are up for a beer or two after the bash and our show (?).

Only two days left!

MA for Mature Audiences
by Gregory Aldrich, Matthew Brewbaker, and Dawn Wittke-King
directed by Matthew Brewbaker and Dawn Wittke-King
July 20, 9:00 pm; July 21, 6:30 pm; July 22, 3:30 and 8:00 pm; July 23, 3:30 pm

“Subjugation” features three interwoven monologues addressing redemption, power, and revenge. Adult language and situations.

“The Ladybugs” is a fast paced political satire full of adult language. 3 performers.

“The Gifted” is a piece about growing up featuring gamesmanship, random references from Alice Miller's "Drama of The Gifted Child" and male nudity.

1 hr 30 min - 13th & Walnut (commercial building on SW corner; west side) Des Moines

Friday, July 21, 2006

Fringe Blogging

So Greenman and I set out for Des Moines yesterday afternoon, planning to meet the rest of the Dreamwell gang when we got there. First interesting oddity: Seeing a guy riding a motorcycle, with cow horns attached to his helmet.

Ooookay. So we get into town and find out that the guy's hotel is about a block and a half from mine and Dawn's, and that we're all about eight blocks from the venue. We lug our stuff over and meet the very nice folks who are sharing our space for the duration. It's at 1300 Walnut, basically it's a commercial building, but the entire bottom floor appears to be basically unfinished: concrete floors, etc. They've taken one room and swept it out and built a wooden raised stage, then hung black curtains behind it to give us a rough "backstage" area. We have to enter and exit through the audience to get to it, and it's a little small, but otherwise it's fully functional. There are some rudimentary lights (no effects, just on and off. But, hey, it's better than having someone in the back flicking a light switch. . . ). There's also some sort of a sound system, that appears to be lacking any visible means of volume control. All in all, very fringey.

Then we head over to Court Avenue Brewing for some dinner before the show. I highly enjoyed the potstickers. Walking back to the hotels, we saw a random pudgy tatooed guy in a black thong swimming in the fountain:

Yep, this is going to be an interesting weekend.

So we get to back to the venue at 8:00 and start setting the stage and running lines. I decide to work the last two scenes of Subjugation outside. Of course, that entailed smoking a cigarette, while reciting lines such as "They think I'm an angry little girl inside. And dissociative. . . . I just started screwing Shrink Doolittle. Next comes his mind." I also like to pace while running lines. I'm fairly sure I scared a few pedestrians.

We had a really decent audience for a Thursday, about a quarter to half full. We did have one glitch when a scene skipped about and had to be brought back around. But it got back on track, and it was all good. Being original pieces, the audience never knew. I think the guys are reviewing that one a couple of times today - it's so odd how the scenes that never gave you trouble in rehearsal can sometimes bite you in the ass on stage. The joys of live theater.

All in all, however, we got really good feedback. The show is viceral, thought-provoking, and they really enjoyed it. And, most excitingly, they got it. And not just the openly disturbing stuff, or the political humor, but even the obsure Salinger references and the symbolic nudity.

After the performance, we hit the Royal Mile for a few beers. There, we saw a crazy guy hanging outside the courtyard. I didn't get a picture, because I didn't want to antagonize him. Fortunately, the police caught wind of it and it didn't turn into a bad situation.

This morning is cold and wet, dammit, and I've spent way too long on the computer. More later. Come and see the show!

MA for Mature Audiences
by Gregory Aldrich, Matthew Brewbaker, and Dawn Wittke-King
directed by Matthew Brewbaker and Dawn Wittke-King
July 20, 9:00 pm; July 21, 6:30 pm; July 22, 3:30 and 8:00 pm; July 23, 3:30 pm
“Subjugation” features three interwoven monologues addressing redemption, power, and revenge. Adult language and situations. “The Gifted” is a piece about growing up featuring gamesmanship, random references from Alice Miller's "Drama of The Gifted Child" and male nudity. “The Ladybugs” is a fast paced political satire full of adult language. 3 performers. 1 hr 30 min
13th & Walnut (commercial building on SW corner; west side) Des Moines

UPDATE: It's noon, and Greenman's already drinking. I'm such a slacker, must get on the road. But I just discovered we got a small blurb in Juice as one of the shows to see:
For true edgy fringe, Dreamwell Theatre's MA for Mature Audiences brings their trio of short plays . . .

Yay! Seriously, guys, it's worth it.

Fresh Law

The Iowa Supreme Court has two new decisions out this morning.

Facts: Gaspar Fidel Gonzalez, Jr. worked in the psychiatric unit of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics as a psychiatric nursing assistant, “[w]ith supervision from a Registered Nurse, performs specific nursing tasks to assist members of the nursing team in providing care and monitoring of psychiatric patients.” During the course and scope of his duties, an allegation arose that he touched the genitals of a female patient. On the basis of these allegations, the State charged him with violations of Iowa Code sections 709.15(1)(a), (b), (f)(3) and 709.15(4), which deal with sexual abuse by a counselor or therapist.

Issue: Whether Gonzalez' conduct was outside the scope of Iowa Code section 709.15 and/or the statute is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad as applied, based on the premise that he did not directly provide treatment, assessment, or counseling to patients.

Analysis and Conclusion: A “counselor or therapist” is defined by the Code as
a physician, psychologist, nurse, professional counselor, social worker, marriage or family therapist, alcohol or drug counselor, member of the clergy, or any other person, whether or not licensed or registered by the state, who provides or purports to provide mental health services.
. . . .
“‘Mental health service’ means the treatment, assessment, or counseling of another person for a cognitive, behavioral, emotional, mental, or social dysfunction, including an intrapersonal or interpersonal dysfunction.”
The Court noted that while they strictly construe criminal statutes with doubts resolved in the accused’s favor, the interpretation of a statute requires reading statute in its entirety, not just isolated words or phrases, for a reasonable interpretation that best achieves the statute’s purpose and avoids absurd results. In examining the statute, the Court noted it was clear that the State intended any person who provides mental health services, including treatment, assessment, or counseling, to fall within its scope. The Court then noted the dictionary definitions of these words:
The dictionary defines “treatment” as “the action or manner of treating a patient medically or surgically”; “treat” means “to care for (as a patient or part of the body) medically or surgically,” “deal with by medical or surgical means,” and “give a medical treatment to.” Webster’s Third New Int’l Dictionary 2434-35 (2002). The term “assessment” means “an appraisal or evaluation (as of merit).” Id. at 131. The term “counseling” means
a practice or professional service designed to guide an individual to a better understanding of his problems and potentialities by utilizing modern psychological principles and methods esp. in collecting case history data, using various techniques of the personal interview, and testing interests and aptitudes.
The Court found that Gonzalez' duties did in fact fit the intended parameters:
Gonzalez’s role as a psychiatric nursing assistant is embraced by the legislature’s use of these terms. Gonzalez provided “treatment” to the patients because he performed nursing tasks to assist in providing care of psychiatric patients, such as establishing therapeutic relationships, providing for a therapeutic environment, and participating in planning patient care. He provided “assessment” of the patients because he performed nursing tasks to assist in monitoring psychiatric patients, such as documenting patient behavior and identifying material to report to the registered nurse. The treatment and assessment took place in the course of Gonzalez’s working relationship with the female patient while she was in the psychiatric unit. Gonzalez’s provision of such mental health services qualifies him as a “counselor or therapist” for purposes of Iowa Code section 709.15. Thus, the facts the State has alleged in the trial information and attached minutes charge Gonzalez with the crime of sexual exploitation by a counselor or therapist as a matter of law.
An important procedural side note: The Court reminded the district court of the rules regarding Motions to Dismiss the Trial Information. Essentially, Trial Informations are to be considered rough outlines explaining the gist of the charges against the accused. The motion to dismiss is used to allege that the TI is in and of itself improper - that the Information as written does not conform to the definition of a crime as outlined under Iowa law. If the TI conforms on its face, the factual issues as to whether or not the incidents occurred as alleged are to be addressed at trial. In this case, the district court went beyond these bounds and held an evidentiary hearing as to whether or not Gonzalez' duties were that of a counselor or therapist, something which did not escape the Supreme Court's notice:
[I]t is improper for the district court to hold an evidentiary hearing on a motion to dismiss based on a claim that the facts alleged in the trial information and attached minutes do not constitute the offense charged in the trial information. In this circumstance, the only relevant inquiry by the court is whether the facts the State has alleged in the trial information and attached minutes charge a crime as a matter of law. To conduct an evidentiary hearing only wastes valuable judicial resources that the court can use for other matters requiring such a hearing.
Finally, the Court noted that the statute itself was not unconstitutionally vague as applied:
Any person who renders “treatment, assessment, or counseling of another person for a cognitive, behavioral, emotional, mental, or social dysfunction, including an intrapersonal or interpersonal dysfunction” provides “ ‘[m]ental health service.’ ” Id. § 709.15(1)(d). There is no doubt the language of section 709.15 applies to the services Gonzalez is alleged to have provided to the female patient under the facts in the trial information and attached minutes. Therefore, we conclude Gonzalez’s vagueness claim is without merit.

Facts: The facts are rather detailed, and are also fairly important to understanding the analysis, so I'll copy/paste rather than paraphrase.
In June of 1999, Delbert Parish (the plaintiff’s brother) and Shelley Tatro purchased a Jumpking fourteen-foot trampoline for use in their backyard. They set up the trampoline, and Delbert tried it out by attempting a somersault. He nearly fell off the trampoline, prompting Delbert and Shelley to purchase a “fun ring”—a netlike enclosure with one entry point onto the trampoline. While the plaintiff was visiting his brother on September 11, 1999, he attempted to do a back somersault on the trampoline, but he landed on his head and was rendered a quadriplegic. In August 2001 Parish filed suit, on his own behalf and on behalf of his minor son, against Jumpking, as designer and manufacturer of the trampoline and its enclosure.
. . . .
The trampoline in this case, and its surrounding fun ring, together provide numerous warnings. Three warnings are placed permanently on the pad of the trampoline and advise the user:
Do not land on head or neck.
Paralysis or death can result, even if you land in the middle of the trampoline mat (bed).
To reduce the chance of landing on your head or neck, do not do somersaults (flips).
Only one person at a time on trampoline.
Multiple jumpers increase the chances of loss of control, collision, and falling off.
This can result in broken head, neck, back, or leg.
This trampoline is not recommended for children under 6 years of age.

These warnings also include nationally recognized warning symbols cautioning against those activities. During manufacture, Jumpking also places one warning on each of the eight legs of the trampoline, and the design is such that the only way to assemble the trampoline is to have these warnings facing out so they are visible to the user. Jumpking further manufactures two printed (nonpictorial) warnings that are sewn onto the trampoline bed itself. It also provides a warning placard for the owner to affix to the trampoline that contains both the pictorial warning and the language regarding safe use of the trampoline, and it provides an owner’s manual that contains the warnings as found on the trampoline as well as additional warnings regarding supervision and education. It is undisputed that these warnings exceed the warnings required by the American Society for Testing and Material (ASTM).
Warnings are also provided with the fun ring. Jumpking provides eight warning stickers to be placed on the legs of the fun ring during assembly, and Shelley Tatro recalls installing them as directed. Jumpking provided extra warnings on the fun ring because it was aware that the fun ring may partially cover warnings on the legs of the trampoline. It also provides a warning placard with the fun ring to be placed at the door of the fun ring containing the pictorial warnings and additional language required by the ASTM. The fun ring comes with a separate owner’s manual that provides additional warnings.

Issues and Procedural History: The lower court had granted summary judgment to the manufacturer, basically saying that there was no genuine conflicts about the facts that were material to the claim, and that these facts showed that the plaintiff didn't meet the burden of proof necessary to win his case as a matter of law. Therefore, in assessing the claim on appeal, the Supreme Court had to give every benefit of any doubt to the plaintiff. The plaintiff argued in his appeal of the summary judgment that there were genuine issues of material fact on the claim that the trampoline was defectively designed, and also on the adequacy of Jumpking’s warnings, and that the “open and obvious” defense was not applicable to a design-defect case, and in any event, there was an issue of material fact as to its application to his case.
Analysis and Conclusion: Regarding the design defect, the Court noted that under a design-defect claim, a plaintiff is essentially arguing that, even though the product meets the manufacturer’s design specifications, the specifications themselves create unreasonable risks. This normally requires a plaintiff to prove that an alternative design for the product would have been safer. In this case, however, the plaintiff didn't offer a better design, instead arguing that trampolines are inherently dangerous - that no design is truly safe:
He contends there is no safe way to use a trampoline in a backyard, and it must be used only by properly trained and qualified participants under supervision.
The Court disagreed:
It is undisputed that trampolines are common and widely distributed products. In fact, the evidence showed approximately fourteen million people use them. Even data produced by the plaintiff in his resistance to summary judgment showed that in 2002 only 2.1% of trampolines were associated with injuries, and only one-half of one percent of jumpers were injured. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, based on 1997 and 1998 injury data, concluded trampolines ranked twelfth among recreational use products in terms of injuries. They rated below such common activities as basketball, bicycle riding, football, soccer, and skating.

The benefits of trampolining include use in cardiovascular workouts and other medical treatments, including “bouncing” therapy for children with cystic fibrosis. Trampolining obviously provides valuable exercise and entertainment.

We conclude that the plaintiff has failed to generate a genuine issue of fact sufficient to except this product from the alternative-design requirement of section 2(b), and the plaintiff’s design-defect claim under that section must therefore be rejected.
Regarding the warnings, the Court found that the evidence was such that even giving the plaintiff every benefit of the doubt, a reasonable fact finder could not conclude that the defendant’s warnings were inadequate. It did not reach the issue of whether or not the dangers of a trampoline should have been open and obvious to the plaintiff: because the warnings were so adequate that no reasonable juror could have found otherwise, and because the product and design didn't qualify as inherently dangerous, the Court found that there was no way that the plaintiff could have proven his case to a jury.

In other words, the trampoline, while not inherently dangerous, still entailed some risks. They may have been obvious risks, but even if they were not "open and obvious" so that any reasonable person should've seen them, the plaintiff was clearly warned about them and should have known about them regardless. Thus, the trampoline manufacturers did not breach any duty to warn him of the risks of using their product and his injury was therefore his own fault, not theirs.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Theater Blogging

MA for Mature Audiences
by Gregory Aldrich, Matthew Brewbaker, and Dawn Wittke-King
directed by Matthew Brewbaker and Dawn Wittke-King
July 20, 9:00 pm; July 21, 6:30 pm; July 22, 3:30 and 8:00 pm; July 23, 3:30 pm
“Subjugation” features three interwoven monologues addressing redemption, power, and revenge. Adult language and situations. “The Gifted” is a piece about growing up featuring gamesmanship, random references from Alice Miller's "Drama of The Gifted Child" and male nudity. “The Ladybugs” is a fast paced political satire full of adult language. 3 performers. 1 hr 30 min
13th & Walnut (commercial building on SW corner; west side) Des Moines


Dreamwell Theater is also presenting a Sondheim Revue, featuring the talents of Janet Bentley, Angie Toomsen, and Chris Okiishi:

WHERE: Verde Restaurant (formerly the Green Room), 509
S. Gilbert St.

WHEN : Sunday, 23 July (a week from tomorrow). Dinner
at 7pm, show at 8pm

cover charge (show only) is $15, full dinner (inc. tax
and gratuity) is $40.


Monday, July 17, 2006

Pick One

From the Daily Iowan: Reserve FEMA aid for those truly in need. Relevant quotes:
The tornadoes inflicted some $4 million in property damage on Iowa City, and a large majority of that was covered by insurance (only uninsured damage is counted toward aid). For instance, damages to historic buildings topped $1.3 million, but a $250,000 grant from the state was said to be more than sufficient to cover any buildings that weren't insured. In addition to the SBA loans, $50,000 was made available through the Iowa City Chamber of Commerce to assist local businesses affected by the storm. Unfortunately, there will be some people who did not have insurance and will not receive aid, and the costs to the city for clean up and related expenses (approximately $842,000, or 1.8 percent of the 2007 budget) will likely not be recouped.
. . . .
Both Leach and Nussle denounce the "extravagant wastefulness" of some Katrina victims receiving FEMA aid, asking, in Nussle's case, why Katrina victims were allowed to squander $1.4 billion on vacations, sex changes, etc., while the sober, industrious Iowan is left with nothing. The differences between the two disasters are assumed to be differences in degree, when they are really differences in kind. Katrina was so profoundly devastating that it caused a complete breakdown in physical and civic infrastructure, resulting in chaos that made large-scale scams and waste possible - for instance, the $232,000 for housing victims in a single Texas hotel who weren't really there, more than $500,000 spent on unused mobile-home shelters, and $416,000 spent per evacuee to convert an Alabama Army base into a shelter. It was large-scale fraud such as this and mismanagement by FEMA, not the $2,000 debit cards used to purchase Dom Perignon from Hooter's, that made up the bulk of what Nussle is apparently referring to.

There are countless people still trying to piece their lives back together after disasters far more destructive than those experienced in Iowa City; federal funds should be used to help those far worse off than most in our community. Iowa City has clearly made all but a full recovery - lawmakers' attention should be focused on other issues.

The point is a solid one: what exactly is the role of FEMA? Are we looking at instituting a property version of universal care, phasing out the need for landowners to have private insurance and cities to maintain disaster funds to plan for just such an occasion? Or is it to be reserved for only the truly devastating natural disasters, the kind that surpass the resources of the area? And to what degree should aid be available - is it designed as an emergency patch to get an area up and running again in the short term, or do we have the right to expect the federal government to pick up the entire expense of getting everything repaired or replaced?

Although Iowa City still bears visible scars from the tornado's devastation, I have to agree that it is not the type of major disaster that is totally impossible to prepare against, and while it is regrettable that some of the repair funds will not be covered, apparently due to property owner's neglect in obtaining proper insurance, we do not have the type of systemic chaos inflicted by a Katrina-style hurricane. As far as the abuse of FEMA funds in the wake of Katrina, it would seem more logical to attempt to patch the system to preclude such scams in the future, rather than having each state use them as a lever to pry more federal money for local concerns.

The upshot, as I see it: if you want universal insurance, either in healthcare or property, you have to be prepared to make it a clear goal and fund it accordingly. That will mean shifting the money we all spend in insurance premiums over to a federal tax designed to do the same thing on a national level. It will also mean a fairly large bureaucracy needed to oversee these funds, and all the problems that entails. Or if you want a fund designed to cover only extreme circumstances, you have to expect that some disaster-related damage simply will not qualify for coverage, and there may not be enough money available to put everything back the way it was. You can't expect to have a federal system which is funded as "emergency only" to have sufficient resources to act as a universal system.

Monday Quiz

Your Driving Is is: 63% Male, 37% Female

According to studies, you generally drive like a typical male.
You're confident in your driving skills, and hardly any situation gets the better of you.
And while you may have a few tickets under your belt, you're still a very good driver.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Nice Try?

More from the Register:
A videotaped interview between a 10-year-old Cedar Rapids girl allegedly molested by James Bentley and a child protection worker is not a public record, a judge ruled.

In his ordered filed last week, District Judge Denver Dillard rejected a request from a Cedar Rapids television station for a copy of the tape with Jetseta Gage.

KCRG-TV requested a copy of the tape of the child’s November 2004 interview at the St. Luke’s Child Protection Center in Cedar Rapids.
“The videotape is not a public record and not subject to a right of examination,” Dillard ruled. . . .

In the request for the tape, KCRG attorney Kevin Caster did not describe how station executives intended to use the tape or whether any or all of it would ever be broadcast.

Nothing ventured, I suppose, but anyone could tell you child abuse interviews are confidential and not a matter of public record. A corrollary question: so are you intentionally trying to poison the jury pool and ensure years of appeals?


Unintentionally Startling Headline of the Day

Stalker to lead Ankeny schools as interim chief

Chickens and Eggs

From today's Des Moines Register:
Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" isn't "news" as most Americans know it. The Comedy Central show is a parody of the news. It pokes fun at journalists and politicians. It's entertainment.

But it's also influential.

Watching the show leads to an increase in cynicism about politics, according to research by Jody Baumgartner and Jonathan S. Morris, political scientists at East Carolina University. They became interested in "The Daily Show Effect" after students were referencing the show during political-science classes. So they studied the effects of the show on college students and found watching it led to distrust of both the political system and news media. It can make viewers more cynical, according to Morris.

But that isn't necessarily a bad thing. "It's possible this could make young people more skeptical and less likely to be bamboozled," he said. . . .

How and where people get information about the world matters. Morris said other research he's conducted found viewers of Fox news tend to underestimate the number of dead in Iraq. It doesn't take a study for the average American to recognize the bias in so-called mainstream media - which may make Stewart, who tells it like it is, with humor, all the more appealing.

The show provides "entertainment that has information," Morris said. "They're getting information. They're learning."

And that can't be a bad thing.

I'm not so sure I buy the premise: the article appears to ignore the principle that correlation does not equal causality. So viewers of the Daily Show are intrinsically more distrustful of the government and the media. Does that mean that the show teaches cynicism, or is it because cynics happen to love Jon Stewart?

As I recall from communications studies classes a gagillion years ago, people have a general world view that is drawn from many sources - school, family, media, etc. But once the world view is formed, we have a tendency to retain information that conforms to our preconceptions, and forget or outright reject that information which is in direct conflict with our viewpoint. We make it fit, or forget it. When allowed a choice, then, I suspect we also tend to seek out news sources which agree with our world view, as those sources would hold more "useful" information. I'm no more surprised by the idea that many Daily Show viewers distrust the Bush administration than I am to hear that Fox News viewers generally underestimate the war in Iraq. It's intrinsic to the national divide in perspective, and natural they'd mistrust the 'other side' and seek out their own to receive news.

I agree cynicism is not a bad thing. A good thing would be to learn to watch both Fox and Stewart - and a bunch of other news sources with viewpoints all across the board - with cynicism and logic, finding truth wherever it lies.

Just a thought.

Monday, July 10, 2006


When you publish a large amount of posts, apparently Blogger flags your blog as spam and requires word verification for each and every post. Holy crap, that's annoying. I understand the need for it, but still. . . there are over 300 posts on the old blog, and I'm told I can't import them, I must copy/paste by hand. It's a project I'm willing to work on in bits and pieces, taking one month's worth at a time, but if you can't open each blog in a separate window and simply click through to copy paste, it takes significantly longer.


So I've written the blogger people, and we'll see what they can do.

Meanwhile, I'm stuck typing things like "mtagl" by hand into each and every post. Lovely.

Maintenance Alert

I'm working on moving old posts from the old blog over here, so anyone with way too much time on their hands could actually read them. I recognize it's rather egotistical to presume anyone would want to read what I had to say on a topic two years ago, but hey. . .

And it will eventually allow me to pare down my Blogger dashboard.

Upshot: if you see things that look rather familiar appear with a date like "September 19, 2006" and then disappear, it means I forgot to change the year code. If you read through an aggragator, you might as well stop paying attention for the next several hours.

Gender Relations Mini-Rant

I found this article in the NY Times seriously annoying: What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage (registration required, try "randommentality" for the username and "password" for password). Relevant excerpts:
For a book I was writing about a school for exotic animal trainers, I started commuting from Maine to California, where I spent my days watching students do the seemingly impossible: teaching hyenas to pirouette on command, cougars to offer their paws for a nail clipping, and baboons to skateboard.

I listened, rapt, as professional trainers explained how they taught dolphins to flip and elephants to paint. Eventually it hit me that the same techniques might work on that stubborn but lovable species, the American husband.

The central lesson I learned from exotic animal trainers is that I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don't. After all, you don't get a sea lion to balance a ball on the end of its nose by nagging. The same goes for the American husband.

Back in Maine, I began thanking Scott if he threw one dirty shirt into the hamper. If he threw in two, I'd kiss him. Meanwhile, I would step over any soiled clothes on the floor without one sharp word, though I did sometimes kick them under the bed. But as he basked in my appreciation, the piles became smaller.

I was using what trainers call "approximations," rewarding the small steps toward learning a whole new behavior. You can't expect a baboon to learn to flip on command in one session, just as you can't expect an American husband to begin regularly picking up his dirty socks by praising him once for picking up a single sock. With the baboon you first reward a hop, then a bigger hop, then an even bigger hop. With Scott the husband, I began to praise every small act every time: if he drove just a mile an hour slower, tossed one pair of shorts into the hamper, or was on time for anything.

You're equating your husband with a baboon? Wow. May I point out that we use training techniques like successive approximation with animals because we lack the trans-species language skills to simply say "Could you jump through this hoop and sit, please?" In general, I'd say the "American Husband" as a species possesses sufficient verbal skills to understand that phrase, and the phrase "Could you pick up your dirty socks, please?" Instead, he's exercising his right to disagree with your opinion as to whether or not the socks need to be picked up immediately - an entirely different issue. Also implicit in the idea of training an animal is a social hierarchy, with the trainer exhibiting clear dominance over the animal to be trained. Nice concept for a marriage.

I understand that the stereotype of the clueless husband and strong wife is well-established in our current social construct, but I can't help but wonder why either gender puts up with it. Men, obviously, should feel insulted, but don't women have a vested interest in stopping gender-based stereotypes and discrimination as well, regardless of which gender is being disparaged? I mean, we trade "can you believe it" emails referencing hiring manuals of the '40's and '50's talking about how to treat female employees:
"6. Give the female employee a definite day-long schedule of duties so that they'll keep busy without bothering the management for instructions every few minutes. Numerous properties say that women make excellent workers when they have their jobs cut out for them, but that they lack initiative in finding work themselves.
We laugh and thank god that women's liberation has enlightened society to the point we no longer have to put up with that kind of crap. Yet we have no qualms about publishing articles in a similar vein regarding those cute little American Husbands who need to be conditioned into performing acts of basic hygeine because their male brains are incapable of absorbing the concept through a rational conversation? Hello?

How's this for a concept: Let's not tolerate gender stereotypes put forth as serious efforts to understand/control the opposite sex. On either side. Instead, find a way to hold rational, reasonable conversations.

I'm not saying censor the article, I don't believe in abridging free speech at all. I'm saying that when an article like that appears it would be nice if it were on the "most emailed" list because people were debating and taking issue with it, not because it's considered a helpful marital tip. (Side note: I also generally don't believe in banning politically incorrect jokes. But if we dish out the "stupid husband" jokes, we'd better be ready to accept the "stupid wife" jokes.)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Omigod omigod omigod . . . Do NOT consume liquids while playing this video or you WILL snort it out your nose. Fair warning.

(h/t Leo).

A Not-So-Good Idea in Principle

John Nesbitt has a guest opinion entitled "The Dangers of Safety Tips" that seems a tad overreaching to me. The stated premise: fireworks are inherently dangerous, and a national ban should be enacted. That in and of itself might be defensible, but the article goes well beyond that:
When people read the safety tips, they assume that street fireworks can be used safely. For example, one tip admonishes the consumer to read the "instructions" carefully. Careful reading will not mitigate faulty foreign fireworks getting past U.S. Customs at our ports and into our retail stores. Faulty fireworks cause injuries.

Another tip says store fireworks in a dry, cool place. This presumes that there are no curious, energetic, imitative children who will find their way to dry, cool places and proceed to light fireworks -- just like the adults do. The result: fireworks injuries, fires and deaths.

The best fireworks news for the American consumer is last year's formation of the "Alliance to Stop Consumer Fireworks" by 21 of the nation's foremost professional organizations. The alliance includes the national academies, associations and societies representing arson investigators, burn specialists, emergency physicians, emergency nurses, family physicians, fire chiefs, firefighters, fire marshals, fire protection, hand surgereons, metropolitan fire chiefs, ophthalmology, pediatrics, plastic surgeons, prevent blindness, public health physicians and safety officers.

According to the alliance, the simple facts are:

1. Do not play with, or handle, or use in any way combustible material, lighters and matches, toxic substances, etc. -- including all fireworks and sparklers.

2. Do not buy, manufacture, store, transport or sell fireworks.

3. Attend only authorized, legal, public displays conducted by trained, certified, professional personnel -- and exercise caution even at public displays.

Let's get this straight: because safety tips can't completely obviate all dangers of a product, they are useless, rendering the product inherently dangerous and leaving no option but a total ban? Wouldn't that constitute a call for removal from the market for all knives, medications, ladders, and five-gallon buckets? After all, no amount of warnings can actually physically preclude children from cutting themselves with knives, eating a bunch of chocolately-tasting laxatives, climbing on and falling off a ladder, or upending their little selves into a bucket and drowning. And what's with "Do not . . . use in any way combustible material, lighters and matches, toxic substances, etc. . . . " I guess scented candles are right out.

While the principle of "safety first" is a seductive one - it's difficult to argue that you're against protecting children from potential danger - it is impossible to remove all risk from life. We could, in theory, 'rubberize the world': make all sidewalks of a bouncy material, require helmets and elbow/knee pads for everyday life, remove all sources of standing water, and require daily trips to the pharmacy to dispense our medications instead of keeping them in our homes. But what kind of life would that be? I'll take my steak medium-rare, my fireworks loud and sparkly, and my bicycle rides helmetless with the wind in my hair, thanks. I guess that makes me a rebel. Who'd a thunk it?

IT Hijinks

Hilarious stories from the other side of the fence.

Monday Quiz

You Should Spend Your Summer at the Beach

You're a free spirit who is always thinking of new ways to have fun.
And you don't just love summer... you live for it.
So, you really should blow off your responsibilities and head to the beach!

I believe I'll take that as an order, not a suggestion.

An Idea in Principle

Jay Christensen-Szalanski has proposed a tax subsidy designed to improve Iowa's retention rate for new graduates, helping to fix the "where have all the young people gone" problem. It allows businesses to forgive up to $25,000 in student loans as a perk, theory being that it will give students the financial ability to stay home, and pay for itself as more educated graduates with disposible income remain in the state and businesses choose to expand accordingly. As I see it, there are three basic hurdles to keeping college graduates local: 1) We have few meccas of progressive living (read: places with actual things to do, interesting food, and a nightlife); 2) The places where we do have such things - Iowa City is a good example - it's damn competetive and difficult to find a job; and 3) If you do manage to find a job, starting salaries are tiny compared to nearby metropolitan areas like Chicago and Minneapolis. This proposal could conceivably help alleviate factor #3. If it does attract new businesses, #2 would also improve. Question is, does it work? Anybody know of any studies out there showing success rates for this type of proposal?

New Iowa Blog

Professor Nicholas Johnson of the University of Iowa College of Law has added a blogspot blog called "From DC to Iowa to supplement his website and many excellent editorials for the Press Citizen. Check it out - whether or not you agree with his opinions, you'll find the analysis sound and the issues thoroughly researched, which makes for the best sort of blog.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Miscellaneous Musings

Just a quick post before embarking on my "fun things to do while unemployed" adventure for the day - going furniture shopping with a friend. Okay, perhaps not the most exciting thing to do, and it doesn't qualify by itself as something that would make me jealous if I were working, but try this on for size:

I woke up with the thunderstorm at 4:00 am and instead of being upset because I have to get ready for work in two hours and I can't get back to sleep, I could actually get up and sit out on the deck with a glass of wine and watch the rain for an hour or so. Then I went back to bed. Woke up at 9:00 and felt like working on another pastel drawing instead of eating breakfast (I have no talent, so it's more like "art therapy" than real art, but I'm slowly discovering a few tricks and it's fun, so there, nyah). Then Deone called and wants to take the convertible out in the sunshine and furniture shop, so I'm going to do that for a while. Taken all together, that makes for a much better day than hitting the office, I think.

So here's a few tidbits and extraneous thoughts from the 'net news this morning:

The Des Moines Register has another article about the red-light cameras, explaining the difficulties with civil/criminal law line - the protections I've been discussing have to do with criminal violations of the law (identification of the driver, due process, etc). The tickets being issued are considered civil, which is how they are trying to skirt around these issues. The point discussed in the article is how the civil tickets then treat some red light offenders differently from others: those stopped by officers still get the higher protections in that they're innocent until proven guilty, etc., but once convicted, they're subject to much greater punishment in that they can have their licenses suspended, and so forth. Camera violaters have almost no civil liberty protections - they fundamentally have to prove they weren't guilty instead of the government having to prove they were - but then are not subject to revocations or suspensions and such. My point has really been drawing that civil/criminal distinction at all: should a government be allowed to suspend civil liberties for what is essentially a crime simply by slapping a different label on it? Or will the Courts decide that it is just a criminal penalty in disguise and should carry the protections thereof? An analogy could be drawn with the civil forfeiture of property used in a crime, or civil license suspensions tangential to criminal OWI convictions - caselaw has shown that you must be careful to draw the civil/criminal distinction or the allegedly "civil" cases will be treated as criminal in nature. Just a thought.

The Register also has this article about gun forfeitures in domestic violence. They point out that it's very difficult to prosecute people convicted of domestic violence for having a gun under the federal laws prohibiting them from doing so, if the judge in the DV case never checked the box on the form to tell the defendants that they should turn in their weapons. They use some quotes from DV victims, demonstrating how guns in the hands of abusers can become a tool for terrorizing the victims. They have a point, but I don't think a simple check mark will totally solve the problem. The feds have a lot of work to do, and simply don't have the resources to prosecute unless it's an unusual case. I recall one situation back when I was prosecuting, in which I called the feds in on a guy who'd gotten picked up on another DV. He had a prior DV conviction, and had also just been raided for selling illegal pharmeceuticals, and during the raid they'd found a number of guns in his possession. I thought the feds might be interested in prosecuting him for that as well. Turns out, I had quite a bit of convincing to do - they were not going to come down and get him just for owning a shotgun. Of course, when I told him he had over 90 illegal weapons, they perked right up and came and got him within the week. But that was obviously the exception. Upshot: even though federal law does prohibit owning a firearm if you've been convicted of domestic violence (and a bunch of other circumstances, including being subject to a no-contact order), and even if the judge has checked the little box demonstrating that the individual has notice of the prohibition, that still is no guarantee that victims of domestic violence won't be subject to terrorism by firearm. Proper funding and prosecutorial resources must be in place to actually enforce the law, or it all falls apart.

BTW - my laptop is insane today. For some reason, every couple of seconds while I'm typing, it decides to stop placing the letters at the end of the line, but instead insert them wherever the mouse might be pointing - generally several lines up and in the middle of an entirely seperate thought. I think I've corrected it all, but if you see any weird typos, blame Bill Gates. Or Hewlett Packard. Either way, don't blame me.

Oh, and here's the Monday quiz:

You Are a Chocolate Chip Cookie

Traditional and conservative, most people find you comforting.
You're friendly and easy to get to know. This makes you very popular - without even trying!

And Stef, have you made a final decision on the Blogger Bash yet? Here's how it looks from my end:

Greenman and I will definitely be in Des Moines the 20th through the 23rd. We perform each day:

MA for Mature Audiences
by Gregory Aldrich, Matthew Brewbaker, and Dawn Wittke-King
directed by Matthew Brewbaker and Dawn Wittke-King
July 20, 9:00 pm; July 21, 6:30 pm; July 22, 8:00 pm; July 23, 3:30 pm
Location: Substance Architecture, 13th & Walnut (commercial building on SW corner; west side) Des Moines

We'll also be getting rooms somewhere in the general vicinity. We'll be wanting to go out nearby, and will also have 4 other actors with us. I think Falduto (Corvis) will be coming up one of the nights, but I don't know/remember which. (Matt? What's the plan?) Again, I don't recommend bringing any kids to our performances, unless you are planning to get that whole "birds and the bees" talk out of the way real fast - there's nudity involved. NOT MINE. Just want to be clear on that one. Anyway, let me know the plan so I can post it with nice pics and a big headline.

Okay, so now I have to get a few resumes out there and try to fit in today 's work outbefore heading to Deone's and the convertible.