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General Comments on Urb's Column

 


Time flies -- even in church!

June 12, 2005: I totally agree with your article about one's perception of time that seems to accelerate as one gets older. I've just completed a five year parish assignment and have now been reassigned to a new one. It seems like I just got here and now it's over. If there are any other articles or commentaries that you have on this phenomenon, let me know. Thanks for the great insights.

Fr. Greg Jozefiak

[Thanks for writing, Father Greg. I'm sure you've read James Kenney's piece on logtime, which is much better than mine... If not, take a look! ... ed.]

The years, they are a-shrinkin'

September 2, 2001: In his letter of May 3, 1998, ("Fractured fractions - or, the incredible shrinking years"), Jeffrey Steinberg was probably on the right track in explaining why the years seem to grow shorter as we get older. That our brain compares a time period with our age is an explanation that goes back at least to the 19th century. This comparison results in a logarithmic relationship between the subjective time we perceive and the objective time of the calendar, with interesting consequences, as developed on my web page (http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/jmkenney/).

James M. Kenney USA

[This is why I keep the old columns on-line -- who'da thunk I'd still be hearing about lousy ol' column #11 in 2001? Mr. Kenney correctly observes that Jeff Steinberg is a sharp guy -- comes from having been born the same day as yours truly... ed.]

Fractured fractions -- or, the incredible shrinking years

May 3, 1998: Where the heck does Urbie come from?  You made an interesting comment about why years go buy so quickly ("How'd I get here?," April 28).  Here is my reasoning:  With each passing year, a year is a relatively smaller portion of your total lifetime, so it  goes by shorter.  When I was 4, 1 year was 1/4.5 (average of 1/4 and 1/5) of my life, but when I turned 35 on 4/29/98, the last year was only 1/34.5 of my life.

Jeffrey "Ein" Steinberg
Wormtown, USA


Don't let your mother see you out there with no helmet!

May 21, 2005: Motorcyclist deaths don't cost society anything because most of the dead body's vital organs are usually still in good shape... transplants anyone?

"rafghan"
rahmadullah@yahoo.com


[I'm assuming this letter is in response to Motorcycle Issues 101, 7/21/98. When I wrote that piece, I hadn't considered the value of donated organs, but the writer does make an excellent case against the "social cost" argument usually used to justify helmet laws. I have a feeling he and I are probably not on the same page about the virtues of motorcycling in general, but it's nice to know that some members of the public recognize the speciousness of the theory that motorcyclists are somehow costing society huge amounts of money by not wearing helmets. I would argue we could save society a lot of money, and prevent a lot of highway carnage, by banning cell-phone use while driving. We might also require special licenses and testing for SUV drivers and make killing someone with your motor vehicle a criminal offense. Those measures would save many more traffic deaths than requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets -- leaving aside the question of whether or not it's a good idea to wear one, which I think it is. And in any case, if we want to be consistent, we should also require car drivers to wear helmets -- makes sense in racing; why not on the street? ... ed.]


New Music: Can it sound good?

April 9, 2007: I know it's been six years since you asked, but I see a letter from January of this year, so...  The easiest (and truest) answer to "Why does modern music sound so bad?" is simply this: "But it doesn't." Too easy? Well, name a few pieces that sound bad to you. Forget about all the theories. Forget about audiences dwindling. Forget about hegemony. Forget about Mr. Pleasants' agony. Name some things that you think sound bad. What's bad about them? Now, forget about one more thing, people who agree with you. What about the people who find these pieces beautiful, who are exhilarated and enriched by them, who truly don't go to symphony concerts any more because the music they love is never played there? So what if thousands of concert-goers agree with you? A thousand blind people doesn't prove there's no light. I can only offer you my own experience. Most of what Pleasants' attacks in his book is music I find very pleasant and satisfying. More, I find music that's been written since then even more satisfying and pleasant. And I don't mean people like Erb (whom I quite like, too, by the way). I do mean people like Feldman, though, and Lachenmann and Dumitrescu and Akita (aka Merzbow). If you can never like what I like, so be it. But why keep attacking what I so obviously enjoy, what I so obviously value? Let's say you don't like dark beer; it tastes harsh and bitter. You only like Miller Lite. Fine. Drink up. But please leave off criticizing Stouts and Porters, arguing that no one really likes them, that for every six pack of Guiness sold, there are a thousand 24 packs of Miller Lite sold, as if popularity proved anything.

Michael Karman

[Thanks for writing -- at least you're not in as bad a mood as Barry!  If you like contemporary music, more power to you -- and as I think I pointed out in the column, there's a lot of contemporary music I like, too.  Namely, the stuff that sounds good -- expresses something, has some richness of sound, inventiveness, and -- not least -- some technical skill.  The stuff that my wife, the art major, describes as "cats in heat," however, I can do without.  New music I like?  Edgar Meyer, for one.  Mark O'Connor, for another.  These guys aren't academic noisemaker-snobs, nor are they minimalist repetitive-chord specialists -- but neither do they draw attention to any particular style they're writing in.  Which is the whole point -- back in the day, good music was all about expressing and communicating, not about shocking and being different for its own sake (which, of course, is itself about 80 years out of date, at this point).

In any case, thanks for reading, and for writing!  ...ed.]

January 14, 2007: Dear Music Hater: I think it is now clear that Henry Pleasants wrote this book as a cover for his spy activities. It was a very clever diversion. Pleasants had no ear and no sense of what art is all about: the activities that go on all the time to change people's way of seeing, hearing, feeling when something new comes along. Pleasants had no sense of the new, and he was only interested in easy listening, background music, as you can see from his writings on opera and jazz. He finally realized that his paltry ideas were overwhelmed when in 1988 in an English pub he said to his buddy John Rockwell, "John, we lost," meaning that the "tenacity" and the determination of men and women with superb ears and open minds were writing contemporary music without stop. And contemporary music has gone through all sorts of styles, from using the piano's insides (producing some of the most beautiful effects imaginable), the voice's ability to sound musical phonemes, to electronics. Sure, some of it is bad; that's the way with all art and with history. George W. Bush is the lousiest US president in history and we once harbored slavery, but that doesn't make all our presidents bad and US history completely shameful. It's the same with painting, music, literature and theater.

BLC

The New Music Connoisseur

 

[First of all, I am well aware that Henry Pleasants worked for the CIA – this was explained in the article by Gene Lees that served as my introduction to Pleasants and his controversial views on new music.  Why do his detractors insist that his day gig as a spy negates the merits of his music criticism?  Probably because they can’t stand the fact that – as concertgoers demonstrate every day, voting with their ticket dollars – he was right.  The quotation you give, that “we lost,” is not news, either – Lees mentions it in his article as well.  What he meant was not that new music had gotten good all of a sudden – quite the contrary; that contemporary composers, by and large, had stuck to their guns, empty seats be damned.

 

As for contemporary composers having produced “some of the most beautiful effects imaginable,” I’ll give you that.  But you’re proving my point.  Most new music is just that – effects.  A small percentage of good modern composers have grown up, gone past mere effects and shock value, and have written music that sounds good and communicates a lot. Leslie Bassett, who I note is one of your contributors, is a good example.  There are certainly many good composers alive today – nowhere do I say otherwise (Pleasants does, but my column does not). Others, like the recently departed Daniel Pinkham, leave an ample legacy demonstrating that good music has not entirely gone out of fashion.  They also demonstrate that modern music does not have to sound bad.

 

I’ll stick with Leonard Bernstein’s response to Pleasants’s book.  I don’t have the exact quote offhand, but he said something to the effect that “Pleasants says what the rest of us are thinking.” … ed.]

September 16, 2005: Even a cursory appraisal of pop culture supports the assertion that prevailing tastes change over time; our own generation no longer listens with as much aplomb to the music of Palestrina, for example. How does this change come about if not through the gradual acceptance of elements initially at such variance to popular taste? Pleasants's argument seems implicitly to favor the notion of Platonic Form to which the principles of classical harmony adhere more closely than modern practice. And yet, if there exists such a celestial beast as Music, wouldn't the constant shifting preclude popular taste from being its representative, or at the very least point up to a much broader paradigm?

I am a dedicated champion of serial music, and in the end I find no rational argument for personal preference. In discussing matters of this kind we must at last come to that shadowy impasse where reason breaks down...there being fewer things more spurious or tiresome than blind faith in the ability of logic to vaunt or decry whatever it finds there.

Michael (no last name given)

[I think I see what you're saying, with regards to "gradual acceptance of elements initially at such variance to popular taste." But Pleasants goes to great lengths to debunk the myth that great music has always been unpopular in its own time as well as Slonimsky's specious 40-year time lag between a piece's appearance and its acceptance by the listening public. History speaks for itself -- great music has not always been unpopular in its own time. ... ed.]

March 15, 2005: As publisher of a magazine I started with my own money, I have no axe to grind. I decided on the subject of "New Music" because it was one that nobody else (or maybe a tiny population) cared much about. And in those 13 years now I have spent lots of copy chastising the halls of academe for fostering an artform that mostly offended people and certainly kept them from coming into the concert hall until the "damn thing was over." (They used the same phrase for Beethoven's 'Eroica' Symphony, didn't they?) But on occasion I will still rave about the really great, highly listenable works of the last 50 years that were not driven by the universities or tightly wound musical organizations, works like George Crumb's 'Makrokosmos' and 'Ancient Voices of Children,' or Milton Babbitt's 'Phonemena,' or Leslie Bassett's 'Echoes from an Invisible World,' or John Adams's 'Nixon in China' and 'Harmonielehre' or Gunther Schuller's 'Paul Klee Studies' or -- well, I could go on and on without even mentioning some of the great choral and operatic works since 1950 nor the works of European composers. Yes, there are differences between today and yesteryear, not exactly a brilliant conclusion. But one of the most conspicuous differences went unmentioned in your piece: the availability of the phonograph record. Why does it matter? Because we hear more junk on that medium than any society ought to bear. Plenty of it - believe me - is of the so-called popular variety. They didn't have the LP or the CD in 1800. So a musical event was really AN EVENT!

I don't recall Henry Pleasants saying much about the phonographic technology in his book either. Yes, you admit that you disagree with several of his premises. But are you aware that just before his death he said to his friend, the critic John Rockwell, that we lost the battle? What he was saying was that the sheer tenacity of living composers has kept that "slag pile" (as he referred to contemporary music idea) quite alive. So we should no more denounce tenacity than we should put up on a pedestal the new investor society of today that is destroying true American values with its bottom line mentality. I would much rather hear a cling-clang-clong piece by David Lang than listen to another speech by El Presidente telling Americans how proud they should be to see democracy being spread to the rest of the world ... If tenacity to continue to explore the art of sound is what it takes to keep our ears alive and in critically good condition, then I am for it.

Barry L. Cohen
Publisher, New Music Connoisseur

[This letter is a response to my 2001 column, "Why does modern music sound so bad?"

Thanks for writing. There certainly is some good new music being produced in our era. I just came out of a rehearsal with the Northern Arizona University trombone choir, which is playing a couple of interesting contemporary pieces this semester. When I lived in Boston, I used to go to a lot of new-music performances at Mobius -- and some of them were provocative and edifying. The school of modern music I'm not interested in is that typified by the amplified-compass-needle guy I dissed in my column. Who did he think he was kidding, with that sort of nonsense?

As for the "Eroica" having been controversial in its day, well, it certainly was -- but by and large, Beethoven and his contemporaries were considered modern geniuses -- sometimes, they even made some money from ticket sales and music publishing. They cared about reaching an audience. If you don't write music that speaks to people, you're not accomplishing anything. And that's just as true of jazz as "legit" composers/performers. That's why I pointed to Bela Fleck and the whole progressive-bluegrass school -- who play to more people in one night than most jazz musicians see in a year -- as the true heirs to the art-music throne, in the jazz/improvised music arena.

Not sure what to say about recorded music, except that especially when it's portable, it has trivialized the act of listening; when there's music everywhere, all the time, we forget how to listen. One of the most valuable lessons I learned in my collegiate music study (the first time I went through college, that is) was the simple fact that music is something you SIT DOWN AND LISTEN TO. If it's not getting 100% of your attention, you're wasting your time. But try explaining that to the iPod generation. People laughed at John Philip Sousa's worries that recorded music would displace the live product -- but in retrospect, he wasn't as wrong as everyone thought.

Agreed on El Presidente Shrub, by the way -- you may have missed my 2000 election column in which I described him as a "dunce." Some 4-1/2 years later, I'd say that was one of my better calls.... ed.]

 

Still blowin' in the wind

November 19, 2003: he yoo some of us make our living doing this kind of work if you cant stand the noise plug your ears ha ha ha thanks john

[As usual in such cases, I'm running this letter unedited -- sic! sic! sic!, as they used to say in Verbatim, the Language Quarterly. I guess it goes to show that maybe leaf-blowing is a viable career path -- it made this clown enough money to buy a computer, if not to learn how to use it properly. In case you want to, er, sound off regarding his attitude toward leaf-blower noise, have at it... ed.]

Noise -- even in Idaho!

March 4, 2003: I agree wholeheartedly about the leaf blowers and other similar noise (Leaf Blower Power Squadrons, 10/27/98). I live in Idaho and they have the same noise ordinance. What's a person suppose to do during the day to stop noise? We are dealing with neighbors that allow their kids to bounce basketballs into their portable hoop in the driveway for three hours a day average and more on weekends. It penetrates through all the walls of our house. The ball often rolls or gets rebounded off our car.

The police say they can't do anything. Do you have any ideas or tips to get this to stop?

Thanks,

Barb Rowling

[Wow -- I guess noise problems aren't just for big cities anymore! Although I barely mentioned bouncing basketballs in my column, they were actually a more serious annoyance, back in Highland Park, than the leaf blowers. We were sandwiched in between two houses with small children -- and, as this was suburban Chicago during the height of the Michael Jordan era, basketball mania was in full swing. We often had marathon hoop games going on on both sides of our house simultaneously. The effect was much like living inside a big snare drum -- at times, I had to wear ear plugs just to take a nap, in my own house, on a weekend afternoon. The kids' parents were completely unresponsive to our requests that they do something about the noise; their attitude was, "This is a suburb, and the main purpose of a suburb is to function as a kids' playground. If you don't like it, get lost."

Well, we did get lost -- we got the heck out of Highland Park and moved to Flagstaff late in '99. What's more, we bought five acres of land, off a dirt road in an area where no one's got a paved driveway. I can't say it was entirely to get away from noise that we did this, but that certainly had something to do with it.... ed.]

Let the good times blow

March 15: [Noise] sounds like a small price to pay for living in a nice place ("Leaf Blower Power Squadrons," October 27, 1998).  Neat lawns are nice to look at and alot of work to keep up.The bottom line the guy that owns this lawn care business wants to make money same as yourself .

Gabe Moore
Proprietor, Screamin' Poulan Performance Exhausts

[I think we can safely assume Mr. Moore works the 7:00-to-3:00 shift.... ed.]

Blowin' in the wind

October 27: In my old 'hood the [leaf blower] noise was incessant.  And, as you say, they're usually used incorrectly.  I almost choked once because some guy was clearing the dirt that had accumulated at the end of the lane.  All he did was blow up huge clouds of dust.  Maybe they should give you an IQ test before allowing you to use one!

Phrenchy
Vancouver, BC


Warm this!

March 28, 2007: Okay, let's see here. Since you seem incapable of acknowledging any possibility of accuracy in other letters (go ahead, show me I'm wrong) this letter's much more for other readers than you, good sir. Nonetheless, if you take interest, respond as you will.

Just a degree. I would like to point out to you that, the oft sited Little Ice Age was a cooling of, by the largest estimates, 0.6 degrees C. The warming that has occured since 1900, by the most modest estimates, is an increase of 0.6 degrees C. You pointed out yourself how strong an effect this cooling had, allowing the Thames to freeze over regularly. Another factor, is that the LIA, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, actually only effected the northern hemisphere of the earth, while our current issues effect all of it.

Though solar output may be responsible for climate change in the past, it is not to blame for global warming now. We can see on these graphs here (from NASA scientists, whom I hope we can agree are more knowledgeable on the subject than us) : http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/2004/
http://vathena.arc.nasa.gov/curric/space/solterr/output.html
that there is no noticeable correlation between solar output and temperature. I'm not ruling out the possibility entirely, as it would be unwise to base an opinion solely on some obscure graphs, but it would be much more logical to blame it on CO2 levels, which show a perfect correlation (and, which also meet any requirements of logic and common sense, one might have, taking for example, Venus.)

Back to the Little Ice Age again, I would like to now point out that the rate of the temperature change occuring now and then, are drastically different. The LIA and Medieval Warm periods, as previously mentioned were a change in - .6 degrees C, and back up to slightly above normal temperatures. Giving an opponent of GW the benefit of the doubt, we can safely say this temperature change (decrease and increase) was no more than 1.5 degrees celsius.....ah, but the catch? It took place over 800 years. 1.5 degrees over 800 years, versus 0.6 (exponentially growing) over 100 years. I'll let you do the math my friend. http://www.windows.ucar.edu/tour/link=/earth/climate/images/MWP_LIA_present_NOAA_gif_image.html
This graph provides a decent means of comparison from the American Geological Union.

It's not a warm summer. It's warm summer, after warm summer, after warm summer. Consider that 1998, 2002, 2003, and 2004 were the hottest years on record in February of 2005.

Even if all the above stated is totally incorrect, we can safely say, that depositing 6 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions a year (as we did in 2000) into the atmosphere isn't going to help climate change in any way. We can also say with great certainty that the Earth is indeed warming up. Personally (and I have the greater half of the scientific community on my side) I attribute this to humans. 7 Billion people is so far over the amount of humans that should "normally" exist on earth. We're way over capacity, and we're going to feel the repercussions of our missuses of the earth, very soon. I'm happy to say, I won't need to defend the theory of global warming in 50 years when we have 70 degree winters in NY.

-- Nate
Somewhere in New York

[I've basically spoken my peace on this subject, so I'll let this one stand pretty much on its own.  I'm not interested in playing "I've got more scientists than you," as the Gore-o-philes seem bent on doing.  But I will note, once again, that the IPCC itself -- if you read the actual report, not the executive summary -- is much more equivocal than the snippets we read in the popular press would indicate.  And by most reputable accounts, the Medieval Warm Period featured a temperature increase of several degrees, not .6.  As for today's temperature trend being "exponential," sorry -- Michael Mann's Hockey Stick has been thoroughly debunked by McIntyre and McKitrick at Climate Audit.  But read the research yourself... ed.]


February 15, 2007:
hello. your article sounds very biased. i have no political or reglious affliations. my only affliation is to science. looking at phenomena and trying to explain them using the scientific method. to me, science is the closest mankind will come to reaching any kind of truth. being an educated person yourself, i'm surprised by the lack of scientific information in your article.... [blah-blah-blah -- no need to read the rest of what this guy sent me.  Why did I set a policy of running all letters received, again? ... ed.]

Dan (no last name given -- he's at ohio.edu)
[I'll let this one stand on its own, unedited. With so many errors of spelling, grammar, and punctuation, I'm assuming the writer is not a faculty member at Ohio! As for the "lack of scientific information in [my] article," well, it's not a scientific paper; it's a column.  (I'm assuming it's in response to my first piece on global climate, from 2002.  With the release of the IPCC's summary to its Fourth Assessment Report, the column has been getting a lot of hits lately.)  I might add that my column does not say "nothing bad will happen, we are insignificant," etc.  I take a decidedly skeptical view of the current political consensus on global climate -- but I also state, and I quote, that cutting down our fossil-fuel consumption would be "a decidedly good thing," because of the limited supply of oil, the pollution caused when we burn it, etc.  I also state, in several of my pieces on climate, that as someone with a degree in Earth sciences, I am not unconcerned about possible human effects on climate.  Most likely, we are having some effect on global climate through carbon dioxide and other factors.  Where I get off the bus is when Al Gore and his friends start trying to scare the uninitiated with alarmist films and propaganda pieces that are entirely unsupported by science. 

I recommend following the New York Times's coverage of climate issues.  They've been doing a fairly good job of providing a non-alarmist assessment of what climate researchers -- on all sides of the issue -- are saying.  John Tierney's "Findings" column is a good example of this.  A brief sample:
  
Climate change will probably occur not with a bang but with a long, slow whimper, as you can see in the new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The report concludes that it’s “very likely” that humans are now the main factor warming the climate. But even as the panel’s scientists are becoming surer of the problem, and     warning of grim consequences this century and beyond, they’re eschewing crowd-thrilling catastrophes. Since the last I.P.C.C. report, six years ago, they haven’t raised the estimates of future temperatures and sea levels.

While Mr. Gore’s movie shows coastlines flooded by a 20-foot rise in sea level, the report’s projections for the rise this century range from 7 inches to 23 inches. The panel says Greenland’s ice sheet will shrink and might eventually disappear, but the process could take “millennia.” The Antarctic ice sheet is projected to grow, not shrink, because of increased snowfall.

The scientists acknowledge uncertainties and worrisome new signs, like the sudden acceleration in the flow of Greenland’s glaciers several years ago. But the panel, unlike Mr. Gore, didn’t extrapolate a short-term trend into a disaster, and its caution is vindicated by a report in the current issue of Science that the flow of two of the largest glaciers abruptly decelerated last year to near the old rate.

Tierney's piece is a much more responsible presentation of the issue than most of what we get in the mainstream media.  In any case, thanks for writing... ed.]

November 30, 2006: Global warming is real. At first the climate fluctuated up and down up and down for several decades, but now with the increase of carbon dioxide with a growing population it has started to skyrocket exponentially. Once exponential growth begins it is very hard to stop it until it reaches as certain level, but not before increasing significantly. It has been growing exponentially since  the 1800's exponentially, the temperature of the earth and CO2 levels. Ironically, this is the same time as the Industrial revolution when we started putting fossil fuels into the atmosphere. Coincidence? I think anyone can see that we are the cause of increased exponential global warming and that there is a balance we need to keep of a temperate world. We cannot let it go to hot or too cold. Perhaps a little global warming was good to prevent a future ice age, but this is getting out of control now. We have already lost half the arctic ice and the antarctic is losing ice rapidly. Mt Kilimanjaro's Ice pack is almost gone and other mountains are losing snowpack as well. Greenland and Iceland are losing ice as well as Northern Canada and Siberia. Nations and states that once had significant snow are finding more rain now in the spring rather than snowfall. We have floods now in Boston instead of April-May snow. Polar bears are dying and many species habitats are being altered by the climate. We are experiencing a rise in sea level which will increase dramatically the next century, so some places like the florida keys, the mangroves of the everglades, some islands, and cape hatteras may be underwater by 2100. The problem is today the changes in climate are relatively small, though increasing, but they have been relatively at the lower end of the exponential curve. So people think that its just a climate flucuation and nothing serious so they say why worry it wont change that much and wont impact me so why worry. We need to change this attidut because it will impact humans in the coming centuries. If we want our race to survive and our planet we need to sign the Kyoto Agreement and make renewable energy a law. We need to stop producing oil and introduce fission and fusion as well. Hydrodgen cars and more hybrids are a must and we need more solar panels and wind farms. We need to change the way we think and do things if we want to survive before it is too late. Unfortunately The american government will probably wait until we are at the top of the exponential curve and its  too late.

Jeff Dearman

[This is getting tiresome.  I’ve already addressed every single one of the writer’s points in my series on global warming, and in responses to previous letters, the last one of which was from him!  Nonetheless, in keeping with our policy of running every letter we get: Yes, there has been an increase in global temperature since roughly 1850.  However, the Industrial Revolution is not the only factor affecting climate – or even, arguably, the main one.  It has been clearly established that solar output has increased slightly during the past 150 years – this trend correlates remarkably well with the temperature observations during that time, the possible exception being the past 30 years or so, during which the correlation isn’t that clear. However, 30 years is the blink of an eye, in climatic terms – far too short a time period to use as the basis for any meaningful conclusions.

As for the “rise in sea level,” what rise in sea level?  There simply hasn’t been any – and even the most alarmist forecasts only show a rise of roughly one foot over the next century – not enough to flood anything.  Where you read about Pacific islands disappearing, etc., this is not a rise in sea level; it’s a subsidence of the Earth’s crust. If sea level were rising, it would be rising everywhere in the world. But it isn’t.

And while it would make sense, as a precaution, to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions, the “overwhelming consensus” for catastrophic global warming, which we keep reading about in the mainstream press, simply isn’t there.  Climatologists are not in agreement as to what’s going on.  Al Gore may have invented the Internet, but he didn’t invent climatology… ed.]

July 14, 2006: [This letter sets a Kafalas.com record for the longest letter to the editor.  It's actually the writer's second missive -- a reply to my reply to his letter about one of my columns on global warming.  As is our policy around here, I'm running it in its entirety, or almost its entirety anyway.  I'm sure it'll come as no surprise that I disagree pretty much 100% with his views on global climate -- but there's room for opposing points of view around here, and I'll let you be the judge.  However, it's also worth noting that coincidentally, the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce today issued a report by three statisticians, which calls into question Michael Mann's much-ballyhooed "hockey stick" global temperature graph.  Here's the committee's news release on some related hearings they're holding next week... ed.]

I think if you look at the satellite images of the Arctic you will notice that we've lost about half the sea ice already.

And the antarctic is melting faster than ever before. Deserts and arid lands are increasing in the western us and plains and sea levals have begun to rise. Yes
maybe its not as quick as they once thought, perhaps because we've made some changes in how we do things, such as more recycling and less fossil fuels, but if
we continue on the course we  are on it will only get worse. The evidence is clear, the temperatures in summer and winter have been going up ever since the industrial revolution began. Before the industrial revolution temperatures were fairly steady.
Now they are skyrocketing each year, the last two decades have been the warmest on record and it continues to get hotter. Sea surface temperatures are
increasing. Polar bears are dying off because they dont have ice to walk on anymore and end up drowning.  We are losing massive amounts of species who cannot cope with the increased development by humans in their habitats which should remain wild. You know, I think its actually good that Al Gore brought the worst case scenario out to the public. I mean at least he's not chicken to stand up and let everyone know what will
happen if we continue down this path over the next couple centuries. Sure it wont happen right away, but if we continue doing what we're doing and relying on big oil, we will end up exactly like Al Gore says. The problem is too many conservatives think that just because it isn't a big threat right now, that means we should just ignore the future problem and not spend any money trying to fix it. That is the wrong thing to
do. We need to be developing alternative fuels and move away from oil. Oil and fossil fuels are the main problem with global warming and it wouldn't be that hard to switch over. We just need a national campaign and a leader who wants to change and help our environment. I care deeply about our environment and I am saddened at what we are doing to it. We are encroaching on wildlife habitat, polluting our seas, polluting our air, and causing species to die off. We are building on every last acre of land we have. In my area, despite the fact that Boston is really built up, people still tearing down what was once beautiful open space and woods and putting up more condos and houses to sell. Farmers in the midwest are being pressured to sell their land to big developers instead of keeping their land green. We need a fundamental change in the way we view our planet and the environment if the human race is to survive the next 1000 years. Otherwise one day we will wake up and see that global warming was real and realize we were stupid as usual and waited till the last minute, typical republican way of dealing with situations. Just like how bush is going to deal with North Korea. We should be bombing the hell out of them right now and putting them back into the stone age, yet bush is doing nothing. North Korea has stated its missled were aimed at Hawaii, is that not a threat? I also do not agree we should be spending so much money in iraq. We should Train the Iraqi army now, Bush has had 3-4 years now to train them and if they aren't trained in another year or two we should start pulling
out. Its ridiculous that the iraqi people are not competent enough to fight and defend their own country. Why do innocent americans have to fight a war for them. Train the Iraqi people to defend their coutnry and get the hell out. We'll have bigger wars to deal with in 2-3 years like N.Korea and the resurgance of the Taliban in Afghanistan which bush supposedly stopped. ;) Funny they're resurging again in power isn't it?
Bush is also not doing enough at home. he is not solving crime, in my city of Boston Crime is higher than ever before, because the Bush administration is weakening gun laws, allowing criminals to get weapons easier around govt. Loop holes. And in every major city crime rate is up. Just watch the news every day and all you hear about is the latest murder or armed robbery. The no Child Left Behind Act is a joke. Bush
pledged to America when he got elected that every child in america would be able to afford education and college by his 4th year in office. He also said schools would be fixed and would have computers and smaller classes. And exactly the opposite has
happened. Schools are in disrepair, facing budget cuts everywhere and the inner city schools which were promised to get computers, textbooks and smaller classes, and renovations are left behind. Kids are dumber than ever before, and many just get fed up with the lack of personal attention they drop out and revert to crime and gangs for support, another reason Crime has increased under bush. No Child Left Behind is a joke, it also punishes students who can't do well on exams. I had a hard time taking timed exams. It was not because I  wasn't smart, I'd get B's and A's in school, its just I had trouble when under pressure from timed exams. Now they make timed exams the only way you can graduate. That is ridiculous. It should only be a way to judge who might need help but should not be a requirement to graduate. Your GPA and  attendance should be the requirement for graduation and college admission. its not fair to punish smart students who cant do well on timed tests. Why Don't we have a health care system yet? Didn't Bush promise us that too? Bush is wasting so much
money on this war, when we could have protected our environment by developing alternative energy program, provided more education funding, provided a health
care system, yet he just doesn't seem to care. Most of america is having a difficult time paying for health insurance with the cost of everythng else and the lack of jobs. I know I cannot afford to pay $300 a month for health insurance because in the jobs I get when I have one, I only make about that much a month. My parents have to help me out and I still live at home because I can't afford the cost of living away from
home right now. The health care system is a joke in this country and caters only to the super rich. Bush has made cuts to the social security and medicare. I thought Bush supported the elderly? Its funny that elderly vetrans support bush because of his so called war on terror, yet he went Awol in the Vietnam war, and did not really see any action unlike Kerry> The Swift Boat Vterans for Bush are liars. Kerry was right in the middle of the action and even took bullets for his shipmates. he was constantly in
danger every day he was out there unlike Bush who took the easy way out in the National Guard and didn't even really serve. So the vetrans support bush yet don't
realize their benefits get cut thanks to him. Nice guy isn't he? Shows you what the republican priorities are eh? Tax cuts for the wealthy, cost increases for everyone else due to lack of services, screwing our environment, leading a war we should not be fighting (Iraqi people should be fighting it), and underfunding everything that the people of the nation want. Oh I forgot to mention discriminating against certain people just because of who they are. You know its sickening to think that Bush is allowing
to happen what we tried to move away from after World War II. We saw how the Nazi's discriminated against jews and how we as americans had once treated Blakcs. Now a new discrimination against gays is happening in america. Gay people do not harm anyone. They just keep to themselves mostly. All they want to be is accepted in society. And some people just  can't seem to accept that because of the religion factor. But being gay has nothing to do with religion. The line about gays going
to hell was taken out of context and misused by conservative evangelicals to try to spin that gay=bad=hell. But that is wrong. I ask you this, if gays were meant to go to hell, why are the majority of the good people on this planet gay? Why are so many
actors, theater people even politicians, and musicians gay? Why are people who advocate for human rights, the suffering of children , and why are there gay teachers
as well who are helping our kids learn? Why would god make so many good gay people if they were only to go to hell. It just doesnt make since. Notice how Bush
and the conservative base only bring up the gay issue around election time like this year we will be hearing more and more about it since its mid terms, but next
year you 'll hardly hear a peep about gay rights. It is completely ridiculous and Bush and the republicans should by law not be allowed to use that as  a campaign issue. because frankly it is a non issue. Gays should have the right to marry like everyone else and live  their lives. Lets get over it and move to bigger topics. Just about anything Bush does is wrong and he has been a terrible president. He is in support of Big Oil which is the main problem that could create global warming and sea level rise in the near future if we do nothing. Al Gore is a good man for standing up to big oil who wants to have people think exactly the way you do, that oh global warming hasn't really happened yet and won't impact me in my lifetime so why should I
care. This is the typical conservative one sided thinking that gets this country into trouble constantly... [Well, you get the idea.  Jeff goes on for a few more paragraphs in the same vein.  And I certainly agree with a lot of his Bush-bashing -- regular readers will be aware that I rate Bush the worst President in my lifetime.  But the Democrats are not much better -- that's why I've been voting mostly Libertarian lately... ed.]

Jeff Dearman
Boston, MA

December 27, 2002: Your piece on global warming presents many interesting facts. Your thoughts on sun spots and their relationship to warm and cool periods here on Earth are particularly intriguing. I took Geology as my lab science in college many years ago along with a relatively new discipline: Environmental Chemistry. At the time it struck me that everything I was learning in the one class seemed to conflict with the other. In Geology we learned that warming and cooling trends are as old as Earth itself, some lasting hundreds, some thousands of years. In Environmental Chemistry we learned Global Warming was a real and present danger caused certainly by automobile emissions and deforestation. We learned that petroleum resources were if not unlimited then at least plentiful in one and that they would certainly be gone before the 70s were over in the other.

The problem with extrapolation, the basis for many scientific claims on Global Warming, is that it fails to account for the external factors and cannot offer a hope of experimental control. Results cannot be reliably reproduced since the Earth itself is the laboratory.

I am sure that the motives of those who see Global Warming as a threat to civilization are pure. I am just as certain the motives of those who disagree and see a bigger picture are as well. One thing is certain: neither side is willing to accept, for good reasons I hope, the arguments of the other. But the record the Earth makes in a plethora of media we can access, tree rings, rocks and so on, is discernible to scientists willing to step outside their paradigm. And it does not support the theory that the Earth is warming or that mankind is responsible.

Barry Sharpe

[My beef with the environmental movement is that they keep jumping on everything as a "crisis." Acid rain -- remember that one? It was supposedly going to wipe out all our forests and lakes, or at least those downwind from Midwest power plants. It was -- and is -- a real phenomenon, but it hasn't caused the devastation predicted in the '70s and '80s, despite the fact that we burn more coal now than we did then. Nuclear waste -- horrible stuff, true; but keep in mind that nuclear plants produce no air pollution, so it's basically a tradeoff.

Out here in Arizona, we have these fanatics who want to take out Glen Canyon Dam, which is supposedly causing the demise of various endangered fish in the Colorado River (cold water released from the bottom of the dam creates an inhospitable environment downstream). On the other hand, the dam also generates a lot of power -- again, without polluting the air. This benefit is dismissed by the Greens, because the power plant is only a small part of the nation's supply. I suppose they'd rather have us take out the dam and burn more coal instead? It's a sure bet they'd be complaining about the air pollution next!

Not to give away my next column in the series, but it's going to blast the Forest Service's policy of caving in to extremist groups who want to close off the great outdoors to any kind of recreational activity not involving hiking boots. This accomplishes little in the way of environmental protection but scores a lot of points with suburban "environmentalists" who've never actually been anywhere near the sites their Sierra Club donations are protecting.

My problem with the Greens is not that I'm against protecting the Earth, but that the current policymaking process doesn't work. Instead of really protecting the environment, we end up adopting policies that sound good but don't *do* much good. We close National Forests and create National Monuments to lock up millions of acres of land that aren't in any danger to begin with. We put draconian restrictions on emissions from vehicles that aren't used much in the first place (for example, the EPA has virtually banned two-stroke motorcycles, most of which are only ridden a few hours a year and in remote areas). At the same time, we don't take steps that would really do something about the problems -- e.g., refraining from fighting wars to protect oil supplies, or making SUVs and motorhomes adhere to the same emissions, gas mileage, and crash-test standards as cars. (On the latter, the EPA is moving in the right direction, but not nearly fast enough.)

At the risk of repeating myself, politicians are more interested in seeming to enact good legislation than in enacting good legislation -- because the latter is much more difficult and painful.... ed.]


Telemarketing -- or, the "greater fool" theory in business

November 8, 2005: You're pathetic. If you have this much time to devoted to a webpage; telemarketing should be the least of your worries.

John Edwards

[I'm not sure if the writer is the former vice-presidential candidate -- who probably has a lot of time on his hands these days -- or just someone else with the same name.

But in any case, telemarketing is the least of my worries, at this point. Reason #1: the National Do Not Call Registry, which has enabled millions of Americans to free themselves from the scourge of telemarketing. Reason #2: In the Kafalas.com household, we make and receive all of our voice phone calls via cell phone -- and it's illegal for telemarketers to call cell phones. So it's all good. But thanks for writing! .... ed.]

January 30, 2004: I am in the mortgage business and we rely on telemarketing to obtain mortgages. We only do a mortgage if its benefits someone, so why is it bad for a telemarketer to call and help someone fill a need. Not every telemarketer is selling a scam. Telemarketing is a 5 billion dollar industry. If this industry goes under we will be in a recession for much longer than expected. Telemarketers help you feed your family, because a strong economy helps you maintain a job and security for your family.

Next time a call comes into your home with an "out of your area," pick up the phone and give thanks to the telemarketer for helping to make our economy strong and if you than decide not to purchase a product or service over the phone than politely say I am not interested and hang up. Its that easy, and you don't have to have any special gadgets.

Since you have all this time to post a Web site and to spend much of your time complaining, you should think about getting a part time job. May I suggest telemarketing.

Larry Bonner
Security Financial Group
Elgin, IL

[No, you may not. And given the overwhelming public support for the National Do Not Call Registry, it's safe to say that more people see it my way than yours. As for telemarketers "helping to make our economy strong," well, the last time I checked, we were still in a recession. All is not lost, though. With the massive outsourcing wave currently battering the U.S. labor force, it's not unlikely that telemarketing call centers will soon be a thing of the past, in this country. You may have to relocate to Bangalore, if you want to keep your job.... ed.]

Silencing the telemarketers

July 29, 2003: I came across your article on telemarketing and agree with the theory that the phone companies have suppressed certain features. Back in 1995 I had bought a Caller ID box that would block [certain] callers with some message that we don't accept blocked calls. Since moving from Kansas City to Dallas, either the box has stopped working or the phone company has made it useless. But I have found another company selling a similar product with even more features at: http://intelescreener.com/index.html

In the meantime I've become more aggressive in telling callers to remove me from their list, and plan on getting on the federal Do Not Call list.

Kirk Schneider

[Thanks for the tip, Kirk. For those who missed it, you can sign up for the FTC Do Not Call Registry at http://www.donotcall.gov.... ed.]

March 4, 2003: I found your page on telemarketers (Telemarketing -- my conspiracy theory, 2/13/01) while I was doing a search on Google for "telemarketer blocking." I was doing this search because of the number of telemarketing calls that I am receiving -- extremely annoying!

I know that the Caller ID box always says "Unavailable" and also shows no telephone number (this in contrast to some calls that show a phone number along with the "Unavailable" for when the system doesn't know the name associated with the number, such as when my husband calls from work at Fifth Third Bank). I thought that it should be a simple thing for a telephone company to offer a service blocking all calls with no number and which say "Unavailable."

There seems to be nothing of the sort. And your page certainly confirms what I had thought. [I just had two telemarketing calls between paragraphs!] I had just arrived at the same conclusion as you before I even read your page: The telephone companies make BIG BUCKS from the telemarketing business! They are never going to offer a service which will make one of their biggest cash cows go away. It's really sad, but the lobbyists bought off the representatives in Washington (who were elected to serve our interests, supposedly), and they came up with the "Do Not Call" list, which is duly ignored. We small people just don't stand a chance.

Cindy Brooman
Delaware, Ohio

[The little guy does get short shrift -- certainly here in Arizona, where the state legislature just recently killed a bill that would have created a statewide "Do Not Call" list for consumers to opt into. In an uncharacteristic bit of honesty, legislators were quoted in the newspaper as saying, essentially, that the interests of telemarketing businesses were more important to them than the interests of consumers in not being pestered!

I still haven't found a perfect call screener, but the talking Caller-ID unit we settled on, shortly after my column was first published, turned out to be a great product. Anytime a call comes in with a number, it'll announce that number, even if it doesn't know the name of the business -- that should mean that if your husband called, it would announce his office phone number, so you'd know it was him.

As it turns out, we recently moved, and we were able to fire the phone company altogether -- these days, we just have wireless phones; and since it IS illegal for telemarketers to call them, we don't get any junk calls here. Of course, that option was available only because we happen to live right next door to our local ISP, where Meg works, so we have a wireless Internet connection. Most people can't do that -- but if you have a cable modem, you could fire the phone company, as we did. If enough people do that, maybe the phone companies will wake up and do something about telemarketing scum -- like providing call screening at no extra charge. Hey, I can dream, can't I?... ed.]

January 11, 2002: I was looking for a device to block telemarketing calls, came across your column about telemarketers, and thought you would be interested in www.prefonefilter.com. I am searching for a device that has a prerecorded message for telemarketers, but this device sounds like something you could use.

Lee Fink

[Thanks for the tip, Lee. This product sounds like a cheaper alternative to the "home PBX" I mentioned in the column. I obvously haven't tried it, but I did go to prefonefilter.com and look over the product specs. Looks good... ed.]

December 19, 2001: I have read your column about products that would block telemarketers. Well, there was one (key word "was"). I bought a Caller ID Box from Radio Shack a few years ago. It lets you put any number or 'unavailable or blocked calls' in a reject list. When the call comes in, the box answers for you and in a rude male voice says, "The number you are calling does not accept your call," then hangs up on the caller. It cost me $60.00.

Well, shortly after buying it and telling some friends, [I found out that] the product was discontinued. The company said it was because it was not selling. I don't believe that -- nobody knew about it. It was not advertised. I came upon it as a fluke. If you want more info on this product, I have it. Maybe if more people ask it will be brought back. You are so right, it can be done --they just don't want to create it.

Christine M. Lydon

[Knowing Radio Shack, it's entirely possible that the product was just too good, so they stopped making it. But your experience certainly squares with my "conspiracy theory" that the phone companies have pressured consumer electronics manufacturers into not making products that would block telemarketing calls... ed.]

November 1, 2001: My name is Jeff, IÌm 24 years old, and have been blessed with an occupation that allows me to give misdirected people in my community a chance to do something with their lives and make them a valued member of society.

There is nothing worse than when IÌm trying to have a face to face with one of my employees in my office and the phone rings; I pick it up thinking it might be important, but it's someone trying to sell something . After realizing that itÌs a telemarketer, I say im not interested and hang up.

These people may be annoying but this is the job that they do. IÌve been selling tools to contractors over the phone for six years and IÌm good at it. I must be the worst kind of scum because I own my own company and hire decent people that donÌt have the best education and give them an opportunity and a skill that they can use for the rest of their lives. I look around at my sales team or other pieces of scum and see not scum but people that would give me the shirt off their back, and I would do the same for them. They may have a job that everyone thinks is the worst possible job on the face of the earth, but itÌs not and if you donÌt want to talk to us just say ÏIÌm not interested" and hang up. I will tell you though, the one thing that you can do is tell them to take you off their list, and largely that same company canÌt call you again. If they do, you can press charges and they know it.

Jeff
Flagstaff, AZ

PS -- My office is on Phoenix St. in Flagstaff next to the Darra Thai restaurant. So weÌre helping your local economy too.

[I hear what Jeff is saying -- but my column was primarily directed at telemarketers who call residential phone numbers and those who use computer-generated lists of random numbers. Calling a business that's likely to have a need for what you're selling is a different thing -- sort of, anyway. If he wants to call contractors and try to sell them tools, that's OK with me -- just as in my day job at Starlite Lanes, I don't mind fielding the occasional telemarketing call from a bowling supplier or beverage vendor; we might even buy something from them.

As for the effectiveness of "telling them to take you off their list," that never used to work -- and besides, even in the best-case scenario, all it does is get you off one of the thousands of telemarketing lists you're on. These days, I don't need to bother, because the talking caller-ID unit just announces "Number Unknown" when they call, eliminating the need to pick up the phone in the first place... ed.]

October 16, 2001: I agree with you on the issues and am trying to research a solution so my time is not interrupted by Out of Area/telemarketing calls. Although my preference would be a piece of hardware designed to forward all Out of Area calls to the answering machine, the following link provides a potential PC solution.

http://www.voicecallcentral.com/advancedcallcenter.htm

Scott Hornung

September 7, 2001: I just caught a clip on the local news this morning, about a gadget that gives the "not a working number" tone to all your callers. When the telemarketer hears this tone, he hangs up and normally removes the number from his database. Your phone continues to ring if the caller doesn't hang up, so you just wait 3 or 4 rings before you answer. The fellow in the clip said he has told all his friends and family he has this so they won't hang up. I didn't catch the name of the gadget, but he said he found it on-line.

My local telephone company lists an address to contact in the Consumer Information section of their directory. I have written to this and it seems to work very well -- I get very few telemarketing calls. The address is: Telephone Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, PO Box 9014, Farmingdale NY 11735. This service is designed to reduce the number of calls you receive from telemarketers.

Another option (which I just signed up for, so I don't know how effective it is), is online at www.CallCompliance.com. This service blocks your number from access by telemarketers and other telephone solicitors.

Sue Smith
West Virginia

August 3, 2001: I read your article dated February, 2001 with your desire to block calls that do not supply caller ID, including Out of Area calls. I want to be able to block calls to and from specific numbers. I want the device to be programmable; preferably through a PC. Anyway, I found a device that [might] solve your problem. It's called Whozz Calling4 Lite. It seems a little pricey - but if it solves your problem it might be worth it. If you know of any devices that can address my needs, please let me know.

Mike Shore

[Thanks for the suggestion, Mike. As mentioned in my replies to the following letters, I've addressed the problem with a talking caller-ID unit that works quite well -- although it doesn't actually silence the telemarketers' rings altogether. I can live with hearing "Number Unknown" when a telemarketer calls. Still, the ideal solution would be to hear nothing at all.

If anyone knows of a product that would do what Mike wants, please let me know, and I'll forward the information along to him... ed.]

July 17, 2001: hey dude if you don't like it get rid of your phone. can't stand the heat? ... get out of the kitchen. you probably say give them the abortion rights but stop telemarketing phone calls. you put that phone in your home so that people can call you...right? well then only give that number to those whom you want to have it. and put a stop on all others through the phone company. use your head if you have one.

chornbarger@cableaz.com

[I've reproduced this one exactly as it came in. Let it not be said that we impose a minimum-age requirement on letter writers, or that you have to agree with me to get your letter onto this page! I have no idea who this individual is, but such tripe as the above makes a more compelling case for abortion rights than I ever could! As for the heat, I can stand it -- but the 9900CW talking caller-ID (see below) is keeping telemarketers out of the Kafalas.com kitchen just fine, thanks... ed.]

June 25, 2001: I don't know of a product to do quite what you want, i.e., block all out-of-area calls (Telemarketing -- my conspiracy theory, 2/13/01), but the one product I found that I liked is at www.callplex.com. It runs about $100 and supposedly, what happens is that when someone calls, they are prompted for the passcode. If they don't have the passcode, the call will be routed to your v-mail/answering machine. If they have the passcode, the phone will ring and if you don't answer, it'll still route to your v-mail/answering machine. If someone doesn't have the passcode, the phone won't even ring. I haven't bought one yet, and I don't know if it'll really work, but you might want to take a look into it.

"bigman"
a consultant who posts on RealRates.com

[Thanks for the tip. As it turns out, though, Meg and I opted for a talking Caller-ID unit -- specifically, the ClassCo VoiceAnnounce 9900CW, which we got from SmartHome.com for around $80.00 -- and after a few months of operation, I'm happy to report that it's saved us enough trips to the phone, to check the caller ID, that we collectively weigh about 10 pounds more than we did before we got the unit. Seriously, hearing the 9900CW announce "Number Unknown," when a telemarketer calls, has reduced the aggravation level significantly, here at Kafalas.com HQ... ed.]


Rice burners forever!

September 18, 2002: I just read your Ode to a rice burner and I want to know if it is still alive. I own a 1989 Hyundai Excel with 271,000 Km on the odometer. Like the rice burner it has always been an example of reliability, and got through 13 Canadian winters with no problem. It's a 4-speed manual running at 4200 Rpm at 65 MPH. After so many kilometers and revolutions it runs almost like day 1 and don't burn a drop of oil. If you have any spare time, please tell me another part of the rice burner history!

Nic B»gin
Canada

[Thanks for writing! As for my Hyundai, I'm afraid I no longer have it. In late 1999, my wife and I moved from Chicago to Flagstaff, Arizona. We had two other vehicles, and I decided not to take the Hyundai. It had about 160,000 miles on it, and although it still ran well, the engine was down on compression, the suspension was shot, the front end wiggled, and the body was starting to rust. So I gave it to my mechanic (the Bernardi Bros. of Highwood, Illinois, who I mentioned in the column). I have no idea what they did with it -- but for all I know, it could still be running!]

Rice burners rule!

January 20, 2000: I just came across your website while surfing for info on my Hyundai Excel. I have to tell you how much I enjoyed your article "Ode to a Rice Burner." I have a 1994 Hyundai Excel Hatchback and it's the BEST car I've ever had! I haven't had to replace anything outside the normal maintenance items, except for a bad O2 sensor last week. It just turned 80,000 and still runs great. I was teased and ridiculed when I bought it, but couldn't afford anything else at the time. It turns out the "teasers" who drive BMWs and similar types of cars have had MANY things go wrong with them -- but not my Hyundai! It starts right up when its 30 below zero, which is also when my neighbors's Lexus doesn't. It has never overheated in the summer (I don't have air conditioning though). It has gotten me through 6 cold, snowy Minnesota winters and always starts and never gets stuck. I also like to take "road-trip" vacations too; the little Excel has taken me to Disney World in Orlando, to the top of the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee, to Pennsylvania and the east coast and also through parts of the old Route 66! I also followed some of the highways all the way through Missouri and through part of Illinois. I smiled when I read your article because your faithful Excel sounds a lot like mine. Those cars got such a bad rap and I'm sure there are some out there that do have problems (as with any make of car), but it looks like we got the good ones! Anyway, I just wanted to let you know I enjoyed your story, it brightened my day and makes me think to myself, "See -- I'm not the only one who likes my little Excel!".

Best regards,

Deb Rodden
Mpls, Minnesota


No generalization is worth a damn, including this one

September 22, 2003: So you went from one generalization to another. Generalizations are always full of holes. I get stinking lousy service from some local businesses and stinking lousy service from some big national ones. I get exceptional wonderful service from other local businesses and exceptional wonderful service from other big national ones (especially [reference to specific company deleted -- they don't need a free ad on my site... ed.]). Writers of any level of experience need to learn to avoid generalizations. Someone will always call you out on it.

Toni McConnel
Somewhere in northern Arizona

[I'm assuming the writer is referring to It ain't easy being a SLOB!, August 10, 2000... ed.]

Fire away!

March 28, 2003: I agree with you on most points concerning human ignorance (Learn not to burn -- or else, 6/18/01), but ban fires? Get real! Your [sic] so far out in left field that your going to hit the fence.

Suggestion 1. No fires in wildnerness areas unless there is 3" or more snow.

2. If you start a forest fire due to a campfire or some other ignorance. You go to PRISON.

3. If the forest service and lawenforcement in your area can't control the when and where's of camp fires, they need to be replaced!

4. ENFORCE the rules and regs you already have. Fires are dangerous but also crutial to healthy forests. Don't ever forget that! You can't just ban american freedoms because your community can't control hazards with BANNING everything.

Jesse Short

[Well, in a perfect world, I'd agree. But I fail to see what is so impossible about going camping without lighting a fire. My folks, sister, and I did it dozens of times while I was growing up. If campfires were banned, there'd be no need for hair-splitting over how much snow was present, exactly where the boundary of a campground lay, or any of that -- NO FIRES, PERIOD, would leave little room for misinterpretation. I'm sorry, Jesse, but when houses -- and lives -- are at stake, campfires are a frivolity we can't afford. ... ed.]

SLOBs away!

October 6, 2001: As a long time resident, I can say with utmost conviction that the LOB's [that's Locally Owned Businesses... ed.] in Flagstaff provide substandard service at an outrageous price. Take Flagstaff Cablevision, a charming little monopoly that specializes in telecommunications, including high-speed Internet access. Of course, they have no local phone number, and all listings in any current or past phone book or on-line yellow pages are erroneous. I had to call information and spend 75 cents to get a toll-free number. Keep in mind, this is a locally-owned company that specializes in telecommunications. Oh, and did I mention the Internet access they provide? Unbelievably, they do not have a web site!!!! Once you finally find a way to contact these telecommunications experts, you get nailed with a lengthy and inoperative automatic phone answering system that hangs up on you should you choose to talk to a live human being. After several calls of discovery to get through, you find out that yes, they will provide you 25 channels of crap for the ridiculous price of $38 a month, with an obligatory $25 initiation fee and three week wait. Charming. I sure am glad that some global megalopoly isn't here in town, providing basic cable service for an honest price. It's companies like these here in Flagstaff, (you know, the ones that fight any initiative to alleviate the traffic through the stripmall wasteland we call Flagstaff, destroying the quality of life here) that make sure we residents pay the absolute highest price for the worst service. So once again, I shout "SCREW LOCALLY OWNED BUSINESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Damon Brown
Flagstaff

[The writer is responding to "SLOBbery: the flip side," September 5, 2000, in which I blasted our local cable company for its lousy customer service. Not much I can add -- except, what's a megalopoly? ... ed.]

SLOBberin' foo'

August 29, 2000: Whew! You sure ain't as pink as you used to be, eh? I never thought I'd hear you praise the way markets work and end up buying on price and speed rather than, say, old fashioned personal service (It ain't easy being a SLOB!, August 10). Personally, I've found that sometimes it pays to go with the big guys, and sometimes the little guys do a better job. It's noot always one way or the other. For instance, I might pay a bit more at our local hardware store, but they're the ones who made sure not to run out of cans of propane when it was still prime barbecue season, whereas the big guys had already gone autumnal and run out of propane. Not to mention that I can walk to the local store (good for my health), rather than firing up the ol' infernal combustion engine (bad for everyone's health).

Phrenchy
Vancouver, BC

[Am I as pink as I used to be? Well... no and yes. I continue to believe that the lefties' basic model of how the world works -- historical materialism, if you will -- is an accurate one. However, I guess I've gotten to where I'm a bit crustier than I was in our magazine days.

As for the SLOB issue, my column was basically playing devil's advocate. I have no fondness for Wal-Mart (or Squall-Mart, as those of us of a child-free persuasion dub the place), and the big-box retailers are changing the shape of Flagstaff in ways I don't entirely like. But the local businesses are going to stand or fall based on how well they do business -- not how many people patronize them out of pity. Places like your local hardware store, and the small record shop I mentioned, stay above water for exactly that reason -- they serve their customers' needs, in ways other than price.

Oh, to answer your other question (not quoted here), no, I'm not packing heat here in Arizona. My experience with firearms is limited to a couple of sessions with my brother-in-law's guns at an indoor pistol range -- and I can't hit the broad side of a barn from ten paces. Around here, "gun control" means hittin' the target -- and I ain't got none o' that! ...ed.]


Presidential parlor Tricks

November 24, 2000: Martin Sheen for prez! Good choice! Did that show start out as wish fulfillment by some Hollywood liberals after the Clinton screw-ups?

Mary Brzezenski

[The writer refers, of course, to NBC's "The West Wing," which stars Sheen, for whom I cast my Presidential write-in ballot. It's not hard to figure out the political leanings of the show's producers. As for Clinton, however, my income tripled during his administration, so I'd welcome another few years of such "screw-ups." Unfortunately, Al Gore is no Bill Clinton -- that's why I didn't vote for him.... ed.]

November 8, 2000: If you are a woman, if you are worried of about separation of church and state, if you are against vouchers, if you value public schools, etc. etc., the only choice was Gore. Women will get the shaft; letting stupid Bush get elected will ensure that. All you high falooting intellectuals, who sit around bitching about "no difference," do not care about what is important to someone like me. Too bad for us.

Mrs. E. deA. West
Wayland, MA

[Ouch! I'm certainly not going to argue with the writer, who is an old friend of mine as well as the mother of two old school friends. In my defense, however, I note that Bush carried Arizona pretty comfortably, so my vote was immaterial. And I agree that Bush is a fink -- as well as a dunce, the term I used in my column... ed.]

October 31, 2000: Hold your nose and vote for Al Gore! Annoyingly stinky is better than disgustingly fetid!

Phrenchy
Vancouver, BC

[This was in response to my piece advocating free air time for political candidates, in which I expressed the view that none of the Presidential candidates was worth a vote. His "stinky vs. fetid" comment was in reference to Canadian politics -- but I think it applies equally well here ... ed.]


Land closures and political grandstanding

July 15, 2003: AMEN! Loved your article [Land closures, water supplies, and politics, February 21, 2003]! You should visit our site at ktmtalk.com and post up a thread, you'd be surprised how many people will be behind you in a heartbeat! Thanks for speaking up!

Josh Ream
Puyallup, WA

July 16, 2003: You hit the nail on the head. The extreme environmentalists don't care about the facts or [about] scientific research that shows certain areas are not very much affected by off road vehicles. All they care about is their own agenda -- closing as much public land as they can. It has been my experience that the majority of off-roaders are responsible people that take care of the places they like to visit.

Vinnie Barbarino
Member, BRC, CORVA, ASA

July 16, 2003: Wanted to take a moment to thank you for your well-written and logical essay regarding land closures and OHV use. I am an avid off-road motorcyclist in my thirties with three young boys just getting their feet wet in the sport. We enjoy many wonderful areas in Northern California and our riding/camping trips have become some of our most treasured family experiences... I am also an avid fly fisherman and hiker, and along with all of my riding group put a premium on maintaining wild land. In fact, my riding group in general is far more conscious of real environmental issues than some of my green "friends." We are in the trenches, so to speak, and take action accordingly. That includes cleaning up other people's trash, lecturing on fire safety, maintaining our trail systems, and generally being watchdogs for our precious riding areas. So many of the greens only want to talk, yet never get their hands dirty!

Unfortunately, as you mentioned, we are fighting a bit of an image problem. This is why I am so thrilled to see columns such as yours that can relay our point of view without the tarnished image infiltrating the message. It is appreciated... keep up the good work!

Craig Behnke
Chico, CA

July 19, 2003: I ride a dirt bike off-road in the woods. I am very responsible and have the ORV sticker, a quiet spark arrestor, and have my bike street plated and insured so I can legally ride roads to get between trails -- and I only ride on legal marked trails. Yeah, the bikes put a small groove in the ground, but I don't understand all the fuss about a few dirt bikes going by on a designated trail, minding their own business.

Bret (no last name given)
Michigan

[Thanks for the feedback, guys. I don't even own a dirt bike, but I get incensed at the constant barrage of environmentalist propaganda that floods the airwaves and our in-boxes. At a time when there are plenty of real environmental issues out there, why the fixation on fake ones, like "environmental destruction by OHVs?" In some places, they've even passed regulations forbidding certain kinds of hiking shoes! Where does it all end? ... ed.]

How 'bout some health coverage?

August 29: The best thing unions ("Tech workers' unions: Right track, wrong train," August 8) could do is provide health insurance for independent consultants. These days, with salaried positions no longer offering the job security they did in the past, the main reason for being an employee is health coverage. If a union could offer group health coverage to consultants, that would make it easier for us to go independent.

Waid "As In Paid" Boten
Naperville, Illinois

[This response was actually in the form of a phone call, not a letter -- but I figure it still counts... ed.]

Tech workers' unions, again

September 16, 2000: As a heavy duty shopper, I generally agree that it all comes down to money (Tech workers' unions -- right track, wrong train, 8/8/99), but benefits can sometimes be better than money. If one pays $400/month for health insurance, one has to earn over $550/month to get that net. If company pays (or takes it out of your pay before taxes), the shopper will save about 30% on the taxes, and the shop will save about 7% on Social Security and Medicare.

Matthew Saroff

[From the $400/month figure, I assume that Mr. Saroff has a family to support. Health insurance for kids does cost a lot -- but hey, that's the price you pay for having kids. Still, point taken ...ed.]

Debunking history is bunk

March 8, 1999: I like your list of things kids ought to learn in school but don't (Teach the real stuff!, February 17), but to add these things to the curriculum at the expense of teaching history would be a grave error.  Of course, if all you're being taught are myths, then I can understand the objection.  But there's already too much ignorance of history, to the detriment of society as a whole.  Lack of knowledge of history is precisely what leads to the proliferation of myths and outright lies.

I'm afraid there's no such thing as "a few incontrovertable facts" of history.  History only starts with the facts.  Facts without interpretation are not history.  You have to learn not only that the Battle of Gettysburg was fought in 1863, but what that means.

Keep history -- add more, in fact -- but by all means teach from better texts.  And add at least one of the extra bits you want to include: analytical logic.  Teaching kids how to become critical thinkers is more important than any subject they'll learn, because without knowing how to think critically, none of the other knowledge will matter.

So, here's a pop quiz.  Lewis and Clark were not the first white folks to cross the continent and reach the Pacific.  Who was?

Phrenchy
Vancouver, BC, Canada

[I certainly agree that history is important.  I think the best solution would be to send kids to school year-round, and not cut anything out of the curriculum -- summer vacation, after all, is a leftover from when this country was an agrarian society and farm kids needed the summer off to help work in the fields.  These days, when you give them the summer off, all they do is bounce basketballs all day, annoying their neighbors.  As for the first white guy, I should know this, but I don't.  A wild guess: Cabrillo?  He's the guy with the monument in San Diego.  Do Spaniards count? ...ed.]

[Phollowup phrom Phrenchy: Most Americans don't know who was first to cross the continent.  Probably too few Canadians know as well that it was Alexander Mackenzie in 1792 (I think).  I wish Ken Burns or someone up here would do a documentary on the trip so I could know as much about it as I do about the Lewis and Clark expedition.]

[Thanks for the info.  Just out of curiosity, I looked up Cabrillo on the Web.  Turns out that although he landed in San Diego way back in 1542, it wasn't by crossing the continent -- he sailed from the west coast of Mexico. ...ed.]


Upgrading old PCs

August 23, 2000: Just a little line to say I was searching for a processor and memory upgrade for a Compaq Presario I just bought for 500 bucks. It also has a 150Mhz processor. I was disappointed to find out a 150 is the best chip you can slap in there. It would be better to buy new laptop.

Jason Suppes

[I'm not sure if this letter was a response to Time to downgrade upgrade pain, or to Faster Chips, slower software, but at any rate, I'm obviously not the only one who has tried to upgrade a Presario laptop. As a followup to "Time to downgrade," I recently discovered that they now make 64MB memory cards for this machine -- when I bought it, the best you could do was 16MB per card, which allowed a total of 32MB. The new 64MB cards cost around $150.00 apiece, so I bought one and slapped it in, replacing one of the 16MB cards; so my machine now has a total of 80MB of RAM. I'm happy to report that it runs much better -- programs don't run much faster, but there's a lot less delay when starting a program, loading a big file, or switching from one program to another. Also, when I've got a large amount of data loaded in one program, it doesn't bring the machine to its knees, the way it used to. This machine is now almost three years old, and by the looks of things, I may actually get my usual PC goal of five years of useful life out of it after all.... ed.]

We hate software, too!

[I've received more letters in response to my column about the e-mail error than from any other column I've written. Here are most of them... ed.]

October 15, 2000: There aren't [legitimate reasons for wanting to use relaying]. That's why Authenticated SMTP was developed. Read up on it and don't put ignorant rants up on the web unless you've read applicable standards.

Orbs Catchall

Someplace, New Zealand

[This one was from an organization called Orbs (orbs.org), a self-appointed anti-spam vigilante group based down under. Now, I'm as dead-set against spam as anyone -- but I also have to earn a living. I had the temerity to explain the situation described in "I hate software!" and ask if these guys had a workaround. Turns out authenticated SMTP might work, if I can persuade my ISP to implement it. As for my column being an "ignorant rant," I'll take that as a compliment.... ed.]

September 18, 2000: I have been having an unbelievable ordeal with sending mail from Outlook Express using Yahoo as my outgoing SMTP. Thanks to one of the letters to the editor [turns out it was the one from Judy Zumbo, from April 12th... ed.], the problem has been solved. Not even the folks at Yahoo or the IT staff at my company were able to figure it out! Thanks so much!

Toni Wampler

September 16, 2000: I just installed Eudora yesterday. I went through the same issues and almost as much troubleshooting as you did to try and resolve this problem of receiving but not sending e-mail. I used two different mail servers, and downloaded several different e-mail clients. I sent mail to the tech support staff at both Yahoo! and mailandnews.com to verify the SMTP server names. I still can't send. I'm running W95. I don't know how to fix this.

Tony Samples

Followup from Samples -- I read the letter from July and I am in! I just had to put my ISP's (1stup.com) smtp server in place of my e-mail provider's smtp server for outgoing mail and it worked! I can send and receive e-mail through all of the mail clients that I have downloaded. By the way ... the Neoplanet browser has a very nice e-mail client, packaged in. Neoplanet.com, if anyone is interested. Thanks a million, Urb.

[That would be "Thanks a million, Gary," since Galloway's the one who offered the solution -- see below. Also, just as a postscript, I now have an account on a different ISP, here in Flagstaff, that does not have relaying disabled. When using this ISP, I'm able to send mail through the other e-mail provider's server.... ed.]

July 27, 2000: This is in response to your article "I hate software." There is no doubt that it is not the fault of the PC's software. I was finally able to prove that -- let me explain how I arrived at this conclusion.

My daughter has her own website (www.heidihowe.com). Her web hoster provides both incoming (POP3) mailboxes and outgoing (SMTP) mailboxes. Being a starving artist, my daughter is using some of the free ISPs available -- Juno, Freewwweb, and AltaVista. When I first tried Outlook with any of the free services there was no trouble receiving mail from her webhoster's server, but no luck sending mail through the web hoster's server. So to prove that the problem was the ISP, I set up my own personal Outlook to access a mailbox through my daughter's web host and using my ISP, AT&T. Success every time I sent and received email. I concluded I needed the name of the SMTP server of the free ISP's. I emailed each of the helpdesks of the free ISP's through their Website. Sad to say they are automated and of very little help. If you wanted to escalate the problem Freewwweb wanted you to call long distance then pay $2-3 a minute. On AltaVista however you could send email on your problem to the next level. Bingo! AltaVista told me they do not provide POP3 at this time but they do have an SMTP outgoing mail server. They gave me the name, I plugged it in and it works just fine.

This is the working configuration - I have listed as the POP3 server her webhoster's POP3 server, and in the SMTP I have listed the free ISP's server. So it seems to me that an ISP can set a bit on or off as to whether they allow outgoing mail through their servers. This is proven with the fact that I could use my ISP in the scenario above for outgoing mail, but could not using one other free (Freewwweb) ISP's outgoing SMTP mail server I tested in the same way.

One other thing I have not been able to figure out yet is how many people can I send email to at one time through the free services. My daughter has a mailing list for newsletters, etc of about 175 addresses. When I try to send through Outlook I get an error on the 10th name. I figure the ISP has a limit for spammers. I tried again with just 10 names on the list to see if would bomb. It didn't. So right now this is one I am still working on. Any ideas?

Gary Galloway

May 30, 2000: Did you ever get a solution to the 0x800CCC0e error? I just started having this problem.

Jonathan Hirst

May 8, 2000: I am getting the EXACT message you're getting. Tried the numeric IP, tried the server's base smtp server... nothing works. What's also weird, is that I have another account with the same company hosting my school's address. (coollink is the host, mcfattertech.com and tecknowledgey.net are the sites I own...) I tried to access my SCHOOL'S domain with the same ISP and still got the message. I can send from my ISP and from my free pop account at hotpop.com. I don't know if it's machine specific or not since I only have one machine.

Rob Schwartz

April 12, 2000: I have been doing a massive Internet hunt to resolve my issue with, "The connection to the server has failed. Account: [Server], Protocol: SMTP, Port: 25, Secure(SSL): No, Socket Error: 10051, Error Number: 0x800CCC0E" The difference being that I was unable to go out via FreeWWWeb or Yahoo. (Happening in both Outlook Express and Outlook.) When I stumbled across your November article, I thought I would let you know what happened to me and how it resolved. Yes, I did say resolve...

First, I put in the error message in various engines and then put it in piece by piece. I went on a little red herring hunt when I got a response that one part of the message meant that there were "things" fighting over port 25. I was very excited, but then found out it was a solution for Windows NT. No help for Judy. But keeping that in mind as well as reading the snipets I found...out the other message types (and the inadequate responses of the "support boards" I decided to base my plan of attack on the following... 1. Maybe FreeWWWeb and Yahoo were fighting over port 25. 2. Maybe FreeWWWeb (which is my ISP) was selfish and would let me use Yahoo's SMTP server directly. In other words, they would only let me go out through their SMTP. These ideas came from the fact that Yahoo kept suggesting I receive then send because their server may not recognize me if I didn't do it sequentially. (which had no effect). Anyway, how I handled it was to use my ISP's SMTP server for all the outgoing accounts regardless of the Mail services designated SMTP. It doesn't appear to be an issue with Outlook or Outlook Express because you can specify the "reply" address. Well I am not sure this will help, but I thought you might find it interesting. I believe if I was using a gateway from a LAN, I probably wouldn't have the fight over the port and could use both SMTP servers.

M. Judy Zumbo

April 2, 2000: You have inexplicably written about the very topic I was searching for an answer to myself! I, too, have been receiving the mysterious and enraging (hey, computers are supposed to make our lives easier) error message, when trying to send messages using Outlook Express under my Yahoo! mail account. I, too, checked and re-checked my account settings, etc. I thought you might like to view this Website: http://sockets.com/a_c2.htm. It is the online version of Windows Sockets Network Programming. Note particularly the link to "WSAENETUNREACH (10051) Network is unreachable", from which I quote the following: "TCP/IP scenario: The local network system could generate this error if there isn't a default route configured. Typically, though, WinSock generates this error when it receives a "host unreachable" ICMP message from a router. The ICMP message means that a router can't forward the IP datagram, possibly because it didn't get a response to the ARP request (which might mean the destination host is down). Note: this error may also result if you are trying to send a multicast packet and the default gateway does not support multicast (check your interface configuration). 20 User suggestions: Try to ping the destination host, to see if you get the same results (chances are, you will). Check the destination address itself; is it the one you wanted to go to? Check whether you have a router configured in your network system (your WinSock implementation). Do a traceroute to try to determine where the failure occurs along the route between your host and the destination host." Caveat: Although I am not in technical support myself, I have been a certified computer nut since before the IBM PC was in existence. The above is the only site I have been able to find that provides any reasonably helpful content regarding this error. I have not tried performing the traceroute yet -- not sure exactly how to go about that since the error only occurs when sending mail under Yahoo!, which leads me to believe that it must be a peculiar incompatibility between WinSock and Yahoo!'s gateways/routers... Good luck, and please, if you happen to remember that I sent you this mail, and you find a way to overcome this, please let me know!

Timothy Ward

Upgrade this!

February 15: Who says you can't keep your old disk ("Time to downgrade upgrade pain," February 13, 2000)? When I upgraded this puppy a year ago (I thought I was getting it repaired, but it basically got replaced -- but that's another story), the company that sold me the new machine installed my old, small disk as a secondary IDE device. This is not always recommended because of incompatibilities, but in my case it worked fine (after some tweaking on my part -- but that's another story). The process went even more smoothly when my esteemed spouse upgraded her machine. In her case, they simply did a disk-to-disk copy from the old disk to the new one. As far as I remember, she did not have to reinstall anything. She also has her old disk in the new machine, but the vendor did the copying. Even if there's a compatibility problem you should be able to get the vendor to do a disk-to-disk copy for you. If they won't, find another vendor. In both cases, we said that we needed upgrades, not entirely new systems. This lets you buy a new machine without new software (after all, I'm already a Windows licencee). When I went from Win95 to Win98, I did it myself. I was not about to change hardware and software at the same time. I made sure all my stuff was running properly before I upgraded to Win98. As well, I just about never get rid of installation files, even for downloaded software. Whatever you save in disk space isn't worth the aggravation you'll face later when you need to reinstal for whatever reason. Happy upgrading!

Phrenchy
Vancouver, BC

[Who knew? I've never heard of anyone doing what you did -- but it sure as heck makes sense. I have a feeling I might have a problem using the disk from this laptop machine in a desktop box -- but I should at least be able to do the disk-to-disk copy thing. As for never deleting installation files, I'm on that bandwagon -- now. But I still can't find my Dreamweaver disk.... ed.]

Staff this!

September 28: You're right ("Staffing Crisis? What staffing crisis?," 5/5/98)! Companies are also doing questionable things like layoff IT professionals off 3 months prior to Jan. 1, 2000. They claim that the reason for the layoffs are budget cuts in Y2K funding. What's wrong with this picture? Why on earth would a company lay off IT employees 3 months before the Y2K date? It seems to me that they would want to keep IT professionals around at least until the Y2K crisis is over. Weren't they just screaming to high heaven about a shortage of COBOL mainframe programmers 6 months ago? Oh, and it gets better: they expect these COBOL mainframe folks to be around to fix the Y2K bugs after January 1. Hah! Is it me, or are our American Corporations gluttons for punishment? Please help me to understand so that I can stop wasting my time on sending out resumes and collect unemployment until January 1 blows over.

ITMBA
Somewhere in Cyberspace

[I had no idea people were still reading that column! Now you see why I keep my back issues on-line... ed.]


Fund this!

November 1, 1999: How interesting! I think it would be even better to instead put that surplus money (Taxation by ticket is tyranny, 3/12/98) towards building faster more techologically advanced roads, highways, and freeways that would allow motorists to move along faster. Please -- the average vehicle can handle speeds of excess of 75 mph while still providing safe handling. Of course you could say that many people just plain don't know how to drive [that's exactly what I did say, in The nut that holds the wheel, September 10, 1998 -- ed.]... YES! Excessive [ticket] funds are an outstanding resource; use them properly and everyone benefits.

Sincerely,

Justin Ahlquist

Flunk 'em off the road!

April 22, 1999: I share your frustrations about road rage and phone use while driving ("Road rage -- its time, inevitably, has come," April 22). I'm always yelling at a person driving telling them to hang up. I won't buy a cell phone for my car. I want my attention to be directed at those idiots who have those things. I have an idea how we can get some people off the road... Every 2 years or so every person must pass a driving skills competition in which only the top 50% qualify and keep their right for driving on the road. The skills test will include the following: proper spacing while in motion with other vehicles, gliding to red lights at a normal speed, a 1-mile straight line test for those who like to weave, a turning test for those who forgot how to take a corner, and finally trip planning of how long it actually takes to get somewhere so that there is always a 10-15 minute buffer depending on the unexpected. If you fail the skills test, you lose all rights to use the roads due to lack of qualification. Looks like walking, car pooling, and public transportation is the way to go for them. This also will reduce auto insurance rates because of the reduced claims; reduced so-called road rage attacks; and less fear of driving on public roads.

Wayne Ernissee
Lincolnshire, Illinois

Cell phone use while driving: it can be deadly

April 7, 2004: I am the father of Timothy Couch, who lost his life due to a person running a red light [while talking on the phone]. Yes, I lost a son that was dear to me -- but Carry, his wife, lost her husband, lover, friend, breadwinner and the father to their children. His brother, Monty, lost a hunting companion. His sister, April, lost a dear brother she was close to. Monty and myself have lost a motorcycle riding buddy forever. His mother, Kathy, lost a son she thought so much of.

One might wonder why I am telling these personal things. Well, I want the world to know what you stand to lose if you RUN A RED LIGHT TALKING ON THE CELL PHONE. As I write these words, tears are flowing freely, knowing I will never see or hear my son again due to this tragedy.

Is that call so important that you take a chance on taking someone's life -- or maybe [losing] your own? Think about the pain that will be caused by not stopping for the red light. Think about the financial aspect of running the red light on your family and the family of which you took away their loved one. Think about what you would be going through if it was your son, father, brother, mother, sister or maybe a dear friend. There's an old saying about beating a dead horse, but I think in this situation that this horse needs to beat again and again and again until people understand the burden of not stopping at a red light. I pray to God that you never have to go through this as this family did.

If the phone rings, pull over before you answer it. If you need to make a call, pull over and save someone's life, maybe your own.

In loving memory of Timothy Trent (Tim) Couch,

Richard Couch
Brownwood, Texas

[See the following letter, from the widow of the late Mr. Couch, for further explanation of what happened. In its original form, Richard's letter referred to "this tragic accident." However, I changed the wording, because my first Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor told me, "Never use the word 'accident' -- when two vehicles hit one another, it is a collision. It is not an accident. It should have been avoided." Truer words were never spoken... ed.]

April 2, 2004: I just wanted to say thank you for your article on this subject (Hang up and drive, March 31, 1998). On September 21, 2003, my 29-year-old husband was sitting at a red light, waiting to make a left turn to go east, when a man driving a Suburban and TALKING ON HIS CELL PHONE was going north. He RAN THE RED LIGHT. He was then struck by a car going west and was pushed into my husband, killing him instantly. Now my children and I have to go the rest of our lives without him. I have been trying to find anyone out there who is against driving and talking on cell phones. I thought maybe if I got my tragic story out there it might make some people stop doing it. Thank you again for your article, it meant a lot to me.

Carry J. Couch

[It's hard to find words to express my sorrow and anger over your story.

Despite the sometimes humorous tone of my column, I take the phoning-while-driving issue very seriously. As a motorcyclist, it scares the stuffing out of me when I'm riding through traffic and see people driving huge cars and SUVs while talking, laughing, and gesturing on the phone. It's almost enough to make me give up riding -- not quite, but almost.

The really scary ones are the young drivers. I work on a college campus and also go to school, and in my observation, anyone who got a driver's license within the past 5-6 years is at the age where they basically grew up with a cell phone glued to their ear at all times. They use the telephone in a fundamentally different way from those of us who grew up before mobile phones. I have a mobile, but I use it basically the same way I use a regular phone -- sit down, make a call, talk to the person, then hang up and go about my business. Most of the time, I tend to call people from home, even though I take the phone everywhere. And I never, ever use the phone while driving -- if the phone rings when I'm on the road, I pull over and answer it if I can do so safely; if not, I just let it ring and check my voice mail later. The college kids are different -- they use the phone as almost a continuous communication device, and when they get in the car, the thought of hanging up the phone does not occur to them -- they just keep right on talking.

I've been investigating getting a jamming device, which could be used to block cell phone signals within a reasonable distance of my car or bike. Cell-phone jammers are illegal in this country, but they're legal in Israel (probably because Hamas and other terrorist groups use cell phones to detonate bombs). I've found a few Israeli-manufactured products you can get by mail for a few hundred dollars -- unfortunately, the handheld ones have a range of only a few feet. I'd like to be able to mount something on my motorcycle, and have a "push-to-jam" button I could use to hang up the phone of anyone I observed talking on the phone and driving irresponsibly within, say, 100 feet or so. The argument against this is that you could be jamming an emergency 911 call -- but that's nonsense. The calls I'd want to jam would be instances where I could see the driver -- and if they're laughing, they are not on the phone with a 911 operator.

What can be done legally? I'm not optimistic. The problem is that in this country, driving is simply not taken seriously. When you see one of those "America's Worst Drivers" shows on TV, it's considered funny. People do not take seriously the fact that when they don't have any driving skills, others can end up dead. As far as cell phones are concerned, everyone thinks that THEY can do it safely -- "oh, sure, it's not a good idea to talk on the phone behind the wheel, but I'm not like those idiots, I can do it," they reason. At this point, it has become such a well established habit that it would be very difficult to get effective legislation passed. Hence my idea of taking matters into my own hands with a jamming device. In any case, I'm so sorry to hear of your story. I hope you're managing; I can't imagine dealing with the kind of loss you have suffered. Thanks for writing... ed.]

February 3, 2004: [I got a short note today, from an Oregon-based songwriter named Michael Frazier, who recorded a song called "Hang Up and Drive" a couple of years ago. You can listen to the song on-line here. Recommended! ... ed.]

September 22, 2003: I'm a recent convert to the "hang up and drive" movement mostly as a result of riding with my husband while he converses with anyone who calls -- and at any given moment. Any suggestions for locating a group or a legislator in Colorado who is promoting this move?

Linda (last name withheld for the sake of domestic harmony)

[I'm afraid I don't know of any efforts to ban phoning-while-driving in Colorado. And generally, I think the issue is a lost cause. The time to address it would have been about 10 years ago, when "car phones" were still rare and expensive. Now that everyone and his teenage daughter has one, there's no much we can do... ed.]

July 15, 1998: I agree whole-heartedly with your opinion regarding phone drivers.  There's definitely something about holding a handheld unit and conversing that immediately renders drivers unattentive and downright dangerous.  About a year ago I was driving home from work on the Mass Pike and noticed a pickup truck in front of me swerving first to one lane and then to the other.  This was busy, rush hour traffic; all lanes congested, and he's going so far as two feet over the lane markers on one side and then the other.  Just as you described, he'd catch his drifting, jerk back suddenly, stay in his middle lane, then drift away again moments later.

I decided this must be a drunken red neck, stereotyping a bit based on the pick up truck, so I resolved to just get away from this person.  Since the traffic behind me was heavy, preventing me from falling back, I decided I'd pick a moment and bolt by him until he was a fleck in my rear view, then proceed driving in the middle lane with the traffic flow.  So, upon passing this
vehicle, I look over and see a shirt-and-tied, hair-slicked-back man rapping away on the phone and gesticulating wildly.  It really pissed me off!  It's almost amazing how somebody cannot realize that they are driving so badly.

Anyway that's just one, albeit probably the worst, situation I've witnessed; but I do see it all the time.  Its almost at the point where if I'm behind a car driving very badly I expect a phone user, unless its a station wagon, that's a completely different rant.

John "V-Mail" Vandale
Newton, MA

 

Stop whining and slow down!

March 29, 1998: I know a sure-fire way to keep speeding ticket revenue ("Taxation by ticket is tyranny!," March 24) out of the pockets of either the municipality or the state: don't speed!  Can you imagine the fits politicians would have if this source of revenue dried up?  It's entirely under the control of motorists.

Here in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, we have photo radar.  It's horribly fair, and there are whines galore about how the province is simply picking the pockets of motorists.  But the province -- or the state -- can't pick the pocket of a motorist who doesn't exceed the speed limit.

I'm not always happy with the posted speed limit, but as long as I know the cops are taking it seriously, I have to as well.

And I dare say that any motorist who is "absent-minded" while on the road might be better off retrieving his licence at the police station than driving!

Phrenchy
Vancouver, BC

 


Golf: a good motorcycle ride foregone

September 21, 1999: Geez, you're putting me to sleep with this one ("My favorite golf books," September 9)! So how are the plans coming for the move to Arizona? Any closer? P.S. Please don't ever write about golf again.... :)

Ducati Man
Cary, NC

Fútbol follies

July 1, 1998: Americans are missing the boat when it comes to soccer, but heck, it's their loss.  I do feel bad for Americans who don't have Univision or some other way to watch the matches.  Here in Canada, TSN (The Sports Network) has shown every match, courtesy of the most excellent French producers (except when they insist on showing the Mexican wave over and over again <g>) and BBC commentators.  TSN's commentary at halftime and in the evening is also intelligent and insightful--no smirking 'round these parts.

By the way, don't underestimate the strength involved in this sport.  You've no doubt seen the jostling that goes on in front of the net on a corner kick and some of the struggles for the ball along the touchlines. But you're right--the ability to run for 45 minutes at a stretch is much more important, along with agility and ball control.

I guess Americans will continue to content themselves with gridiron football and basketball, neither of which I care about watching.  I prefer hockey, another sport with too little scoring for residents of the Excited States.

Phrenchy
Vancouver, BC


Keep 'em coming!

April 6, 1999: I just read this month's editorial ("What you don't know can cost you," April 1).  I liked it, but I kept waiting for the part where you were going to tell me something went wrong with your car recently and how you fixed it and how much you saved.  Anyway, I always read the editorials.  I think you should step them up to once a week!

Ducati Man
Cary, NC

[I haven't fixed my car lately, because nothing's gone wrong with it lately!  The last time it needed any work done was last July, when I needed a new exhaust system, as you'll recall from "Ode to a rice burner."  Say what you will, drilling and tapping holes for exhaust studs is a task better left to those with hydraulic lifts at their disposal!  As for the frequency of my column, well, when I have time to write it once a week, I'll write it once a week -- but the demand for my considerable job skills is just too dang high right now! ...ed.]  

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