Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Oh no! I hurt that publisher's feelings!

Lately I've been less critical of the Sentinel than I once was. For good reason too. Since the new publisher took over, there's just not as much there to be critical of.

So yay for the Sentinel, right? Let's all move on to a happy new day of better newspapers! Let's forget the past crappy publishers and let bygones be bygones!

Or alternately, let's make fun of the hilarious comment the former publisher (or someone cleverly impersonating him) just made on this old post!

Yep, that would be more fun. But doing it on a post from five months ago would be pretty pointless, so I'll bring his long-ass comment to the forefront here, interspersed with my response. Fun!

Mr. Chuck Owen, former publisher of the Sentinel, will have his comments in blockquotes for your protection. I will respond in normal text. Don't get confused! By the way, I'm not going to bother throwing [sic]s in his quotes, because it's such a horrible mess it would probably take me forever. Just pretend there's a big [sic] at the end of the whole thing.

We start our tale with what I assume is a failed attempt at humor regarding my pseudonym. Or he's trying to insult me? Beats me...
Hey Madcow,

You know, I read your comments when you first posted them back a few months ago and I came across them again as I was looking into something on line. Let me offer you something, I am that departed publisher and I still stand by my words from that article. What is interesting is that you were not in the room when I was being interviewed so you wouldn't have a clue about the context of the question.

Yeah, that's not really interesting.

Also, the article was in interview form. Which sort of suggests that the context is right there in the article. Or was there a lot of hand-gesturing and winking that adds context we're not aware of? Maybe it was just edited down from a huge context-filled cornucopia of journalistic brilliance?

Not that it much matters if he stands by those statements anyway...

Oh, I should probably mention what statements we're talking about. The part that I focused on is presented here in full. I will use double-blockquotes so you know it's not something Owen said in his comment, just something he said in the Worcester Business Journal. I'll also bold the part that's particularly of interest/controversy.
What about competition?
Quite frankly there's competitors coming out of the woodwork: the [public access] cable, the [free weekly] Leominster Champions, the Fitchburg Prides of the world. The free newspaper has its niche, and I respect it a great deal, but it doesn't have the news of the day. They can shape it all they want as being flowery and nice news and stuff like that, but you know what, I'll use this analogy: People go to stock car races not so much because they want to watch it go around and around and around. They go to see the car crash. We're reporting on certain pieces of news, news that people may not like, and they may call it negative, but it gets people to respond, to clean up, to take an active role in their community.

So that's what this hubbub is about, and that sort of car-crash journalism is what Mr. Owen stands behind. Incidentally, that statement by Owen also got the attention of the Publisher of the Fitchburg Pride, who wrote about it (and me, slightly) in an op-ed here.

As you'll find throughout this post, Owen isn't big on sticking to any one topic for more than a couple sentences. He defends himself, then makes weird attacks on me, then goes back to defending himself. I will henceforth assume he has poorly-managed rapid-cycling bipolar disorder and his meds are acting up. Or maybe he just can't form a coherent thought. You decide!

Anyway, let's have an attack now!
Like many people who hide behind blogs, is that your an expert on many things but you probably don't have the character to speak with the person directly or go before a group publicly.
In this quote, Mr. Owen is clearly trying to confuse me by cleverly switching the subject in the middle of a sentence that doesn't make any damn sense in the first place. No dice, Chuck!

Anyway, yeah, I'm pseudonymous. Boo-fucking-hoo. Welcome to the internet.
What does come through pretty clearly in your writings is that your a pretty angry person.
Another blow! He thinks I'm angry! I am indeed! I'm glad my writing conveyed that properly.

Now, here's where things start to get extra-confusing. Taking a break from the attack/defend dichotomy, Chuck starts responding to the various comments on that old post. I won't say a lot, but I do encourage the commenters to stick up for themselves in the comments to this post.

Especially you, Mr. Bartender. He's about to move from praising you to insulting you in no time at all...
The bartender hits the nail on the head when he states some of the primary roles of a newspaper is ad sales and circulation of the paper but, to state it as if that's it's only purpose is wrong. Mr. Bartender, I grew up in the newspaper business and have worked in it from the business side for over 20 years, I have a very solid business perspective of the business. So when it comes to my understanding the role of newspapers, why don't you stick to mixing cocktails and pouring Bud's!!
I think the meds must have worn off halfway through that... And yeah, shame on you Bartender! How dare you express an opinion that actually defends what Owen said! He doesn't approve of that!

Continuing (and finally finishing up the first paragraph of his screed), we abruptly back away from praising/insulting commenters and move back to Chuck's stupid car crash.
The content is important to many who buy it and read it on line. When you look at the Sentinel over seven days, there is a whole lot of good positive things covered and they out weigh the negative. That is what was being discussed.
It's a shame that the thing being discussed didn't appear in that article, then. I was only responding to the article itself. I'm not a mind reader, Mr. Owen!

Anyway, Owen's first paragraph is finally over!
The Sentinel has been recognized by it's fellow papers in Massachusetts and N.E, for some of the articles written over the last couple of years winning awards in their category and newspaper size.
That's super. Unfortunately, a shitty paper winning awards because other shitty papers respect it is not a substitute for being a good paper.

You don't get that from the wind [Ed. Huh?], you get those results from very young reporters who are probably working their first full time gig. They are led by a person who cares greatly about how they do their jobs and is passionate about his work, Jeff McMenemy. You may not like Jeff's views in his editorials, I didn't always but, to my point that it gets people to respond, is important. He continues to work with reduced budgets and staffs like many business have to do today and because the these jobs are handled by new fresh out of college kids their average time at the paper is barely over 2 years on average. Many pursue the next level if they can and move on. It's not perfect, if you want a deeper dive into the human tragedy of not being able to afford an XBOX or any presents at all at Christmas, your fortunate you live where you do, pick up the Globe or the T&G and read the deeper dive into it. They have the resources to commit the attention it rightfully deserves.
I'll translate that semi-coherent rambling for you:

Nobody but kids straight out of school will work for us. Jeff McMenemy threw in all that shit about "liberals" in an hilarious attempt to be controversial. Also, he tries hard with the shitty budgets and stuff, he's just not really competent. Most people we hire leave after 2 years (once they find something anything better). It's okay that the Sentinel sucks because the Globe and T&G are slightly better.

Which just boils down to a lot of excuse-making. You're not automatically allowed to be a crappy paper just because nobody wants to work for you. More likely, nobody wants to work for you because you're such a crappy paper. Have some higher standards!

Also, it's not okay to suck just because other newspapers in the area don't suck as bad. What the hell kind of logic was that?

Anyway, we get a new paragraph now, and it's back to addressing commenters and so forth:
Sorry Rachel, the posting of Unicow didn't have a damn thing to do with me leaving. They were between me and my employer. Before you take up the practice of bashing what I did or didn't do, let me tell you a little. I attended many of the debates in Fitchburg from School committee to Mayor, I met with many of the Rotary members at their luncheons, I meet with many business owners in the area and attended openings. I spoke with Lisa Wong on several occasions and to make certain I was fair in my own approach, I spent an afternoon riding around the city with Councilman Donnelly, learning as much as I could and listened. I met with the Mayor of Leominster and other community leaders in both cities. Doing this while trying to lead a sales team as a market was sliding and tend to other aspects of running a newspaper.
Personally, I never thought what I write had a thing to do with Owen leaving. On the other hand, what firing isn't "between me and my employer"?

Also, bragging about doing the things the publisher of the local paper should probably be expected to do? Awesome! Hell, I've done a bunch of those things too and I'm just a cowardly blogger!

Now is around the time that Chuck Owen, former publisher of the Sentinel, starts to get upset with me. Watch out children!
Don't flatter yourself Madcow, you would reach more people standing on a street corner with a megaphone than reading your ranting blog. The only reason I found it back in January was when I happened to google the Sentinel and my name together.
I'm not really sure how knowing how many hits my site gets and judging that number to be bigger than the number of people I could reach yelling on Main St counts as flattering myself, but whatever. Apparently the only websites that exist to Mr. Owen are those he finds when Googling his own name.

And seriously, should he be saying I'm flattering myself then immediately launch into talking about how he's doing Google vanity searches on his own name? I mean, he could at least throw a couple sentences in between to make the irony less obvious!

Then Chuck's meds kick in and he's back to approaching lucidity again!
Let's be clear on something, sensationalism isn't what I was promoting, it's what people most often respond to in papers and click through on news web sites. People use papers for many things and everybody differs on what they like and dislike. The Sentinel isn't the problem in your area, if you insist that it is, your misguided. Poor economy, poor leadership over a stretch of many years, the electricity provider in the area runs like a monopoly. With Lisa Wong in place and a number of new faces on the city council, your headed in the right direction. Your state reps should be pushing for high speed rail to run out through Fitchburg. Shortening the commute to Boston substantially would drive housing in many of the areas, bring in more money into the communities and would help with traffic.
Okay, I don't have a lot to complain about there (aside from the lie that he wasn't promoting sensationalism, because that's exactly what he was doing).

I assume this was in response to my throwaway comment that included: "I've become convinced at this point that the Sentinel is one of the biggest problems facing Fitchburg in its quest for rejuvenation. It's a cancer on this town."

In retrospect, that was pretty hyperbolic. "Biggest" wasn't the right word. Oh, the S&E is a big problem (less so now than back then), but certainly not the biggest. So you win this round, Chuck! I stand by the paper being a cancer on the town, though.

Sadly, the meds didn't last long, and it's back to Angry Chuck Owen!
To be truthful Madcow, I'm not going to judge you based on your writings, [...]
Well, what a sweet sentiment that is. What a nice guy! Now watch while he does precisely the opposite!
[...] clean up your use of the vulgarities it really shows your age, early twenties? If your older than that, grow up. Oh but wait a minute that would infringe on your first amendment rights? The only place you would get published is on your own blog.
I forget where I asked for writing advice, but obviously I must have. Why else would I get this little lecture from a guy who writes at a fifth-grade level?

Worse yet, a former publisher of a shitty paper in an industry I resoundingly despise says I can't get published! Motherfuck! And all my goddamned swearing makes me seem ten cockwaggling years younger than I am!

And umm... something about growing up infringing my First Amendment rights? Huh? If someone tells me to "grow up" I don't think it's a constitutional issue. It's just a sign that that person is an asshole. An asshole who in this case works in publishing but seems to have a negative view of the First Amendment. Which is a bit creepy.

Now the final bit of Chuck's diatribe.
The part that gets me the most is how judgemental you and some of your fellow bloggers are. Don't let the title fool you, I'm more of a regular guy than anything else. I don't pretend to have all the answers and they more than likely don't align with you. When people ask for an opinion, I'll give it. Every body wants to be liked but I'm a big boy and what you or others like you think really doesn't matter. They usually come from people who don't want to put a face to the words, who don't want to get involved with the process from a public service stand point and generally they just want to complain and bitch about things while feeling they have all the answers but not the stones to try and bring them forward.
Oh no! I'm stoneless! We calls them "balls" in the grown-up world, Chuck. Or is that too vulgar?

Shockingly, it's quite true that I've never done any public service using the name "Unicow." Go figure!

For a guy who doesn't care what I think, that was a hell of a long ranty bitchfest about me expressing what I think.

So what have we learned here?

A summary:
  • Chuck Owen writes like a fifth-grader.
  • Chuck Owen was a worse publisher than I thought.
  • Chuck Owen doesn't like bloggers in general, and me in particular.
  • Chuck Owen is sort of a dick.
  • We are very lucky the Sentinel got a new publisher.
Yeah, I think that's about it!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Something actually fun to do!

Okay, my last post was a little weak. Boring public policy meeting + awesome Guitar Wolf video doesn't necessarily = fun.

Let me cut down the focus this time.

Way back in October of 'ought-seven I made a post in which I casually remarked that I had seen "The super-talented 'Scott Beddia Trio' (oddly composed of five people)".

Well, Mr. Beddia (a Fitchburger) found said post and has mentioned to me that he'll once again be playing at DeStare this Thursday night (May 1). This handily coincides with the Fitchburg "First Thursday" stuff, which ought to draw people downtown anyway.

Should you go?

Yes, you should!

"But why should we go, Mr. Unicow?" you may ask.

That's easy. Let me provide you with a list:
  • Supporting Fitchburg artists is good.
  • I guarantee it will be cooler than the creepy clown stuff on tap for First Thursday.*
  • The dude can really drum.

So yeah, go see him! Support local artists, and have a martini or something!

Note that while that's just a video of Scott, the actual "Scott Beddia Trio" (which also contained an excellent guy on 5- [maybe 6-] string bass and a keyboardist who's good with the banter, plus a small horn section that is also good but maybe isn't part of the trio?) will be playing this week.

I couldn't find any handy online videos of the trio, but take that talent and extrapolate it times three (or five? seven? whatever), and you get an idea. See them!

*Guarantee void in Massachusetts and surrounding states

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Exciting public policy meetings ahoy!

More than a month ago a nice lady from the Pioneer Institute sent me an email telling me about this event taking place on April 25th and asking me to plug it.

My attitude at the time was basically "meh, I'm not a fucking clearinghouse for press releases." But I'm fickle and haven't felt like writing much lately, so I'll plug it anyway.

It's the "Center for Economic Opportunity Annual Conference" and Mayor Wong is speaking at it. Per the woman organizing it:
Mayor Wong will be talking about her plans for smart growth in Fitchburg - developing by the river, road, and rail. She will be on a panel with city leaders discussing innovations in the field of economic development.


The event is part of Pioneer Institute's Middle Cities Initiative. Middle Cities are Massachusetts' older industrial cities that are politically and economically in limbo between the traditional power base of greater Boston and the burgeoning political force of the suburbs, and between their former industrial role and newer market function. Pioneer Institute is launching the Middle Cities Initiative to help the state and cities implement a comprehensive agenda for reviving urban markets and improving city governance. Pioneer is facilitating coalition meetings with mayors, making recommendations to the state for better oversight, and creating benchmarks for performance that can be used by the state and cities alike to gauge progress.

In case you're blind, here's the link to it again.

It's on Friday from 8:30-11:30 AM. So I guess if you're retired or unemployed or something and you're a big policy wonk go and have a super-fun time!

In order to make this post less boring, here's a totally unrelated video for a movie I find myself wanting to see!


Monday, April 14, 2008

Hey bloggers, I need some help!

Hello fellow bloggers and assorted other people. I need your help.

See, I'm interested in starting another blog (not related to this one) and I know there are at least a few of you out there who read me and also run your own blogs.

I'm pretty familiar with the Blogger/Blogspot offerings at this point, and am wondering if there's something better out there I should be using. Blogger's okay, but it's pretty basic and uninspiring. Plus the "make a blog before you can comment" policy is desperately stupid, and in general the commenting system is pretty poor.

So do any of you other bloggers have any advice for me? I'm looking for something that allows a good deal of customization, has a good privacy policy (I love my anonymity!), gets listed reasonably well by search engines, and allows more fine-grained control over the commenting system. I'm no slouch with computers, so ease of use is less of a concern for me than power and the ability to make it work the way I want.

I've read various reviews here and there, but they tend to be by people who've just switched to a new system, and are likely to miss a lot of the frustrations and quirks that a longer-term user would know about.

I'm open to pretty much anything, from sticking to Blogger (or Blogger with a different commenting system) to Wordpress, Movable Type, etc., to just buying some server space and installing an open-source CMS on it. If anyone can provide input on the perks (and especially the drawbacks) of their preferred blogging system it would be greatly appreciated.


Monday, April 07, 2008

Vaccination fun!

Earlier I expressed my pleasure with the Fitchburg Pride for having a real reporter who does actual journalism and produced a decent article.

Sadly, the local daily paper can't measure up to the standard set by the free weekly paper.

Case in point: A pox on them: Parents slam school; officials say they are following law, in the Sentinel of course.

This incredibly sloppy and biased piece of stenography (it's certainly not journalism) brings to mind all the things that are wrong not just with the Sentinel, but with so many news outlets in general.

It's a simple story of an incredibly dumb woman who refuses to vaccinate her children and whines that the school treats her unfairly because she's just too stupid to understand what's going on.
Genna and Felix Velazquez made a decision to avoid immunizing their two elementary school-age daughters against Varicella disease, more commonly known as the chicken pox.

The Velazquez family is now concerned their 8-year-old daughter Dianelis Velazquez is being unfairly singled-out by Reingold Elementary School officials because of their decision.
Oh no! Mean old school! They're saying her kid can't be in school because there's an outbreak of Varicella!
The school's decision is based on a state statute that allows schools to quarantine students exempt from immunizations if their [sic] is an "outbreak."

"Basically, it isn't up to the school to determine this policy," Roy said Thursday. "It is the Department of Public Health who dictates the policy."

The law requires a number of immunizations before a child can enter school. If 'sincere religious beliefs' exempt a child from receiving immunizations, the law permits schools to quarantine the student if they are susceptible to an illness.
Oh, I guess it isn't such a mean old school. It's a school that follows the law (and common sense) by not exposing her child to disease and turning her into a likely vector who can then go around infecting everyone else.

I guess we need to change the headline then, because the original was misleading. I suggest: "A pox on them: Parents whine about law; officials follow it".

The whole article is at this same level. Velazquez is bafflingly portrayed as some sort of victim, instead of properly being mocked for being a whiny idiot who chooses to endanger her children because of some moronic religious belief.

Let's look at a few examples.

First is the most obvious one. Velazquez has absolutely no basis for her claim that she's being treated unfairly. Which makes me wonder why the article was even written in the first place. But unfortunately it was, so here are some more examples of sheer ineptitude on behalf of the reporter.
Reingold Elementary officials told the family that Dianelis Velazquez must be out of school from April 11- 22, according to Genna Velazquez.That time would fall in the middle of school vacation, meaning Dianelis Velazquez would be away from school for nearly three weeks in a row.

April 11th is this Friday. School vacation takes place from April 21-25. Which means the kid misses a grand total of 6 days of classes. That doesn't sound too bad though, so the reporter chose to focus on the far greater but totally meaningless measure of time "away from school," as if weekends and vacation time should be significant. Even taking that nonsensical measure, the kid's going to be "away from school" from April 11-27, or 17 days. That's two weeks and three days, which no sensible person would call "nearly three weeks."

Velazquez herself is clearly not a very bright woman, and asks lots of questions in the article.
Genna Velazquez knows of two students in her daughter's class that had chicken pox. The family didn't receive notification the first time a student came to school with red pox associated with Varicella, Velazquez said.

"The nurse told me the first case was unconfirmed and that's why they didn't call me," she said. "If this second case is confirmed, why was the student at school today (Wednesday)?"
The reporter didn't bother to find an answer to this question. Nor did she even confirm that the child with the confirmed case (the only one that matters) was actually at school.

If the infected student was at school, s/he probably shouldn't have been. But we have no way of knowing if that's even the case. Not that it matters one bit to Velazquez's crazy-ass claim anyway. It's just irrelevant whining, meant to make you think there's some sort of vast conspiracy to keep Velazquez's daughter out of school.

Another bit from Velazquez that goes without response:
"Anyone who can't prove immunity should go home," Genna Velazquez said. "Why are we protecting students who are immunized if the vaccine works?"
I count three problems in that one quote!
  1. Velazquez's kid is the only one who isn't immunized. Everyone else can prove immunity, because doctors keep records!
  2. They're not "protecting students who are immunized"! They're protecting your daughter because you failed to do so! They're also protecting anyone your potentially infectious daughter comes into contact with.
  3. The "if the vaccine works" bit is clearly meant to make the reader believe the vaccine doesn't work. That's stupid. No vaccine works 100%. The varicella vaccine itself has an efficacy of about 88.5%, and those who do get chicken pox anyway usually only get a mild case. The vaccine works just fine.
As we've come to expect, the stenographer behind the article addressed none of these points.

On to more problems!
Genna Velazquez called the state Board of Health. They simply explained that a child is contagious after six days of being exposed to the chicken pox.

"She has already been exposed to students with chicken pox," she said. "They are making us take her out at the end of next week, it just doesn't make sense."
Another unchallenged quote. If the stenographer had bothered to go to the Mass. Department of Public Health website she could have found the exact recommendation (pdf) that applies here. Which is:
Susceptibles shall be excluded from work or classes from the 10th through the 21st days after their exposure to the case while infectious with rash (not including the prodrome).
So yeah, that's about the right timeframe, dumbasses.

Okay, I've criticized Velazquez a lot in this post. And she deserves it. Not immunizing your child is one step from child abuse, as far as I'm concerned. Not immunizing your child for religious reasons is a half-step. The poor kid gets no say in any of this, she's just the innocent victim of ridiculously stupid parents and a government that allows virtually any stupid behavior to pass if it's part of your religion.

But Velazquez isn't the real problem. She's just a whiny idiot, nobody cares about her. I feel bad for her (and far worse for her unfortunate children).

The problem is the Sentinel's absurdly horrible article about her. It has all the hallmarks of trying to stir up another pointless controversy, it lacks the most basic fact-checking, it's clearly biased in favor of Velazquez, and it should be an embarrassment to the person who wrote it.

Worst of all, the article exists. This is not a news story. Velazquez doesn't have a legitimate complaint worth reporting on. She's a not-very-bright woman who doesn't understand that when you neglect to immunize your children there may be consequences.

The Sentinel should have done the smart thing and never run this story. If Velazquez contacted them, they should have said "We're sorry, but you're terribly confused" and sent her on her way. Instead they wrote a big horrible article about it, presenting her side almost exclusively, and making themselves look like total idiots in the process.

What you don't print is as important as what you do. The Sentinel has a long history of ignoring the actual news and printing this kind of tripe. Sadly, articles like this are in no way a surprise. Just a huge disappointment.

Hey Fitchburg Pride, nice job!

You know, sometimes you have to give credit where credit is due.

In this case, I want to point you to the Fitchburg Pride's quite decent article and editorial about drug treatment options in the area, and specifically the proposed Fitchburg Primary Care Associates clinic (who I've also written about before).

The article's pretty good, and was a pleasant surprise when I read it. Honestly, just seeing that a reporter in Fitchburg did some actual research is incredibly refreshing. Enough to make one "proud?" Meh. But it's enough to make me suggest you go read it instead of just ranting about it.

So umm... Good work!

Now I somehow feel dirty after saying all that. I need to go find something stupid in the S&E now to polish my blackened soul back to its normal sheen...

Phew! That was easy!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Another lousy drug prevention program

Last week there was an article in the Sentinel entitled Drug statistics sobering facts for parents. That was a pretty misleading title, because the article was really just about a regional conference of the National Association of School Resource Officers, but that's not super-important.

Now, the conference focuses on various things, but since the Sentinel decided to focus on the drug element, so will I!

Here's some relevant stuff from the article:
Students need to hear drug prevention messages early and often, said Lacy Lowrey, the manager of national programming and development for Project 7th Grade.


Project 7th Grade, part of a Phoenix-based youth program, offers free presentations to parents through schools and law enforcement officers.Lowrey gave statistics on youth drug use and exposure, including photographs of illicit drugs that are designed to attract young users and, in some cases, look almost indistinguishable from candy.
Damn pushers, stop making things look like candy!

Anyway, I had never heard of Project 7th Grade. But since they're getting free press in the Sentinel and are making presentations to local educators, I figured it might be a good idea to check them out and see whether they're reputable.

I should probably say from the outset that I think most drug prevention programs suck. The most well-known case of their suckage is probably the ridiculously ineffective waste of money that is the D.A.R.E. program.

Hell, you can even find articles in USA Today dating back to 1993 that talk about how DARE doesn't work. So it shouldn't be news to anyone that it's a waste of time and money. Yet people still support it, and I still got harrassed by some jerkwad in the entryway to Circuit City trying to raise money for it (he didn't like being told the research shows DARE is ineffective, apparently).

DARE is hardly alone in their suckage, though. The government's stupid anti-pot ads on tv may actually increase marijuana use, which frankly isn't surprising. Kids don't tend to listen to you when they can tell you're lying to them. Also, the ads are much funnier to watch when you're high.

So there's a lot of junk out there, and very few programs that work. But how about Project 7th Grade?

Now, I haven't been able to find any research on its efficacy, but it's a pretty new program. I did write to them asking if they could direct me to some research, but got no response. So let's just assume there isn't anything out there indicating their program actually works.

Still, if it's a sound program perhaps they'll pick up some good research down the road. Is it based on sensible ideas? Does it follow sound principles? What is it all about?

Having read over their stuff, it can be distilled down to one phrase from their website: "We recommend that you [drug] test your child frequently and randomly."

Of course, drug testing is generally a bad idea and has many destructive effects, but few positive ones. Even ignoring the erosion of trust and family bonds, there are false positives to be concerned about, not to mention oppositional effects (your parents don't trust you, so you might as well do drugs!). There's also a total lack of evidence that it's an effective deterrent to drug use. And, of course, it in absolutely no way addresses the source of the drug use. So it solves nothing.

Why would anyone put forth such a stupid program?

Well, that bit is easy. You see, Project 7th Grade is a partnership between notMYkid and First Check Diagnostics, LLC.

First Check Diagnostics just happens to be a company that makes and markets home drug testing kits. They have an ad on the front page of Project 7th Grade's website, and you get a free test kit at the completion of the program.

But, much like a 1970's movie where the pusher hooks unsuspecting suburbanites with free joints just to later get them hooked on smack, it's only the first one that's free. After that it's about forty bucks a pop. That's a pricey habit!

Sounds like a great program for putting money into the hands of drug testing companies, but not so great for actually dealing with drug use in kids.

Then again, most parents probably won't do more than a couple of these drug tests before they stop paying the high fees to do it. Which is awesome, because they'll already have managed to screw up their relationship with their kids. Then they'll stop testing and the kids can go off and inject angel dust into their eyeballs without needing to worry!

Now, the information that Project 7th Grade gives out may be truthful (though a perusal of their website suggests they're more in the fearmongering business than in actually taking a serious look at the issues). Perhaps they have other elements of the program that are good. I haven't seen the entire program, so I can't really say.

But it still appears to boil down to "drug test your kids." Which is just a terrible idea. So no, it's not a reputable program. It's a promotion for a home testing kit. Besides that, it's based on bad ideas. And chances are that if it has any effect on drug use at all, it's not a good effect.

Stay away from this one.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Junk I've picked up lately. Seriously.

Being a pretty curious guy, I am perhaps more attentive to the trash strewn in parking lots than many people. Some would argue I'm more attentive to it than any sane person should be. I mean seriously, what kind of nut actually examines the trash floating around in the wind or getting crushed by cars?

But sometimes I find interesting or disturbing stuff. Here's an example of each!

First off, I'm of the opinion that "Super Mario World" for the Super Nintendo was a pretty fantastic game. Apparently not everyone agrees, because someone left a copy sitting in the middle of a parking lot, where it had been run over by several cars.

Which exposed the sweet, sweet innards. Or, depending on your viewpoint, the cold mechanical heart of Mario's super world. Here's what was inside (notably a good deal smaller than the big grey cartridges SNES games came in).

Note: I've conveniently labeled the part you blow on when the game isn't working right. Though that was more of a NES than a SNES problem, I'm betting this particular cartridge could take quite a bit of blowing before it works right again.

So, bit of geekery there. But now we explore the dark side of crap that has been improperly disposed of!

At first glance, it's a simple envelope from a lawyer's office to a recipient who will remain unnamed for his or her own protection. Nothing notable about that.

Or is there?

Let's just say that if you're looking for someone to handle civil rights litigation, you probably don't want to turn to the firm of "Rubin, Rubin & Wilcox"...

Sources indicate that before settling on "Obedience to Law is Liberty" for their postage machine slogan, they also considered "Asking Questions = Treason," "America, Love It Or Leave It!", and the ever-popular "War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength."

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A sad announcement

As those of you who've followed me for awhile know, I've been at this blogging thing for about a year and a half. It's been fun, most of the time. But now it's time for me to move on.

This decision may come as a surprise, but it wasn't arrived at lightly. Allow me to explain to you exactly why I've decided to call it quits.
  • Writing is hard.

    I've been known to mock people who can't write very well, or who riddle their writing with scores of grammatical and spelling errors. But that was unfair of me. Writing is really hard!

    As it is, I spend a minimum of 4 hours on every post I make. One hour writing, one hour trying to adjust the flow of the post so it's not just a giant brain fart of words, and two hours fixing my myriad spelling and grammatical errors. I ask trusted confidants for revisions and editing, I go through three different spell-checkers, and I still miss stuf!

    I just don't have the time to keep that sort of thing up.

  • I've offended too many people.

    Sometimes it was purely accidental, other times it was probably intentional, but mostly it was just because I said what I thought without regard for whether or not people would be offended. The shame of this carelessness weighs on me.

    Yeah, I pretend like I don't care if people are offended by what I write here, but it's just an act. Sometimes I find it hard to sleep at night, just going over the list of all the people I might have made feel bad. That's no way to live.

    Sorry, everyone.

  • Public discourse in Fitchburg is too enlightened.

    That may seem like an odd thing to say, but it's true! The public is so enlightened and so reasonable that what I have to say pales in comparison to the average person on the street.

    Don't believe me? Just check out the Sentinel's reader comments forum! Unlike the internet as a whole, you'll find absolutely no petty bickering over unimportant issues. Nor are there constant racist remarks, nor uninformed diatribes about people on welfare, nor public access tv hosts pretending they're smart, nor lynch mob mentality, nor people just making stuff up and pretending it's true. None of that!

    How could I keep up in such an environment? I can't add anything to the conversation, because I'm unable to do the research and provide the necessary footnotes to make the sort of iron-clad arguments that are required to convince the highly erudite and skeptical commentators of Fitchburg of my point. I've been left behind.

  • Expressing different views isn't always good.

    One thing I've tried to do here is provide a different viewpoint on things than you're likely to hear elsewhere. Perhaps I hoped to shift the Overton window, or perhaps I was just looking for attention I was deprived of as a child. Who knows?

    Either way, it doesn't matter. If the public at large doesn't already think the things I do, who am I to go around mouthing off? I'm sure they're plenty well-informed on their own, and giving them a different viewpoint probably just annoys them.

    Anyway, the extremely diverse media outlets of this area provide enough differing views to keep anyone interested in such things happy.

  • Everybody has figured out who I am.

    I started this blog anonymously for a reason. That reason, of course, is that I'm a highly visible public figure with a lot of skeletons in his closet. I didn't want these skeletons coming out.

    But I've come to the conclusion that everyone knows who I am! Or they know someone who does. Or their aunt knows.

    I've tried to throw out red herrings from time to time. "I'm Matt Straight," "I'm Dan Mylott," "I'm Boots Riley," "I'm Rachel," etc, etc. It's not working anymore.

    Oddly, none of these myriad people that know who I am have yet bothered to actually mention it to me. I assume this is because I've offended them (see my second point above).

    Regardless, since who I am in real life is obviously super-relevant to this blog, I must bow out.

  • The newspaper isn't really that bad.

    Yeah, you heard me right. Sure, I've had a lot of complaints about the quality of the Sentinel. And sure, one of the primary reasons I started this blog was to provide a counter to the right-wing claptrap they were consistently putting out. But things have changed.

    If you read the S&E now, you'll find it presents a totally fair and well-researched vision of not just Fitchburg, but the world. You'll see deep, meaningful investigative reporting on the issues that matter most. You'll see nary a poorly-reasoned editorial nor the slightest bit of fear-based reporting. It's a standard more papers should live up to.

    Also, I'm taking a job with them. I start on the 14th.

So, for all these reasons, I bid you adieu. Thanks for reading!