Saturday, June 28, 2008

Nathan Bech is going to save us a penny

You may have seen this article in the Sentinel the other day. It's about Nathan Bech, a Republican challenging John Olver for his seat in the House of Representatives.

It's an interesting article mostly because after a whole article that consisted of nothing but parroting favored Republican talking points, it ends with:
"I think people of Western and Central Mass. deserve better," he said. "I'm an independent thinker. A good idea's a good idea."


"I want to get this seat back into the hands of someone who will diligently and honestly represent the people and not just someone who pushes the party line," Bech said. "I can think for myself."

It was of course entirely possible that Bech does have some views that don't match up perfectly with the views of the Republican establishment, and the S&E article just didn't bother to mention them, so I checked out Bech's website.

Man, the guy really harps on being a vet. I will give him credit for that though, most Republicans who support the war haven't ever been in the armed service. He's a Republican who supports the war enough to have fought in it. It doesn't really separate him from the party leadership though, aside from making him seem less hypocritical.

So I kept looking for whatever I could find that might separate him out from other Republicans. Here's what I found:
  1. He doesn't support a "National ID card," just something that's exactly like it.
  2. He's opposed to torture (which he does not define).
Those are sort of at odds with the Republican party line, right?

No? Oh well, I tried.

But that's not the most interesting part of his website. The most interesting part of his site is this crazy gas thing where he shows how all his fancy plans would have us paying just $2.08 at the pump today compared to how Olver's plans would have us paying $4.01. Oh my god, the man must be good at telling people what they want to hear a genius!

Actually, he just seems to have taken these "ideas" from the Bush administration and stuck numbers with them.

Anyway, we have math to play with! Let's look at all his fancy-pants cuts!

His first item is:
Bring onshore oil online (ANWR, Shale) with a savings of $0.70 - $1.60.

Hmm, that doesn't seem likely. I mean, this study (pdf) on ANWR drilling suggests a mean savings of 75 cents per barrel, and that's not until 2025. There are 42 gallons in a barrel of oil, so that means a 1.8 cent decrease per gallon. Yay?

Now, that's wholesale of course. You'll probably see less retail. Maybe a cent, if you're lucky. So it must be the oil shale that account for somewhere between 69 cents and $1.59 in Bech's calculations.

Wow, it takes a brave (or stupid) man to propose something with so many nasty environmental side effects while also playing up his supposed environmentalism.

I don't know where Bech gets his figures, but even this RAND study (pdf) suggests it would take at least 12 years to begin production and probably would only save a few dollars a gallon. Plus it would be environmentally disastrous to do, of course.

Well crap, Mr. Bech. Your first figure just didn't work out.

How about the next one?
Bring deepwater oil online (OCS) with a savings of $0.90-$2.50. Sweet!

This is the "offshore drilling" stuff so popular with Bush and McCain and all their toadies these days. The one that would take 10 years before any oil would start flowing and then wouldn't actually have any impact on prices anyway. Well, maybe after 2030. But probably not.

This isn't working so well for Mr. Bech. All his savings are disappearing!

So, what's left?

blah blah blah "gas tax holiday" for 18 cents.

Man, do I even need to mention this one? Like the way every economist in the country has said it won't work? No, I didn't think so. Moving on.

His last sizable cut is also an old favorite of the Republicans who he's oh-so-different from.

Bring new refineries online for $0.15-$0.45.

Sure, that sounds swell. But nobody wants to build them because their profit-margins are razor-thin. The first new one since 1976 has been in the works for a decade or so, and construction has yet to even begin. They do claim to be expecting full operation by 2012, but I got that off a FAQ that's 4 years old.

Damn. Another one down.

I won't bother addressing the supposed 5 cent decrease from halting shipments to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, since both Olver and Bech support it.

I'd like to know where Bech gets his figures (aside from the 18 cent gas holiday one, I already know that). They're either ridiculously optimistic or totally made up. Decide for yourself. Either way, his little gas price chart is nothing more than a big fat lie. Way to represent for the Replubicans, Bech!

So yeah, vote for Olver.

Monday, June 23, 2008

State Senatorial Candidate Website Reviews!

Apparently, there was a debate tonight between Jennifer Flanagan and Brian Knuuttila, who are both running for state senate. Well, I'm not one for fancy debates or driving to Sterling to witness said fancy debates, but I am one to look over the candidates' websites and make fun of them. So let's do that now!

In case you're not aware, there's a contest in the works to replace the retiring Robert Antonioni as State Senator. Antonioni's a pretty good guy, so good luck to him in whatever he moves on to!

In the meantime, we have this weird little race to deal with. Two candidates are vying for his seat, and I don't really know all that much about either of them. What can I say, the site is called Progressive Fitchburg, and neither is from Fitchburg. There's only so much time in the day, people.

No problem though, they both have websites, and we can simply judge them that way!

Going in alphabetical order...

Jennifer Flanagan:

I'll tell you right off the bat, Flanagan's got an advantage here. Not only does she have this site, she also has a second site here for her State Rep. stuff and her official page is the top result if you Google for her name. So she's easy to find. But that could be a bad thing if what she has to say sucks!

To be fair, I'm only going to deal with her campaign site. At first glance it looks pretty professional. It uses the totally cliched "make your site look as much like the American flag as possible" style of website design, but doesn't totally pound you over the head with it. Just a dull throb.

The front page is pretty dull. Mostly it's a press release. The main content is primarily the News page replicated here. Plus there's a newsletter signup thingy and ways to give her money. Uninspiring, but I can live with that.

Now to the more interesting pages! Our first one is simply called Jennifer! Hello Jennifer! Clicking on that link almost makes me feel like we're on a first name basis!

Actually, the page sort of has three parts to it, we're just dumped to the main "Get to Know Jen" part, which has this totally subtle picture on it.

Oh hello, Sen. Antonioni! I almost didn't see you there!

Also hello lady to Jennifer's right (our left)! I don't actually know who you are. Maybe I should, maybe not. Regardless, Sen. Antonioni is looking pretty sharp. I sort of wonder what he's looking at. Some tasty hors d'oeuvres perhaps? Hot chick in a bikini? Someone he's planning to murder? Hard to say, but maybe we'll get lucky and another photo will tell us? Unlikely.

From this page we're linked to Accomplishments. Yay, important issues! Here we find important details about my new friend Jennifer's work as a State Rep.

This is where things go horribly, horribly wrong.

Look, I know the subheading is "legislation filed" and that if you read the whole blurb it's about legislation she's working on to punish those who harbor minors (to protect runaways and so forth, I suppose). That doesn't change the fact that if you quickly skim her accomplishments it appears that the one she's most proud of is HARBORING A MINOR. Not good!

She also has FAILURE TO STOP FOR POLICE OFFICER LEGISLATION further down, which at least has that "legislation" at the end, but still is not at all what you want to have as the bolded, all-caps part of your accomplishments!

There's a lot on that page though, and much of it is good. There's also this, which I find utterly baffling:
MORATORIUM ON INTERNET HUNTING: CHAPTER 83 OF THE ACTS OF 2007 Aligned Massachusetts with 22 other states to ban the hunting of live animals through the Internet and establish a fine of up t [sic] $2,500 or imprisonment for 2½ years if a person is found to have participated in Internet hunting.
Huh? You can hunt live animals through the internet? How the fuck does that work? A webcam mounted to a rifle? Is it even a real thing, or are we preparing for a post-Skynet dystopia in which killer robots are trying to hunt us using the internet somehow and we're hoping this law keeps them at bay?

If it's the former, I must chide my new friend Jennifer for legislating about stupid things. If the latter, I applaud her foresight!

On to the Endorsements page!

Actually, no. Let's not bother. Just go read it if you really care. About the only endorsement that matters is the one from Antonioni, which we'd already figured out from the picture up above.

So instead we'll go to the Our Community page. It appears the main purpose of this page is to provide a map showing the district, and therefore letting people know that if they live in one of those towns they can vote for her. I suppose that's useful. Also, I learned that Clinton is apparently very tiny. Who knew?

The News page is what you'd mostly expect. Press releases and so forth. We already saw the main one on the front page. It also links to Photos on a big bloaty Javascript-ridden page that slows down my browser and annoys me just a bit. Nice effect and all, but I could live without it.

Here's a picture where Jennifer is being arrested by the very minor she was harboring! Citizen's arrests do work!

Perhaps as part of her plea bargain with the arresting pre-adolescent, we next find the odd Kid's Corner page. Apparently kids can vote now?

This page hosts what I assume to be Orson Welles' long-lost masterpiece of zombie filmmaking, "Citizen Brain: Feeding on American Democracy."

Actually, it appears to be about a kid named Vince whose brain escapes his head and starts menacing him while he's trying to play video games. It's creepy. Or at least the first 45 seconds or so are creepy. That was about all I could stomach.

The last page is just a Contact page. Nothing notable there.

Conclusion: It's a nice looking website, with a good long list of accomplishments (even if some of them are baffling). Unfortunately, it doesn't really look forward much. Lots of talk about what she has done, but very little about what she will do in the future. Still, nothing about it was totally ridiculous. Except for the zombie brain (which I assume is also a cannibal).

Now on to her competition!

Brian Knuuttila:

Well, it's obvious who spent more on their website here. Mr. Knuuttila's site looks like it hails back from 1995 or so. I really recommend you go visit it, because the magic of the marquee scrolling doodad at the top can't be effectively conveyed in my screenshot.

On the plus side, when I first visited the site it had blinking text too, and that seems to be gone now, so things are improving! In fact, it says it was last updated today! (It also says it's only had 178 visitors, let's get that number up!)

Anyway, we actually have a pretty busy front page. First off, we have his slogan, which is honestly pretty cool: "No matter how you say Knuuttila, it means good government"

So he's got a sense of humor.

Also, he appears to be a very literal tree-hugger!

Wondering what his site is all about? Wonder no more, he tells you right on the front page!
The website is intended as a way for me to express my views and qualities and a way for you to contact me with thoughts and ideas on how you would like to see your City and Town improve in the future with my support.

As a former State Representative and still very familiar with the issues and needs of our district [sic]. We need new and fresh ideas to bring economic stimulus [sick] to our district and I plan to work hard for you to bring economic stability back to us. I am running for Senate and I am asking for your support. Please contact me with your thoughts and ideas as I promise to respond to you.

Brian Knuuttila
How nice. Might want to do some proofreading there though, as I actually went light on the [sic]s. (In fairness, Flanagan got some too.)

First page! It's called About Me, which is a little less intimate than "Jennifer." I recommend he change the link title to "Bri-Bri" or some other funny nickname in order to one-up her.

On this page we encounter exactly two images, and both are flags.
These flags are supposed to be waving, but it seems blogger may have killed their rockin' animation. Regardless, it seems clear that Brian is both an American and a Marine.

In fact, as we learn from the "About Me" page, he was not only a Marine, but also a five-term state rep, a Gardner City Councilor, a cop, a firefighter, an attorney, and several other things. Clearly he gets around. Also he has a wife and two kids, so he's apparently heterosexual and capable of impregnating a woman. I'm not sure why these things matter, but politicians seem to like to point them out.

Next we move on to his View Points [sic].

Okay, let's ignore the typo in the fucking link menu and just deal with the substance of the page. It's mainly encapsulated in the bullet points at the top, which is handy!

Nice bullet points! He likes me!

Oddly, the rest of the page seems to veer off from the bullet points, since the headings continuing down the page are (in order): Education, Health Care, Environment, Balanced Budget, Jobs, Affordable Housing, and then a big huge "Honest and Responsible Leadership" at the bottom. All good things, and while the synopses he gives are unfortunately rather vague, it sounds like he has some good priorities.

Next is the News & Events link. Right now it's just four links to various websites with articles about him. Still, we can pass this up just like we would any old "links" page.

On to Endorsements. Okay, I pretty much ignored Flanagan's endorsements because I don't care about endorsements. But I do note that while Flanagan has Mayor Wong on her side, Knuuttila seems to have the lion's share of the city council. What's up with that?

Still, endorsements, meh. Hopefully the next page will be more fun!

Crud, it's a Helpful Links page (though the page title says "Key View Points" for some reason)! Oh well, at least they're helpful. And he has this nice blurb at the top:
Below are some links that I hope will help you. Please let me know if I can add other links that you've found useful.
That's a very nice offer! And he does have a "blogs" section at the very bottom (because nobody respects blogs). Maybe I can make it there!

Aside from that, it's mostly links to city government websites in the district. And you know what I said about links pages just a few paragraphs ago. So we move on...

To Photos 2008! I love a good photos page, and it's nice to know these are all recent photos! Even though they're all laid out in a single horizontal row in order to make a crappy-ass slideshowy thing that will require ridiculous scrolling... bah.

Interestingly, the majority of the photos do not in fact feature Knuuttila himself! Still, here's an awesome one!

Now you might be thinking I'm going to say something rude about how this is the multicultural shot that all political websites must have, just because it has a black man, an Asian, and either two women or one woman and a guy with luxurious long hair.

You are very jaded, my friend.

In fact, I just like the look on that guy's face. It's like he has some sort of really cool secret that he's keeping from the people in his little group there, but that he's sharing with the photographer, and by extension us. Awesome.

Anyway, it's probably better when Knuuttila stays out of the shot, because apparently he has a tendency to point directly at women's breasts...

Note to Brian: Please work on subtlety. Just because Prince Charles can get away with it doesn't mean you can!
Okay, better move away from these photos before things get dirty. What's the next link?

Oh crap, it's Photos!

Look, I like photos as much as anyone. Especially when they're goofy like the ones above. But do we really need to separate out 2008 from all other photos (which are presumably earlier and not from the future)? And seriously, tell me it's not just an excuse to run this one:

Actually, it's a fascinating photo. What part you like most about it depends entirely on who you are.

If you're a big Red Sox fan, it's the World Series trophy. If you're a pedophile, it's the teenage girl in the short skirt. If you're already a big Brian Knuuttila fan, it's Brian Knuuttila. If you're me, it's that awesome surly guy on the right side who looks pissed off at the whole thing. It's a feast for everyone's eyes!

But enough photos already! Let's move on!

Dammit, the final page is just a Contact Me page! I hate those things! Plus it's very limiting!

What if I just want to tell him a joke or ask him where he gets his ties? What do I check then, huh?

Okay, that's it for his site.

Conclusion: Somehow, I find this site both really terrible and very charming. It's probably all the pictures and the warm feeling I get remembering what web design was like in 1995. Still, it doesn't really tell me all that much about what the hell Knuuttila would actually do if he got elected!

VERDICT: Seriously, they both sort of suck. They get the job done, but neither site really tells me anything about what to expect if I vote for these people. They spend all their time focusing on the past and not what they're going to do, which is far more important. Flanagan's site is clearly more professional, but Knuuttila has a better sense of humor. If I were to vote based on websites alone I'd probably go with Flanagan, but neither of them is terribly compelling.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

New species of Letter to the Editor writer discovered!

We humans are pattern-seeking animals. One could argue that we're driven by our very genes to create taxonomies.

This doesn't just apply to science, of course. We do it with everything, sometimes without even realizing it.

For instance, I've developed an informal taxonomy of people who write letters to the editor. Most of them fit into certain groups pretty easily.

There are the confusingly whiny ones, the ones that are hilariously ignorant concerning the very topic about which they're writing, the religious proselytizers, the ones who predict some sort of apocalypse, people who talk foolishly about the "founding fathers," people who have personal grudges against some elected official (or the very concept of government itself, sometimes), and so forth.

There are other species too, but I mention these specifically because they generally fit into the genus of "people who can't write worth a damn."

Well, today is an exciting day!

I've discovered a letter/editorial thing with the lackluster title of Library budget cuts will have long-term implications in the S&E. This title was no doubt assigned by the paper, because surely the author did not pick such an uninspiring title! Regardless of the poor title, it introduces a species that's rarely seen in the wild, and may in fact be a new one altogether!

The species in question is the poetic-and-literate-apocalypse-
. Witness the awesomeness!
Every once in a while, if we are fortunate to have the favor of divine providence, we find a fellow citizen amongst us who has a truly brilliant and beautiful mind.

I am writing about those citizens in our Republic who help make us be much better than we truly deserve to be.


The only thing I know for certain about these people is that their brilliant minds were all shaped by reading. Such is the supremacy of books.

There is no greater method of empowering people than to give them the gift of literacy.

Literacy inoculates our Republic from the tyrannies of ignorance and conformity. Our founding fathers knew the importance of literacy and the need for our democracy to have public lending libraries.

Nobody can honestly tell me that a line like "Literacy inoculates our Republic from the tyrannies of ignorance and conformity." is not utterly awesome. You can tell me it's not true (and I'd agree), but it's still a damn good sentence!

Also, I like books too! Perhaps not as much as this guy, but it's nice to see that kind of passion!

He continues, with a bit less aplomb:
Presently, in this day and at this time, I can report to you my fellow citizens; ignorance and conformity are alive and well in Fitchburg Massachusetts.

The mayor and the local City Council are planning on gutting the library and taking away the gift of literacy.
First, check out that semicolon. I have never been properly instructed in the use of a semicolon (it's a huge gap in my education), so color me impressed!

As for the substance; I can agree with the first sentence, but there's something fishy about the second one.

Yeah, cuts to the library would (will?) suck. I'd like to see the library funded as well as it can be. But "taking away the gift of literacy"? That's just silly. There are other ways to get reading material than just the library. They're just not as convenient or cheap. Then again, perhaps our author is just using hyperbole as a literary tool! So let's give him a pass for now.

Crap, it's a recurring theme:
In the United States of America, a nation that for the past 200 years has brought enlightenment and hope to this world, we are taking the power of the written word away from toddlers, preschoolers, grade-school students, middle-school students high-school students and college students.

Toddlers can read now? Dammit, kids are growing up so fast these days! And ummm... don't schools have libraries? Plus, bookstores and the internet still exist I think. Also, don't adults count for anything? We like literacy too!

Now to the apocalypse* with which he closes...
What I do know with any certainly [sic] is that the next brilliant mind of our generation is not going to come from Fitchburg Mass.

The young minds in our community, waiting to be inspired to greatness, will never get the opportunity because the body of all human knowledge; which can normally be found at your local public library, will not be available to them.

Oh Mr. Pretty-good-letter-writing-guy, what happened to you? I hope that typo is the fault of the paper and not you!

The hyperbole boat has capsized at this point (Note: that is a metaphor, another literary tool, which I am currently using in a confusing manner). Is there only one brilliant mind per generation?

Because if so, I'd say that it's a pretty safe bet that out of the 6.6 billion people in the world, Fitchburg won't be the home to that one brilliant person. No matter how good our library is. Still, I don't think you can take a reduction in library hours to mean the next brilliant mind is doomed if they happen to be growing up in Fitchburg.

Also, is it true that "the body of all human knowledge" is found at the Fitchburg Public Library? Frankly, it doesn't seem that big.

Still, these are minor quibbles!

The important part is we've discovered a guy who can write awesomely while also taking on some of the traits of the crazy people who can't write! He's a transitional form, like our Archaeopteryx friend up top!

Today may be a momentous day in the evolution of letter to the editor writing! Expect an increase in well-written letters from literate individuals, as environmental pressures cause the poorly-written letter writers to fade away. It's the dawning of a new age, people! Celebrate!

* Note: By "apocalypse" I obviously don't mean a Mad Max-style nuclear holocaust or anything like that. Rather, the apocalyptic letter-writer specializes in predicting some sort of negative effect that's totally disproportionate to the event purported to cause it. For instance, those who claim that a trash fee will lead to mountains of garbage all over town due to illegal dumping fit into my category of "apocalypse predictors."

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Video games will destroy America!

Al Qaeda are bad. Everybody knows that. But did you know they're promoting nuclear jihad now?

At least that's the story according to the SITE Intelligence Group. Oddly, you'll find no reference to the story on their site now. So here's a quote from the news story:
The FBI warning came as the US-based monitoring group SITE said the video encouraging terrorists to develop and detonate weapons of mass destruction in the US and Europe was posted on an Islamist militant forum.

SITE also released a computer-generated image, showing Washington DC in the aftermath of a nuclear attack, which reportedly appeared on an Islamist forum.
Here's that image...

That's scary stuff! Not only does Al Qaeda want to nuke us, but they also have some highly talented graphic artists in their ranks!

Actually, no they don't. The above picture is a screenshot from the upcoming computer game Fallout 3, which has a post-apocalyptic setting (and which I've been eager to play for just short of forever). If you want to see the original, just go here and scroll down to the shot from May 8, 2007.

Should I even mention how the notion of Al Qaeda having the resources to mount a nuclear attack of that scale is ridiculous? I mean, most nations don't even have the resources to do it, a loosely-organized band of angry (and mostly incompetent) guys living in caves certainly doesn't. Or should I talk about how the daydreamy musings of people on terrorist message boards should probably not be considered actual "intelligence" indicating Al Qaeda's plans?

Nah, the picture snafu really tells you all you need to know about the competence of SITE.

Anyway... thanks, SITE! I feel much safer now, knowing you're looking out for us!