Tuesday, May 30, 2006

No Dodge Polo

Yes, VW will be building a new small car for Dodge to sell in the US. Alas, my Polo hopes have been dashed.

Since the Polo was deemed to small for America's super-sized tastes, Volkswagen is considering other possible platforms, with the last generation Jetta's currently residing at the top of the list. (Autoblog)

Ack, only Dodge/Americans would call the Jetta a small car.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Rhythm method criticized

The range of birth control choices may have become narrower for couples that believe the sanctity of life begins when sperm meets egg. The rhythm method, a philosopher claims, may compromise millions of embryos.


[Luc Bovens, of the London School of Economics, in the Journal of Medical Ethics] argues that, because couples are having sex on the fringes of the fertile period, they are more likely to conceive embryos that are incapable of surviving.


Bovens calculates that, if the rhythm method is 90% effective, and if conceptions outside the fertile period are about twice as likely to fail as to survive, then “millions of rhythm method cycles per year globally depend for their success on massive embryonic death”.

New Scientist

Smart decision in June?

DaimlerChrysler AG expects to decide next month whether it will launch its small car unit Smart in the US, said Klaus Maier, head of sales and marketing at the company's Mercedes Car Group.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

MS Word in "safe mode"

In the wake of at least one targeted attack that exploits a new flaw in Word, Microsoft is advising users to run the application in "safe mode." (News.com)

No word yet on why Microsoft Word, as shipped, defaults to "dangerous mode".

Update: Oh, and how about a plug for the ever-so-safe alternative, OpenOffice.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Veterans' data stolen

Personal electronic information on up to 26.5 million military veterans, including their Social Security numbers and birth dates, was stolen from the residence of a Department of Veterans Affairs employee who had taken the data home without authorization, the agency said Monday.


At a news conference on Monday afternoon, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said there was "no reason to believe at this time that the identities of these veterans have been compromised." (NY Times)

No reason? How about the little reason of a government employee letting his unauthorized, insecure notebook computer get stolen? Granted, there may be little chance that this information will be used fraudulently, but to me "little" does not mean the same thing as "no". When will people learn that PR bluster may buy you something in the short term but that you'll get labeled a dissembler in the long?

In the aftermath of the ChoicePoint debacle, several states have passed tough legislation aimed principally at forcing companies, schools and other handlers of private data to notify consumers when their information has been compromised. Other new laws permit consumers to freeze their credit as a way of foiling would-be thieves, or force new security standards on data handlers.

Several pieces of legislation are also pending in Congress, but so far the interests of the financial services and credit industries, which seek to limit inhibitions on data handling and the penalties for security breaches, have competed with those of consumer advocates. As a result, no consensus has emerged.

Ah yes, the credit industry lobbying against inhibitions and penalties. I guess the good news about a lack of "consensus" is that the states' laws haven't been rolled back. Here's to Congress not intervening where it's not wanted.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Soda agreement

I guess Colorado's Governor Bill Owens was right: if asked, corporations will do the right thing.

Those that know me know I was being a bit sarcastic. For good reason, I think!

Organic Consumers Union is reporting that the agreement the soda companies announced is completely voluntary. So, despite the grand pronouncement that most sodas will be removed by the 2008/2009 school year, with the remainder removed the following year, it may not happen.

We don't even know all the details of this secretly-negotiated deal because the Clinton Foundation hasn't made the actual agreement available on its website. (However, you can download the photo opportunities from the press conference.) What we do know is that this new policy is completely voluntary, which means it's unenforceable, with no accountability.

I guess we'll see what happens. The soda companies are allowing schools to renegotiate their contracts, but if the renegotiated terms aren't favorable enough, or if the schools aren't motivated enough, the schools won't do it. And things will remain as they are. And ...

Not a word is mentioned about the ubiquitous marketing children are subjected to daily in the form of branded score boards, school supplies, sports bags, and cups (just to name a few), which is required by exclusive Coke and Pepsi contracts. It's no secret that branding is the main purpose of these arrangements. Big Cola may shift a few products around or serve up fewer calories with this new deal, but what's most important to them is maintaining access to young and impressionable consumers in a captive environment.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Microsoft promotes Wii

Microsoft expects you to buy a Nintendo Wii! (... in addition to an Xbox 360)

"Tell me why you would buy a $600 PS3?" Peter Moore, a Microsoft vice president, said in an interview. "People are going to buy two (machines.) They're going to buy an Xbox and they're going to buy a Wii ... for the price of one PS3."


"People will always gravitate toward a competitively priced product -- like what I believe Wii will be -- with innovative new designs and great intellectual property like Mario, Zelda and Metroid," Moore told Reuters. (Washington Post)

Now all Moore needs to explain is why you would buy an Xbox 360. ;)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Black population shrinking

According to a recent census report, while minorities make up 33% of today's America, they are 45% of those under 5 years of age. This growth is mostly due to Hispanic (14% today growing to 22% under 5) and Asian (4% today growing to 15% under 5) birth rates.

America's black population is actually shrinking (15% today down to 4% under 5).

Correction: Doh! It appears the Washington Post mixed up the stats.

Monday, May 08, 2006

More abortionists against adoption

The images on the 12 specialty license plates issued in Massachusetts are innocuous. One features a Cape Cod lighthouse, another a sunny drawing of stick-figure children, another a brook trout leaping from the water.

But a Wakefield woman is hoping to create a state license plate that sends a far more controversial message: encouraging pregnant women to choose adoption over abortion.


But a leader of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts argued that the Registry should not allow Choose Life plates.

"Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts believes that state government should not be sanctioning political messages on license plates," Dianne Luby, the group's president and chief executive, said in a written statement. (Boston Globe)

Once again, what exactly do "pro-choice" advocates have against women choosing adoption?

Nintendo Wii & design

As a part-time video game player (one who waits for the game machine to get below $200 and for games to reach $20), I can't say I've been following the development of the next generation machines that closely. (After all, it would be a couple years before I'd buy one.) But the new Nintendo has caught my interest just because they're trying to do something different.

I honestly can't see, right now, what buying a new Microsoft or Sony machine would get me other than more expensive games. (I'm much more into playability and fun than the evermore realistic look that the industry seems obsessed with.) But I'm starting to think that the Nintendo could be a new, fun and innovative game environment. Couple this with a lower price (I've seen rumors guessing as low as $99, though I wouldn't count on that), and we may see one in my household sooner rather than later. ("May" being the operative word -- I haven't exactly had a lot of time to play games that don't involve my two-year-old.)

And now Time magazine has gotten a "first look" at the machine.

Nintendo has grasped two important notions that have eluded its competitors. The first is, Don't listen to your customers. The hard-core gaming community is extremely vocal -- they blog a lot -- but if Nintendo kept listening to them, hard-core gamers would be the only audience it ever had. "[Wii] was unimaginable for them," Iwata says. "And because it was unimaginable, they could not say that they wanted it. If you are simply listening to requests from the customer, you can satisfy their needs, but you can never surprise them. Sony and Microsoft make daily-necessity kinds of things. They have to listen to the needs of the customers and try to comply with their requests. That kind of approach has been deeply ingrained in their minds."

And here's the second notion: Cutting-edge design has become more important than cutting-edge technology. There is a persistent belief among engineers that consumers want more power and more features. That is incorrect. Look at Apple's iPod, a device that didn't and doesn't do much more than the competition. It won because it's easier, and sexier, to use. In many ways, Nintendo is the Apple of the gaming world, and it's betting its future on the same wisdom.

Sounds like a winning strategy to me! Now we wait and see if they can execute on it.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Honda Fit Hybrid

Word on the street is that the you'll be able to get a Honda Fit with a hybrid engine in 2007 (when they first offer the 2008 model). It should have mileage in the 50s.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Perverse incentives

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta told members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday that Congress should not impose an "arbitrary" standard on its own. Rather, Mr. Mineta said, it should let the administration develop "size based" rules that would impose different requirements for big cars and small cars.

"A size-based system eliminates the perverse incentives for manufacturers to produce smaller and more dangerous vehicles, instead of introducing fuel-saving technologies," Mr. Mineta said. (NY Times)

While we're talking about perverse incentives, about the Bush administration's size-based system, which encourages automakers to make their cars heavier so that they don't have to meet stricter mileage requirements?

As for "smaller and more dangerous vehicles", I guess Mineta has forgotten the only reason they're dangerous is because of all the large cars and SUVs on the road?

Toyota Aygo

Are you impressed with hybrid vehicles that get 40-50 mpg (US)? How about a diesel that gets upwards of 75 mpg?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Mother's Day at Planned Parenthood

A recent e-mail communication from Jatrice Martel Gaiter, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., urged supporters to "honor your mother in a very special way" with a financial contribution to Planned Parenthood. Gaiter said that at Planned Parenthood's Washington affiliate, "Mother's Day also reminds us of our mission – to ensure that every child is wanted, nurtured, and enormously loved." (American Life League)

So is Planned Parenthood fulfilling its mission? Are children more nurtured and loved than they were before abortion became readily available? Is there less child abuse nowadays? (I'm inclined to think not.) Exactly what metrics does Planned Parenthood use to measure its success?

Democratic contempt

Caitlin Flanagan agrees with me:

The image of the Democratic Party that used to come to mind was of a workingman and his wife sitting at the kitchen table worrying about how they were going to pay the bills and voting for Adlai Stevenson because he was going to help them squeak by every month and maybe even afford to send their kids to college.

The Democrats made a huge tactical error a few decades ago. In the middle of doing the great work of the '60s -- civil rights, women's liberation, gay inclusion -- we decided to stigmatize the white male. The union dues--paying, churchgoing, beer-drinking family man got nothing but ridicule and venom from us. So he dumped us. And he took the wife and kids with him.

And now here we are, living in a country with a political and economic agenda we deplore, losing election after election and wondering why.

It's the contempt, stupid. (Time Magazine)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Sodas out of schools

I guess Colorado's Governor Bill Owens was right: if asked, corporations will do the right thing.

The nation's largest beverage distributors have agreed to halt nearly all soda sales to public schools, according to a deal announced Wednesday by the William J. Clinton Foundation.

Under the agreement, the companies have agreed to sell only water, unsweetened juice and low-fat milks to elementary and middle schools, said Jay Carson, a spokesman for former President Bill Clinton. Diet sodas would be sold only to high schools.


How quickly the changes take hold will depend in part on individual school districts' willingness to alter existing contracts, the alliance said. The companies will work to implement the changes at 75 percent of the nation's public schools by the 2008-2009 school year, and at all public schools a year later. (Associated Press)

A good step forward. While diet sodas are also very unhealthy, at least they have less calories. Just yesterday there was an article in the NY Times about how older Americans are less healthy than older Brits, despite paying twice as much on health care. While the co-author of the report cited didn't seem to think obesity plays a factor, older Americans are much more obese than Brits. And with the increased ailments cited including "diabetes, hypertension, heart disease," you have to wonder.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Pro-life = pro-death?

Andrew Sullivan on how "current pro-life forces" are actually "pro-death" (echoes of William Saletan):

The great tragedy of the extremism of the current pro-life forces is that they have become de facto pro-death. They allow for the early deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in the developing world by opposing condoms in a health emergency; and they add to the number of abortions in America by making emergency contraception hard to find. In their theological abstraction, the logic is perfect and circular. On the ground, they are abetting death.

So by not making abortion (which is essentially what "emergency contraception" is) easier, pro-lifers "add to the number of abortions". I see. (Must be my "theological abstract logic" that has a problem with this.)

I'll concede that a later abortion is more messy (and more painful for the baby) than one done earlier. But to say that an earlier abortion is more life affirming? I don't think so.

Sullivan is giving us the choice of killing in a less or more brutal manner. But it's still killing. If that's the only choice, yes, please, let's spare the baby pain. But it's not the only choice (despite what some abortionists might want you to think).