Dr. Koop


The recent passage of former Surgeon General Koop has many people reflecting on his good practical nature when it came to healthcare, generally citing his putting aside politically popular agendas to actually deal with the problem at hand. The example generally being cited is his strong support for proper safe sex education and information, rather than facing down AIDS with calls for abstinence or simply ignoring it altogether.

For me, however, what I carry with me is a moment on a TV show. He was on one of Fred Friendly’s great panel discussion shows, either The Constitution: That Delicate Balance or more likely the other one, the name of which eludes me at the moment. The panelists were discussing a hypothetical about being approached by a panhandler, one who made clear that he was seeking money for booze. A female journalist explained that he would not give the guy money, as he would use that on booze, which was his problem; instead, she would buy him a sandwich. All good and upright, right? But Koop countered that he would give the guy money for booze. He’d offer him help finding a clinic if he wanted it, but this guy is an alcoholic, and as much as we may hate the disease, if he is stuck without booze he will be facing very real physical symptoms, very real consequences. That was the practical situation on the ground, to be dealt with. He gained a lot of respect from me in that moment.


In less than a year, we’ve lost both Bork and Koop. We’re running out of the sound effects that people make when suddenly astonished. I sure hope Paul Begala is okay!

Published in: on February 27, 2013 at 6:22 am  Comments (2)  

That Healthy But on the Jonathan Coulton/Glee situation

Talented song humorist Jonathan Coulton is raising a fuss because the TV show Glee is using using his interpretation of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s anthemic “Baby Got Back”, including using his alteration to the lyrics, without any recognition to its source. They appear to have a legal right to do so, as by covering the song without reaching a special agreement, Coulton cedes any claim to copyright in his arrangement, and thus all Glee had to do was license the rights to the original song. (There’s a separate and vital question of whether Glee used any of the actual audio from Coulton’s version, which would seem to be his copyright, but that seems of lesser concern to Coulton.) So really, Coulton’s complaint is that they reused his material without proper concern for his ethical (rather than legal) rights and recognition of his contribution, a strong lack of respect

But if .

But as best as I can tell, Coulton is guilty of much the same thing in this matter. Please correct me if I’ve gotten facts wrong, but it seems to me that he never asked Mix-A-Lot’s permission to make this variant version of the song (certainly, his failure to get permission for copyright on his arrangement suggests that), but just exploited an ugly section of the copyright law called compulsory licensing, where the copyright owner of a song that has been commercially released is forced to license it to anyone else who would record it, under government-dictated commercial terms. In doing so, Coulton messed severely without Mix-A-Lot’s work of art (and it is a work of art; one might quite legitimately take it to task for its message, but it does a gorgeous job of delivering the message, with fine wordplay, good musical structure, and solid construction all around.) He strongly changed the tone of the work, presenting it as a ballad rather than a hip-hop work. He removed the artist’s name from the work, taking out a reference to Mix-A-Lot and replacing it with a representation of his own name (“Johnny C.”) It’s hard to say that he was showing any respect to the musician whose work he was covering.

I’m really not trying to come down too hard on Coulton (and in fact I will happily recommend to you a couple of his original works, the supervillain-themed “Skullcrusher Mountain” and the programming-oriented “Code Monkey”, both at heart songs about being capable of desire yet incompetent at expressing it, themes which I can recognize myself – particularly my past self – in), but really its to come down on compulsory licensing, which while it addresses the concern about monopoly in the player piano business (really, that’s what it was invented for), is ugly on all sorts of levels. It is based on an assumption that an artist can have no other appropriate protectiveness for his work than to make sure he makes money off of whatever is done to it… and it treats music licensing as something that requires government price controls, which I can see zero reason for (its not as though the right to be able to afford to cover The Devil Went Down To Georgia is as vital a thing in people’s lives as being able to get milk for one’s children, if I might compare it to something where there’s at least an argument to be made for government involvement in pricing.)

But the damages done by compulsory licensing are ones that primarily hit the artists, who are not the ones seen as having power in convincing Congress to change the laws. As such, I doubt we’ll see a change any time soon. But at least we can rest assured that the player piano business isĀ  protected!

Published in: on January 25, 2013 at 4:23 am  Comments (3)  

Maryland! Maine! Washington!

What more needs be said?

Published in: on November 7, 2012 at 6:58 am  Leave a Comment  

The questionable joy of home refinancing

We went through the process of refinancing our mortgage this year, bringing our already low rate down by more than 1%. In the long term, this will save us much money over the next 30 years. The process was relatively painless, and it all got done in relatively short order. Sometime in July, our new mortgage company – we’ll call them “Mort” – called the deal done, and we’d owe them the first payment of $X on September 1st.

Only they let us know that it may not be them we’d owe; they specialized in setting up mortgages and selling them off to other institutions. So it came as no surprise in mid-August when we got a letter form a bank – we’ll call them Ba – whom I’ve dealt with for decades. They let us know they’d bought the mortgage. And they billed us for our September 1st payment… but they billed us for $X+Y.

So we call them, an they look at the figures, and seem to realize they’ve miscalculated our mortgage insurance cost.. they said it would take a few days to straighten out, but they arranged to take a payment over the phone for $x, and all would be good for now, as they figure things out.

Of course, two weeks later, we get a dunning phone call from Ba – why haven’t we paid the $Y yet? Apparently, they had figured out that they’d misbilled our mortgage insurance, but hadn’t actually, y’know, changed the numbers in their database… they think. They’re still trying to figure it out. So that’s where we sit… with Ba.

But that’s not all! For tonight, we got another dunning call… from Mort! They clearly wanted to know why we haven’t paid them $X yet. “Ummm… because you sold the mortgage to Ba.” “No, we didn’t.” Not trusting anyone who called me, I called them, and they said “we don’t think we sold your mortgage… but the right person isn’t here tonight, here, leave a message on their answering machine.”

So that’s where we stand. So far, we’ve paid every cent we owed, and between two companies we are somehow perceived as being even more than that behind on payments on mortgages that total close to twice the value of our house.

So fun!

Published in: on September 19, 2012 at 4:13 am  Leave a Comment  

Nat exposes Minute Maid’s deceptive labeling

Found a Minute Maid brand drink that finds an excuse for putting a big 100% JUICE banner on a product that has 5% juice content… I made this video to show the FDA, but I might as well share it with my wonderful readers.

Published in: on August 9, 2012 at 4:58 am  Leave a Comment  

Flaunting their sinful lifestyle

So I’m reading some posts from a Jew who has claimed himself infallible when it comes to representing God’s view on homosexuality, apparently including how it should apply to marriage law. And when someone points out that eating pork is also a sin under his religion, and yet there is no major push to ban pork consumption. To explain the difference, he puts forth “how often do you hear about a pro-pork parade in your city?”

And so, to educate Moshe Starkman, allow me to present BaconFest Chicago. The Boston Bacon and Beer Festival. Iowa’s annual Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival. Oklahoma’s Baconalia. In Everett, they have a sausage fest like he wouldn’t believe, and the same is true in Alabama, in Texas, in Washington, and in Florida, which this coming weekend celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Beulah Sausage Fest. And yes, there’s a whole lot of public porkin’ going on, in Ohio, in Tennessee, in Illinois, in Virginia, inDiana…and for those who like to mix it up, Delaware’s Apple Scrapple Festival may be just the place for them!

And all that isn’t to mention the TV ads that directly promote taking part in such sinful pork consumption, put on by those pushing the Jimmy Dean agenda. I doubt we’ll ever see an ESPN ad for “Men: The Other White Meat (also available in other colors)”, but shots of some guy’s McRib dripping luscious fluid onto their pants are considered perfectly acceptable. The next time he sees a movie with a luau scene where some hot swine is tied naked to a pole with a red apple gag in his mouth, I hope Mr. Starkman will realize that these suckling pigs are not as in the closet as he would like to believe.

Published in: on March 14, 2011 at 11:08 pm  Leave a Comment  


So I’m sitting here conserving energy – I’ve got whatever illness has been bopping around my household. (Two nights ago, it was the missuz, last night, it was the daughter, today, it’s me.) Moving slowly, not doing work, for some reason I thought I’d look up someone I knew back in grade school. He’s got an uncommon enough name (Whitney Ciambella) that he should be findable.

No Whitney was a vague friend for a while, somewhere around 5th grade. Another student once told me “you know Whitney’s only friends with you because no one else will be friends with him. He’s using you.” But it wasn’t like folks were lining up to be friends with the school math nerd, so that seemed equiatable. He might not have been my first choice – he wasn’t the best student, he was a ruffian (relative to me, which doesn’t mean much) Whitney once used me to receive contraband – he wanted to order one of those switchblade combs advertised in the comics, and his parents wouldn’t let him have it, so he had it shipped to my place.

Anyway, the Internet does not fail me. It gives me three bits of information that I did not have. One is that Whitney was not his first name, but his middle name; I suspect he was named after his dad. The second was that he had become a roofer.

The third? He died last year, age of 46.

Tough news at any time; when one is sick and feeling extra mortal, all the worse.

Published in: on February 17, 2011 at 9:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Say the secret word, get a tension

Reading the article “Priest used church money on male escorts, lavish lifestyle“, I can’t help but notice something in its absence. There’s a word that shows up nowhere in the article… and that word is “Catholic”.

There are many crimes for which it would not be reasonable to name the perpetrator’s religion. It would be inappropriate to note that a mugger is a Jew, or a drunk driver a Protestant. But in this case, by avoiding the description of the religion, they’re avoiding saying just who the crime’s target was, as money would likely flow from the local church up the chain.

I can’t help but to suspect that this omission was not just a slip, that someone thought the news had been giving it too hard to the Catholic church in recent days. That would be a poor reason to duck covering the facts.

Published in: on July 14, 2010 at 4:59 am  Leave a Comment  

Product naming

Suggested ad line: “Dial for Men: The soap will make you feel sooo clean. And the 1-900 number will make you feel sooo dirty.”

(I may Licensable BearTM this when I have the time.)

Published in: on April 4, 2010 at 3:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

Nat gets the final word

I get quoted – without attribution, and for all of three words – on one of the most-read blogs in all of cyberinformationsuperhighwebspace, Andrew Sullivan’s blog at The Atlantic’s website. Mine is the final reader letter in the entry. (For context: the website has been using the Road Runner’s “Meep meep” to reference Obama’s savvy moves at getting past political opposition. The event being discussed may not – or may- be ecologically sound, but it certainly was a smooth political move.)

I’m anonymously famous!

Published in: on April 1, 2010 at 5:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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