aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Friday, March 09, 2007
Battlestar Galactica invites fan remix
Once again, the wisdom of the citizens of the colonies outweighs that of the colonial fleet. And if that’s too geeky for you, too bad. The rest of us will have fun with the Battlestar Galactica Videomaker Toolkit. You can download a bunch of video and audio files from the show, mash ‘em up with your own stuff, and re-upload them if you want. Can’t wait to see the results. Empowered Sci-Fi fans? I’m guessing they’ll be kinda creative, yeah. Lesson for locals: Give your viewers this kind of simple access and see what sort of videos they’ll make about your community.
One of the fan videos will be broadcast during an upcoming episode. Videos can be no longer than four minutes and are not to be posted on other video sites.
UPDATE: Steve continues, ”UPON FURTHER REFLECTION: I don’t like that I couldn’t, say use this stuff to do a promo for LR [Lost Remote] and then embed it on LR. I couldn’t upload a finished video to YouTube (or SciFi) and then embed it on my site? A missed opportunity for further marketing. If we’re going to do all that work, let us showcase it on our sites. Doing the work and then not being able to share the results? Frakked. (via Brand Flakes for Breakfast.)”
Georgia Organics tonight
We’re off to Douglas, Georgia for the Georgia Organics conference where Joel Salatin is the keynote speaker. I became familiar with Joel through reading the chapter devoted to him in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (we’ll be rereading that chapter on the way down). An interview with Salatin is in the Winter Georgia Organics newsletter:
GO: The name of your farm is Polyface, meaning “many faces.” How do you describe the way you farm?
Salatin: We call it simply pasture-based, grass-based, local, bioregional, or foodshed. The local component is something that, as the government has become involved in organics, is a component that creates parameters, accountability, and transparency in the system beyond what just a set of standards can accomplish. In other words, an organic Wal-Mart, an organic Twinkie, and an organic outsourced food system don’t make sense in a holistic approach. It’s hard to say what we call ourselves, but we tend to say that we’re pasture-based livestock that tries to serve its foodshed. [Ã¢â‚¬Â¦]
GO: What would you say makes your farm different from the farms where most people in the US get their food? Is it the local aspect?
Salatin: I think for us, the main difference is the grass-based [part]. Everything rotates, everything moves on the pasture. So what we’re trying to do is mimic the movement of the animals that you’d have in nature. Even most organic beef is still finished on grain, and it’s an herbivore. Herbivores don’t eat grain in nature. So what we’re trying to do is really use nature as a template, if you will, and lay it down over our commercial domestic production and say “How can we most closely approximate what you would see in a natural wild system?”
As expected, Schmeling appeals
An appeal of a Lutheran clerical panel’s decision to defrock the gay pastor of an Atlanta church is the latest move in a showdown within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America over whether pastors involved in same-sex relationships should lead congregations.
After a four day trial in January, a 12-member jury of ELCA clerics decided Feb. 7 that Bradley Schmeling, pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church, violated ELCA pastoral conduct guidelines, which allow openly gay clergy members to serve congregations, but condemn same-sex relationships as sinful.
The decision criticized the prohibition on same-sex relationships, and gave Schmeling until Aug. 15 before his name should be removed from the ELCA clergy roster - opening a six-month window during which Schmeling can appeal the decision and seek to overturn current policy.
In its ruling, the jury also asked the ELCA to reconsider its rules regarding gay clergy members - which it termed “bad policy” that may conflict with the church constitution - during its biennial Churchwide Assembly, slated for Aug. 6-12 in Chicago. The ruling also noted the success of Schmeling’s six-year tenure as pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Atlanta.
Schmeling took the first step in retaining his job this week by filing an appeal of the decision, which he says he mailed March 6.
The lottery: You’re rich! Wait - got a calculator?
Georgia’s truck-driving lottery winner continues to make news today. He skipped work. The media loves this story.
Unfortunately, they’re telling the wrong story:
Most jackpot winners wish the lottery, and the news media, would tell the truth about those millions. The huge prizes that make the headlines, and create the national buying frenzy the news media call Lottomania, are usually doled out over 20 years (25 in Colorado): The annual check for a million-dollar winner is $50,000. That’s before taxes. It may also be before you repay anything else you owe the state, including delinquent taxes. Ditto if you owe child support or haven’t paid back your student loans.
Michael Ondrish, a “millionaire” winner who thought he’d won a real, lump-sum million in 1982, tried suing the Arizona lottery for breach of contract, charging fraud and deception, because they never mentioned the drawn-out payment scheme. Ondrish lost his case; the court agreed with the lottery that if he didn’t like the deal, he should have returned his ticket and asked for his dollar back.
In fact, a million paid out over years is an annuity, which, like any million-dollar annuity, actually costs about $450,000 to buy, whether by the state or anybody else: Depending on interest rates, taxes and inflation, the value of the yearly check dwindles over time. It’s what financial experts call the time-value of money. Investors willing to buy those annuities from winners who need cash typically offer about 40 cents on the dollar. They know what they’re buying is not a liquid asset, something winners often aren’t aware of. And most states won’t let them sell lottery jackpots anyway.
But the public - and many publicists - prefer to ignore the arithmetic. It’s like reciting divorce, adultery and spousal-abuse numbers while toasting the bride. Happily ever after, which once followed true love, now follows Lotto. We believe - 100 million of us in 36 states and the District of Columbia bought $30 billion worth of tickets in total sales last year to prove it.
That’s from an April 23, 1995 New York Times Magazine cover story on the lottery, TICKET TO TROUBLE: Congratulations! You’ve won one million dollars. Your troubles have just begun, by Lois Gould. It’s available nowhere that I can find on the web, including in the NYTimes archive. I went to the library and found it on microfiche.
That story shaped my views on the lottery when I read it then. It’s badly in need of updating (I’m guessing things are even worse, not better), a story that needs telling. It’s not the story we’re likely to hear. I’ll post more excerpts throughout the weekend.
Credit cards, control & self-control
I canceled a credit card with a $35,000 credit limit the other day. I was surprised that Wachovia put up no argument. I shouldn’t have been; I pay my bill in full every month. They don’t want customers like me no matter how many solicitations they send:
In 2005, Congress gave the credit industry what it wanted: tighter bankruptcy laws. In 2006, the credit industry responded by mailing out 8 billion credit card solicitations--up 30% from 2005. Larry Ausubel and others predicted during the debates over the bankruptcy laws that if Congress made it tougher to go bankrupt, then lenders would engage in riskier lending as they tried harder to get people to borrow.
What kinds of risks are the card companies willing to take on? With about 110 million households in the US, that’s about 73 card offers per household. If the average card offers is about $5,000 in pre-approved credit, that about $365,000 in offers for every American household--or about $1000 a day, every day of the year.
By comparison, median household income is about $46,000, or about $127 a day. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to speculate that many families are offered about seven times their annual incomes in credit card debt… If debtors have no bankruptcy option, Ronald Mann points out that creditors can keep them in the sweat box longer. Perhaps if bankruptcy were outlawed altogether the mailings would go to 16 billion, and if debtors’ prisons were reinstituted, could the mailings top 25 billion? Ah, the possibilities.
A Senate hearing this week suggests that congress might take action:
An Ohio man whose $3,200 credit card debt mushroomed to $10,700 with interest and fees told his story Wednesday to senators, who denounced the industry for confusing billing practices and shifting interest rates.
Executives of three major banks defended their credit card practices as responsible and responsive to consumers’ needs in testimony at the hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ investigative subcommittee. Those from Citigroup Inc. and Chase Bank USA said their companies were eliminating some practices - including the one that hit Wesley Wannemacher of Lima, Ohio, with over-limit fees on his Chase card account 47 times although he went over his credit limit only three times. [...]
Wannemacher used a new Chase card in 2001 and 2002 to pay for expenses mostly related to his wedding. He had $3,200 in purchases, interest charges of $4,900, 47 over-limit charges totaling $1,500, late fees of $1,100, for total charges of $10,700 as of February. He paid $6,300, leaving a $4,400 balance - which Chase agreed to waive after he contacted the subcommittee staff.
The credit card CEO apologized at the senate hearing. How sincere. To those who suppose that the issue is one of personal responsibility and self control, Angie Littwin has posted a paper, ”Beyond Usury: A Study of Credit Card Use and Preference Among Low-Income Consumers” looking at how they use and think about credit cards:
The participants in my study...were frustrated and angry at their credit-card companies, but they still thought credit cards were a necessary financial tool. It turned out that the issue they were most concerned about was not high interest rates in of themselves but rather the temptation to spend and borrow at those rates, even when they knew they would regret it. The discussion then shifted to how to redesign credit cards so that consumers could better control their temptation response to them. In the paper, I build off their ideas to develop a proposal for “self-directed credit cards,” which would allow consumers to pre-commit to set levels of credit-card usage and avoid the temptation to spend or borrow more in the heat of the purchasing moment.
If I were king, I’d require companies to offer such an option to all of us.