Recent Articles

On marrying the wrong person

| July 12, 2014 | Reply

The Philosopher’s Mail offers some wisdom here:

All of us are crazy in very particular ways. We’re distinctively neurotic, unbalanced and immature, but don’t know quite the details because no one ever encourages us too hard to find them out. An urgent, primary task of any lover is therefore to get a handle on the specific ways in which they are mad. They have to get up to speed on their individual neuroses. They have to grasp where these have come from, what they make them do – and most importantly, what sort of people either provoke or assuage them. A good partnership is not so much one between two healthy people (there aren’t many of these on the planet), it’s one between two demented people who have had the skill or luck to find a non-threatening conscious accommodation between their relative insanities.

The very idea that we might not be too difficult as people should set off alarm bells in any prospective partner. The question is just where the problems will lie: perhaps we have a latent tendency to get furious when someone disagrees with us, or we can only relax when we are working, or we’re a bit tricky around intimacy after sex, or we’ve never been so good at explaining what’s going on when we’re worried. It’s these sort of issues that – over decades – create catastrophes and that we therefore need to know about way ahead of time, in order to look out for people who are optimally designed to withstand them. A standard question on any early dinner date should be quite simply: ‘And how are you mad?’

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Map to NSA programs by Propublica

| July 10, 2014 | Reply

Per ProPublica,

This is a plot of the NSA programs revealed in the past year according to whether they are bulk or targeted, and whether the targets of surveillance are foreign or domestic. Most of the programs fall squarely into the agency’s stated mission of foreign surveillance, but some – particularly those that are both domestic and broad-sweeping – are more controversial.

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| July 9, 2014 | Reply

How pervasive are binding pre-dispute arbitration clauses imposed by for-profit businesses upon consumers? Herman Scwartz of The Nation reports:

Two reports issued at the end of last year show how effective the Court’s arbitration rulings have been. Last December, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a preliminary report, which found that contract clauses mandating pre-dispute arbitration are a “common feature of consumer financial contracts”; a final report is due by year’s end. The agency found such clauses in over 50 percent of credit card loans, 81 percent of prepaid charge cards and in checking accounts covering 44 percent of all insured deposits.

The CFPB found further that about 90 percent of such contracts, including almost all credit card loans, insured deposits and prepaid cards, also prohibit participation in current or future class or other joint actions in both judicial and arbitration proceedings. This usually forces consumers who have been injured in small amounts to drop the matter entirely, even though the defendant may have harmed many others the same way, for too little is at stake for each individual to justify the time, trouble and expense of individual arbitration. . . .

These two clauses are not just in consumer financial contracts, but are standard in cellphone and nursing home contracts, individual employment contracts, shipping agreements, passenger tickets and in many other areas. They have also been imported into the exploding commercial traffic on Internet websites. When consumers click their assent to the conditions imposed by a seller online, few if any realize they are often acceding to these limitations on their rights to a judicial resolution and a class action. Some merchants have gone so far as to claim that just opening a box for a computer, for example, is enough to constitute the necessary assent to such conditions in an “agreement” placed in the box.

What is the bottom line?

The Supreme Court has given financial institutions, businessmen, unscrupulous employers and others a license to do wrong. As the California Supreme Court put it, they have been given an “exemption from responsibility for [their] own fraud.”

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Hillary Clinton: Fool or Liar?

| July 9, 2014 | Reply

This, from The Nation:

On Saturday, a carefully vetted four-month investigation by the Washington Post based on material made available by Snowden revealed that while Clinton was in the government, the NSA had collected a vast trove of often intimate Internet correspondence and photos of innocent Americans, including many users of Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other leading Internet companies. The Post reported many files “described as useless by the [NSA] analysts but nonetheless retained… have a voyeuristic quality. They tell stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes.”

The Post concluded after four months of reviewing the documents and checking with government agencies that the material supplied by Snowden was invaluable in evaluating the NSA program: “No government oversight body, including the Justice Department, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, intelligence committees in Congress or the President’s Privacy and Civil Oversight Board, has delved into a comparably large sample of what the NSA actually collects—not only from its targets but from people who may cross a target’s path.”

Did Secretary of State Clinton know that such massive spying on the American people was going on and, if not, why isn’t she grateful that Snowden helped to enlighten her? With her scurrilous attacks on Snowden, Hillary Clinton is either a fool or a liar.

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Photos from Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce

| July 7, 2014 | Reply

IMG_9299_300_301_Bryce at Sunset HDR final

IMG_8120_1_2_HDR HDR final

 

I recently returned from a trip to the above three national parks. I loved working to compose good shots, a task made easy by the trail designers. I’ve uploaded my recent photos from Grand Canyon North Rim, Zion Park and Bryce in higher res format to to a Flickr album. Feel free to download any or all of these to use them as a screen saver or for any other non-commercial use.

I use a Canon 7D. There are a couple of things I have done here that helped out. One is that I worked hard to compose the photos–I wasn’t just snapping pics. This required a lot of hiking, and sometimes climbing off the trail out onto an outcropping. It wasn’t dangerous, but I did need to be careful out there This let me get rid of foreground trees, bushes and other distractions. Second, I shot HDR. This means I shot 3 pics of the same scene, bracketing the shutter speed (dark, med, light). I then combined the 3 pics in post-processing with a program called Photomatix, which evens out the lighting. This is amazing software that allow you to approach the HDR with many settings, some of them a bit like a painting,and others straightforward. I then further cropped and straightened and did minor sharpening with Lightroom, another amazing piece of software. Most of these were shot through a new $300 Canon lens that zooms from 18-10mm. That allowed me to squeeze these scenes into one frame, though there is some distortion on the edges at the 10mm setting. Mostly, it was a matter of getting to these places, which required hours of hiking for some of the photos (though others were easy access). I’m about to add the night shot from the north rim at Flickr – it was a long exposure shot where I added foreground lighting in live time with a flashlight. I also obtained the blueish stars by setting my white-balance to tungsten. It involved lots of experimenting, and I did take a lot of shots that didn’t work out. That is the main “trick.” Don’t show people your shots that don’t work out well.

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Bogus Fee Alert

| July 6, 2014 | 2 Replies

My daughters and I are in Las Vegas after a wonderful trip to 3 national parks. I bid for and prepaid for a hotel in Las Vegas, “New York, New York.” Priceline told me that my “Total Price,” including “Room Cost,” “Taxes” and “Fees” was $80.88. When I stepped up to to register for the room. the NY NY employee told me that I owed a “Daily Resort Fee” of $24. She pointed to a pamphlet on her desk (see the attached photo) and told me that the “fee” is for these items, including “unlimited local and 800 number calls.”

I told her that I already paid the “Total Price,” and I would not pay this “Fee.” She told me “Everyone pays this fee.” I told her that I wouldn’t pay this “Fee,” because I already paid all “fees.” She said I needed to take it up with Priceline. I told her I needed to speak with her manager. The manager (another woman) came to the front desk and told me “All of the resorts in Las Vegas charge the fee.” This was no consolation to me. She told me that I had to pay the fee. She told me that Priceline discloses that I would be responsible for paying this additional fee (this is false). I told her that I wouldn’t pay the fee, that it was fraud to charge the fee, and that I would pay it under protest, contesting it through my credit card company. I told her that I was a class action attorney and that they should be sued for a class action. The manager finally admitted to me that since Priceline told me that I had prepaid my “Room Cost,” “Taxes” and “Fees,” that it would be “unfair for me to pay an additional “fee.” She wagged her finger at me and stated that she would waive the fee this time only.

I am disturbed that this is going on. I assume that hundreds or thousands of people are being hit for this “Fee,” and that most of them are paying it rather than making a scene at the registration desk.

For any of my FB friends who are using Priceline to book rooms in Las Vegas (or elsewhere), beware that this is going on. In my experience as a consumer lawyer, merchants are increasingly tacking on these BS fees for illusory services, fraudulently making millions of dollars in the process.New York New York Resort Fee

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Fighting the drift of language

| July 5, 2014 | Reply

Ho-made Ho-madeToday, my daughters and I had lunch at the Thunderbird Restaurant in Mount Carmel Utah today. It’s a friendly place with down-home cooking recommended at Zion Park. We had a few chuckles after spotting this big sign at the front of the restaurant (the waitresses also wear this image on their backs). At each table a pamphlet explains the resturant’s history: Founded in 1931, the original restaurant sign was of limited size, and the restaurant decided to shorten the term “home made” to “Ho Made” After the meaning of the term “ho” became derogatory, the restaurant decided to “embrace” their term rather than run from it. Our waitress explained that many customers laugh at the expression, while some customers become upset upon seeing the signs.

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About those bad guys . . .

| June 26, 2014 | Reply

You can look the other way once, and it’s no big deal, except it makes it easier for you to compromise the next time, and pretty soon that’s all you’re doing; compromising, because that’s the way you think things are done. You know those guys I busted? You think they were the bad guys? Because they weren’t, they weren’t bad guys, they were just like you and me. Except they compromised… Once.

Jack Bauer, from the opening episode of “24,” Season One.

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Strangers slapping each other

| June 24, 2014 | Reply

From the film-maker who asked strangers to kiss each other, we now have stingers slapping each other.

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